If Game 1 was the perfect game for the Clippers, you could probably say the same thing about Game 3 for the Grizzlies.
That might sound a bit strange when you consider that the Grizzlies shot 38.8 percent from the field. That many missed shots rarely equates to perfection, but the Grizzlies dominated in the areas of the game they’re designed to control.
Take a look at the Four Factors from Game 3, courtesy of HoopData.com:
Look at the huge differential in turnover rate, offensive rebounding rate, and free throw rate. Offensive rebounding rate is of particular interest — compare those numbers to Game 1:
It’s very plausible that Game 1 is the best the Clippers can play, and that Game 3 is the best the Grizzlies can play as well. The drastic swing in rebounding rates feel like outliers, with Game 2 representing the mean.
Those numbers look more in line with what we saw most of the season from both teams. Over 82 games, both teams forced nearly the same amount of turnovers (15.4% for LAC, 15.2% for MEM). They both drew the same amount of fouls (FT/FGA was .203 for LAC to .203 for MEM). They both were in the same neighborhood for offensive rebounding (28.8% for LAC, 31% for MEM).
In this series, however, Memphis has been able to get to the free throw line much more frequently than the Clippers have. The Clippers have shot 76 free throws over the three games, while Memphis has shot 97. Along with the offensive rebounding/possession battle, that’s been the most important stat of the series.
That’s a fairly large free throw discrepancy, but it’s not an indictment on the officiating of this series in the least bit. The Grizzlies set the tone in more than a few ways by feeding Zach Randolph relentlessly to start. By feeding Z-Bo the ball time and time again, the Grizzlies established the physicality of the game for how it would be played and called.
When Randolph got back on track, so did the rest of the Grizzlies. Marc Gasol was allowed to revert back to a high-post maven, splashing in jumpers and make slick entry passes. Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter cut backdoor relentlessly with eyes averted to Z-Bo, and the Grizzlies made sense again in the halfcourt, even if they didn’t shoot it particularly well.
Marc Gasol may make the Grizzlies go, but his contributions are a little tougher to take away than Randolph’s are. Because Gasol is such a gifted passer and floor spacer, he doesn’t need to be the main attraction to have a huge influence. Randolph is more needy — he requires space to breathe, solid position, and a good entry pass.
Still, it’s hard to deny Randolph what he wants, especially when he’s as hungry as he was in Game 3. The best course of action is to get him off the floor completely, and that’s where Blake Griffin comes in.
If Griffin plays Randolph to a draw, it’s a victory for the Clippers. The Grizzlies look helpless in the halfcourt without Randolph scoring on the block, but the Clippers maintain numerous personnel advantages without Griffin’s services.
Look at it this way. If you have an advantage on the chessboard, you can afford to be more aggressive with your key pieces, and maybe even a little more sacrificial. Griffin is more valuable than Randolph in a broad sense, but not in a vacuum.
If and when the Grizzlies go to Randolph in Game 4, the Clippers should return the favor and go right at Randolph on the other end. Low post play can be exhausting, so let Griffin’s superior athleticism and stamina shine. Let double-fouls be called, let charge-block coin flip calls happen. When it comes to selling contact and earning calls, few are better than Blake Griffin. If nothing else, you wear Randolph down. The only real way the Clippers lose that battle is if they don’t play.