In the first four games of this series, Chris Paul owned the fourth quarter, while at the same time the Grizzlies would get away from their game plan of pounding the Clippers inside with Zach Randolph. It’s why Los Angeles had a 3-1 series lead.
There will be a Game 7 Sunday because that script has flipped.
Paul, playing through an injured hip flexor, was a shadow of himself in the fourth quarter of Game 6 Friday — 0-1 shooting, no assists and two key turnovers when the score was 80-80 that led to a 5-0 Memphis run and lead the Grizzlies never relinquished. On the other end, Randolph has 7 points and 4 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.
The result was a 90-88 Grizzlies win that brings them back from 3-1 and forces a Game 7 in Memphis Sunday.
And it is the status of Chris Paul’s hip and Blake Griffin’s knee that may have the biggest say in the outcome of Game 7. If it is the same Paul and Griffin, the Clippers are in a world of trouble on the road.
“I started off the game not sure about (his injury), but I can’t do that Sunday,” Paul said. “Sunday you got out there scrap, claw, whatever.”
Paul was clearly hurting early on and was tentative running the offense. Griffin wasn’t the same guy (but did hit a couple baseline 20 footers Memphis would have let him take all night healthy). The Grizzlies were slow to really try to exploit the pair but did eventually, went on a 14-4 run and took a little lead.
Looking for something, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro switched up and went with an energy lineup that included Reggie Evans and Eric Bledsoe. It wasn’t pretty, but they were outworking Memphis all over the court. It changed the energy on the floor and in the building. Memphis responded to it with some ridiculous passes and turnovers — 13 in the first half — that kept the Clippers close when Memphis should have pulled away.
Clipper fans have taken to Reggie Evans as their fan favorite — they love everything about him. They love his energy, his flops, his ugly offense and all. Fans love a guy that just plays harder than everyone else, and nobody in the league comes in and sells it harder than Evans.
There was a real sense of hope when Paul returned and looked like his old self at the end of the second quarter, with penetration and smart passes. But that was a mirage.
The third quarter saw Memphis get back to its game plan of going inside — Marc Gasol had 23 points for the second straight game — however the Clippers energy level remained high and the game stayed close. It was tied 66-66 entering fourth.
The Clippers at one point went on 10-0 run sparked by Eric Bledsoe and had an eight-point lead, but Memphis answered with a 10-0 run sparked by Rudy Gay knocking down shots you know coach Lionel Hollins didn’t want him to take.
When it was tight late it was the Grizzlies executed and the Clippers could not — Paul was being cut off in the lane, Randy Foye was taking leaning jumpers (and missing), Foye was also stepping out of bounds on rebounds, Eric Bledsoe was taking the most shots (five), and the bounces and calls went Memphis’ way mostly. Meanwhile the Grizzlies for once stayed true to who they are and just kept going inside.
“It boiled down to just understanding their sets, going through our guys who had it going, execution on the offensive end, from the plays coach drew up…” Tony Allen said. “Down the stretch we just clawed and clawed.”
Leading into Game 7 the players are going to talk about clawing and executing and all of it. Both teams will talk about their role players stepping up (that usually happens for the home team in the playoffs).
But it will be the status of Paul’s hip and Griffin’s knee that may have the biggest say. If CP3 is himself again, all bets are off.