Game 2

Thanks to a frustratingly long gap between games, I’ve had time to come down from my Game 1 high and view Game 2 with neutrality.  I have no idea what to expect tonight.  Will the Clippers carry forward their momentum from Sunday, or will they rest on their laurels, content with a split in Memphis?  Bigger questions face the Grizzlies: do they have the resilience to bounce back and compete tonight after a devastating loss in front of their home crowd?

Game 1 was such an anomaly for both teams that I don’t think it was instructive as to how this series will play out.  The Grizzlies are a terrible three-point shooting team, as I noted in my Game 1 preview.  They shot 11-16 (69%) on Sunday.  Mike Conley was 5-5 from deep; he shot 37.7% on 2.6 attempts per game during the regular season.  Suffice it to say, the Grizzlies are not as good as they looked while building up that 27-point lead.  Nor are the Clippers as bad as they looked in the first three quarters.  And of course, they probably won’t ever go on another 28-3 run.  I expect both teams to revert to the mean somewhat tonight, and hopefully give us a better sense of how they match up against each other.  Look for Chris Paul to be more aggressive in the early offense, and for more post-up opportunities for Blake Griffin.  Expect Memphis to feed Marc Gasol in the high post, a strategy they inexplicably shied away from late in Game 1.  Although the Grizzlies still terrify me, I will always pick the team with Chris Paul.

Prediction: Clippers 103, Grizzlies 97.

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Post-game analysis

SUCK IT MEMPHIS!!!!!!

“Scared to death, scared to look
They shook”
-Mobb Deep

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Clippers-Grizzlies Playoff Preview

Well here we are: the Clippers’ first playoff game in six years. I expected to be screaming my lungs out at Staples Center today, but an unfortunate late-season swoon dropped the Clips down to the 5th seed in the West, forcing them to travel to Memphis for the series opener. In what figures to be an unusually evenly-matched series, home-court advantage is critical. The Clippers took two out of three regular season games against the Grizzlies, with each team winning on its home floor. The Clippers will have to steal a game in Memphis to advance to the second round.  Do the Clippers, a team starting three playoff virgins (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Randy Foye), have the poise to win on the road against a team that made a deep run last postseason? Here are the key story lines in this series, as I see them.

-ClipsNation preview: Steve Perrin of ClipsNation wrote an outstanding series preview. Please read it now. It covers many of the points that I wanted to make. Thanks for saving me some work, Steve.

-Low Expectations: The Grizzlies have become a darling of the national media. Bill Simmons picked them to defeat the Clips in five games and advance all the way to the Finals. ESPN had its fifteen NBA experts predict the outcome of the series; only five picked the Clippers (two of those five experts, Arnovitz and Shelburne, are from LA and cover the Clippers). Will the Clippers, who have been under a media microscope from the minute Chris Paul arrived in town, thrive in the underdog role? As a Clippers fan, I’m glad that no one is picking them to win this series. With the exception of Chris Paul and maybe Mo Williams, the Clippers do not seem to handle pressure well. They are a fragile young team, and they are at their best when they play with a “nothing to lose” mentality. Blake Griffin in particular seems to be much more effective when he’s playing his aggressive, free-wheeling style; he has a tendency to become tentative in big moments. I think the low expectations will help the Clippers. Their best sustained stretch of play came after many had written them off. In mid-March, they were coming off a three-game losing streak when  ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported that Vinny del Negro had lost control of the locker room and was on the brink of being fired. The Clippers responded by winning six straight games, and twelve of their next fourteen. Coincidentally, their first game after that ESPN report was a 16-point drubbing of the Grizzlies. Let’s hope they respond equally well to being written off this time.

-The “Streaking” Memphis Grizzlies: related to the point immediately above, let’s disabuse ourselves of this notion that the Grizzlies are “hot.”  Yes, Memphis ended the season on a six-game winning streak. But those six consecutive wins came against Minnesota, NOLA, Charlotte, Portland, Cleveland, and Orlando. The first five teams on that list are either actively trying to lose (Minn, NOLA, Portland, CLE) or historically awful (CHA). The last team, Orlando, was missing Dwight Howard and resting the remainder of its starters. Despite the horrendous competition, the Grizzlies nearly blew several of those games. In fact, it took a furious fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Bobcats. So let’s not get too caught up in the cliche that the Grizzlies are peaking at the right time.

