The Memphis Grizzlies showcased their grit and mettle Friday night in Los Angeles as they clipped the Los Angeles Clippers 90-88 to tie the best of seven series at 3-3. Game 7 will Mother’s Day afternoon and the Clippers and Grizzlies are two teams truly going in opposite directions. The Grizzlies physical play and aggression is wearing down a depleted Clippers team that is running on fumes. ClearlyChris Paul (groin, hip flexor, jammed finer) and Blake Griffin (sprained knee) were limited athletically Friday night, as they were unable to carry the Clippers to a historic home victory.
Here are Seven Keys to Game 7:
1. The 1st quarter: Memphis has outscored the Clippers 166 to 135 in the opening frame. The last 2 first quarters have been even worse, as the the Clips have found themselves down 36-22 and 25-16. If Memphis comes out strong again at the “Grindhouse” in Memphis it could be game over early. The Clippers simply don’t have the healthy resources to mount yet another epic comeback. The Clippers need to keep this game close throughout and hope Paul can find a way to pull the game out.
2. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. For much of the series the dynamic duo was Paul and Griffin. However the last 2 games have belonged to the Grizzlies post players. Gasol and Randolph combined for 42 points on 14 of 25 shooting (56%) in Game 5 and last night lit it up for another 41 points (17-33). The Clippers have found some success guarding this “lunch bucket” duo with Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin, but they lose so much offensively that their half court offense becomes non-existent. Vinny Del Negro needs to be creative in how he attacks these brutes in the post from Memphis while keeping enough offensive on the floor.
3. The Clippers have 15 comebacks this season of 10+ points. They have had a knack of rising when you least expect it. They will need to tap into that magic NOW!
4. X-Factors: For the Grizzlies Rudy Gay is an important perimeter player who can take pressure off Gasol and Randolph. Gay has struggled in this series shooting the basketball (41%) and when he struggles the Clippers can turn their attention to the post. Conversely the Clippers need Mo Williams or Nick Young to be impact players. Williams followed up a 21 point game with a 1-7 effort (2 points) in Game 6. Young, after having been dynamic in Game 1 (19 points), has scored a total of 2 points over his last two games. With Paul and Griffin hobbling, these two spark plugs off the bench need to provide offense.
5. Lionel Hollins vs. Vinny Del Negro: Hollins is a fearless coach who doesn’t care about anything but winning. He’s tough and has found a way into the heads of Randolph and Gasol, as those two have become much more aggressive as the series has evolved. Hollins kept his team believing even down 3-1 and the 1st quarter numbers demonstrate his preparation, as his team is always ready to play. As for Del Negro: his players like him and…man, how do I put this fairly into words? Its tough to watch the Clippers night-in and night-out and observe the numerous missed adjustments/match-ups and witness the team never show improvement in significant areas. For example, the execution of their out-of-bounds plays (which I’m in favor of actually executing) have hampered the team the entire year. Even worse than the OTBs is that as a team the Clippers don’t get back on defense (Blake Griffin) consistently. This burned them last night as the team did not match-up after the Randy Foye three-ball with 3 seconds to go and Memphis was able to run the clock out.
6.What can CP3 and Blake give the Clippers? Both players play hard and have given Clippers Nation much to cheer for in 2012. But both are also hobbling and limited. Can they come up with a historical performance?
7. Turnovers: The Grizzlies had 22 turnovers and WON ON THE ROAD FRIDAY NIGHT! However there is no way that recipe will result in a win in a Game 7. The Grizzlies need to value the ball because they are unstoppable in their half court sets right now. The Clippers need to value the ball and maximize each and every possession. They have little margin of error.
While the outlook for the Clippers looks bleak, keep this thought in mind: they are better when they are perceived to be the underdog. In late March they went 0-3 on a road trip and lost an ugly game to New Orleans. Many felt that Coach Vinny Del Negro was about to be relieved of his duties as head coach. But the Clippers responded with a 5-0 home-stand and went on a 13-2 run over their next 15 games.
I originally picked the Clippers in 7 and while many factors have changed, I just feel like the comeback kids have one more tremendous effort left in them. If not, Game 7 could quickly turn into a massacre.
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