Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Grizzlies vs Clippers: A fight for Philosophy

Clippers PG (and NC native) putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece

The Clippers continued their effective scoring as soon as the game started.  The pace was up and down and featured dunks by Blake Griffin (who scored 11 points in the 1st, one more point than his total in game 1) and DeAndre Jordan.  The Grizzlies, however, responded well with their own quick-hitting offense that was opportunistic in transition.  Mike Conley took the reigns of the offense and was more aggressive getting the team in their offense more quickly than in the previous game.  Moreover, Conley looked for his own shot more in addition to finding teammates (he sparkled, scoring 28 points and adding 9 assists).

The 2nd quarter produced more of the same, with both teams shooting well.  By the end of the half though, the Grizzlies began to revert to their less effective halfcourt offense as Zach Randolph continued to struggle with the athleticism and length of the Clippers front line.  The team relied on Conley for the bulk of its perimeter scoring, and buffered that with Gasol to stay within shouting distance.  At the end of the half, the Clippers held a six point lead. Their lead was built in no small part to Jamal Crawford going full-on Super Saiyan.

All game it felt as if the Clippers should be ahead by more points.  The Clippers filled the game with its classic show-stopping hijinx.  There were plenty of times when the Grizzlies simply looked outgunned by an offensively superior team.  Yet, the Grizzlies kept clawing their way back into the game.  The cat and mouse game looked to come to a close early in the 4th Quarter as the Clippers took a 12 point lead with 3:47 to play. With Zach Randolph on the bench in foul trouble Darrell Arthur answered the call and (along with Conley) helped string together a 9-2 run that tied the game with 1:37 left to play.  The Clippers had hit a lull.  Despite all of its offensive success, their halfcourt offense deteriorated into long jumpshots that led to immediate defensive rebounds and allowed the Grizz to get back in a game that looked to be out of their reach most of the final period.

Zach Randolph has been in foul trouble all series trying to slow down Griffin

The dueling point guards traded baskets and plays as Chris Paul pulled his “closer” cape out with his own series of isolation plays (going 3 out of 4 from the field to close the game).  The best player on the court, fittingly, ended the game on this dramatic drive to the cup, a fist pump, and a nonchalant walk to his teammates.

The next game is in “The Grind House” in Memphis.  Obviously a loss would mean that (for all intents and purposes) the series would be over.  This series has been a litmus test on the mid-season Rudy Gay trade.  While their numbers (wins, defense efficiency, and offensive efficiency) have been similar to last year with Gay, the test was always going to be how they fared in the playoffs.  in the postseason it is more difficult to score because the opposition prepares more and the possessions per game drop.  Early on, the acquisition of Tayshaun Prince and company has yielded little in terms of results.  Prince has been an abysmal 3/15 over the two games, and his defense hasn't been as helpful given that the Clippers don’t have a primarily scorer he can guard.  I hope that Austin Daye (another piece of the Gay trade) will get more time and boost the anemic output of the bench.  Daye’s shooting ability from deep may give Zach Randolph and Gasol more space to operate. 

From a macrocosm outlook, it may help answer the importance of “star players” in the postseason.  Despite statistics that supported the trade (that was done to save Memphis from being over the punitive luxury tax), the classic thinking in basketball has always been that stars are better in the postseason than role players because of their ability to score when the offense breaks down.  

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