With a frustrating 87-86 loss yesterday afternoon, the Grizzlies now find themselves in the same place they put the Spurs and Thunder in last spring: Down 2-1 on the road.
The Spurs lost Game 4 on the road to the Grizzlies before finally falling in Game 6. The Thunder rallied to win their Game 4 roadie — in triple overtime — on the way to taking the series in seven games. So the Grizzlies have a couple of potential templates for which way this series might head. Game 4 Monday night isn't “must win” — I'm pretty sure Wednesday's Game 5 will still be held regardless of Monday's outcome — but it will profoundly impact the series odds the rest of the way: Even the series up with two of three remaining on their homecourt and the Grizzlies will become the favorites again. Lose, and the odds become very steep of getting out of the first round again.
Through three games, the Grizzlies have outscored the Clippers 289-284. Much more meaningful, however, is that the Clippers have outscored the Grizzlies in the final six minutes 50-27. This included a 13-1 Clippers run in the final minutes Saturday afternoon to turn a six-point deficit into a six-point lead before Rudy Gay's two late three-pointers gave the Grizzlies a final shot to win it, with Gay's desperation heave unable to give the Grizzlies a miracle win to (kinda, sorta) match the Clippers' from Game 1.
There's a lot going on in this series, but three games in it's become clear that the biggest issue is the gulf that separates these teams when it comes to crunch-time execution. The Clippers have Chris Paul, arguably the single best end-of-game creator in the sport. The Grizzlies have an awful lot of uncertainty. Even in the Game 2 win, the Grizzlies let a 13-point lead with 3:52 to play shrink to five in the final minute.
There have been enough individual players missing decent looks in crunch-time to spread blame around, but the biggest issue for the Grizzlies seems to be as much about strategy and decision-making as simple shot-making. With Zach Randolph looking much better since Game 1 and Marc Gasol effective when he gets the ball, I feel like the Grizzlies need to get back to being a post-oriented team. In Game 3, the Randolph/Gasol duo accounted for three of the team's 16 fourth-quarter field-goal attempts. (I also thought Lionel Hollins was too conservative with Gasol's foul trouble in the fourth, taking him out when he got his fifth and keeping him on the bench too long.)
And while it's easy to play Monday-morning quarterback, Mike Conley's decision-making late prompts second-guessing — settling for his own long jumper off a pick-and-roll on one late possession and then forcing the planned play at the end of the game, resulting in a long, contested Rudy Gay jumper, when Conley had a chance to get into the lane for a better shot.
Beyond this gap in crunch-time execution, the play of the Clippers' secondary players — particularly Reggie Evans (11 rebounds in Game 3) and shooters Randy Foye/Nick Young/Mo Williams (7-12 from three) — is seeming to be determinative.