In a kind of washout of a first round of the NBA playoffs, the Clippers vs. Grizzlies has been the only series completely watchable for anyone other than diehard fans. (The Oklahoma City wins over Dallas were not bad, but that was a sweep.)
This series saw Los Angeles come back from 27 down to win Game 1. It has seen a physical nastiness — the kind of “we don’t like you” playoff play that we have waited through the regular season to see. It has seen dunks, and it has seen Chris Paul be the best guy on the court. So far we’ve seen a dramatic 2-1 Clippers lead.
What will we see in Game 4?
A desperate Memphis team that knows if they go down 3-1 it’s all over. But desperation alone is not enough — Memphis has struggled to score in the fourth quarter of their losses, and struggled to get the ball inside. When Mike Conley sits, they become a much more perimeter team, the ball doesn’t get inside to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol where they want it. Gasol has just two points in the fourth quarter of this series — that cannot happen for Memphis. He has looked good in stretches, Gasol needs the rock.
The Clippers ball pressure is getting to the Grizzlies and it has been key. Memphis has to get the ball inside then knock down the threes on the kickouts, things they did not do well in Game 3.
Memphis also will continue to be physical with the Clippers until the Clippers make them pay — the Clippers went 13-30 from the free throw line in Game 3. If the Clippers knock down their free throws, they get a much easier win. This is where the private war between Randolph and Blake Griffin is being waged, both are beating up on each other, but Griffin is getting the better of it with the usually efficient Z-Bo only shooting 40 percent in the series.
The Clippers have gotten the better bench play — something likely to continue on their home court for Game 4 — and they got the emotional boost of Caron Butler gutting it out and playing with a broken hand. If Reggie Evans can hit the boards and Nick Young can knock down a few shots, the Clippers will be ahead of game.
Meanwhile, Tony Allen’s sore knee is keeping him off the court — he didn’t play in the fourth quarter of Game 3 — and the Grizzlies miss his perimeter defense. Chris Paul is the best player on the court in this series (24 points and 11 assists last game) and while Allen couldn’t stop him he’d make CP3 work harder than he has had to so far.
Memphis will be desperate, and that likely means a tight Game 5. If Memphis can get the ball inside to their big men in position, if they can get someone other than Rudy Gay to step up in the fourth quarter, they could make this a best-of-three series. But if they don’t reverse the trends — or if the Clippers just knock down their free throws — Memphis will not be taking a step forward off of last year’s run.