When the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers tip -- in Memphis now, awesomely -- on Sunday night, the series will have had as much time as any other first round playoff pairing to be digested and analyzed. Truth be told, we might need it, as all signs point to this being a long, grueling battle between pretty evenly-matched teams who believe they have more to accomplish in this postseason than advancing past the first round.
Of course, one team will not be so lucky. So, as part of our preview of the Grizzlies' first round match-up, let's have a look at the first units we'll see when the squads take the floor Sunday. After the jump, the respective starters for the Grizzlies and Clippers, with some thoughts.
The number one and two-ranked players in the league at steals per game, this will be one of the more interesting duels in the series. After the difference that Conley running ruckus around Tony Parker in last year's first round of the playoffs made, an effort like that, as someone who should give Paul trouble on the perimeter, will be a good indicator for the Grizzlies. Tony Allen will also likely spend time guarding Paul, and for whomever guards him the key is to wear him down before crunch time. Paul knows how important he is to the effectiveness of the Clipper offense, as he's widely known to save his best for the fourth quarter. Make things difficult on him throughout the game -- an attacking Conley would especially help -- and hope he doesn't go too insane (remember, his Hornets team last year beat the Lakers twice, which is pretty incredible), and the Grizzlies will have increased their odds of a series win.
As mentioned, Allen will probably be splitting CP3 duties with Conley, but offensively the Grizzlies are so much more dangerous when Allen is taking and converting shots at the rim; points from him are not at a Gift From Above-type level of appreciation -- he is a relatively consistent contributor -- but double-digits in the scoring column coupled with his otherworldly defensive work is a combination that should foster lots of winning. Foye is a streaky shooter coming off a solid month of April, where he shot 42 percent from the floor. The Clippers have had their share of offensive droughts this season (the Grizzlies are no strangers to the phenomenon themselves), but when shooters like Foye are on it certainly makes them tougher to guard with Paul finding the open men.
Gay only got to watch Memphis's playoff run from last season, so getting to put his own time in should be a strong motivator for the Grizzlies' main perimeter threat. Also, Gay has been scorching of late, shooting 50 percent from the floor and averaging 22 points a night in his last ten games. The Grizzlies have battled through injuries most of the year, but any continuity problems with Gay are long gone by now. It is hard not to expect, and hope, for big things this postseason from Gay. Butler's role on the Clippers as spot-up shooter is well-suited for him, as much of the opponent's focus deservedly goes to Paul and Griffin, but like Foye, if Butler gets going from the outside, he becomes one more nasty problem to worry about along with the always-real threats provided by the Blake/CP3 pick-and-rolls.
Here is a study of two completely different ways to play forward in the NBA. In Randolph we have the bulldogish, ground-floor style consisting of jumpers, rebounds, put-backs, rebounds, shoulders, elbows, rebounds, positioning, and the scoring-in-any-way-possible manner. It is a joy to watch, but Z-Bo will need to stay out of foul trouble, as Griffin will challenge his ability to stay in front as well as the proper way to box a man out. Griffin is best when he is moving most; if the Grizz can convince him to settle for his outside jumper, it'll likely be considered a success when compared to the alternative. However, if Griffin gets loose in transition, or is looking to constantly attack, the onus is on Randolph to defend as best he can without picking up too many fouls.
Another match-up of contrasting styles, Gasol lacks the athleticism of Jordan but makes up for it with surgical passing and spacing on the offensive end and heady steering of the Grizzlies' defense. Jordan patrols the lane both offensively and defensively looking to attack, whether it be in the form of blocks or dunks. If Gasol can out-maneuver Jordan in getting to the spots on the floor that he's best suited to either score himself or set his slashing teammates up, the Grizzlies' All-Star center should hold the advantage over the developing Jordan. Like Griffin, Jordan will make the most destructive impact in space and movement; keep him contained in half-court sets and his effectiveness should go down.
So, that's one viewpoint of the starting fives. The Clippers and Grizzlies get it going Sunday night. What do you see?
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