Even after the Los Angeles Clippers snuck past the Memphis Grizzlies in overtime to take a 3-1 series lead last Monday night, the job didn’t feel finished.
Based on the wild, neck-and-neck nature of this series, how could it?
Now, after blowing an eight-point fourth quarter lead in a must-win, home close-out game, the uneasy feeling that this thing may indeed be over is beginning to creep in for the Clippers.
Led by another stellar effort from their dominating frontcourt, the Grizzlies moved to within one game of pulling off a massive series comeback after topping L.A. 90-88 Friday night at Staples Center.
Marc Gasol led all scorers with 23 points on 9-16 shooting, while former Clipper Zach Randolph absolutely punished his Los Angeles counterparts with 18 points and 16 rebounds, including six crucial boards on the offensive end.
A few minutes into the fourth quarter, the Clippers seemed to be pulling away. Memphis was crumbling.
Clipper reserves, most notably Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Evans (again) and Kenyon Martin were giving the Grizzlies fits, forcing turnover after turnover leading to baskets on the break. The lead was up to 76-68 with eight minutes to go.
The sellout crowd was going absolutely bonkers as their team appeared headed for just their second playoff series triumph since moving to town in 1984, and first since 2006.
Then, following a series of odd bounces that eventually led to a Randolph putback, the tide turned completely.
Suddenly, the Clipper offense stalled.
If they’d get an opportunity in the paint, it would be blocked by Gasol, Randolph or Hamed Haddadi.
If they’d get an open look from the perimeter, it’d invariably clang off the rim and into the hands of a Memphis player.
On defense, it was no better, because the Grizzlies seemingly flipped the switch on the tenacious, relentless style for which they’re known, but had been lacking all night.
The Grizz went on a 7-0 run in just over one minute of game time, and the Clippers were right back on their heels again.
And, unlike after trailing 25-16 following the first quarter, there wasn’t enough left in the tank.
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul were noble in trying to play through their respective injuries, but it was quite evident that neither player was able to give maximum effort.
Paul finished with 11 points and seven assists, and clearly lacked the typical burst he uses to get himself into the lane to wreak havoc. He also committed two uncharacteristic and crucial turnovers late in the game that led to Memphis baskets on the other end.
Griffin led the team with 17 points to go along with six assists, five rebounds and three steals, but he wasn’t able to get up-and-down the court the way he usually can. This really came back to bite the Clippers on the defensive end, as his teammates were repeatedly left scrambling to help cover up for his deficiencies and late arrivals.
And then, there was Randy Foye.
With Eric Bledsoe clearly winded after having played about 10 straight minutes, Vinny del Negro replaced him with Foye with about four minutes to go, following a Mike Conley three-pointer (putting the Grizz up 83-80) sandwiched in-between Chris Paul turnovers. Understandable on the surface. Bledsoe could probably have used a breather, and maybe Foye could have snapped out of his mini-slump and sparked the team with some much-needed shooting.
On the first offensive possession, Foye missed a wide-open three-point attempt, essentially setting the tone for the remainder of his evening.
On a highly-important possession with about 1:30 to go and a five-point deficit, Foye forced a 21-foot fadeaway that never had a prayer of finding the bottom of the net.
Following a Paul made free-throw that brought the Clippers to within three, Paul and Foye got mixed-up with their defensive assignments, as they both opted to chase Conley in the backcourt. This freed Tony Allen to run free down the sideline, where he was off to the races. Paul was forced to foul him to prevent a layup, but Allen made both subsequent free-throws.
Bledsoe should’ve likely been back in for Foye long before the last two things listed there were allowed to happen, but he wasn’t.
Then, to cap things off, following a pair of missed free-throws from Allen with just under 25 seconds to play and the Clippers trailing by four, Foye (completely unnecessarily) decided to fly in through the lane to grab the rebound off the second miss. With Marc Gasol already having given up on it and opting instead to get back on defense, Caron Butler was there to easily take it. Instead, Foye, with all his momentum going forward, lands with the ball on the baseline.
Out-of-bounds, Memphis ball. All possible momentum immediately flushed.
Game seven will be played Sunday afternoon at 10am PT in Memphis. With Paul and Griffin hobbled, beating the Grizzlies on their home court with the crowd going insane will be just about as difficult as it gets.
Hopefully, the Clippers are ready.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.