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2015 NBA Playoffs First Round- Game Four Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Portland Trail Blazers

The Memphis Grizzlies are on the precipice of history, with the opportunity to complete the first sweep of a playoff opponent in the existence of the franchise. Uncertainty abounds, however, due to the health of two of Memphis' Point Guards.

Nick Calathes just got a heck of a lot more important to Dave Joerger and Grizzlies' fans...
Nick Calathes just got a heck of a lot more important to Dave Joerger and Grizzlies' fans...
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are in rarefied air: a chance to make some "Grizztory."

Whether you want to attribute it to the health issues of Portland or a return to playing elite basketball for Memphis (or maybe a little bit of both), the Grizzlies have the opportunity to sweep the Trail Blazers Monday night in Portland. This would be the first time that the Bears of Beale Street would be on the right side of a sweep; most Grizzlies fans know of the franchise's history with sweeps...

  • 2003-2004- Lost to San Antonio Spurs 4-0 in First Round
  • 2004-2005- Lost to Phoenix Suns 4-0 in First Round
  • 2005-2006- Lost to Dallas Mavericks 4-0 in First Round
  • 2012-2013- Lost to San Antonio Spurs 4-0 in the Western Conference Finals
The only "positive" sweep experience for Memphis would be that of the "Gentlemen's Sweep" variety, when the Grizzlies took advantage of another banged up team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and ended that series in five games on their way to the Western Conference Finals in 2012-2013. Common threads exist between that series and the current one; OKC was without Russell Westbrook, and Portland is missing Wesley Matthews for the season and key players like Arron Afflalo and Chris Kaman have missed at least one game.


This of course is not Memphis' fault or problem. You play the team that is on the court, and while empathy can be felt for Portland, Grizz Nation understands how injuries have impacted their own beloved team. Tony Allen's hamstring, Zach Randolph's elbow, Marc Gasol's ankle, Jeff Green's back...after a long season, you are going to be banged up.

Nowhere is this more true for Memphis right now than the Point Guard position; Mike Conley's foot remains a concern, and now after Game Three's facial injury Conley's status not just for Game Four (he is out for tonight) but for the playoffs at large is very much an uncertainty as Conley flew home yesterday for surgery on the multiple fractures in his face. Beno Udrih, Conley's primary back-up, sat out Game Three because of an ankle sprain he suffered in Game Two. Injuries may have hurt Portland more in the series overall, but Memphis is not without its share of bumps and bruises.

Heading in to tonight's Game Four, there is a lot of uncertainty on both sides. With that in mind, instead of three keys for tonight's game, here are three questions whose answers will play a big part in the outcome.

Which Portland Trail Blazers Team Will Show Up?

Arron Afflalo's return did not provide the spark for Portland that many hoped he would, mostly because it became pretty clear pretty quickly that he was not physically able to score the ball as he normally would. In fact, if it were not for the 53 point on 17-32 overall shooting performance (8-16 from three point land) of Nicolas Batum (27 points, 9-18 overall, 6-12 from beyond the arc) and C.J. McCollum (26 points, 8-14 overall, 2-4 from beyond the arc), Portland may have lost to Memphis by a much larger margin on Saturday night.

Uncertainty clouds a desperate Portland team at the worst possible time, with their season on the brink.

 

LaMarcus Aldridge's impending free agency and possible departure from Portland adds a layer of intrigue to tonight's game. Is this the last time LMA plays in the Rose Garden Moda Center as a member of the Trail Blazers? Will his teammates rally to keep their season alive? Will they be healthy enough to do so? Will the hot streaks of Batum and McCollum continue? Are Damian Lillard's offensive improvements in Game Three (22 points on 17 shots, 9 assists) going to carry over to Game Four?

Professional and personal pride will likely lead to a hot start for the Trail Blazers, who almost certainly have no desire to be so thoroughly dominated as to be swept by the Grizzlies. Whether or not their banged up roster can sustain that momentum for 48 minutes appears to be the biggest question, one that may not have an answer that is good for the Blazers.

Will Tonight Be the First Postseason "Jeff Green" Game?

Jeff Green's introduction to Memphis playoff basketball has not gone very swimmingly, especially on the offensive end of the court. His three games so far have been underwhelming offfensively...

  • Game One- 3-11 shooting, 27.3%
  • Game Two- 4-13 shooting, 30.8%
  • Game Three- 2-9 shooting, 22.2%

His shot chart for the series echoes these struggles scoring the ball away from the free throw line (10-11 for the series shooting, or 90.9% overall.)

Green Through Three Playoff Games

Not the prettiest of shooting performances. In reality, Green is actually not playing THAT poorly; in addition to his efficient free throw shooing he is rebounding at a decent clip in the series (5.6 per game) and is defending as well as he ever has as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, if not better. However, there is no denying that Jeff's offensive game has left something to be desired so far.

