Memphis Responds With Trademark Grit, Grind

By Don Wade

“We gave this game away,” Rudy Gay said. “We got too casual and comfortable,” said O.J. Mayo.

Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo goes to the hoop under Mo Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of Game 2 in the first round of the NBA playoffs Wednesday, May 2. The Grizzlies beat the Clippers 105-98, tying the series 1-1.

(Photo: AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

What else were these Grizzlies to say after a 24-point fourth-quarter lead disappeared on their home court in a 99-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series?

Only this: “Every loss hurts,” point guard Mike Conley said. “This one hurts especially, given we were up so many points.”

And that pain was perhaps felt even more deeply by those who don’t wear the uniform, but do wear the “Believe Memphis” T-shirt. As one fan said when leaving FedExForum after Game 1: “AHHHUUGGG!!!”

Sometimes, only a primal scream will do. And this one had three days to rattle around town until Game 2 on Wednesday, May 2.

“Anywhere I’d go, people were like, `What happened, what happened?’” Conley said after a much happier Game 2, won by the Grizzlies 105-98. “Restaurants, gas stations, the dry cleaners, in my neighborhood ... ‘what happened?’ I was getting tired of hearing it.”

Understandable. So let’s address what happened Wednesday night. The Grizzlies played 48 never-quit minutes instead of 39 great minutes and nine “comfortable” and “casual” minutes.

“We got punched in the mouth the first game,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “We came back and withstood some blows because they were hitting us again. But we stood in there and took them. We finished the game tonight.”

They started the game differently too. In Game 1, the Grizzlies raced out to a 34-16 first-quarter lead. They shot 65 percent from the floor, hit all three of the 3-point shots and handed out 10 assists.

In Game 2, they trailed 26-23 after a quarter, were shooting 42 percent, and missed all three of their 3-point shots. But given the way Game 1 unwound/unraveled, they didn’t panic.

“The first quarter (in Game 2) was a little emotional,” said center Marc Gasol. “Offensively, we didn’t play the way we wanted to. But defensively, we played the right way. We just said, ‘Keep grinding, keep grinding.’”

A box score doesn’t tell a complete story, but the contrasts from Game 1 to Game 2 are impossible to ignore:

* Points in the paint: In Game 1, the Clippers held a 54-38 edge. In Game 2, the Grizzlies had a 46-38 advantage.

* Rebounds: In Game 1, the Clippers won the boards 47-41. In Game 2, the Grizzlies won 37-28 and 16-4 on the offensive glass.

* 3-point shooting: In Game 1, the Grizzlies hit 11-of-16 for 69 percent, the Clippers 6-of-18 for 33 percent. In Game 2, the Clippers knocked down 9-of-16 for 56 percent and the Grizzlies made just 2-of-12 for 17 percent.

Is it any wonder that with the way the Grizzlies shot in Game 1 they fell in love with the jump shot and forgot to pass the ball to Gasol, who scored 14 points in the first half and none in the second?

“Guys got hot and we went that direction,” Gasol said after Game 1.

Translation: The Grizzlies ignored their inside game – their true game – and paid a heavy price.

Conley, among others, was determined there would not be a repeat in Game 2.

“We kept attacking,” said Conley, who took heat after Game 1 for trying to drain the clock and not really directing the offense in the fourth quarter. “We kept getting inside the paint. That’s what we did different tonight.”

Another difference was that on the same day the Grizzlies had three players finish in the Top 20 for NBA Defensive Player of the Year (Tony Allen sixth, Gasol 12th, Conley tied for 14th), they made 13 steals, and the Clippers’ 21 turnovers became 25 Grizzlies points. In Game 1, the Grizzlies made only three steals.

“That was a huge difference, and it’s my fault,” said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who though scoring 29 points with six assists and five steals in Game 2 also committed five turnovers.

Of course, Paul followed with some not-so-subtle whining about the officiating: “When you’re getting in the lane and it’s the playoffs, they’re going to let you play and they’re going to grab and hold and stuff like that. So I’ve got to do a better job and figure out how to get them off me.”

What the Grizzlies have to figure out is how to remain true to their in-the-paint offensive identity even when their jump-shooting alter ego is having a nice run. And they have to continue to pressure on defense; the Clippers’ 21 turnovers was their second-highest total this season.

“I said before (Game 2) that we weren’t going to shoot 11-of-16 from the 3-point line because we’re not a 3-point shooting team,” Hollins said. “But we attack, we’re aggressive, and we’re pretty good.”