In advance of the game, my take on a few elements of the series:
First and Last Take on the Booing Incident: With barely enough time to cover what's happening on the court, I've been reluctant to wade into the sideshow “controversy” over Grizzlies fans booing when Blake Griffin went down late in the third quarter. Eric Freeman, over at Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie, does a nice job explaining the psychology of the moment, the Boy Who Cried Wolf-bred cynicism that I alluded to on Twitter as it was happening. (And, frankly, a cynicism that was only strengthened in the aftermath: After laying prostrate on the floor for several minutes, surrounded by the entire Clipper team, Griffin got up and played most of the rest of the game, a subsequent MRI confirming that he only suffered a sprain.)
The crowd's rejection of perceived theatrics was presumptive and certainly against accepted fan protocol, but that initial reaction was soon transferred toward a Clipper fan shown on the arena's video board. I gather that the sustained booing was presented on the telecast as being directed at Griffin on the floor, but that's not quite what was happening.
Injury Updates: Griffin, with his sprained knee, and Paul, with his strained hip, are both listed as “game-time decisions” for tonight. Obviously, they're going to play. But whether either is limited is potentially the most important aspect of the game. Keep an eye on Paul especially.
First and Fourth Quarter Offense: In Game 5, the Grizzlies scored 36 points on 71% shooting in the first quarter, getting most of their offense from the post duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. In the fourth quarter, the team scored 15 points on 33% shooting, with more attempts coming from perimeter players Rudy Gay and Mike Conley.
Declining offensive effectiveness from the first to the fourth quarter has been a troubling trend for the Grizzlies in this series. And while most of the local focus and hand-wringing has been on who the Grizzlies are playing and what the Grizzlies are doing, at least as important has been who the Clippers are playing and what they're doing.
The most important part of this has been frontcourt personnel. In Game 5, Clippers starting center DeAndre Jordan played 8:36 of the first quarter, with reserve Reggie Evans getting 1:56. In the fourth quarter, Jordan did not play at all, while Evans played the entire quarter. In both quarters, Blake Griffin was on the floor most of the time.
Jordan is a devastating athlete who is good for the occasional highlight block, but is not a sound defender overall. Evans is a physical beast who plays hard and plays dirty and has bothered the Grizzlies all series. With the Jordan-Griffin pairing on the floor, the Clippers are -19.9 per 48 minutes in the series, via NBA.com, and have given up 104 points per 48. With the Evans-Griffin pairing, the Clippers are +28.2 and have allowed only 72.8 points per 48.
With Griffin and Evans on the floor late, the Clippers are bringing much more physical defense to bear on Gasol and Randolph — especially before they get the ball — at the time when Gasol and Randolph are the least fresh. The Grizzlies' frontcourt duo didn't get as many touches in the fourth in Game 5, but they got some good shots and weren't able to make them.
Another fourth quarter issue is the Clippers' perimeter defense. In Game 5, the Clippers were pressuring full court more in the fourth, shaving a few extra seconds off the 24-second shot clock on Grizzlies possessions. With the Grizzlies often not really getting into their offense until later into the clock, it becomes harder to set up a post play, especially with post players facing more physical defense. The result, too often, has been a perimeter player — usually Conley or Gay — trying make something happen with the clock winding down.
The Clippers have made good adjustments late in these games. The Grizzlies haven't counter-adjusted well enough. They need to handle pressure better and get into their offense quicker. And they need to remain committed to the post game even as the Clippers offer more resistance.
Rudy on the Road: Rudy Gay's play has been erratic and frustrating all series, but he's been at his worst in the first halves on the road. Beyond a quicker-than-usual first-quarter hook in Game 4 (a sub pattern that I think makes sense as a matter of strategy and I wish would be repeated), none of this seems to impact Gay's minutes, as he played a team-leading 41:16 in Game 4 despite having another up-and-down game.
But, facing elimination on the road, the Grizzlies can't afford another high-volume bad first half tonight. Hopefully Gay will be in decent form tonight, but if he doesn't have it in the first half at Staples Center yet again, the team — okay, the coach — has to limit his minutes and touches in response.
“Free Tony Allen”: While I think the controversy over Tony Allen's late-game role has been somewhat overstated, it is starting to get a little silly, with Allen getting only 17 seconds in the final period of Game 5. All small sample size caveats granted, the Grizzlies have been better offensively with Allen on the floor. Allen picks up the energy and helps create the turnovers that the Grizzlies offense often relies on.
The Back-Up PG Quagmire: O.J. Mayo played good minutes on the ball earlier in the series, but over the last three games his shot has disappeared and in Game 5 the Clippers made a point of attacking his dribble and Mayo did not handle it well. With more of Mayo's minutes on the ball and fewer minutes at scoring guard (where Quincy Pondexter's role has increased), the Grizzlies have lost the dynamic three-point threat that Mayo was all of April and in Game 1. I'm not sure what the answer here is. Conley can't play all 48 and surely they can't trust rookie combo Josh Selby at this point in the playoffs. If Mayo struggles again with pressure, veteran Gilbert Arenas — who has not been used much in the series — probably needs a shot to soak up some point guard minutes. Arenas played only two minutes in Game 5 and even when he was on the floor, the Grizzlies kept Mayo at point guard.