Los Angeles Clippers: Mike Conley
LOS ANGELES -- The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 103-93 Tuesday night at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series of the Western Conference playoffs. It was the third consecutive victory for the Grizzlies and the first road win in the series for either team.
Here's a quick breakdown.
How it happened: The Grizzlies played a tough, physical game and outshined a virtuoso performance by Clippers guard Chris Paul, who had 35 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Clippers, who played much of the second half without injured All-Star forward Blake Griffin (sprained ankle) had no answer for the inside-outside combination of Memphis forward Zach Randolph and guard Mike Conley. Those two combined for 45 points, while center Marc Gasol was unstoppable for stretches at a time and added 21 points and eight rebounds.
Gasol scored six points during an 11-0 Memphis run in the third quarter and routinely got past a wounded Griffin. A few minutes later, Griffin left the game with the Clippers trailing 71-60. He did not return.
Paul and Jamal Crawford made back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Clippers a 40-38 lead with 5:34 left in the first half, but the Clippers went through a bad stretch that turned momentum in favor of the Grizzlies. Memphis went on a 16-5 run over the next 4:46 -- a stretch that included three L.A. turnovers and fouls Nos. 2 and 3 on Griffin -- and took a 54-45 lead.
Paul, however, kept the game from getting out of reach with a pair of layups and a late 3-pointer that cut the Memphis lead to 54-48 at halftime.
Turning point: The Clippers were within two points with 9:55 to play in the third quarter, but Memphis went on an 11-0 run to take a 65-52 lead with 6:28 left in the third. It was the first double-digit lead for either team, and the Grizzlies did not trail again after that.
Player of the game: Randolph scored 10 of his 25 points in the final 10 minutes, 5 seconds of the game, seemingly singlehandedly stemming any chance the Clippers could make a run. The Clippers had cut the Memphis lead to 75-71 with 10:23 to play, but Randolph scored four points during a 6-2 Grizzlies run that kept the Clippers at arm’s length. He scored six more points during a three-minute stretch later in the fourth that helped the Grizzlies maintain a comfortable lead at 89-80. He also had 11 rebounds -- five on the offensive glass.
What it means: Memphis, which left L.A. last week down 2-0 in the series, is one win away from advancing to the second round. Only 15 teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a series in NBA playoff history. The Clippers will need to regroup and find some of the magic that helped them win last season’s series against Memphis.
What’s next: The series will resume Friday in Memphis. Game 7, if necessary, will be Sunday at Staples Center.
LOS ANGELES — The first game was a blowout and the second was won on a buzzer-beater, but both were wins for the Los Angeles Clippers, and that means they hold a 2-0 series advantage over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Western Conference NBA playoffs.
It’s a good omen for the Clippers, who have been up 2-0 in a playoff series only one other time in franchise history. That time, in 2006, they went on to defeat the Denver Nuggets 4-1. A 2-0 series lead also holds a historical advantage: In NBA playoff history, a team has lost a series only 15 times after winning the first two.
Those things mean little to the Clippers, however. Nobody in their locker room was satisfied after Chris Paul’s buzzer-beating bank shot gave L.A. a 93-91 victory in Game 2 at Staples Center.
“All we did was protect our home court,” Vinny Del Negro said. “You have to win four games. We did what we were supposed to do. We know we’re going to have to play better in Memphis.”
It would be difficult to play better than Paul did down the stretch. He scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half and was the only Clippers player to score in the final 3:46 of the game. The Clippers held a 12-point lead with just under 10 minutes to play and let the Grizzlies get back in to tie the game. L.A. was able to get away with that at home, but trying that on the road would be playing with fire.
“Each game is a game in itself,” Paul said. “You don’t carry over points, possessions, foul trouble or anything like that. We know that they’ll be at home in front of their fans with a lot of energy and they feel like they need to win two games at home now.”
The Clippers don’t need to look too far in the past to know how important it is to protect home-court advantage. Last year, Memphis had home-court advantage against the Clippers, but L.A. won Game 1 in Memphis and eventually won the series in seven games -- with Game 7 also in Memphis.
Those aren’t the only good memories the Clippers have of Memphis, either. Less than two weeks ago, the Clippers went into FedEx Forum with home-court advantage in this series on the line and won 91-87.
“I have complete confidence with our team on the road, especially,” Del Negro said. “We know what we’re in for, but that’s what it’s all about. The best part is the competition and challenging yourself to be better. I’m going to challenge this group to prepare the right way and have the right mindset going in.”
Lately, the Clippers have had a pretty good mindset. The win Monday was their ninth in a row overall, going back to the regular season. A streak like that only serves to boost the confidence level for the players. They showed that Saturday in their 112-91 dismantling of the Grizzlies, and Paul’s game-winner Monday was another shot in the arm.
