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

So the sweep didn't happen. The Grizzlies return to the friendly confines of the FedEx Forum tonight against the Trail Blazers for a Game Five in which they hope to do in Memphis what they could not do in Portland: end this series.

Marc Gasol must lead the Grizzlies' front court in order to finish Portland in the Grindhouse.
Marc Gasol must lead the Grizzlies' front court in order to finish Portland in the Grindhouse.
Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

There was plenty to feel disappointed about after the Memphis Grizzlies' Game Four loss in Portland to the Trail Blazers if you're a Grizzlies fan. The poor combined performances of Zach Randolph and Jeff Green (9-30 from the field, -19 +/- for Jeff in his worst game of the series so far all around), Dave Joerger's confounding lineup choices in the fourth quarter and the Grizzlies' inability to close out a Trail Blazers team that was down 80-70 with 8:18 left in the game all come to mind. A rough night that even with poor play was still there for the taking for Memphis; an opportunity wasted.

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Thankfully, there is also plenty to be thankful for heading in to tonight's key Game Five for the members of Grizz Nation. Memphis returning home to where they won the first two games of the series by an average of 14.5 points is at the top of the list; the home crowd should provide a needed spark for the Grizzlies as they attempt to end their first round series in "Gentlemen's Sweep" fashion. The continued red-hot play of Courtney Lee, Marc Gasol coming off of his best game of the series and the fact that even without Mike Conley Memphis has defeated Portland before in the friendly confines of the FedEx Forum this season (a 102-98 win when Wesley Matthews was still playing for Portland back in January) provide the back drop of positivity for the Bears of Beale Street.

So, how can the Grizzlies get the job done and advance on the the second round and a Game One Sunday in California against the Golden State Warriors? Three keys:

Get to the Charity Stripe

I did some research before Game Four Monday night, and my findings were pretty impressive...

The Grizzlies then went on to go to the "Charity Stripe" only 14 times in Game Four. Memphis' inability to get to the line was a major part of the Grizzlies' offensive woes on Monday night; their 38 points in the paint left a lot to be desired, and as their Game Four shot chart shows they settled for a lot of mid-range and pull-up jumpers-

Grizzlies Game Four

The key percentage there is the distribution of their shots; only 37.8% of their attempts in Game Four came at or around the rim. Compare that with the distribution percentage from their three wins previously in the series-

  • Game One- 50%
  • Game Two- 46.1%
  • Game Three- 45.5%
The lack of attempts in the lane in Game Four cannot be replicated in Game Five if Memphis hopes to win. Hanging around that 45% number will not necessarily guarantee Grizzly makes, but it will make trips to the line more likely and allow for the red-hot at the free throw line Grizzlies (86.6%, still best in the playoffs) easy opportunities to score. With Mike Conley out, they need as many of those as they can get.

Finding Meyers Leonard

Our own Kevin Yeung did a remarkable job of discussing how Portland countered with Meyers Leonard in Game Four to the tune of a 13 point, 13 rebound game with 3-3 shooting from beyond the arc. We tried to tell you guys Meyers could hurt the Grizzlies before the series began, and his floor spacing ability has helped create more opportunity for guys like Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to attack the rim and create for themselves.

How Dave Joerger responds bears watching. Jon Leuer could potentially be the answer, if he actually has been a part of meetings and practice/shoot around between Game Four and Game Five. He is a taller, more natural big who is more comfortable defending on the perimeter than say Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph would be. Maybe a couple of days of film will make Jeff Green more comfortable defending Leonard and he will have a better showing in that role. Or, maybe Dave Joerger puts Marc Gasol on Leonard consistently and runs more "Twin Towers" front courts, putting Kosta Koufos on LaMarcus Aldridge when necessary.

Meyers Leonard has become quite the X-factor in this series. If the series is to end tonight, he must not be able to have that same impact.

An Open Letter to Jeff Green

Dear Jeff Green,

In my Game Four Preview I called for a "Jeff Green Game", one of epic proportions in which a 20 point + performance would have closed out the Portland Trail Blazers and led to some rest and relaxation that you could surely use given your sore back. You then went on to play your worst game of the series, posting a -19 +/- rating and shooting 3-10 from the field with only three of those shots coming at the rim. Pull-up jumpers, a pull-up three that probably wouldn't be made again if lives depended on it, defensive struggles on multiple players (especially the aforementioned Meyers Leonard) all made for a challenging game to watch. This is especially exacerbating from a guy that I called the X-Factor not just for that game, or this series, but for the Grizzlies' playoff run at large.

Maybe you just need to be reminded of what you're capable of...

Jeff. You're 6'9. 235 pounds. An athletic freak of nature who can run the floor in transition and create highlight moments and energizing plays for yourself and others through your ability to collapse defenses. You were brought to Memphis to provide exactly this; to attack the rim, get to the line and convert at a good clip, scoring efficiently in your own way without the ability to consistently shoot the three. In Games Two and Four you did not attempt a single free throw attempt. In Game Four your were defended at times by Meyers Leonard and did not take advantage of him by taking him off the dribble nearly enough. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

Not. One. Free. Throw.  NEVER. AGAIN.

Jeff, I like you. I always have. Your game can elevate the Grizzlies to greater heights when you play to your capabilities. Get out of your own head, play your game, if you shoot a three do it from the corner and embrace the defensive side of the ball. The Grizzlies will win this series and have a shot (likely a slim one, especially if Mike Conley is out) in the next one if you do so. Plus, I'll stop getting yelled at/being seen as a crazy person for supporting you.

Cordially,

Joe Mullinax

The Prediction

Memphis is favored to win this game. They should be; Game Four aside, this has been a very good team performance from the Grizzlies and they are back home in front of their fans. It isn't going to be easy; Damian Lillard has appeared to find his offensive game, taking advantage of the missing Mike Conley while C.J. McCollum has scored 44 points in the past two games in his more comfortable bench role with the return of Arron Afflalo.

The difference on this night will be Dave Joerger's adjustments on defending Meyers Leonard. Expect to see concerted efforts to make Leonard work on defense, taking away energy on the offensive end where he should be defended by multiple players of different styles to give Leonard different looks so he cannot get in to a rhythm.

The Grizzlies' front court combination of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Jeff Green will play their first complete game of the series after a renewed focus on attacking the paint from Z-Bo and "Uncle Jeff" in particular (with more transition chances for Green) and the Memphis Grizzlies will end this series in front of the "Believe Memphis" faithful.

Memphis 102, Portland 97

2014/15 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 5

Memphis Leads the Series 3-1

at
2014/15 Regular Season:
55-27 (24-17 Road)
2014/15 Regular Season:
51-31 (32-9 Home)
FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Wednnesday, April 29th
8:30 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

Game Four- Memphis 92 Portland 99

INJURY REPORT-

Memphis- Mike Conley (Out, Facial Surgery)

Portland- Chris Kaman (Questionable, Ankle), Dorell Wright (Out, Hand), Wesley Matthews (Out, Achilles)

Complete Grizzlies vs. Trail Blazers SB Nation Coverage

For the Portland perspective, check out Blazer's Edge

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