You know, I thought maybe I wasn’t going to have to do this. I thought the Grizzlies would be able to make their way up to the third seed, and would play Golden State. I thought maybe the Nuggets would fall to the fourth seed and I’d be able to write about the Grizzlies’ valiant struggles against Denver’s athletic frontcourt and the meaning of home court advantage when altitude is involved.
But instead, this Grizzlies team is still getting beat by the Clippers. Sure, they put up a fight, and made a close game out of it, and other than a few stretches where some of Lionel Hollins’ still-questionable bench lineups got absolutely shellacked, but at the end of the day, the Grizzlies are still 0–2 coming back to Memphis.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Grizzlies were technically the underdogs, sure, but it was supposed to be a close-fought series the whole way through. Game 1 didn’t play out like that, as the weakness of the Grizzlies’ bench—something that had been apparent all year except for a few bright spots, a couple of which consisted of Wayne Ellington burning bright like the Sun before slouching back toward mediocrity—was exposed in demoralizing fashion.
Game 2 was something else entirely, with the Grizzlies’ starters (led by Mike Conley and Tony Allen and Marc Gasol) fighting every single second they were on the floor to keep the Griz in the game. In the end, Chris Paul made a Chris Paul shot to win.
The first quarter was awesome. The Grizzlies came out hot and started the game on a run, but you could see signs even early that it was going to be a long night. By the 2:12 mark of the first, Blake Griffin had scored 13 points, punishing Z-Bo for bodying him up by spinning away and making jumpers he wouldn’t have made a year ago. Darrell Arthur was the first sub for the Grizzlies, and to say he came in a little rough is like saying the Hindenburg was a little bit of a fire hazard. The Clippers went to their deadly three-guard lineup with Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Jamal Crawford on the floor and the Grizzlies didn’t really have a good answer for it; someone was always mismatched. Crawford started to heat up, having just been overlooked for Sixth Man of the Year in favor of the Knicks’ J.R. Smith.
The second quarter started off with a lineup of Keyon Dooling, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter, Ed Davis, and Zach Randolph. This lineup is not one I ever wish to see again as long as I live, mostly because Keyon Dooling, tough veteran though he may be, is not in playoff shape. That lineup got grilled for a while, and then disappeared when Dooling tweaked his back. Ed Davis spent the rest of the game glued to the bench, which is great, since he was a major part of the Rudy Gay trade. Not like that was a big or important transaction.
The Grizzlies missed a bunch of free throws. Remember that later.
Somehow, despite the fact that they weren’t playing very well, the Grizzlies—seemingly though sheer will power—only trailed by 6 at the half. They came out after the break in rare Grit And Grind form, with Zach Randolph taking it to Blake Griffin and scoring down low, Z-Bo and TA converting offensive rebounds into buckets, crisp ball movement, some good passing by Tayshaun Prince…
…and then at 8:59 Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph got tangled up running the lane and Randolph tweaked his ankle and Griffin kicked his knee as the two of them fell to the floor. Randolph got up and walked it off, but he was clearly hobbled the rest of the game, unable to generate any lift and also unable to play any pick and roll defense whatsoever because he couldn’t move. Against Chris Paul and the Clippers, this is a Very Bad Thing.
Randolph sat down and back came Darrell Arthur, who up to this point in the game had been playing about as well as my grandmother. Arthur got himself together and played some decent minutes, playing excellent defense on Blake Griffin by doing more than trying to just beat the crap out of him (sorry, Z-Bo, but the truth hurts) and scoring in the pick and pop.
The fourth quarter started the same way every fourth quarter against the Clippers seems to go: the Clippers bench came out and obliterated the Grizzlies’ bench, and the Grizzlies quickly found themselves down 10 and had to put the starters back in the game much earlier than Lionel Hollins probably wanted to. It’s the way it goes Tony Allen threw a bad outlet pass that Zach Randolph fouled CP3 to reach, which was Randolph’s fifth foul, and Hollins sat him on the bench with 4:45 or so left in the game, never to return.
Eventually there was a sequence like this, which I’ll copy and paste verbatim from my game notes:
- Chris PAul and COnley start trading ridiculous buckets
- DARRELL EFFING ARTHUR with a long J and then a dunk and and-one on a stupid foul by Odom to tie the game at 89 with 1:37 left
- CHris Pauil will refuse to lose
- Griz down 2, 21 seconds left… who gets the shot?
- hollins leaves ZBo on bench for last possession
- Gasol slam ties at 91 with 13.9 seconds left
- Now the CLIpser have the ball
- holy crap
That was exactly what the end of the game felt like. Chris Paul made a last second shot over Tony Allen and Darrell Arthur with .1 on the clock, and then the Grizzlies had to come back out and inbound the ball and pretend they had a chance at winning.
And then I went to bed and lay there for an hour and half before I fell asleep.
- The Grizzlies are going to have to make free throws if they’re going to win playoff games. The Griz were an excellent free throw shooting team for most of the year; I have no idea what happened to change that in the last few weeks, but it’s a noticeable dropoff in FT%. Maybe they’ve been hanging around John Calipari. Long story short, the Griz missed 11 free throws, and even if they’d made five more of them, they’d have won by 3.
- Kudos to Hollins for realizing that his bench players were getting massacred and riding with the shortened rotation that he trusted. I can live with Bayless, Pondexter, and Arthur being the three bench guys in an 8-man rotation. I still think Tony Wroten could spend five minutes making Eric Bledsoe miserable—after all, he’s at least got six fouls—but that’s not going to happen in this series. Daye, Leuer, and Dooling just shouldn’t be getting minutes.
- Griz fans have to feel better about the home games after Game 2. To be tied with 13 seconds left on the road, against Chris Paul, who you know is going to take a ridiculous last-second shot? That’s a place you want to be in. It sure beats getting embarrassed by the bloated mummy of Lamar Odom and Grant Hill on his Hoverround.
Dooling would leave the game with a back injury and not return after taking a shot driving to the basket. While I hate to see a guy get hurt, one has to wonder why it took an injury for Hollins to decide Dooling wasn’t getting it done. Dude was getting roasted by Bledsoe and Paul; he simply isn’t quick enough to handle either one of them. This is obvious to me, and I don’t get paid money to coach basketball. I write about it on the Internet. ↩
Yes, he pushed off of Tony Allen and yes, Griffin was holding Arthur so Arthur couldn’t get up to contest the shot, and no, that is never, ever going to be called against Chris Paul on a last second shot in a playoff game, and no, there is nothing you are ever going to be able to do about it. It's the NBA. Deal with it. Make free throws so you won't be in that position to begin with. ↩