Perhaps Jeff's back is bothering him more than he has let on. Maybe he is just in the midst of a cold spell. Throughout Green's career he has had stretches of offensive inefficiency and then, almost out of nowhere; a legendary "Jeff Green Game" filled with drives to the lane (and sometimes highlight dunks) and heat check buckets. Games like this one from 2013 against the New York Knicks, a 26-point outburst.

Jeff has shown in his time as a Grizzly he is certainly capable of these kinds of performances. They just haven't shown up in postseason form just yet. A deciding game in a series that could secure him and his teammates more time to rest and recover from nagging injuries before the fight of their season in Round Two would be a great time for that shooting star that is a "Jeff Green Game" to appear.

Can The Offensive Efficiency Continue for the Grizzlies?

Answer this question: which team that made the playoffs is (before the start of action Monday)...

  • A. Second in the playoffs in three point field goal percentage (44.1%)
  • B. Leading the playoff teams in free throw percentage (85.5%)
  • C. Fifth in the NBA Playoffs in Offensive Efficiency at 113.3, 10.2 better than their regular season efficiency?
The answer, believe it or not, is the Memphis Grizzlies. The "supposed exception to the metric-based efficient scoring rule of the 2015 NBA" Memphis Grizzlies. It is thanks to red-hot shooting performances from players like Courtney Lee...

 

Player Field Goal % Free Throw % Three Point %
Courtney Lee 62.50% 92.30% 71.40%

Players like Beno Udrih (through two games)...

 

Player Field Goal % Three Point %
Beno Udrih 56.50% 50.00%

 

Free throw shooting from players like Marc Gasol...

Player Free Throw Makes Free Throw Attempts Free Throw %
Marc Gasol 21 24 87.50%

 

These and other performances have made for a level of efficiency offensively that has rarely been seen from the Grizzlies. 62 points in the first half, 85 points through three quarters and 115 points overall in Game Three is the prime example of this movement, in which the Grizzlies were an astonishing 39-43 from the free throw line (90.6%) and an efficient 4-9 (44.4%) from beyond the arc.

Can the Grizzlies sustain this level of production beyond Portland? Unlikely. Can it happen again in Game Four? Absolutely, even if the 43 free throw attempts isn't replicated. The schemes of Portland lend to Grizzly success, and the roster of the Trail Blazers is so thin/banged up that they don't have the personnel to prevent it from happening, especially if Arron Afflalo remains hampered due to injury.

If Memphis plays at or near this level offensively in Game Four, along with their defensive prowess? Portland doesn't stand a chance. Continuing to attack the rim, getting to the line and finding open/advantageous three point opportunities through ball movement must remain a focus.

The Prediction

As has been the theme of this series, health will play a role in the result of this contest. Will Afflalo be a lot better than he was in Game Three? Unlikely. Will Udrih be able to play? Questionable at the time of this posting. How serious is Mike Conley's injury over the long run? Unclear to say the least at the time of this article.

However, Game Three may have been Portland's best chance to pull out a win over the Grizzlies. The energy of their fans, the improved offensive games of Lillard, McCollum and Batum and the lack of Beno in the game and Conley for much of the second half opened the door to a victory...that didn't happen because guys like Courtney Lee and Nick Calathes stepped up.

Memphis is the better team right now. They are playing at a higher level against an inferior opponent whose depth has been ravaged by injury. The Grizzlies will end the series tonight in another close encounter and turn their sights toward the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors.

Memphis 99, Portland 94
2014/15 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 4
at
2014/15 Regular Season:
55-27 (24-17 Road)
2014/15 Regular Season:
51-31 (32-9 Home)
Moda Center, Portland, OR
Monday, April 27th
9:30 PM CDT
TNT / Fox SportSouth / 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Beno Udrih PG Damian Lillard
Courtney Lee SG Arron Afflalo
Tony Allen SF Nicolas Batum
Zach Randolph PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Marc Gasol C Robin Lopez
2014/15 Advanced Stats
94.2 (26th) Pace 96.5 (T-12th)
103.1 (13th) OEff 105.5 (8th)
99.9 (4th) DEff 101.4 (10th)
50.1 (T-12th) RebR 50.7 (10th)

Series Results

Game One- Memphis 100, Portland 86

Game Two- Memphis 97, Portland 82

Game Three- Memphis 115, Portland 109

INJURY REPORT-

Portland

Wesley Matthews (Out, Achilles), Dorell Wright (Out, Hand)

Memphis

Mike Conley (Out, Facial Injury), Beno Udrih (Questionable, Ankle, will attempt to play)

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Memphis vs. Portland Complete SBNation Coverage

For the Portland perspective, check out Blazer's Edge

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Stats were provided by basketball-reference.com and NBA.com/stats