LOS ANGELES — The Grizzlies finished the regular season second in the league in rebounding differential, but you wouldn’t know it sorting through the wreckage of their 112-91 loss to the Clippers to open the playoffs on Saturday.
It’s normally Memphis who bullies opponents on the glass and gets plenty of second chance opportunities, but in Game 1 the boards were completely dominated by Los Angeles.
The Clippers outrebounded the Grizzlies 47-23 in total, and 14-4 on the offensive end of the floor which translated into a 25-5 advantage in second chance points.
“Very surprised,” Lionel Hollins said about the rebounding disparity afterward. “But I’ve been saying it when we’ve played them before, they’ve gotten more rebounds than they should. Their wing people come in and get offensive rebounds. … But what’s more surprising is that our two big people had six between them, and no offensive rebounds.”
“Just one of those games,” Vinny Del Negro said. “Obviously it was a big focal point as always, and we were just fortunate the ball bounced our way a little bit. I thought our guards got in there, if you look at the numbers, and did a good job off the bench for us. But it’s everybody. It’s team rebounding. [Blake Griffin] and [DeAndre Jordan] maybe don’t get as many rebounds, but their job is to take those other guys off and our guards did a good job of getting those long rebounds.”
The rebounds were a big part of the story, but there were other components that were worrisome for the Grizzlies.
A slow start didn’t help, where Memphis shot just 38.1 percent from the field in the first quarter while allowing the Clippers to shoot 55.6 percent. Foul trouble was an issue, as both Mike Conley and Zach Randolph were saddled with two fouls apiece before the opening frame was through.
The Grizzlies got a boost off the bench from Jerryd Bayless, who helped bring his team back in both the second and third periods where he scored 14 of his 19 points in 16 minutes off the bench during that span.
But the Clippers’ bench was fantastic, with L.A.’s reserves finishing the game with as many rebounds (23) as the entire Grizzlies team. Chris Paul knows that’s been his team’s identity all season long, so when asked about the production his team got from the bench unit, he wasn’t exactly surprised.
“Yeah, we’re used to that,” he said.
Eric Bledsoe’s night was particularly special, as he poured in 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting, to go along with six big rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. For the record, Bledsoe is listed at 6’1″, and had as many rebounds as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol did combined, and the Grizzlies’ two bigs logged a total of 65 minutes between them.
“Bled is that blur,” Paul said of his teammate’s strong performance. “He runs probably faster than me and Chauncey put together. Me and Chauncey are a little more crafty and different things like that, and I think it gave us versatility. They didn’t know who to guard. I think it was something different and it worked for us.”
Memphis didn’t get blown out until the very end, and continued to battle back every time the Clippers stretched their lead. The Grizzlies pulled to within one with just over 10 minutes remaining, but that’s when the wheels fell off, and the Clippers responded with a 15-2 run over the next five-plus minutes to put the game out of reach.
Hollins tried to explain the run that decided the game.
“The whole game was about mental mistakes and not all-out effort all night long and we didn’t play that well, but we were right there,” he said. “We made a mistake, we gave up a three, we came right back and fouled somebody, and now they’re up seven, and then it keeps steamrolling. We tried to call timeout, tried to get some different personnel in there, and it got out of hand.”
Those are the types of droughts that Memphis absolutely can’t afford against this Clippers team.
The good news from the Grizzlies’ perspective is that they were right there in the fourth, despite the rebounding woes and the Clippers’ bench production. They’ll need to get their effort and execution in blocking out the Clippers’ guards and wings together for Game 2, which should be doable based on their successful statistics in that category over the course of the 82-game season.
Both Gasol and Conley said the exact same thing during their separate postgame interviews when summing up this game’s biggest problem, and how it ultimately affected the end result.
“If we can win the rebound battle, we have a chance to win,” they said.
In Game 1, that was much easier said than done.