Prior to the beginning of their first-round series, most prognosticators prognosticated that the Clippers-Grizzlies matchup would be a back-and-forth, hard-fought affair likely to take seven games before being decided.
Through the first four games, we have no indication that this won’t be the case. The Clippers took the first two games at Staples Center, and the Grizz countered by taking the next two at FedEx Forum in Memphis.
Game one’s 112-91 blowout win for L.A. was rather unexpected, given how evenly-matched the two clubs are. And the ensuing three games have taught us that this was, indeed, an outlier.
Game four in Memphis wound up being a 21-point Grizzlies win, but this was a fairly close game until the Grizzlies went on a big run to close out the third quarter. The Clippers never truly threatened after that.
In that game, the Clippers suddenly started missing everything. They wound up shooting 4-21 from three-point range, and just 41 percent from the field for the game. Only Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan scored amongst the Clippers’ starting five. But the real issue here was the interior defense.
After being fairly dormant through the first two games, the two Grizzlies big men have awakened.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph scored 24 points apiece in game four, and combined to grab 22 rebounds, as well. Gasol was especially hot from the field in the second half, and the Grizzlies pounded the Clippers on the glass by a 45-28 margin. They had 13 offensive boards compared to just five for L.A., which led to a massive 22-2 edge in second-chance points.
The team that has won the rebounding battle has won each of the first four games of the series. In game three, the Grizzlies’ first win, they outrebounded the Clippers 45-33.
Defense and rebounding, as I’ve mentioned in this space throughout the series, are the Grizzlies’ primary strengths. They have three of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Tayshaun Prince, and Gasol is the Defensive Player of the Year.
Los Angeles outrebounded the Grizzlies by a stunning 47-22 margin in the game one blowout. Of course, this kind of dominance on the glass wasn’t expected to continue against a team like Memphis. However, if the Clippers are to win this series and advance, regaining the edge in the rebounding department must be the Clippers’ primary focus.
If you get outscored by 20 on second-chance points, you’re going to lose. It’s that simple.
Griffin was a complete non-factor on the glass in game three, finishing with 16 points and a measly two rebounds. In the game four loss, it was Jordan’s turn to take a night off, finishing with two points and two boards in 17 minutes.
Lamar Odom, who played 21 minutes, wasn’t any more effective, finishing with three rebounds off-the-bench in game four.
Conley, the Grizzlies’ POINT GUARD, and Allen, the SHOOTING GUARD, finished with four and five rebounds, respectively in the game, more than any Clipper other than Griffin, who had 10.
It’s certainly oversimplifying things to a great degree to say that winning the rebounding battle will automatically lead to wins. Even if the Clippers had the rebounding edge in game four, they’d still have been blown out shooting 4-21 from three.
One positive to draw from game four was that the Clippers were successful in holding onto the basketball, finishing with just eight turnovers, after turning it over 16 times in game three.
Paul asserted himself offensively late in game two, and, of course, hit the game-winning runner with 0.1 seconds to go. He’s going to have to be more aggressive in finding his own shot in these next three games.
The Clippers can’t afford to go through long offensive scoring droughts, especially against a team like the Grizzlies that can get themselves so many easy, high-percentage buckets on the interior.
Starting in game five, they have to get back to playing their style of play, and dictating the tempo of the game. They have the clear advantage in athleticism, and the Grizzlies can’t keep up with them if they can get out in the open court and start running.
Again, it all starts with interior defense. If you’re having to take the ball out from underneath your basket every time, it’s hard to get out in transition and score on the break. Memphis can’t shoot three pointers, and L.A. needs to be quicker on their rotations defensively in order to force the Grizzlies to beat them from the perimeter.
It’s a three-game series from now on, and the Clippers still have home court advantage. Game five will be Tuesday night at Staples Center.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.