May 9, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; General view of the FedEx Forum during the first half of game five in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE
It was early, early on in Game Five, but the Memphis Grizzlies and their home crowd seemed to already be affected by who the Los Angeles Clippers have become in the eyes of many. Zach Randolph picked up his first foul within the first thirty seconds of the opening quarter, and the foreboding sense of "EVERYONE WAS RIGHT, THEY WILL GET THE CALLS NO MATTER WHAT WE ARE SCREWED GOD HELP US" was sprouting up like an ugly weed. It was there, but not for long, because soon after the Grizzlies revealed their obvious focus of starting inside first to Randolph and Marc Gasol. And what we saw was once again the team that looks head and shoulders better in this series in the first half, followed by the Memphis team that could end up shooting and meandering itself right out of the first round.
After the jump, Game Five revisited.
It really did feel like Gasol and Randolph had some sort of pact going on in the first quarter, to not only demand touches in their areas of expertise (Gasol around the free-throw line area; Randolph on the low block), but to be as aggressive as we've seen both of them since Game One before Game One became That Game One. The way everything on Memphis's side of the court flowed through them -- Gasol especially -- was and is how the Grizzlies' offense should be operated basically at all times. Randolph looked as good as he's been all series before disappearing into the background, but in that first half Los Angeles was just demolished inside. The Grizzlies were attacking from their peak positions, they weren't evening bothering with an outside game or, really, even the threat of one, save for a few open looks on kick-outs, like they were playing with a medicine ball and peach basket (NOTE: This has probably never been how a game of basketball has been played) and it was freaking working.
I think the biggest question regarding the Grizzlies that anyone can have is why, why, doesn't this type of action sustain itself over the course of a game? There may not only be one way in which Memphis is unquestionably better than Los Angeles, but when they play like they did in the first quarter it sure feels pretty lopsided. And last night was different from the mega-lead that Memphis jumped out to in Game One. The Grizzlies made zero percent of their three-point attempts last night -- which is actually kind of hilarious, at this point, because I think I'd rather see something closer to that output, with maybe a few going in for good measure -- compared to that pretty rainbow of three-ball delight in Game One that actually turned out leading to a big pot of fool's gold and misery. Memphis was dominating by playing their game, and better still is that they seemed to recognize this was what they should be doing all the time; it was no accident. Gasol and Randolph wore determined looks, seemingly ready to keep driving this game right down L.A.'s throat.
As great as the beginning of Game Five was, it also couldn't help but feel temporary, because if you know the Grizzlies, you know that with the bludgeoning that can be delivered in the paint usually comes balanced with wasted possessions, contested jumpers on the perimeter, and unfathomably long periods of game-time that go by without Gasol or Randolph even getting a whiff of the leather. When Dante Cunningham and/or Marreese Speights come in to spell the big boys, it is an understandable time to try and get Rudy Gay or O.J. Mayo going, it's just, the Grizzlies have a terrible habit of failing to return in a fashion even relatively close to timely to the inside-first modus operandi that is so successful that, to see it being ignored in favor of pull-up jumpers or ugly forced bouts of one-on-one isolations, also makes Memphis hair-pullingly insane to watch.
Especially when that palpable feeling of despair set over the arena when the technical-infused Clippers got mad enough at themselves and started drilling shots. These are the times, when the opponent is rallying, that the best course of action would be to reset EVERYTHING. Get the flow of the game running back through Gasol's hands, and get Randolph -- your closer of a postseason ago, 100% right now or not -- touches in space where he can get to work. But alas, a Chris Paul three here, a Mo Williams three there, and the Clippers were down 12 after the third quarter, but my goodness, you would've thought they just tied the game. It should be noted that Williams, especially after Paul went out with that apparent groin re-tweaking, was terrifying to watch. And, as Reggie Evans again assumed control over the paint, it was looking like the Grizzlies were a few Nick Young daggers away from completing coming off the tracks.
I wouldn't say the Grizzlies were 'calm' in their response, but rather had a collective feeling of "Shit, things aren't going well, everyone is super nervous, but meh; it'll be okay this time." Memphis just sort of continued on and, in the end, Mike Conley's huge driving layup and Gay's crucial four points padded to the cushion established by that incredible first quarter-and-a-half, and the banged-up Clippers couldn't complete the rally. They never really got back to what worked so much as they forced the door closed just enough to slam the lock in place.
For as much as we may want the Grizzlies to assume the one identity of their team that fits so well with their players' skill sets, they have shown the propensity to drift, and what they've become known for sometimes goes from team staple to "what if?" scenario. What if the Grizzlies, during stagnant times, let Gasol and Randolph poke and prod at the defense, as opposed to Gay and Conley? I'm not trying to diminish what anyone means to the Grizzlies; those two had the big, back-breaking buckets at the end of course, but what if the Grizzlies looked into the post / high post area -- where they truly become deadly -- rather than hoisting the first kind of open jumper they see, on an even more regular basis? Or, failing that, what if it simply wasn't just ignored altogether while the rest of the game crumbles around them?
Because the scary thing is that sometimes, as Memphis floats in and out of that intense focus towards operating through the methods that make them the best team they can possibly hope to be, they just can't recover the flow or rhythm that had been previously established. Sometimes they can a bit, sometimes, though, not at all. It's these lapses and variances from their strengths that already have and will continue to haunt the Memphis Grizzlies.
That said, I have no doubt in the Grizzlies' ability to go back to Los Angeles for Friday night's Game Six, win, and head back for Game Seven in the Grindhouse. It seems that both us as fans and the Grizzlies alike know what makes them so tough to play against, and alternatively what leads to the loss of control from a game, a stretch of a game, or a series altogether. The question, then, if we're being honest, is how much can the Grizzlies play with fire before they're burned once and for all?
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