With their backs to the wall, the Memphis Grizzlies played the exact game they needed to play to beat the Clippers, and now find themselves one road win away from a Game 7 on their home floor, where they were 26-7 in the regular season and are now 2-1 in the playoffs.
The Grizzlies pounded the Clippers inside early and often — they jumped out to a 36-22 lead after the 1st quarter of play, and outscored Los Angeles in the paint 48-26 thanks to some stellar play from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, who finally got the touches they needed against the Clippers’ defense.
Defensively, Memphis was locked in, and forced 13 Clipper turnovers while only allowing 11 assisted baskets. Blake Griffin, Reggie Evans, DeAndre Jordan, and Kenyon Martin combined to score just 2o total points on Wednesday night, and 16 of those points came from Griffin. To put things bluntly, the Grizzlies are far more capable of flat-out beating the Clippers than the Clippers are of outclassing the Grizzlies, and that’s what we saw in Game 5. Memphis led by double digits almost the entire game, and while they had a late scare when their offense stalled in the fourth quarter, their defense was good enough to keep them out of serious danger and keep their season alive.
The worst news of the night for Clippers fans is that Chris Paul seems to have re-aggravated his nagging groin injury, and it clearly limited him late in Game 5. Paul was grabbing his groin every few seconds, and he wasn’t on the court to finish the game. If Paul isn’t 100% for Game 6, the Clippers are in big, big, big trouble, and could well end up doing in the series what the Grizzlies did in Game 1 — snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Through the first four games of the Grizzlies-Clippers series, Memphis has outscored the Clippers by one point. However, thanks to two one-point losses and an overtime loss in game 4, they find themselves in a 3-1 hole and on the brink of elimination coming into tonight’s game.
Memphis has shown they have what it takes to beat the Clippers — they just haven’t been able to execute for the full 48 minutes of a game, or stop Chris Paul when it matters most. Memphis should still have a huge advantage on their home floor, and if they can manage to execute in front of their fans tonight, they will be just one road win away from getting a game 7 in Memphis. That’s a lot easier said than done, but this series has been a whole lot closer than it appears at first glance.
Memphis’ defense has given the Clippers fits, they’ve been able to force the Clippers to commit turnovers while limiting their own, and they’ve been able to control the glass for extended stretches of this series. A few key bounces haven’t gone their way, and Chris Paul has shown the value of having the best player on the floor in a 7-game series, but Memphis clearly has the ability to make the game physical, get a convincing win, and get back into this series. If they believe in their talent and their system, they can do it. If they catch themselves playing the “what if” game after three heartbreaking defeats and come out flat, their season will almost certainly end tonight. We’ll see what happens.
Derrick Rose is out for the rest of the playoffs. Joakim Noah, who was a game-time decision, ended up not playing a minute. And it didn’t matter from the Chicago Bulls, who staved off elimination in Game 5 of their series with the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to a great performance from Luol Deng and some absolutely suffocating defense.
The Bulls won Game 5 by doing what got them the best record in the Eastern Conference — playing some absolutely ridiculous defense. As good as Joakim Noah is defensively, the Bulls are one of the deepest defensive teams the league has ever seen, and Omer Asik and Taj Gibson did a great job filling in for Noah on the defensive end of the floor. And while nobody is even thinking that the Bulls don’t miss Derrick Rose desperately, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer are two of the best backcourt defensive players in the league.
On Tuesday, the Bulls’ defense played up to its full potential, and the results for Philadelphia were brutal. The team shot 32% from the floor, made 2 of its 11 3-point tries, and had a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Andre Iguodala shot 4-19 from the floor, Jrue Holliday shot 5-17, and Elton Brand had a grand total of 5 points. To put things bluntly, the 76ers couldn’t find the basket with a map against Tom Thibodeau’s defense.
The Bulls didn’t light the scoreboard on fire without Rose and Noah, but Luol Deng’s great performance (he scored 24 points on 10-19 shooting from the field and 4-5 shooting from beyond the 3-point line) and a solid 19-point game from Carlos Boozer was more than enough for the Bulls on a night where their defense played such lights-out basketball.
The Bulls still have a long road ahead of them if they want to make it out of the first round, let alone any further, but they showed how they just might be able to pull it off on Tuesday night. If the Bulls can keep using their unrivaled combination of defense and depth this effectively, their season just might not be over quite yet.
From ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell:
DEERFIELD, Ill. — Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah shot free throws without a brace on his sprained left ankle at shootaround and is a game-time decision for Game 5 Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Omer Asik will start regardless of whether Noah, who was still walking with a limp, plays. The Bulls are down 3-1 in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the eighth-seed 76ers and could be eliminated Tuesday night.
“We’ll see, maybe it gets better from now until tonight,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
After Derrick Rose tore his ACL with just over a minute to play in Game 1 of the Chicago-Philadelphia series, the Bulls have lost three straight games to put them on the brink of elimination, and Noah’s injury has made things that much more dire for the Eastern Conference’s #1 seed.
Asik averaged 3.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game in 14.7 minutes per game for the Chicago this season. We’ll see if the Bulls can fight back with no Rose and a very limited Noah to save their season and make it to a Game 6 in the first round.
Here’s the situation: if the Lakers-Nuggets series goes to six games, Metta World Peace’s suspension would end, and he would be able to appear in either Game 7 of the Lakers-Nuggets series or, more importantly, Game 1 of the Lakers-Thunder series if the Lakers ended up beating the Nuggets. Naturally, some people have been wondering if the Lakers should intentionally lose Game 5 against the Nuggets, because people will wonder just about anything, and Mike Brown had a predictable response to those wonderings. From ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin:
Would the Lakers actually be better off losing Game 5 and extending the series against Denver so that World Peace would be in the lineup to defend Kevin Durant from the jump in the Thunder series?
“Two guys told me that (Monday), they said that the Twitter world is suggesting that we do that,” [Lakers coach Mike Brown] said after shootaround on Tuesday. “That we lose (Game 5) so that we can extend the series to get Metta World Peace back. I’m not even going to answer that. To me, that’s a joke. When they said that to me, I just laughed.”
I wish I had something profound to add to that, but I don’t. Brown is exactly right: the idea of intentionally losing a playoff game for any reason should be treated as an absolute joke. Not having Mr. World Peace in the lineup would make Game 1 of the Thunder series tougher for the Lakers to win, but you never intentionally miss a chance to close out a playoff series. Ever. Too many things can happen in a playoff series to look past a team, and right now the Lakers have to be thinking of the Nuggets as their only target.