Clippers dominate the glass, dominate the Grizzlies in Game 1 victory

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LOS ANGELES — The Grizzlies finished the regular season second in the league in rebounding differential, but you wouldn’t know it sorting through the wreckage of their 112-91 loss to the Clippers to open the playoffs on Saturday.

It’s normally Memphis who bullies opponents on the glass and gets plenty of second chance opportunities, but in Game 1 the boards were completely dominated by Los Angeles.

The Clippers outrebounded the Grizzlies 47-23 in total, and 14-4 on the offensive end of the floor which translated into a 25-5 advantage in second chance points.

“Very surprised,” Lionel Hollins said about the rebounding disparity afterward. “But I’ve been saying it when we’ve played them before, they’ve gotten more rebounds than they should. Their wing people come in and get offensive rebounds. … But what’s more surprising is that our two big people had six between them, and no offensive rebounds.”

“Just one of those games,” Vinny Del Negro said. “Obviously it was a big focal point as always, and we were just fortunate the ball bounced our way a little bit. I thought our guards got in there, if you look at the numbers, and did a good job off the bench for us. But it’s everybody. It’s team rebounding. [Blake Griffin] and [DeAndre Jordan] maybe don’t get as many rebounds, but their job is to take those other guys off and our guards did a good job of getting those long rebounds.”

The rebounds were a big part of the story, but there were other components that were worrisome for the Grizzlies.

A slow start didn’t help, where Memphis shot just 38.1 percent from the field in the first quarter while allowing the Clippers to shoot 55.6 percent. Foul trouble was an issue, as both Mike Conley and Zach Randolph were saddled with two fouls apiece before the opening frame was through.

The Grizzlies got a boost off the bench from Jerryd Bayless, who helped bring his team back in both the second and third periods where he scored 14 of his 19 points in 16 minutes off the bench during that span.

But the Clippers’ bench was fantastic, with L.A.’s reserves finishing the game with as many rebounds (23) as the entire Grizzlies team. Chris Paul knows that’s been his team’s identity all season long, so when asked about the production his team got from the bench unit, he wasn’t exactly surprised.

“Yeah, we’re used to that,” he said.

Eric Bledsoe’s night was particularly special, as he poured in 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting, to go along with six big rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. For the record, Bledsoe is listed at 6’1″, and had as many rebounds as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol did combined, and the Grizzlies’ two bigs logged a total of 65 minutes between them.

“Bled is that blur,” Paul said of his teammate’s strong performance. “He runs probably faster than me and Chauncey put together. Me and Chauncey are a little more crafty and different things like that, and I think it gave us versatility. They didn’t know who to guard. I think it was something different and it worked for us.”

Memphis didn’t get blown out until the very end, and continued to battle back every time the Clippers stretched their lead. The Grizzlies pulled to within one with just over 10 minutes remaining, but that’s when the wheels fell off, and the Clippers responded with a 15-2 run over the next five-plus minutes to put the game out of reach.

Hollins tried to explain the run that decided the game.

“The whole game was about mental mistakes and not all-out effort all night long and we didn’t play that well, but we were right there,” he said. “We made a mistake, we gave up a three, we came right back and fouled somebody, and now they’re up seven, and then it keeps steamrolling. We tried to call timeout, tried to get some different personnel in there, and it got out of hand.”

Those are the types of droughts that Memphis absolutely can’t afford against this Clippers team.

The good news from the Grizzlies’ perspective is that they were right there in the fourth, despite the rebounding woes and the Clippers’ bench production. They’ll need to get their effort and execution in blocking out the Clippers’ guards and wings together for Game 2, which should be doable based on their successful statistics in that category over the course of the 82-game season.

Both Gasol and Conley said the exact same thing during their separate postgame interviews when summing up this game’s biggest problem, and how it ultimately affected the end result.

“If we can win the rebound battle, we have a chance to win,” they said.

In Game 1, that was much easier said than done.

Report: James Harden, Khris Middleton nearing return to court

Indiana Pacers v Philadelphia 76ers
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Two of the East’s top teams are about to get key stars back.

Milwaukee has been without Khris Middleton all season as he recovers from off-season wrist surgery. Philadelphia has been without James Harden for a dozen games with a right foot tendon sprain. Both are nearing a return, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Milwaukee has a 14-5 record and sits as the two seed in the East, but they have done that on the back of the best defense in the league, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. The Bucks’ offense is 18th in the league overall and bottom 10 in half-court possessions, an area Middleton should help shore up.

