It’s kind of hard to remember exactly when the Clippers pulled away in Game 1. I remember Keyon Dooling’s three to pull the Grizzlies within a single point and before I knew what happened, the Clippers were up 13. There wasn’t any one play that stands out.
But they definitely happened and the Grizzlies find themselves in a familiar position, down 1-0 in a best of seven playoff series. It was just under a year ago that the Grizzlies celebrated home-court advantage in the playoffs for the first time ever by choking away a 27 point lead against these Clippers in Game 1 at home. Memphis was behind until Game 7, which they promptly lost at home.
Saturday’s Game 1, while frustrating, could ultimately be forgotten if the Grizzlies circle the wagons and steal game 2. After all, it would only take one road win and the Grizzlies winning three home games to win this series. It’s preferred to get one of the first two road games before things really tighten up, but any ol’ road game will do. The advantage of stealing one of the first two road games is that you don’t face the possibility of going down 0-3 with a bad night back home.
But you already knew all that. Here are the two ways that the Grizzlies can turn the tide, win game 2 and roll back to Tennessee tied 1-1 and in the driver’s seat.
1.) HIT THE BOARDS!!!
Going into the 2012 first round, I knew that the Clippers would be a force to be reckoned with. They had Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on their team, and the Grizzlies were also banged up. Zach Randolph had missed almost three months of games and Tony Allen had a recurring knee issue as well.Entering the playoffs, there isn’t a team that’s 100% healthy but when your best offensive player and best defensive player are dinged then that’s a problem, especially in a series that was going to be close.
What I didn’t anticipate was the Clippers ever out-toughing the Grizzlies. Chris Paul is a great player, but he’s a shrimp and shouldn’t be looking to fight any NBA player. As menacing as Blake Griffin looks, would you want him to pick a fight with Zach Randolph? Of course not. You’d pray for him and beg Randolph not to eat him alive.
While being this “tough” team doesn’t mean everything in basketball (conceived as a non-contact sport), it can go a long way. For the first six games, I was right too. The Grizzlies wanted to establish the post and rebound the ball, but the Clippers were content to run pick-and-rolls and shoot jump shots. More importantly, through six games the series was all knotted up at three games apiece, which is as even as you can get.
But in game 7, things changed. The Clippers rolled their sleeves up and took the fight to the Grizzlies in Memphis. The Clips won by 10 in FedEx Forum in front of a sell-out arena of Grizz fans.
The moral of the story is this: If the Grizzlies intend on getting out-rebounded by 24 boards again, they won’t have to worry about how they match-up with Oklahoma City or San Antonio or anybody else because if they are going to win this series, it will have to be on the boards, on defense and with second-chance opportunities. They can’t even afford to simply be even on rebounds, because they need to have a solid advantage there. Otherwise, the Clippers’ offensive efficiency will be too much to overcome.
2.) Do something with Chris Paul.
I know. Easier said than done, right? But the biggest thing I noticed from game 1 (other than the pitiful rebounding performance) was Mike Conley’s apparent hesitancy in attacking Paul while he was running the Memphis offense. If Paul is allowed to rest on defense then he’s even scarier on defense. He’s already a great player, but if he’s allowed to play a glorified Designated Hitter role? Yikes.
As a result, Paul posted a single game PER of 43.26 in game 1. Not too bad, right? That would be awesome for LeBron and we know how he’s been playing.
Basically, the Grizzlies don’t need Conley to outplay Paul, because we’ll all be waiting for a while for that. But by the same token, Conley needs to be aggressive in attacking Paul and at least make him chase him around the court and maybe tire him out a bit and maybe even draw some fouls. Eric Bledsoe is a certified Grizz killer, but I’ll take my chances with him over a perennial All-Star and League MVP candidate.
BONUS: As always, the Grizzlies biggest problem in big games like these are those extended scoring droughts that seem to last for days, but are actually just minutes. In game 1, they shrunk the lead to a single point and didn’t score in any of their next five trips down. As their offense went dormant, the Clippers kicked it into high gear and kept scoring. That seems self-explanatory, but sometimes basketball is just that simple.
I believe that the Grizzlies are a proud team and that after getting beat down in the 4th quarter in game 1 they’ll come out focused in game 2. This may be a slight homer pick, but I see no way that the Grizzlies get outclassed to that degree on the boards again. They may have no answer for Paul (and let’s face it, few do) but the Grizzlies should be able to board with the Clippers. That alone will make this a tighter game and I think the Grizzlies execute down the stretch to pull a massive road playoff win.