-Same Same But Different: the Grizzlies and Clippers play two very different styles of basketball, but their net results are strikingly similar. The Grizzlies went 41-25 this year; the Clippers were 40-26. The Grizzlies outscored their opponents by 2.2 points per 100 possessions (104.0 to 101.8); the Clippers outscored their opponents by 2.8 points per 100 possessions. On a per-game basis, the Grizzlies’ average margin of victory was 2.0; the Clippers’ was 2.5. They reached these results in entirely different ways. The Clippers play at a plodding pace, the fourth-slowest in the league. They rely on half-court execution, boasting the fourth-most efficient offense in the NBA; a truly baffling stat to anyone who has witnessed Vinny del Negro’s offensive “sets.”  Defense is, of course, the Clippers’ achilles heel. For most of the year, they languished in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency; a late-season surge brought them to a barely respectable 18th place finish in defensive efficiency. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are a mediocre on offense (19th) and elite on defense (7th). They lead the league in turnovers forced at 17.1 per game. A huge key to this series will be the Clippers’ ability to control the ball. They were very good in the regular season at taking care of the ball (as CP3’s teams always tend to be), with the second-lowest turnover rate in the league.

-Tony Allen on Chris Paul: here’s one place where I disagree with Steven Perrin. Tony Allen absolutely can neutralize Chris Paul and force the other Clippers to make plays. I think Conley will guard Paul for most of the game, but I worry that Allen will draw the assignment in crunchtime. The Spurs effectively deployed this strategy by sticking the bigger Danny Green on Chris Paul in the fourth quarter of their February matchup; the Mavs did the same thing with Shawn Marion. Putting a bigger defender on Paul limits his ability to pull up for the mid-range jumper, and makes it harder for him to finish in the paint. Unfortunately for the Clips, they don’t have a big shooting guard who can make opponents pay for this strategy. If the Grizz switch Allen onto Paul, that will likely leave Conley guarding Randy Foye – not a matchup the Clippers can exploit.

-The Gasol-Jordan Mismatch: this is just about the worst matchup I could imagine for DeAndre. Gasol is everything Jordan isn’t: skilled, savvy, and cerebral. I expect Jordan to average about 0.5 fouls per minute trying to keep up with Gasol’s deft post moves. We’ll be seeing a lot of Kenyon Martin in this series, I suspect.

-Zoning Up? It might not be a bad idea for the Clippers to play a lot of zone defense. Three of the Clippers’ starters have no chance of stopping their man one-on-one: Jordan on Gasol, Griffin on Randolph, and, worst of all, Caron Butler on Rudy Gay. The Clippers can mitigate these mismatches by zoning up and forcing the Grizzlies to beat them from deep. The Grizzlies shot the third-fewest threes in the league this year, and converted just 32.6% of their attempts (25th in NBA). I’d rather take my chances with them bombing threes than watch Gasol carve up our interior defense.

That’s all for now. I expect to post on a near-daily basis throughout the playoffs, so please check back tomorrow for my post-game thoughts.

Game One Prediction: Clippers 103, Grizzlies 97.

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Playoff Predictions

I’m hoping to write a Clippers-Grizzlies playoff preview tomorrow morning.  The bottom line is that I’m terrified of Memphis — especially their ability to neutralize CP3 with Tony Allen — but I think the Clips take them out in 6 or 7 games if Paul is healthy.

Here are my predictions for the rest of the playoffs:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

-Spurs over Jazz in 5; Clips over Grizzlies in 6; Thunder over Mavs in 7; Lakers over Denver in 4

-Spurs over Clips in 5; Lakers over Thunder in 7

-Lakers over Spurs in 6

EASTERN CONFERENCE

-Bulls over Sixers in 5; Celtics over Hawks in 6; Heat over Knicks in 7; Pacers over Magic in 5

-Celtics over Bulls in 7; Heat over Pacers in 5

-Heat over Celtics in 5

FINALS: Heat over Lakers in 6.