“Every game in the playoffs is must-win,” forward Lamar Odom said. “It’s all about finishing the season strong. You can only do that with wins. It’s all about doing whatever it takes. We got another game, another inch, took another step toward our goal.”
Going up 2-0 in the series will make the plane ride across the country a much better one for the Clippers.
“In the playoffs it’s very important,” Odom said. “Mentally, it takes a little pressure off you, but at the same time we don’t want to go back there and just -- we want to push them to the limit and even play better than we played tonight.”
Odom has been around long enough to know that the series is far from over. Memphis coach Lionel Hollins can only hope so. He was preaching optimism despite the deficit his team is facing as it heads back home.
“We’ve got to go home and hold serve,” Hollins said. “That’s what they did. We almost got one here. It’s not doom and gloom. It was just a tough, hard-fought battle, and we’ve got to go home, and there are going to be two hard-fought battles there. And we’ve got to come away with two of them.”
Grizzlies guard Mike Conley expects the Memphis crowd to come out in full force. The fact that the team is down 2-0 is enough of a rallying cry, but it means even more that the Clippers are coming to town because of all the big wins L.A. has had in Memphis over the past year.
“When the Clippers come to town it’s obviously a different type of crowd because we have a history with them,” Conley said. “We’ve played a bunch of good games with them. We expect it to be loud and crazy and hopefully we can take care of that business at home.”
The Clippers aren’t exactly in a must-win situation on the road. They can merely win all of their home games and still win the series, but that’s not a thought that is crossing their heads as they head to Memphis.
“We’ve got to go down to Memphis and try to steal a game,” Paul said. “We’ve got to be greedy.”
The Clippers have known for some time that their first-round opponent would likely be Memphis. The only question was which team would have home-court advantage. All the Clippers had to do was win two of their last four games to secure the No. 4 seed and home court in the first round. They ended up losing three of their last four games while Memphis reeled off six straight wins to steal home court on the final night of the season.
Considering how close these two teams are on paper, home court could very well decide the series. The Clippers won their first two meetings against the Grizzlies in Los Angeles but lost their most recent meeting in Memphis 94-85 on April 9. The Grizzlies haven’t lost at home since March 18 and have won 10 straight at the FedEx Forum. Meanwhile, the Clippers closed out the season losing three straight road games and have never finished with a record at or above .500 on the road in franchise history.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the Clippers-Grizzlies first-round matchup and a prediction for the series:
Point guard: This is one of the more intriguing matchups in the playoffs. Since arriving in Los Angeles in December, Chris Paul has completely changed the face of the Clippers, a team making only its fifth playoff appearance since 1976 and first since 2006. Paul is an MVP candidate this year after finishing with one of the better seasons for a point guard in recent history. He is one of two players in NBA history to have a season averaging at least 19.0 points, 9.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. He ranks first in the NBA in steals per game, second in assist-to-turnover ratio and third in assists per game. Paul is the kind of player who can will his team to unlikely wins in the postseason as he single-handedly led the undermanned New Orleans Hornets to two wins over the Lakers last year, including stealing home court in the first game of the series. Meanwhile Mike Conley has continued to develop into one of the best point guards in the league. He is second only to Paul in steals and ranks in the top 10 in the league in assists. Conley finished the season by going scoreless (0-for-5 from the field) against Orlando in the regular-season finale but averaged 14.6 points and 5.2 assists on 52.9 percent shooting in 31.8 minutes in the previous five games as Memphis won six straight games to finish the season.
Shooting guard: Statistics don’t tell the whole story with Tony Allen, who is the heart and soul of the Grizzlies and the lynchpin of their stingy defense. Allen, who was a key player on Bostons’ 2008 championship team, recorded a franchise-record and career-high eight steals this week against Cleveland. It was tied for the most steals by an NBA player in a single game this season. What makes Allen so good is that he progressively gets better later in the game on both sides of the ball. Allen is shooting 70.0 percent from the field (14-of-20) with under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, which is tied for the second-highest percentage in the NBA. The Clippers counter with Randy Foye, who has played admirably since Chauncey Billups was lost for the season in February with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Foye has developed into a threat from downtown late in the season, hitting a 3-pointer in 21 straight games before failing to make a shot against Atlanta this week. It was the second-longest current streak in the NBA with at least one 3-pointer made. In the last 15 games of the regular season, Foye’s 42 3-pointers leads the NBA.
