Once again Clippers/Grizzlies play it close. Once again Clips have too much Chris Paul.
Again it was physical and nasty game. Again it was close at the end. Again the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies fought like two evenly matched teams that just don’t like each other. This time it went all the way to overtime.
And Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said it was the same thing that was the difference in the end.
He is right. Paul had eight of the Clippers’ 14 points in overtime — he would come off the high pick, go right at the Memphis big man, get him backpedaling, then pull up for an elbow jumper. He was the reason the Clippers won 101-97 and have a commanding 3-1 series lead heading to Memphis for Game 5.
“(Paul) made three straight jumpers, got to the basket, got fouled, I mean come on,” Hollins said. “Chris Paul won that game for them down the stretch.”
As he has all series. He has dominated late. CP3 has been the best player on the floor. But there were other keys for the Clippers as this team continues to learn how to win in the playoffs.
Los Angeles played its best defense of the series, holding Memphis to 43.4 percent shooting — and if you take away the Grizzlies’ 20 second-chance points (19 offensive rebounds), they shot just 41.8 percent. Or, look at it this way: Remove Mike Conley — who was fantastic with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting — and the rest of the Grizzlies shot just 38.8 percent. Or count their starting front of Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, who combined to 35 percent.
The Clippers defense cut off Grizzlies’ preferred angles, taking away clean passes to the post, and that threw the Memphis system off balance. When Gasol does not get the ball in his preferred spots, the Grizzlies’ offense can stall out and become isolation-heavy — he is key to their ball movement. But Gasol had just 4 shot attempts and 8 points all game. Gay tried to attack and find his spots and had 23 points but needed 25 shots to get there.
Meanwhile, a Blake Griffin that was more aggressive getting to his spots on the offensive end had 30 points on just 15 shots, plus 7 assists. It was his best game of the playoffs, while CP3 added 27.
Then there were good contributions from the Clippers bench again. Reggie Evans had a key offensive rebound off a missed Griffin shot in overtime to set up a CP3 bucket. Mo Williams had 9 points. Nick Young hit a key three — one Griffin assisted while sitting after slipping on a drive.
Despite all that, the Clippers could not pull away. In part because they shot only 33 percent for the second quarter and the front line of Memphis does not make anything easy, they are physical right back with the Clippers and were not getting their points. Conley was on fire and Memphis was scrappy. They fought back from 10 down and made it a game.
But in the end the Clippers had Chris Paul.
To a man after the game the Grizzlies said this series was not over — if they had not blown a 27 point lead in Game 1 the series would be tied. If they could find a way to stop Chris Paul.
“We are confident,” Rudy Gay said. “We’re a tough and resilient team. I think we can bounce back.”
“We’re going to try and shut down Chris Paul a little bit,” Hollins said. “He’s the problem and we’ve got to solve the problem.”
Chris Paul has won just one playoff closeout game in his NBA career — he has only once advanced to the second round. It’s going to be hard to get that win Wednesday night in Memphis. These Clippers are not young but they are young as a core being together and they are figuring things out still. These Clippers are still learning to win as a team.
But they are making a pretty quick study of it.