As I sit here this morning with heavy eyes, a nonexistent voice, and a good bit of dancer's hip, I find myself still tapping my toe in jubilation. Last night the Memphis Grizzlies, our Memphis Grizzlies, knocked off the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 to move on to the second round of the playoffs. This game was everything we wanted to see: redemption from last years disappointing playoff exit, affirmation that the front office made the right decision in trading Rudy Gay, and of course, all the Joey Crawford you can handle.
From the opening tip, the officiating crew made it known that this was their world and we were all just living in it. Before four minutes of game play had ticked of the clock, eight fouls were called. Joey Crawford and his rag-tag crew dished out 59 (!!) personal fouls on the game, and tossed in a solid seven technical for good measure. They made a wonderful mess of things.
Even before the game started, Memphis and their city of rat hole dwellers brought energy, so much energy, enough to power an entire city for a number of years. If there was any hope of the crowd getting spooked or not bringing it like they did the previous two games, it was cast asunder during the national anthem, when a St. Jude patient did a hauntingly beautiful rendition our country's banner song, and the crowd joined in with her for the last several verses. It was a truly chilling experience, and as an old friend used to say, "If that doesn't light your fire, your woods wet!"
Light a fire it did. Both teams came out to play. The Clippers started Lamar Odom for the hobbled Blake Griffin, trying to match the size and physicality of Memphis.[i] Memphis got to the line quickly; a theme throughout the night, and Mike Conley missed a pair of free throws to start the game. Fans around the arena were groaning, almost as if the idea of a letdown was beginning to creep into the back of their minds, but the two veterans who own championship hardware would not let that happen to the Grizzlies tonight. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince combined for eight points in the first four minutes of play to help pace a Grizzlies team that struggled offensively to start the game. Tony, who played one of the best all around games he may have ever played in a Grizzlies uniform, finished with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals. Tayshaun added 11/6/5 with two blocks. The Grizzlies only held a three-point lead after one, 29-26, thanks in large part to the hot hand of Matt Barnes, who had nine in the quarter. There were no garbage cans on this night, as the only thing he was knocking down was perimeter shots, finishing with a game and career playoff high of 30 points, on an incredibly efficient 11/14 shooting.
Barnes would continue his torrid shooting, scoring another nine points in the second, as the Clippers would see their only lead at 45-44, after Barnes fourth 3-pointer of the night. The chippy-ness began in this quarter as Caron Butler was flagged for a technical foul on Marc Gasol. DeAndre Jordan was putting back a rebound and was fouled by Tony Allen, but Butler was running in to grab the board as well, and in the process jumped all over Marc Gasol. Marc, took exception to being clobbered to the ground and tried to shove Butler off of him, and Caron didn't take kindly to it at all, and Joey Crawford, who as we all know doesn't play games, T'd him up real quick. Meanwhile, back at the game, the score was knotted 47, but the Grizzlies would close the quarter 11-6 and head into the break with a five-point advantage.
Memphis, true to fashion, exploded offensively in the third quarter, scoring 34 points in the period, but the real story was the physical play of both teams. Chauncey Billups, yes Chauncey Billups, was tagged for a flagrant-1 on Mike Conley in the quarter, and Zach Randolph got a technical after he and Blake Griffin were called for their fourth double foul of the series. Chris Paul and Matt Barnes also received techs in the quarter, and a total of 14 fouls were called in the period. But Memphis, carried by Conley and their two powerful bigs, outscored the Clippers by eight, and took a 13-point lead into the final period, and if you like physical, nasty, dirty basketball, this was the period for you.
The Clippers started the fourth quarter getting a bucket from Matt Barnes, and opened up on a 6-2 run over the first two and a half minutes to close the lead to single digits. At 9:29 left in the game, Matt Barnes picked up a foul on Tony Allen and Blake Griffin got a tech on the same play for fouling Allen after the play. Bayless would make the technical free throw, and Tony would sink both of his as well, and the lead grew back to 13. With 7:26 left to go in their season, The Clippers mounted a run. Most Grizzlies fans thought this was the "Oh crap! It's happening again" comeback, but in reality, it was just the final desperation, the last punch the Clippers had left to throw in the 2012-2013 season. After having the lead cut to six, Memphis would get consecutive 3-pointers by Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless, followed by a Zach Randolph layup to push the lead back to 12 with three minutes to play. Over the last few minutes, Chris Paul and Zach Randolph would both receive their second techs of the ball game. Paul slapped five with several Memphis players, and was escorted to the locker room with his head hung low.
Randolph wore his like a badge of honor, tossing his headband into the crowd, jumping up and down and high-fiving fans all the way to the back. It made for an edgy final quarter, but when the buzzer sounded, the most important thing was that Memphis was ahead 118-105, and they were advancing to the second round.
Game Notes from the Legend-Diary
- DeAndre Jordan is still a baaaaaad man! I shared my story of him terrifying a teenage kid at the game, and tonight, after a Grizzlies fan was shouting at him during warm-ups (and wearing a Floppers shirt) he refused to high-five him on the way to the tunnel, and gave him a very clear explanation as to why, one that I won't share because I know some children read this blog. I'll just say this, Jordan may be riddled with Clipper stank, but dangit, I like him.
- Mike Conley had 23 points on 4-7 shooting. He was 3-4 from beyond the arc, but racked up 12 points at the free throw line.
- Zach Randolph continued his hot play, going for 23 of his own on 8-12 shooting, and 7-8 from the free throw line.
- Eight players had at least four fouls, and three had five fouls, but despite two ejections, no one actually fouled out.
- Lamar Odom was good for a -22 on the night, in just 23 minutes. I know Blake was in pretty bad shape, but you can't imagine he would have been worse with starters minutes.
- #WheresJerrydBayless was finally answered tonight, as he scored 18 off the bench. Bayless, who had 19 in Game 1, totaled 16 points in the other four games combined.
- The Grizzlies remain undefeated ( 4-0) all time in Game 6 of a playoff series.
‘Some are just a little sweeter' indeed. The players will tell you this wasn't revenger from last year's series, but the fans know it was, if only for them. I'm a firm believer that in a seven game series, the best team wins. Anyone can win a game on any given night,[ii] but its tough to win four games against an opponent. Over a seven game series, the best team wins virtually 100% of the time, but I'm not sure that happened in either series between these two teams. You'll never convince me that the Grizzlies didn't have a better team than the Clippers last year, you just won't (Sorry, LAC) and I'm still not entirely convinced that, given the crazy bench depth of Los Angeles, that Memphis had a better team that the Clippers this year, even after four straight double digit wins. But what I believe and am not sure of matters very little, especially when the stats and basketball play proves me wrong.
The win lets Memphis advance to the second round of the playoffs for the second time in three years. It's a quick turnaround, as they have a date with the Thunder at noon on Sunday, so there's not much time left to celebrate. And maybe that's the way it should be. Stay focused on the task at hand. Keep grinding. Don't let 4 wins clutter your vision and goal of 16. Don't ever bluff.
[i] God help you when you try to match a team's physicality with Lamar Odom.
[ii] Which is why the WildCard play-in game is such a stupid idea in baseball, because you could end up with a team that was eight wins better than another team losing on a ridiculous infield fly call 250 feet away from home plate. Piss of, Bud Selig.