Philadelphia has gone 8-4 in the dozen games Harden has missed so far and has the best defense in the NBA over that stretch. The question becomes can the 76ers continue to defend like that when Harden (and, eventually, Tyrese Maxey) returns? Players such as B-Ball Paul Reed, Shake Milton and Tobias Harris have stepped up in recent games, can they continue that with shifting roles?

While there are questions, the Bucks and 76ers are about to get better, which should worry the rest of the league.

Myles Turner says he’s staying focused, tuning out trade rumors

Minnesota Timberwolves v Indiana Pacers
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Myles Turner heard his name come up all summer in trade rumors, particularly to the Lakers in a massive Russell Westbrook swap. It never happened as the Lakers would not throw in two first-round picks to seal the deal. Since the season started, the trade rumors around Turner have not stopped, with the Clippers mentioned as having interest.

Turner is trying to ignore all of it.

That was especially difficult on a recent swing through Los Angeles, and Turner spoke to Law Murray from The Athletic about it.

“Nothing changes,” Turner told The Athletic.”Just go out there and focus on getting wins for this team. That’s just where my focus lies. You can’t pay attention to outside noise … doesn’t change anything, bro. All I can do is go out there and play my game.”

Every player says some version of that, but Turner has lived up to it. Able to play his natural spot at the five without Domantas Sabonis sharing the paint (Sabonis was sent to the Kings in a trade that brought back Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana), Turner is averaging a career-high 18 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, while shooting 39.7% from 3. Plus, Turner remains an elite rim-protector, averaging 2.6 blocks per game (second in the league).

Turner is playing the best basketball of his career, coincidentally as he heads into summer as a free agent.

Whatever team trades for him will have to pay him next summer impacts Turner’s trade market, as does the fact that the Pacers are a surprising 12-8 start — Indiana is reportedly not as eager to trade Turner. If a team wants to trade for him, they are going to have to overwhelm the Pacers.

Turner has hinted he likes the idea of a brighter spotlight than he has seen in recent years, but in the end money will talk. Turner has kept his head down and his play this season has earned him more of it.

Damian Lillard reportedly targeting Sunday for return from calf strain

Portland Trail Blazers v Cleveland Cavaliers
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How much the Portland Trail Blazers miss Damian Lillard was on clear display Tuesday night in maybe their ugliest loss of the season. The Trail Blazers led by 18 in the second half, Anfernee Simons was on his way to putting up 37, and they were facing a Clippers team without Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. Yet Portland came from ahead to lose. Their defense was bested by the unstoppable offensive weapon that is Nicholas Batum (32 points). Portland just let go of the rope in this one.

The Trail Blazers are now 1-4 with Lillard out with a strained calf (the second time this year). The good news for the Blazers is Lillard is targeting Sunday against the Pacers for a return, reports Chris Haynes of TNT.

Haynes is well connected with the Lillard camp, this is a report that can be trusted.

Portland is trying to keep its head above water and is now 11-10 on the season but has struggled this past week, with games at the Lakers and at the Jazz before Lillard’s targeted return.

Lillard is averaging 26.3 points and seven assists a game this season, showing the explosion we were used to seeing before he was slowed by an abdominal injury that required surgery.

Bulls extended coach Billy Donovan before season started

Denver Nuggets v Chicago Bulls
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Bulls’ fans are not thrilled with a 9-11 team sitting 11th in the East, outside the play-in.

Bulls’ management is not either, but they aren’t laying the blame at the feet of coach Billy Donovan — in fact, they extended him just before the season began, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic and since confirmed by Bulls’ media relations staff to K.C. Johnson NBC Sports Chicago.

Why the extension? Because Donovan and head of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas have a tight relationship, Johnson writes.

Karnišovas’ continued belief in Donovan centers on Donovan’s leadership and communication skills. The two men talk virtually daily and there’s never any misunderstanding in their shared, direct conversation — even when the subject matter becomes difficult.

And not everything has been or continues to be smooth sailing for the Bulls, who have played without Lonzo Ball since January and are off to a 9-11 start in a season with modest outside expectations.

No details about the length of the extension were made public.

This is a decision about stability. Donovan is a solid coach and the front office trusts him. That’s enough to get some extra years on your deal in Chicago.

The Bulls’ issues are not because of Donovan, it’s more a roster that has a “playoff team but not much more” ceiling — a ceiling that is lower this season due to injuries forcing constantly shifting rotations. The Bulls are especially hamstrung without the defense and transition play of Lonzo Ball (still out after another knee surgery). Chicago has defended well this season without Ball (10th in the league), but the offense is bottom 10 and misses the easy buckets Ball helps get with his passing and transition (plus he can knock down some 3s). Donovan has done a respectable job with the players he has.

That is good enough in Chicago to get a few more years.