For Memphis, Game 6 is must win.
For the Clippers, it isn’t that (they are up 3-2) but it’s about as close as you can get, because if they have to go win Game 7 on the road they face climbing K2. It’s a big mountain.
Which makes Game 6 in Los Angeles on Friday night fascinating, but also one that could hinge on injury — both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are game-time decisions because of injuries suffered in Game 5. Griffin sprained his left knee but an MRI found no structural damage. Chris Paul seemed to strain a groin muscle, but the Clippers have called it a hip flexor. The Clippers might be able to tough out a win without Griffin, but they would be toast without Paul.
I expect them both to play. Just a guess.
Outside of who plays, at this point in a series there are no surprises to be unleashed, it’s about execution. It really comes down to two things in this series.
First, who wins the battle in the paint. In Game 5, Marc Gasol had 23 points and Zach Randolph had 19 points and 10 rebounds, his best showing of the playoffs. The Clippers cannot let the Grizzlies score like that inside if they want to close it out at home. That’s going to fall to DeAndre Jordan, who has been somewhat invisible in this series — he had 1 point and no rebounds in Game 5. Zero. At 6-11 how does one rebound not just fall to you? He has to change that in this game, especially if Griffin is not 100 percent.
The other question is execution at the end of a close game. That has been Paul’s territory and why the Clippers are up 3-2. Paul was the best player in the fourth quarter in the league during the regular season (using PER) and he has been spectacular in these playoffs. Los Angeles is going to need him again because it likely will be close. If he doesn’t make shots and Rudy Gay does, both teams will be boarding planes for Memphis and one more game.
There are other things to watch, such as the bench play, but likely it will be points inside and Paul’s play that determine the outcome.
Just make sure you tune in for the end, because no first-round series has been as good as this one.