Here we are with yet another elimination game on our hands. After taking care of business on Wednesday night, beating the Los Angeles Clippers 92-80, we still remain down 3-2 in the best-of-7 series and now face the toughest task yet: an elimination game on the road.
The main question heading into tonight's game will be, how does this team respond, coming off a roller coaster of a Game 5 and now having to win in Los Angeles, where they are 1-4 on the season, including these playoffs and games against the Lakers -- note, our only win in Los Angeles this season came against the Lakers.
A tough task indeed. But let's see if we can rationalize the hell out of this game and come up with a win, on paper, at least.
I'll start by saying this; both Blake Griffin (knee) and Chris Paul (groin) are listed as game-time decisions, but, seriously, they are going to play tonight. I have no doubt in my mind that they will play, and play significant minutes. These are the playoffs we're talking about, not a regular season meaningless game. This is a win-and-advance game, one which has great importance, seeing as if the Clippers do lose they head back to Memphis where we are about as tough an out as any team in the NBA. So, consider Griffin and Paul both ready and able tonight.
The real challenge is going to be addressing how we both start and finish games. Well, duh. When successful, we start games by pounding away in the paint, playing to our strength and forcing the Clippers to make adjustments on the fly. We play our best basketball when we're aggressive and, really, out of control, as opposed to eating up the 24-second clock and running sets to get Rudy Gay and/or whoever free at the elbow or playing ISO basketball. Those things are what allow other teams (see: the Clippers) the opportunity to play catch-up.
In Game 5 we took 44 shots from within nine feet of the basket, though we hit just 50 percent of those attempts, as opposed to the 28 shots we took from 10 feet and beyond. That's more of what we need to see tonight, starting off the top -- much like we did in Game 5, when Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph simply dominated the paint in the first quarter. If we come out shooting jumpers or relying on mid-range ISOs, we're going to be clawing back the entire game, fighting for our season.
This leads me to my second point:
OK, maybe we don't need to state it that strongly, but finding a way to finish out these games and not abandoning our sets is HUGE. This all goes back to Game 1, obviously, but can be seen throughout the series, up to and including Game 5. The loss of identity on offense can be astounding sometimes, and I know a lot of that has to do with Lionel Hollins having to rein this team in, as well as Rudy Gay having to recognize his better qualities, but this team can't lose sight of who they are.
Think about Rudy Gay, for a second, and how he actually closed out Game 5. That was the best-of Rudy. That was Rudy taking the ball to the basket, either trying to lay one in or draw the foul. That was Rudy being a borderline All-Star. And then there's Rudy being the jump-shooter, which is what makes us pull our hair out, but... we can't all be perfect?
As for the game, it's not going to be easy. In fact, I imagine that we'll see the best of the Clippers tonight. Think back to Wednesday. Mo Williams can score 20 points on a given night, so that was no fluke. Chris Paul is better than a 4:3 AST:TO ration. Blake Griffin is better than 15 and 11. Caron Butler is better than 2-for-10 from the floor. Reggie Evans will continue to be as good, slash, as bad-good as he's been this series -- he's one of the game's best rebounders, slash, fake tough guys. Randy Foye can score, no fluke. DeAndre Jordan will NOT play 20 minutes tonight and go without a rebound.
My point is: Expect a better Clippers team to show up tonight.
This will not be an easy game. The Clippers do not want to come back to Memphis for Game 7. Chris Paul doesn't want it. And I don't want Paul to play like he doesn't want it because that means, we're in for a long night.
Of course I'm expecting the Grizzlies to pull this one out, well, I should say I'm rooting for the Grizzlies to pull it out. But I'm obviously more worried about this game than I have been about any other game this series. Even in Game 5 when we faced elimination I went into the game feeling as if we already had this one in the bag. Tonight, though, it's a different story.
Prediction: Grizzlies 95 - Clippers 94
For more on the Clippers, see: Clips Nation