A quick rewind, back to those desperate days after the first two games of the Grizzlies-Clippers series in Los Angeles. You remember those days, right? Grizzlies in a 0-2 hole and, in the first game, looking totally outclassed.
Don’t know about in Las Vegas, but in Memphis there was fear and loathing. Fear about where this series was headed and loathing for Chris Paul & Co. (that last part still applies). Yet amid this tumult, there were calming words of wisdom before Game 3 at FedExForum.
• When asked if the team was concerned: “We have the same mind-set. Win. Take care of business.”
Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph shoots as he is defended by Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, left, and Matt Barnes during the second half of Game 5, which the Grizzlies won 103-93.
(Photo: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
• When asked about making adjustments: “It starts with rebounding, pick and roll coverage, and trying to make somebody else beat us.” Paul had won Game 2 with a last-second, contested, soft bank shot high off the glass.
• When asked where the series might go from here, the Grizzlies still without a win: “We expect this series to go as long as it’s gonna go.”
• And finally, when asked for the bottom line: “We take care of home, y’all be writing a different story.”
The soothsayer? Your resident Grindfather, Tony Allen.
The Grizzlies, in fact, did have the same mind-set, and did take care of business – all the way through Game 5 at Staples Center to bring a 3-2 lead back to Memphis with the opportunity to clinch on their home court Friday, May 3.
Coach Lionel Hollins has downplayed the adjustments they’ve made along the way, saying, “We’re just doing the things we do better,” but they made a huge adjustment in their sustained effort and have pounded the boards. They made just as large a commitment to covering those Clippers pick and rolls, and although Paul went off for 35 points in Game 5, he did not beat them or even come close; the Grizzlies won by 10.
How long do the Grizzlies expect the series to go now? They won’t say it quite this directly, but they expect to win Game 6 and again “take care of home,” which they could not do last season in losing Game 7 of that opening-round playoff series at FedExForum.
Perhaps most telling is that the reactions from the two teams have been so different. The Grizzlies were not panicked after losing the first two games. They were upset with themselves for giving a poor showing in Game 1 and coming up just short despite a good effort in Game 2. But they were resolute about what they still believed they could accomplish.
The Clippers, meanwhile, limped away from Memphis still not sure how their 2-0 lead disappeared amid the waves of gold growl towels. It was almost as though even though they knew how powerful the 1-2 inside punch of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol could be, they still didn’t believe it had hit them that hard. In fact, they seemed scared that upon returning to Memphis they would face the same fate. So Paul described Game 5 as must-win. The Grizzlies, too, knew how important Game 5 was but they did not take the approach of emotionally backing themselves into a corner.
So while all the recent numbers vouch for the Grizzlies’ superior physical toughness – Memphis out-rebounded the Clippers 90-61 in Games 3 and 4, and 45-28 in Game 5 in L.A. – they also are clearly the tougher team mentally. Matt Barnes spoke of the Clippers being “punked” in Game 4 and then took out his frustration on a trashcan.
“We’ve got to be desperate,” Paul said after Game 5. “That’s how it is.”
The desperation is made worse by the high ankle sprain that ended Blake Griffin’s night early in Game 5; he may or not be a factor in Game 6. Paul is said to have some sort of thumb injury (make your own joke on that one), and coach Vinny Del Negro seems not to have the slightest idea how to slow down Gasol (18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the series) and Randolph (20.4 points and 8.6 rebounds).
So just as Tony Allen predicted, we are now writing a different story about this series. All that’s missing is the happy ending.