In Game 1 in Los Angeles, the Grizzlies were missing in action. In Game 2, they were just good enough to lose by two points.
So Game 3 Thursday night at FedExForum provided a choice: win or try to become the first team in NBA history to rally from a 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
Fans show their spirit for Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Memphis Grizzlies and the LA Clippers, on Thursday, April 25. The Grizzlies defeated the Clippers 94-82.
Photo: Lance Murphey
The team that set a franchise record with 56 wins this season had seemed to lose themselves in L.A. But in Memphis, against a backdrop of raucous fans waving gold “Believe Memphis” growl towels, the Grizzlies were able to look in the mirror and recognize the reflection staring back at them.
“We did a good job of staying within ourselves,” center Marc Gasol said after the Grizzlies beat the Clippers, 94-82, and reasserted themselves by outrebounding them 45-33 and winning points in the paint 40-26. “Win or lose, you always have to be who you are.”
For no one was this more true than power forward Zach Randolph, who scored 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds; he again looked like the double-double force he was in the first half of the season when he earned his second NBA All-Star selection.
“I wanted to be aggressive,” Randolph said. “Go fast, hit a couple of jump shots, open it up.”
“Zach was huge,” said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. “He got started quickly. He had 18 at halftime and that got us going. Everyone else just flowed into that. I thought our defense, for the most part, was solid.”
Although the Clippers’ vaunted bench still outscored the Grizzlies’ reserves, 35-30, it was not the mismatch it was in the first two games. Quincy Pondexter awakened to score a game-high 13 points from the bench, veteran Keyon Dooling scored 7, and Jerryd Bayless and Darrell Arthur each chipped in 5 (Arthur had 6 rebounds).
“That’s what we need every night,” Hollins said. “We need somebody from the bench to step up and do something.”
Even more crucial, the Grizzlies neutralized Clippers point guard Chris Paul. He finished with mere mortal numbers: 8 points, 4 assists, 5 turnovers, and did not attempt a free throw. In fact, at the half, when Memphis led 47-39, Paul had 3 turnovers and no assists with 6 points.
The key to stopping Paul: controlling the pick-and-roll so Paul could not run free in the lane to get easy shots for himself or feed his teammates.
“That was a big point of emphasis on the pick-and-roll and how our bigs were down low,” said guard Tony Allen. “They had their antennas on when he was coming off of it. We tried not to let him go to the right as much as he wanted to. That’s his strong hand and he does a lot of damage that way. We covered that area.”
With 8:39 left in the game, the Clippers’ Matt Barnes hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 74-69. But from there, the Griz went on a 15-4 run and had their largest lead of the series – 16 points – with 2:47 to play. Six different players scored during the run, none more than 4 points.
“We are a team that relies on everybody,” Gasol said.
Officials called 29 fouls on the Clippers and 22 on the Grizzlies; Memphis went 28-for-38 from the free-throw line while L.A. was 21-of-23. Before the game, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro had said he thought the officials allowed too much contact down low between the bigs, especially Randolph and Blake Griffin, and that “it ruins the flow of the game.”
After Game 3, in which Griffin scored 16 but had just 2 rebounds and picked up 5 fouls, he said it was difficult to know what officials would allow and wouldn’t.
“It’s a tough line to walk,” said Griffin.
The game was almost absent fast-break points, with the Grizzlies winning that contest, too, 9-7.
“It’s tough to run when you have to take the ball out every time,” said Clippers guard Chauncey Billups. “We just have to focus on our defense being a little sharper and get some stops.”
Although Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley had a rough night shooting – 1-for-9 with 6 points – he was otherwise flawless. He handed out 10 assists, didn’t commit a turnover, and was strong on perimeter defense.
“Sometimes teams try to take you away and you can have an impact a different way,” Gasol said, referring to Conley’s contributions.
The series resumes, with the Clippers leading 2-1, at 3:30 Saturday here. And the team’s mind-sets are about what you would expect.
“We know we need this game so we can have an opportunity to go back home and close it out,” Paul said.
Meantime, for the Grizzlies, this was step one on the road back into the series.
“You can’t win four games if you don’t win the first one,” Gasol said.