Small forward: This is probably the X factor matchup of the series. Memphis is 23-9 when Rudy Gay scores 20 or more points while the Clippers are 21-10 when Caron Butler scores 13 or more points. So basically whoever is feeling it on any particular night will give his team the best chance to win. Gay is averaging a team-high 18.9 points (18th in the NBA), a career-high 6.4 rebounds and 1.45 steals in a team-high 37.3 minutes per game (seventh in the NBA) after returning from last season’s season-ending shoulder injury. Last week he scored a season-high 32 points against Phoenix. Gay has been solid this season in the paint and from behind the arc as he’s the only player in the league with at least 100 dunks and 40 3-pointers. Butler has been streaky this season and had his worst statistical season since his second campaign in the league in 2003-04. He averaged 12.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game this season but his numbers fell off after Billups was lost for the season and he failed to record a single field goal in three games he started over last six weeks of the season.
Power forward: Mark this matchup as "subject to change" after Zach Randolph started the Grizzlies’ regular-season finale against Orlando and scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 26 minutes. Memphis hasn’t committed to Randolph as the starter in the playoffs after compiling a 37-17 record with Marreese Speights as the starter. Speights is recording career highs this season in points and rebounds per game and free throw percentage. He scored a season-high 25 points and had a career-high 5 assists last month against the Lakers. Randolph has scored 10-plus points 19 times and 20-plus points three times, including a season-high 25 points in 25 minutes on March 16 against Toronto, which was his first game back after sustaining a torn right MCL on Jan. 1 at Chicago. Although Blake Griffin has been getting grief this season for his poor free throw shooting and his diminished numbers in the fourth quarter, he still had an outstanding sophomore season. Griffin was the only player this season to average over 20.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. He is also one of only two players (Dwight Howard) averaging at least 20.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and shooting 54.0 percent from the field. Griffin led the league with 190 dunks this season and was fourth with 41 double-doubles.
Center: He may have been known as Pau’s little brother in the past but Marc Gasol broke out from the shadow of his older brother this season after being named to his first All-Star team and having a career season. Gasol averaged 14.5 points, 9.0 rebounds (15th in the NBA), a career-high 3.2 assists and a career-best 1.84 blocks (seventh in the NBA) this season. Gasol is one of only three NBA players this season (Kevin Love and Marcin Gortat) who have put together a streak of at least 10 games with 10-plus rebounds. He also won his first career NBA player of the week award by averaging 19.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.50 blocks on 67.3 percent shooting in 36.3 minutes while leading Memphis to a perfect 4-0 record during the week of Jan. 16. DeAndre Jordan has slowly come into his own as well in his first season as a full-time starting center in the NBA. Jordan finished fourth in the league with 2.06 blocks per game and was one of only three players with at least 7.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game this season. He is also one of only two players (Tyson Chandler) with at least 320 field goal attempts and shooting 63.0 percent from the field. He finished third in the NBA in dunks with 141, just nine dunks behind second-place finsher JaVale McGee.
Bench: Depending on Randolph’s status as a starter, this will be an interesting matchup. Outside of Randolph or Speights, Memphis will rely on O.J. Mayo, Quincy Pondexter, Gilbert Arenas and Dante Cunningham. Mayo leads Memphis in 3-pointers made (100) and 3-point field goal percentage (.364) and is the only Grizzlies player to appear in every game this season. Mayo scored 10-plus points 46 times and 20-plus points six times, including a season-high 24 points on March 31 at Milwaukee. The Clippers will rely heavily on Mo Williams off the bench. Williams, who is a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award, averaged 13.4 points and 3.1 assists this season. The Clippers' bench has scored a total of 1,622 points this season, with Williams accounting for 41.7 percent of them. Nick Young, Kenyon Martin, Eric Bledsoe and Reggie Evans will also be a part of the Clippers’ rotation
Coach: Last month, Vinny Del Negro seemed to be reeling, after his team dropped three games in three days. Last week, he was being mentioned as a dark-horse pick for NBA Coach of the Year after the Clippers won 13 of 15 games. Now, after they lost three of four games to finish the season, Del Negro might have to advance past this series to keep his job next season. Such is the life of an NBA coach, it seems. Lionel Hollins’ job security is far less in doubt after leading Memphis to back-to-back playoff appearances. Since he was tabbed as head coach in January 2009, Hollins has improved Memphis’ regular-season record each season and became the franchise’s all-time winningest coach this season. Under Hollins, Memphis has become one of the best defensive teams in the league. The Grizzlies topped the NBA in steals (9.6) and forced turnovers (17.2) this season after leading each category last season. The last NBA team to lead the league in both steals per game and forced turnovers per game for consecutive seasons was the 1995-96 and 1996-97 Seattle SuperSonics.
Series prediction: Grizzlies in seven games.