Tonight, at the Grindhouse, the Grizzlies are either going to win, or they’re going to start their offseason. It’s as simple as that. Down 3–1 after three losses by a combined total of 6 points, and one win by 7, tonight’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers is a must win. Not in the metaphorical sense of "this game is important." Not in the sense of "we need to win this game to prove something." No, this is "we are going to be immediately eliminated from the postseason if we lose another game to the Clippers."
Lots of things have brought us to this point. Our fourth quarter offense looks like five DeMarre Carrolls on the court – all energy and zero execution. Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin are making life difficult for our post players, and as a consequence, no one is passing them the ball. Our perimeter shooting is deader than Elvis. What do we have to do to win tonight, and force a Game 6 in LA?
What’s it going to take to keep our season from ending tonight? Three things, after the jump.
Find The Guy
The Grizzlies beat the San Antonio Spurs in the first round last year for one reason: Every time they needed to score, they just passed the ball to Zach Randolph and got out of the way. Randolph decided he was going to put the team on his back and win, and that’s exactly what he did, scoring at will, unstoppable. We’ve seen glimpses of it in this series, too:
But Zach’s not 100% yet. He’s not able to consistently make his own scoring opportunities.
There is no one in this series who will do that for Memphis. Rudy Gay certainly tried in Game 4, and he ended up shooting a not-terrible 8–25, but at the end of the third quarter, that number was 4–19 and Lionel Hollins kept him in, seemingly satisfied to let the team ride Rudy to victory. He got soundly beaten on both ends by a guy (Caron Butler) with a broken hand.
That, or Lionel was playing some cruel trick on Rudy, whereby he proved to him that he can’t carry a playoff team by himself. Seems unlikely, though.
OJ Mayo has more turnovers than made buckets so far. Randolph is getting manhandled in the restricted area by Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin, getting his shot blocked half the time, clearly still not 100% after his knee injury. When Zach does get the ball, which isn’t often enough, he’s shooting on the first try rather than passing back out – probably because he knows he’s not going to see the ball again once it gets back out on the perimeter. Marc Gasol has disappeared, looking to pass first at all times, missing free throws.
Someone is going to have to say "I’ve got this" and then actually score points. The Rudy Gay Isolation Theatre Hour is not an offense, and it’s not going to work anymore, if it ever did. Find the guy. These losses have been close games, where even two or three made buckets would’ve meant a Grizzlies win. Find the guy.
No one is guarding the Clippers’ perimeter players very well – not even world-class Tony Allen, who might be struggling more with his knee injury than he cares to admit.
Every time the Grizzlies open a big lead, the Clippers are able to close it by having Nick Young or Randy Foye or Eric Bledsoe or Mo Williams or (unbelievably) even Bobby Simmons take jump shots and make them. Rudy doesn’t seem to feel compelled to even put his hands up. They’re losing the shooters in transition and not picking them back up until it’s too late to close out on them, giving up threes the way Teen Mom stars give up their dignity.
That’s not going to work. The Grizzlies are going to have to lock these guys down if they’re going to win another game. Mike Conley and OJ Mayo have contained Chris Paul about as well as it can be done – let’s remember, Grizz fans, that Paul is one of the best five players in the NBA right now – but everyone else has to cut off his shooters, limiting his passing options. Otherwise we’ll never secure a lead, and the game will come into the final minute tied or within one, and we’ve seen how Chris Paul handles that. It’s no coincidence the only Grizzlies win was by more points than all of the Clippers’ wins combined: Paul didn’t have enough time to score all those points himself.
Coach Hollins appeared, in game four, to be just throwing guys on the court, hoping something would happen. He got a major spark out of Dante Cunningham and Hamed Haddadi late in Game 4 – and then immediately pulled them and put the starters back in. Cunningham is the only Grizzlies defender who isn’t too big and too slow to stay in front of Blake Griffin. ZBo can do it, but only by pushing Griffin around, something that’s led to tempers flaring in both games now. Haddadi is an abnormally large human being, and he’s got six fouls to give, and he always, always, always plays hard. Hell, if Reggie Evans can be the Clippers’ X-factor, Cunningham and Haddadi can certainly be ours. They don’t even grab anybody by the junk:
Game 5, like the four games before it, is very winnable. The Grizzlies have led large portions of all four games so far – but only in one have they been able to manage the fourth quarter, when Chris Paul goes into God Mode and the Grizzlies offense goes into a toilet clogged with Growl Towels and doo-doo isolation plays. They’re going to have to do better if they’re going to win tonight, because the Clippers have a game plan and that game plan has worked three times out of four. If they don’t do anything differently tonight, they’re going to be sent home – but this Grizzlies squad always plays harder than anybody else with their backs against the wall. If anybody’s going to take the fight back to LA tonight, it’s going to be the Memphis Grizzlies, and who knows. Maybe Game 6 can be the one game we steal in LA, forcing a Game 7 back in Memphis.
Anything can happen. Anything is possible. This team has weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but it has enormous resources of heart and talent and work ethic. Those are going to have to be used to the fullest measure tonight if the Grizzlies are going to win.