In a series that appeared to be the most predictable of the first round match-ups — low-scoring close games, big performances from key players, shortened rotations, a probable Game 7 — we saw the unpredictable: a 112-91 Clippers blowout in which the Clippers looked like far and away the better team, and did as they pleased. They controlled the game from start to finish, even if it wasn’t always pretty to watch, and destroyed the Grizzlies on the boards (47-23), despite the Grizzlies’ size advantage inside.
Blake Griffin struggled, but Eric Bledsoe (15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), Caron Butler (13 points, 7 rebounds) and Chauncey Billups (14 points) more than made up for Griffin’s foul trouble and shooting woes. And, of course, Chris Paul did Chris Paul things (23 points, 7 assists).
There are certainly caveats. This is probably the only game the Clippers will win by 20-plus, and the Grizzlies aren’t going to grab a mere 23 rebounds next game. Mike Conley and Zach Randolph will likely play more — a lot more. Marc Gasol isn’t always going to shoot 4 of 12. But from what the last two seasons have shown us, none of that matters. Any way you cut it, the Clippers will find a way to win against the Grizzlies, and are the better team until proven otherwise.
Los Angeles Clippers
Recap | Box score
X factor: Glasswork. The Grizzlies pride themselves on winning the possession battle, but Marc Gasol and company got hit in the mouth tonight. The Clippers won the rebounding battle 47-23, and dominated with plenty of second-chance buckets.
Well that was … puzzling. Rarely does a coach make no substantial adjustments and yet still fail to maintain any rotational continuity. The Grizzlies won’t win this series if Lionel Hollins continues to get outcoached.
MVP: Chris Paul. His focus may have been on stopping Mike Conley and creating balance early, but the scoring senses tingled at the right time. Paul’s 14 points in the second half helped slam the door shut on the Grizzlies.
– D.J. Foster
Tweet(s) of the Game
Eric Bledsoe: One defensive possession, one technical foul instigated
— Jordan Heimer (@jordanheimer) April 21, 2013
— Justin Verrier (@JustinVerrier) April 21, 2013
Eric Bledsoe Per 36 Stat O’ The Night
ClipperBlog Live’s Best Moment
Jordan and Jovan describe the intense playoff atmosphere at Staples Center, while D.J. rants on Lionel Hollins’ questionable decision-making throughout the game. (Andrew and Fred make valuable contributions, too.)
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It’s a Deep Burn
Conventional wisdom says rotations shorten in the playoffs, making the bench less of a factor than during the regular season. Whether that’s true or not, it certainly was an effective redundancy when the Clippers required a response to late game foul and free throw issues.
Since DeAndre Jordan’s poor free-throw shooting and a foul-out from Blake Griffin, the Clippers were forced to prematurely resort to a combination of Odom, Hollins, and Turiaf — moderately effective stopgaps. The real versatility of the bench, however, came to light when the Deck-a-DJ strategy organically morphed into Lay-out-Lamar. Vinny Del Negro responded by going small, bringing Matt Barnes in at the four. Not only did this keep the game moving, halting the painstaking marathon of fouls, but it also allowed the dynamic offense-defense troika of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Eric Bledsoe to stay on the floor and administer the dagger.
- Michael Shagrin
Consistency is overrated. To win a championship, you can either be the league’s best team OR you can simply PLAY like the league’s best team for two months. If you’re the Heat, the favorites, the team that should win all-else-being-equal, then, yes — consistency is your ticket. But if you’re not? Then it’s best to built for luck.
Two years ago, Dallas won a championship when a team full of high-variance guys all got hot at once. Jason Terry, JJ Barea, and DeSwhawn Stevenson stopped missing shots for two months. Dirk missed two free-throws in May.
Tonight, the Clippers basically maxed out. They got almost optimal performances from the entire roster — with the exception of Blake Griffin — and demonstrated just how high this team’s ceiling can be.
When his athleticism gets out in front of his decision making, Eric Bledsoe is a turnover-prone point guard with an iffy jumper, but there he was tonight, flexing those Popeye biceps, skipping back downcourt pounding his chest after sparking another fast break.
Sneaky playmakers like Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom can steal points and possessions with tip-ins, tip-backs, savvy cuts, and skip passes. DeAndre Jordan can run and jump with any big in the league. Chauncey Billups is back firing up heat-check threes after playing sporadically all season. And, of course, Jamal Crawford holds the records for one-game, one-season, and all-time four-point plays: volatility personified.
In the end, the core performers simply won’t be enough. As great as Blake and CP3 are, the other contenders have Big 2s and 3s of equal ability. If the Clippers advance deep in these playoffs, it will depend on continuing to get performances like the ones they got tonight from all the guys you probably shouldn’t count on.
- Jordan Heimer
All For One and One For Small
How is Memphis going to stop the Clippers from going small? Vinny Del Negro threw a rather unconventional lineup out there to close in Game 1, a three-guard lineup of Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, and Chauncey Billups. That’s not just a three-guard lineup. It’s beyond that. It’s a three-point guard lineup. And the Grizzlies couldn’t do anything about it. Mostly, that’s because they have no one to put at small forward who can pose any sort of offensive threat.
Tayshaun Prince isn’t able to score like he once was and Quincy Pondexter, who is more of a corner-three shooter than a run-him-off-screens-and-let-him-take-tough-shots shooter, isn’t someone that Lionel Hollins loves to play for extended periods of time. That means Paul and Bledsoe can essentially go Rondo-Bradley on the Grizzlies guards: play remarkably aggressively and make them uncomfortable. All of that allows the Clips to hide Billups on the defensive end. And that lineup was so successful tonight that it might not be surprising to see it again in this series.
- Fred Katz
Play It Again, Chris
- Andrew Han