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Game 3: Clippers 87, Grizzlies 86 — Ugly and Uglier

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Well, that sucked.

This is a tough one to recap. Sitting here now, I feel like there are several narratives that could be written for this game, all of which would cover different aspects of the game, different storylines, different ways in which the Grizzlies could have gotten a win, different ways in which things went wrong.

The Grizzlies gave up another lead and lost another one-point game on a Rudy Gay missed jumper at the buzzer. They suffered another terrible fourth quarter of shooting, going 1–13 in the first 12 minutes of the final frame, and gave up several costly threes while Marc Gasol and Tony Allen sat on the bench. Blake Griffin even got another fancy dunk that’ll probably be on SportsCenter.

Same thing as Game 1, right?

Same choke under pressure, same bad defense and lazy offense, same song and dance, dooming the Grizzlies to lose the series?

Yes and no.

The Grizzlies led going into the fourth quarter, playing ugly, gritty basketball, banging bodies with the Clippers in the paint. Zach Randolph got going early and scored 6 of the team’s first 8 points. He was bodying up Blake Griffin under the basket, frustrating him so much with his constant pressure that Griffin was called for a technical foul for slapping away Randolph’s hands.

In the fourth quarter, as the Clippers ratcheted up their defensive intensity – something they’ve done in all three games now – the Grizzlies started having difficulty getting the ball in to the post, especially after Marc Gasol headed to the bench after his fifth foul on a Blake Griffin flop charge. Things got ugly, and the breakdowns let the Clippers exploit weaknesses in the Grizzlies' game plan that hadn't presented themselves earlier.

After that, Lionel Hollins started the fourth quarter with Dante Cunningham, who hasn’t played much this series (presumably because he’s a bad matchup for Reggie Evans and gets pushed around too much); Marreese Speights, whom I love dearly, but who was horrific on defense in this game, somehow managing a –22 in only 18 minutes; and OJ Mayo, who shot 1–8 and turned the ball over 5 times, mostly on terrible passes, hurling the basketball into a large crowd of Clippers in the paint. Tony Allen only played 18 minutes in this game, and Gasol missed much of the fourth after scoring several good baskets in the third.

According to Memphis radio host Chris Vernon, the Grizzlies win percentage when Tony Allen plays 25 minutes or more: 75%. Allen has seen his minutes limited in this series because his over-eager style of defense means he’s not always the right guy to cover Chris Paul, whose ability to (1) get calls and (2) create contact mean Allen quickly gets in foul trouble. He also took a few long jumpers early in the shot clock, which, for Allen, always earns him a trip to the World Famous Lionel Hollins Doghouse.

The Grizzlies led most of this game, and in the end barely lost, with Rudy Gay draining two threes in the final 23 seconds to bring the game back within one. The last play broke down and Gay took a contested jumper on which he had to double clutch. If it hadn’t rimmed out, the Grizzlies would be up 2–1 instead of the Clippers.

All that is to say this: we have to win game 4 now, yes, but game 4 will be just as winnable as game 3 was; the Clippers aren’t going to beat the Grizzlies if the Grizzlies are able to keep playing Grizzlies-style basketball in the fourth quarter. They did in Game 2. They did not in Games 1 and 3.

OJ has to handle the ball better. Hollins has to be willing to let Allen play at least 25 minutes, preferably on whatever wing or guard is currently hot – whether it’s Randy Foye, Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young, whoever – and he was to be willing to play Gasol even if he’s in foul trouble. Let him foul out, and then figure out a plan B. The Grizzlies will not win this series if he’s not on the floor enough. Zach could've played more too -- he's clearly getting into Griffin's head when he's on the floor.

All in all, if you’re going to lose a playoff game on the road, that’s not a bad way to lose it: by one, barely, knowing that you can win. Now the Grizzlies need to win Game 4 and regain home court advantage. If they can do that, it’s still our series to win. If they can’t, I’d never rule them out, but it’ll be an uphill climb.

Get the Clippers' side of the story at Clips Nation.