The Memphis Grizzlies are probably thinking that they should at least be in a position to close out their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
And they would probably be correct.
But reality dictates otherwise, and there are no do-overs for Memphis blowing a 27-point lead in Game 1, and losing a pair of bitter, white-knuckle finishes in Games 3 and 4.
Instead, Lionel Hollins’ crew will be itself looking to stave off elimination for a second consecutive game.
The Grizz and the Clips have the NBA Friday schedule to themselves for Game 6 at Staples Center, with tip-off slated for 9:05 p.m. (ET). National TV coverage will be provided by ESPN and will give us a look at whether LA, up 3-2 in the series, can advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time since 2006, a year in which the Clippers beat Denver in the first round in five games before bowing to the Suns in seven games. That was also the last season prior to this 2011-12 campaign that Donald Sterling’s team had participated in the postseason.
A check of the Don Best NBA odds screen notes that LA has been priced as an early 2½-point favorite, with a total at 182½, although most Las Vegas sports books were waiting to post the game until more definitive word from the Clipper camp regarding the injury status of PF Blake Griffin and PG Chris Paul, both injured in Wednesday night’s 92-80 win by the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum.
Indeed, much of the intrigue leading up to Game 6 will regard the health and availability of Griffin and Paul. Griffin, who sprained his left knee, will undergo an MRI later Thursday to determine the extent of his injury. Paul, diagnosed with a strained hip flexor, was likely to be a game-time decision on Friday night.
Needless to say, the Clippers’ chances would be harmed, and the pointspread adjusted accordingly, if one or both would be forced to miss action. Of the two, most insiders suggest that Paul’s potential absence would be more impactful, as there is no comparable component on the Clipper roster to create shots for not only himself, but his teammates.
Thus, it is fair to wonder where the Clippers are going to find shots, and their offense, were Paul to be sidelined. Although early reports indicate that Paul would be likely to give it a go on Friday night, we still don’t know how much Paul might be compromised (especially on the defensive end) if he indeed makes the post on Friday night.
If there is a worst case for LA coach Vinny Del Negro, injuries to Paul and Griffin are about as close as it can get to that scenario.
Even if Paul and Griffin are available, however, Memphis is going to like its chances. The Grizzlies have led the action for the majority of this series but have had trouble closing out the games, and the collapse at the end of Game 1 – when the Clips outscored the Griz 28-3 down the stretch to steal a 99-98 win – continues to haunt Hollins’ crew.
The Clips made similar runs at the end of Games 2 and 5 to no avail, however, and the Grizzlies were able to repel LA’s late surge in Wednesday’s game that had cut the Memphis lead from 24 points down to six. In the end, however, the Grizz steadied and won handily by a 92-80 count.
Hollins made a slight tactical adjustment to good effect in Wednesday’s Game 5, focusing more on pounding the ball into the paint on the attack end. This strategy takes better advantage of rugged C Marc Gasol’s presence on the blocks as well as his uncanny ability to pass from the post. Gasol scored 23 points on Wednesday, and with frontline mate Zach Randolph also off of his best game in this series (a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds) and becoming more comfy on the floor the further removed he is from the knee injury that sidelined him for 2½ months this winter, Hollins might have found the proper strategy to give the Clippers their most problems.
It’s also good business for Memphis to pound the ball into the paint, because its three-point shooting has been inconsistent to say the least in this series, as Wednesday night’s 0-for-6 effort from tripleville would indicate.
For LA, if Griffin is limited or misses action entirely, it is likely going to mean more minutes for veteran frontliner Kenyon Martin, who has only scored 12 points and snared 12 rebounds in the first five games of this series and played just 10 minutes in Wednesday’s loss.
It’s Paul’s potential absence, however, that has the Clippers and their backers most concerned.
Also, note that this series has slowed its pace, with ‘unders’ in two of the past three games. And even the ‘over’ in that stretch was due to overtime in Game 4, which sat at only 174 after regulation. Games 3 (180 total) and 5 (172 total) were played at a similar ‘under’ pace, which we hardly envision accelerating if Paul is either out or playing at something less than 100 percent.