It was more of exactly what we’ve seen over the last three games of this series between the Grizzlies and the Clippers in Game 6, and that meant the end of the season for Los Angeles.
The particulars changed slightly, but the level of confidence from Memphis and disarray from the Clippers remained constant. The Grizzlies advanced to the second round of the playoffs with a 118-105 victory that was every bit as comfortable for much of the second half as the final score would indicate.
Blake Griffin didn’t start for the Clippers, and was limited to just 14 minutes of action off the bench. The sprained ankle that he suffered in advance of Game 5 was still too swollen for him to be able to be as productive as was needed in an elimination game on the road, and the word was that the severity of the injury would have sidelined him for three weeks had it occurred during the regular season.
With Griffin sidelined, that left Vinny Del Negro, in what may very well have been his final game roaming the Clippers’ sidelines, scrambling with his lineups. One of Del Negro’s biggest criticisms has always been his inability to manage minutes and player rotations for maximum effectiveness, and in a move of desperation, played Eric Bledsoe less than 10 minutes and Jamal Crawford just 12 in favor of Grant Hill and Willie Green, who had barely seen the court at all previously in the series.
Del Negro repeatedly said afterward that he was trying to go small to get an advantage, but it was the Grizzlies’ guards — not Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol — who did the bulk of the damage offensively. Mike Conley and Tony Allen finished with 23 and 19 points respectively, and combined for more free throw attempts between the two of them (28) than the Clippers had as a team (24) for the entire game.
The referees called this one tightly throughout, and Memphis tallied 20 free throw attempts in the first quarter alone on their way to a 47-24 advantage. This wasn’t a one-game problem for the Clippers, however, as they’ve been whistled heavily for personal fouls, far above their season average, over the course of this series. Veteran official Joey Crawford played fast and loose with both the technical fouls and the flagrant calls in this one, and actually ejected both Chris Paul and Zach Randolph in the game’s final few minutes for seemingly innocuous actions in completely separate incidents.
The Grizzlies move on to face the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs, and that series begins in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
As for the Clippers, things are much more complicated — Paul becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, and Del Negro is not under contract for next season.