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May 8, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
Shrinking Big Men

by Dan Feldman

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at L.A. Clippers 101, Memphis 97 (OT, L.A. Clippers lead 3-1)
Pace: 79.8
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Clippers 125.5, Memphis 122.8

Blake Griffin, working in the post late in the second quarter, used a nice move to draw a Zach Randolph foul. As Griffin stared, Randolph bumped him and was called for a deserved technical.

For most of the night, Griffin played brilliantly offensively--both on the fast break and in the set scheme--and the Clippers got to the free throw line more often than Memphis. The Grizzlies helped make both tasks easier than they needed to be.

Add an of-course-it-happened-in-this-series 11-1 run by Memphis to tie the game in the final minute of regulation and Chris Paul's overtime brilliance, and the Clippers now lead the series 3-1.

Typically, a team that leads 3-1 has decidedly outplayed its opponent, but the Grizzlies have outscored Los Angeles in the series. Memphis, which would have two of the next three games at home if the series goes that far, is still very much alive.

Thanks to Griffin (30 points on 10-of-15 shooting ,seven assists and a monster +18 in a game that went to overtime) and Paul (27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists), though, the Clippers have a chance to end the series Wednesday.

The aggressiveness of Griffin (10-of-17 from the free throw line) was a big reason the Clippers shot 40 free throws, 13 more than Memphis. Griffin fouled out with 2:26 left in overtime, but it seems that could have happened sooner had the Grizzlies put more defensive pressure on him.

As explained by Chris Webber during the game, Lionel Hollins believes Marc Gasol's lack of fourth-quarter touches in the series has been due to fatigue. But as Gasol disappeared in the first half tonight, shooting 0-for-2, Hollins left him in for 18 minutes. If Gasol has been losing energy late in games, what's the point in leaving him in when he's stagnant early? Overusing him isn't going to solve the problem.

Predictably, Gasol, who looked slower than usual, picked up two fouls early in the third quarter and left the game with four total fouls. He returned midway through the fourth quarter and played a bit better, but although he made some smart plays--passes to Randolph, tipping a late rebound off Reggie Evans out of bounds--Gasol will likely need to contribute more than eight points and five rebounds for the Grizzlies to keep the series alive.

Not only did Gasol's lack of involvement hurt the Grizzlies' offense, it kept Griffin from having to work too hard on defense, where his game clearly lags. Griffin grabbed just two defensive rebounds in 37 minutes, a key reason the Grizzlies grabbed 42 percent of their available offensive rebounds.

If that sounds too harsh toward Hollins, it's because I believe he's a real factor in what Memphis does.

Vinny Del Negro, on the other hand, angered his own players when he called a timeout while Kenyon Martin was trying to inbound the ball late. Paul appears to me to hold more sway in strategy.

Paul also has a phenomenal ability to drive off ball screens and pull up for jumpers and floaters, a skill he used to make 4-of-5 shots in overtime. He also had a turnover late in overtime, but he beat a hard Grizzlies press just to get the ball past half court on that possession, which allowed the Clippers to run extra precious seconds off the clock and hang on for the win.

That was the opposite of regulation, when Rudy Gay led a Memphis comeback.

Randolph didn't have the Grizzlies' only technical. Gay also picked up a frustration technical foul in the first quarter, which was fitting, because there was nothing more frustrating than watching him jack up shots early.

Through three quarters, Gay was 3-of-15, typically settling for jumpers. In that same span, Mike Conley scored 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, and as stated above, Gasol wasn't getting enough touches.

But Gay, who scored 11 fourth-quarter points and made a hard double team to ruin Paul's chance to win in regulation, started attacking more, and Marreese Speights (nine points, six rebounds, +3) and Hamed Haddadi (three points, five rebounds, +5) played admirably off the bench while spelling Gasol and the semi-effective-at-best Zach Randolph. Speights and Haddadi won't get much attention, but they were pivotal in getting the Grizzlies to overtime.

But Gasol and Randolph need to do more to get the Grizzlies a win.

Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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