The Clippers have achieved, for only the second time, a 2 games to nil advantage. The only other occurrence was in the 2006 first round versus Denver. But that Denver team is not the Memphis Grizzlies; a hard-nosed, “grit ‘n grind” team that has all the characteristics and attributes of a chic darkhorse contender. Not feeling the consensus Heat/Thunder showdown? Pass on the perennially near-pension Spurs? The Grizzlies are a lunchpail team that can put the fear of Elvis into anyone.
But what do you say for the team that waxes Beale Street’s finest? There is a growing sentiment that the Clippers are rounding into their December 17-game winning streak form. And if this series progresses to 3-1 (or *gasp* 3-0) it will be curious to see how the narrative evolves from a team regarded as all sizzle & no steak, all flash & no fundamentals. The thought was the Clippers were lucky last year. Is it luck if it’s two years in a row? If this was the Nuggets (another sexy darkhorse pick) handling the Grizzlies, would enthusiasts be praising the star-less team as the arrival of a third West contender? Or what if it were “the other Los Angeles team” up 2-0 on Memphis?
It’s food for thought. Just because the Clippers don’t look like a traditional contender doesn’t mean they aren’t one.
Los Angeles Clippers
Recap | Box score
Defining Moment: Tie game. Clippers ball. You knew Chris Paul was going to get it, and you knew Tony Allen would be sticking him. Allen defended wonderfully, but great offense beat great defense as Paul kissed in an impossible floater to give the Clippers a dramatic victory.
MVP: Chris Paul. It wasn’t just about the game-winner. Paul scored the last 8 points for the Clippers, once again asserting himself in the second half with jumper after jumper. Don’t discount his one turnover in 36 minutes, either.
X-Factor: Before the heroics, Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes and the rest of the Clippers’ second unit built up a double-digit lead by playing swarming defense. Memphis clawed back in it behind Mike Conley’s slicing and dicing, but losing the bench battle 30-11 has to be a tough pill for the Grizzlies to swallow.
– D.J. Foster
Your Game Winner
They call him J. Crossover
“All you do is dunk in that game.”
Tweet(s) of the Game
Jamal Crawford is one of the toughest to guard 1 on 1. His handles r serious.
— Chandler Parsons (@ChandlerParsons) April 23, 2013
Remember when everyone said the Clips bench and depth would be irrelevant because its the playoffs? These minutes matter too
— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) April 23, 2013
Chris Paul’s subdued game winner fist pump was what golfers do after tapping in a gimme.
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 23, 2013
How many more agonizing ways can Clips muster to torture Memphis? Postseason, regular season, playoffs again … LA keeps dagger-ing Grizz
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 23, 2013
As per MJ’s shot in game 6. That wasn’t a push off. It was a helping hand to a broke down comrade.
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) April 23, 2013
Eric Bledsoe Per 36 Stat O’ The Night
ClipperBlog Live’s Best Moment
Sean Highkin of USA Today pops in to chat playoffs. The crew talks about a big 2-0 lead versus the Grizzlies, marveling over Chris Paul’s late game heroics while still puzzled over some late game strategy.
Check Your Messages
Jamal Crawford, Ride or Die
I give up. No – I give in. My hypocrisy goes only so far.
Was I initially a fan of the signing? No, not really. I’d watched enough Jamal to think I knew what I was getting – a shot-drunk ball-hog and a defensive black hole.
But now that I’ve watched a full season of Jamal Crawford, 85-plus games of yo-yo dribbles and fade-away heaves, audacious moves and outrageous turnovers, I’m finally learning: He’s Jamal freaking Crawford and I can’t have it both ways.
Fuming over Jamal’s questionable shot selection is like nitpicking Craig Sager’s wardrobe – what were you expecting? OF COURSE HE SOMETIMES SHOOTS YOU OUT OF GAMES! If Jamal could hit the shots he was hitting in tonight’s first half all the time, if AND-1 was his only gear and 4-pointers rained down like malted chocolate balls in Homer’s Land of Chocolate… well then, Germany would be a very different place and Jamal would be challenging Kevin Durant for scoring titles. He doesn’t always make those shots because he can’t because nobody could BUT he can’t not take those shots because he IS those shots and those shots are him.
Look: analytics are fun, but freaks doing freak things are funner.
I’m wagging a stern finger at myself. Self: I didn’t hear you booing when Jamal shook Jerryd Bayless with a behind-the-back crossover. I don’t recall you ranting about the inefficiency of the guarded mid-range jumper when he was sinking one after another in the 2nd quarter.
So I didn’t sweat it when Jamal cooled off in the second half, double-checking his suddenly cold hand with an early shot-clock 30-foot moon-ball fade away. He tried to bank it. He had to. I thought it was going in all the way.
And you know what? Sometimes it does go in. Sometimes it goes in and you get fouled.
- Jordan Heimer
The Z-Bo Qualifier
Zach Randolph has struggled – I mean, he’s really struggled – for the first two games of this series. But the description of his problems keeps ending or starting with one particular dependent clause: “If Z-Bo stays out of foul trouble…”
But there’s an inherent flaw in that phrase, an issue with the Z-Bo Qualifier: It implies that there are likely times ahead when he can and will stay out of foul trouble. And that might not be true in this series.
First off, Randolph is banged up. We’ve seen his decline over the second half of the season. It’s apparent at this point that he isn’t as effective as he was back at the start of the season. But there’s more to it. Blake Griffin and the Clippers make the Z-Bo Qualifier irrelevant.
