NBA Playoff preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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SEASON RECORDS


Grizzlies: 41-25 (4 seed)
Clippers: 40-26 (5 seed)

SEASON SERIES


Clippers took it 2-1, with each team winning the games on its home court. Memphis won the most recent meeting April 9, 94-85.

KEY INJURIES

Memphis: Nothing serious.

L.A. Clippers: Chris Paul is playing through a strained groin. The Clippers need him to be at his best to win this series, if he is hampered so is Los Angeles.

Chauncey Billups is out for the season and while that is not new news this is where they will miss him most.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)


Memphis: offense 104.0 (19th); defense 101.8 (7th)
L.A. Clippers: offense 108.5 (4th); defense 105.7 (18th)

THREE KEY GRIZZLIES:

Tony Allen: He will provide some offense and three point shooting but his real value is as a defender who will be given the Chris Paul assignment at key moments. CP3 is the best point guard walking the planet, is the key to the Clippers offense (particularly in the fourth quarter) and dropped 21 on Memphis in the last meeting. You don’t stop a guy like CP3, but if you can make him work hard for it you have slowed that team.

Marc Gasol: His throwback game with some outside touch has proven difficult for DeAndre Jordan to cover — he can go to the post, draw the double and kick out, he can pick-and-pop and knock down the midrange. He is disciplined, if DeAndre Jordan is not Gasol will make him pay.

Zach Randolph: He was the reason the Grizzlies won in the first round last season over the Spurs. Since coming back from his injury it has taken a while for him to play into game shape and get his flow back, but he seems to have don that lately. If he is a force in the offensive paint and on the glass (and can get Blake Griffin in foul trouble) it will be hard for L.A. to knock off Memphis.

THREE KEY CLIPPERS:

Chris Paul: He is the heart of the Clippers, and you can bet coach Vinny Del Negro’s offensive scheme is to run him off the pick and roll about 436 times a game. He is going to have to be him at his best — scoring, setting up teammates, getting the team in the offensive flow. He has to play at an MVP level for the Clippers to advance in these playoffs.

Blake Griffin: His physical gifts are unquestioned, but his game is going to have to grow for the Clippers to develop (both in this series and long term). He has to do better than knock down 52 percent of his free throws or he will live at the line. He is going to get some dunks — and the Clippers need to get out in transition with him for some easy buckets — but in the playoffs the other team takes away your first move, you need to go to your counters. Has Griffin grown enough to do that effectively?

Randy Foye: I bring him in to represent also Caron Butler, Nick Young and the other shooters on this team. In the last meeting between these teams the Clippers got 21.6 percent of their shots off on spot up shooters — Memphis is going to work to keep Paul from scoring in the lane and lobbing to Griffin, which means the spot up guys will get looks. Knock it down and the Clippers can win this series.

OUTLOOK

This is going to be the best series of the first round in either conference — a throw back series between two physical teams. Two of the up-and-coming teams in the league who have a world of physical talent. The Clippers need a lot of Chris Paul and they need to get some of the easy buckets in transition that key them — which means they need to play defense. The Clippers have played good defense this season in spurts but not consistently, do that hear and the Grizzlies will exploit it. Memphis knows who it is — they get the ball into their big men in the paint, they have Rudy Gay attacking from the wing, with Mike Conley directing traffic. Tony Allen and Conley will be key — Memphis was average in defending the pick-and-roll ball handler this year, they need to be better than that against CP3.

Memphis is a team that wins not because of its spectacular talent but because they execute. The Clippers late in the season started to win games that way rather than just relying on their amazing collection of athletes. But Memphis is consistent at winning that way, the Clippers still seem to try and catch lightening in a bottle too much, they are too easy to knock off their game. If the Clippers play up to their potential — and do that on the road, where they have struggled this season (16-17) — they can win the series. The question is will they?

PREDICTION

Grizzlies in seven hard-fought games.

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.