FedExForum will host an elimination game Friday night. It’s up to the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers — playing Game 5 of their opening-round series Tuesday night in L.A. — to determine which team is teetering near the cliff of offseason blues. While the Grizzlies may have gained momentum by holding serve last week — tying the series at two games apiece — they’d do well to treat Tuesday night’s game with the kind of urgency normally reserved for a Game 7. I’d recommend an urgency just this side of desperation. Win and the Grindhouse may actually grow teeth Friday night. Chris Paul hasn’t seen hostile like he would at Third and Beale with his team’s season on the line. Lose and the Grindhouse will rock but only until the first, inevitable Clipper run. The Grizzlies want the reward of a Game 6 victory to be a second-round series, not a return to the Staples Center.
A few quick thoughts on the Grizzlies’ postseason to date:
• Much is made of the Clippers’ superior bench, and rightly so. There’s not a better quartet of guards in the NBA than Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford, and Eric Bledsoe. Unspoken, though, in all the plaudits for L.A.’s pine brothers is the Grizzlies’ recipe for nullifying the advantage with their own starters’ play. And how. In Game 3, the Grizzlies’ starters outscored the Clippers’ starting five, 64-47 (and won the game by 12 points). Then Saturday in Game 4, the Griz starting five more than doubled the point total of their counterparts, 88-40. Give credit to a team’s bench when they outscore the starters, sure, but not when the result is a 21-point beat-down.
The Grizzlies have never had a playoff game with the trio of Zach Randolph (24 points, 9 rebounds), Marc Gasol (24 points, 13 rebounds), and Mike Conley (15 points, 13 assists) putting up the silly numbers they did last Saturday. If these totals are even approximated in Los Angeles, Memphis will come home with a 3-2 lead. And it won’t matter in the slightest how the Clipper bench performs.
• Familiarity and contempt. You know how this works. You probably feel the emotional cocktail every time Chris Paul has a conversation with an official. (In what other sport is a player allowed to put his arm around a game official and have a discussion?) But this year’s Griz-Clip series is compelling for how different the rosters actually are from those in last year’s seven-game tilt. Five Clippers who played at least 10 minutes in Game 4 this year did not play in Game 7 a year ago: Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, and Ronny Turiaf. The same can be said of two Grizzlies: Tayshaun Prince and Darrell Arthur. (A third, Jerryd Bayless, was limited to 9:26 on the floor by the rather brilliant play of Conley.) The faces of the two franchises remain the same (Paul and Blake Griffin on one side, the Z-Bo/Gasol/Conley troika on the other). But this series is a rematch only on the surface.
• Hats off to Gasol for winning the Defensive Player of the Year award. There’s no such thing as a Memphis voting bloc when it comes to these trophies, so it feels especially gratifying to see one of the local team’s grinders get such national recognition. And check out this factoid, Griz Nation: Going back to the 2001-02 season, Memphis is the only NBA franchise that has featured a Rookie of the Year (Pau Gasol, 2002), Coach of the Year (Hubie Brown, 2004), Sixth Man Award (Mike Miller, 2006) and Defensive Player of the Year. Not a bad trophy case for a dozen years in downtown Memphis.
• Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I’m not going to guarantee that the winner of the Grizzlies-Clippers series is going to the NBA Finals. But I’ll say this: The Oklahoma City Thunder will not go to the Finals without Russell Westbrook. A new opportunity has presented itself with the season-ending injury to the Thunder’s All-NBA guard. So we get back to that sense of urgency (desperation?) for a Grizzlies team seeking a lengthy stay in these playoffs. Overalls would seem to go well with grit and grind, don’t you think?