Over the past two seasons, the Clippers have played the Grizzlies 16 times (including playoff games). Z-Bo has played in 15 of those games and in nine of them, he has tallied at least four personal fouls. That shouldn’t be shocking with the way he and Griffin feel so particularly entitled to their own space on the court. We’re talking about a matchup that has produced double fouls in not two, but three consecutive games. That has to mean something. Randolph has nine fouls in his past two games and at this point, it’s a trend.
The Z-Bo Qualifier is right in its own way. If Randolph stayed out of foul trouble, of course he would be more effective. He’s a darn good player and he and Marc Gasol make up the best front court tandem in the NBA. But with the way Griffin is playing him, we have to drop the phrase altogether, because it looks like it won’t be applicable to this series.
- Fred Katz
Chaos, cacophony and close games
Heading into the fourth quarter, I had a decent-sized set of notes on what had taken place in the last 36 minutes. I was thinking, “maybe I’ll talk about Jamal Crawford and the way the Clippers’ bench dominated the Grizzlies’. Or I could focus on the Clippers’ relentless effort on the glass and in a larger sense, their overall front court domination. Hmm, I wonder why Lionel Hollins won’t give Tony Wroten some burn against the Clippers’ 3-guard lineup.”
It felt like nothing more than an exciting playoff game with a great deal of material worth dissecting. In more or less words, it was basketball porn. Even Lamar Odom’s emphatic weakside block and X-Ray vision, reminiscent of his time with the Lakers, couldn’t deter me.
A few minutes later, I was brainwashed. Chris Paul made me forget everything I knew about basketball. In part, that’s the inevitable byproduct of finding yourself emotionally invested in a close game. Possessions, regardless of what anyone says, become more significant and more arduous as the game drags on. Our perception of reality becomes encapsulated in the unforgiving, unrelenting and fallacious microcosm known as crunch-time. Tonight, Chris Paul turned the analyst into the enthusiast.
The Clippers defeated the Grizzlies and have now taken a 2-0 lead in the series. I learned a ton of different things, yet it feels more like I learned nothing. Still, I feel bad for any living, breathing, sentient being who had to miss out on this one.
- Seerat Sohi
The Unassuming Butler
He’s not going to get much play in the news cycle, but I thought Caron Butler did a solid job as the weakside help defender for most of the night on pick-and-roll coverages. The weakside defender’s primary help role is generally to sag into the middle of the paint and bump the roll man, delaying him long enough for the big pick-and-roll defender to recover.
In fact, most of the Clippers’ weakside rotations relating to pick-and-roll seemed decent for most of the game. But Butler really rubbed into the roll-man, giving DeAndre or others ample time to hedge or trap the ball-handler and then recover.
It just makes it more curious why that same rotation was lacking on the go-ahead Memphis pick-and-roll to tie the game.
- Andrew Han
All of the (High)Lights
No matter what takes place during the first 47 minutes and 59 seconds of a game, a buzzer-beater in that final second is sure to leave the most indelible mark on our collective memories. Let’s face it: Chris Paul’s shot was one of the most incredible buckets in Clipper history. That said, there were plenty of highlights worthy of review from tonight’s dangerously close victory over a very tough Memphis team. Jamal Crawford crossed Jerryd Bayless into oblivion before releasing a beyond improbable bank-shot fadeaway. Eric Bledsoe blocked a Tony Allen drive with such fury that I thought he might break the backboard (or himself). And Blake Griffin got airborne from distance for the first time this series, throwing down a monster dunk that reminded viewers who he is. Is any of these highlights as meaningful as Paul’s last second brilliance? No. But any of these clips could have been a regular season game’s top highlight, and each is worth a second look.
- Patrick James
The Good Side of Hero Ball
Over the years, the term “hero ball” has become synonymous with bad crunch time play. A 1-4 low isolation set that doesn’t yield anything good? Damn that hero ball. The same player taking multiple shots in a row? Can’t stand that hero ball.
That all makes sense. Isolation is one of the least efficient things you can do, and the numbers back it all up.
Sometimes, though, I think that all flies out the window when you have the right hero.
They are few and far between, but there are players who are uniquely suited to isolation basketball, and sending screens their way just complicates things. Bring a screen, invite extra defenders or a trap. Have CP3 give up the ball to run something, and he may never get it back.
Going directly at Tony Allen usually results in failure, but again, Paul isn’t an ordinary clutch scorer. The Clippers did well to try and get Paul a more favorable switch with a Jamal Crawford rub, but ultimately they still got what you want — Chris Paul, with the ball, with the chance to win it.
Paul shot nearly 50 percent in clutch situations this year. He scored more than a point per minute in those situations. He turns it over just once every 12 minutes of clutch time. He has a long, long history of leading the most clutch offense in basketball, and it’s because you know you’re getting, at the very least, a good look at the basket with him.
Watch Paul’s reaction after the shot. A simple fist pump. Subdued emotion. If Paul made it look like he’s done that sort of thing a million times before, it’s because he has.
- D.J. Foster
Chris Paul Keeps His Controlling Interest
Paul scored 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting from the field and 6-for-6 from the line. Given a pick in the middle of the floor anywhere inside 20 feet, Paul would convert that open space into a silky midrange jumper. He fed Blake Griffin early, empowering the big man to notch 13 points in the first quarter with a steady stream of post feeds. Griffin would finish with 21 points and eight rebounds, and avoided the foul trouble that plagued him in Game 1.
In practical terms, the Clippers accomplished what they sought to do in Los Angeles. In what projected to be a grueling, competitive first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers won twice and now tank up the plane to Memphis with a 2-0 advantage.
But there’s a larger takeaway from these first two games, one that has more profound implications: The Clippers have restored themselves to their December grandeur, when they went undefeated for a calendar month, ran off 17 consecutive wins and pulled up a chair to the adult table in the Western Conference.
- Kevin Arnovitz, for ESPN.com