Blake Griffin would have needed to be at full strength and then some if the Clippers were to have a shot at winning Game 5 and reversing the recent trends that the Grizzlies had established in the previous two games of the series in Memphis.
A high ankle sprain suffered by Griffin in practice on Monday limited both his effectiveness and his minutes, and without him, the Grizzlies were able to continue to impose their will in a 103-93 win that places the Clippers firmly on the brink of elimination.
Memphis can close out the series with a win at home on Friday.
Griffin didn’t look right to start the game, but he was extremely aggressive nonetheless. The results weren’t there, however, and the ankle injury was to blame. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said afterward that it occurred during a drill where the players were going half-speed, and Griffin just happened to come down on the foot of Lamar Odom. Del Negro called it a “freak accident.”
Griffin played just 19 minutes and 34 seconds before the team ruled him out the rest of the way, and finished with four points, five rebounds, five assists, and two turnovers, while making just two of the seven shots he attempted.
Without Griffin defensively, Memphis continued to get what it wanted from Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, who finished with 25 and 21 points, respectively. The Grizzlies also got a solid contribution from Tayshaun Prince, and Mike Conley was brilliant, just as he’s been for the season’s last couple of months.
Chris Paul tried to carry the load offensively for L.A., and finished with 35 points, six rebounds, and four assists. But no one else for the Clippers stepped up, and aside from Jamal Crawford dropping in 15 points off the bench, no other Clipper player finished in double figures.
The rest of the Clippers starters aside from Paul combined for just 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting.
Even with Griffin in the game in the first half, the Grizzlies were showing no signs of relenting from the style they were able to play at home the past two games. Their bigs were active on both ends of the floor, they continued to win the rebounding battle (although just barely, and without Griffin that’s an improvement for the Clippers), and they took care of the ball by committing only seven turnovers.
Unquestionably, the Clippers have a tall task before them. They’ll need to play a nearly perfect game to win on the Grizzlies’ home floor and stave off elimination, and even then, winning two straight at this point in the series with the way Memphis has found its rhythm would seem to be a longshot.
Without Blake Griffin, or with a severely limited version of him, that task begins to feel impossible.