 

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We Can and Will Win in Memphis

That is all.

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Quick Postgame Notes

1. Selling my tickets at a 345% markup was one of my all-time best decisions.

2. Blake Griffin had no answer for Pau’s length (monster jams notwithstanding). How many times did he get his shot blocked? He desperately needs a midrange game. Or some post moves.

3. Everyone except CP3 was mortified in the last five minutes. This does not bode well for the playoffs.

4. Smart move by Mike Brown to put Ron Artest on CP3 in the fourth quarter. The Lakers were able to get away with it because Randy Foye isn’t big enough to exploit Sessions.

5. Vinny should have played Nick Young instead of Foye in the last few minutes, for three reasons: (1) see point #3 above.  Everyone was terrified at the end of the game. Nick Young is too selfish and oblivious to get nervous, especially when he’s having a good game; (2) see point #4 above. Young has the size to take advantage of the mismatch created by the Artest-Paul matchup; (3) Young’s length would have bothered Kobe on his critical late-game jumpers.

6. Andrew Bynum was unstoppable. I don’t assign much blame to DJ. Nobody can stop Bynum one-on-one when he’s got it going. And it’s so tough to double him with Kobe lurking on the perimeter and Pau waiting to dive to the basket. Frankly, the Lakers are unstoppable when they run their offense through Bynum in the post.

7. I realized that Eric Bledsoe is our nuclear option. He comes in and causes complete chaos for both teams. He’ll relentlessly harass the opposing PG into a turnover, then sprint down the floor and throw up a wild shot on a 1 on 4 fastbreak. He’ll hit a big shot, then run past his man trying to gamble on defense, leading to an easy bucket for the other team. For a while this scorched earth strategy worked pretty well, because the Clippers were down big and the Lakers offense was clicking on all cylinders. At that point, introducing a bunch of chaotic frenzy into the game could only help us. Unfortunately, this also means we’ll have to take the good with the bad. If he can ever harness his energy on offense, he’ll be a major asset.

8. I only counted one Kobe jutted-jaw scowl today. Andrew Bynum is threatening to surpass Kobe as the most obnoxious Laker.

9. Goodness, I hate the Lakers.

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Why I Will Probably Spend Wednesday Night in Jail

The Lakers narrowly defeated the Nets at Staples Center tonight. It took a 30-footer from Kobe against completely botched coverage to seal the deal. The win puts the Lakers a game and a half up on the Clippers in the race for the Pacific Division title.  Needless to say, tomorrow night’s Battle for LA is a massive game.

During the Lakers Live post-game show outside Staples, a crowd of hooligans adorned in huge gold chains, backwards hats, and Kobe jerseys (in other words, typical Lakers fans) gathered behind the Fox Sports crew. Apparently feeling pretty cocky after their 4-point win over the lowly Nets, the crowd chanted “Clippers Suck!  Clippers Suck!” The chant lasted for several minutes. For a fanbase that so often proclaims to be unthreatened by its little brother across the hallway, this was a surprising display of animosity.

Don't tell me you don't want to punch this guy.

It’s no secret that most Clippers fans hate Lakers fans. I’ve expressed my opinion before. In years past, Lakers jerseys usually outnumbered Clippers jerseys in the stands when the two teams met in Clipper “home” games. Although purple and gold apparel will likely be a minority at the game tomorrow night, there will still be a substantial Laker fan presence. I fully expect a chorus of “M-V-P” chants to break out whenever Kobe steps to the free throw line. Or, better yet, lots of lame jokes about how Chris Paul should have come to the Lakers instead of the Clippers. I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to restrain myself from talking shit. A couple weeks ago, I lost my cool and yelled at a relatively mild-mannered Warriors fan sitting behind me. When some asshat in a Black Mamba jersey starts talking about how Ramon Sessions is better than Chris Paul, my reaction might land me in LA City Jail — where I’ll probably have to deal with even more Lakers fans.

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