HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — We won’t bother asking what took the Hang Time Grizzlies so long to figure this out. All that matters now is that we’ve all see it in action and have seen the results.
When the Grizzlies ground and pound, playing through All-Star big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, they look like a completely different team against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Sure, they still have to deal with a Game 6 in Los Angeles and that pesky win-or-go-home scenario all teams face when they trail 3-2 in a best-of-7 series. But they reached Game 6 by leaning on Gasol and Randolph, listening to the children (or at least Randolph’s daughter) to stave off elimination in Game 5 last night.
If they want to see a Game 7 back on their home floor, they must continue to do more of the same. Because as good as Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and the rest of the Grizzlies’ perimeter operators have been all season, you win games in the paint in the playoffs. Trying to beat the Clippers that way is what led to the 3-1 deficit — well, that and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin outplaying them during critical stretches in the first four games.
But with injury concerns for the Clippers’ two best players, Paul has a hip flexor and Griffin a knee strain, the Grizzlies have a chance to refocus their attention inside and attack where the Clippers are most vulnerable. (Paul has already said he’ll be ready to go for Friday night, while Griffin’s status will be determined after he is examined again today.) The Clippers’ big men (Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans) cannot match the Grizzlies’ bigs if that’s where the battle line for Game 6 is drawn.
You saw the way the Clippers got frustrated in Game 5 when the physical nature of the game cranked up and their five technical fouls were as costly as any set we’ve seen throughout this postseason. A lip-busting affair usually favors the team with the guys who deliver those blows best, guys who enjoy a good cage fight every now and then. And Gasol and Randolph have shown they can deliver those goods with the best of them.
If anyone needs proof, pop in the tape from that first-round upset of the Spurs last season.
If there is a chance that Griffin, the Clippers’ best low-post force, is in danger of not being able to go in Game 6 … the blood will be in the water for Gasol and Randolph.
Judging by the initial reactions from the Clippers, there is some serious worry about Griffin’s status, as ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz reported after the game:
The Los Angeles Clippers came face-to-face with their worst-case scenario on Wednesday night, and it sent shivers up and down their bench.
“It felt how the Bulls probably felt when [Derrick Rose] went down,” Clippers guard Randy Foye said after the Clippers’ 92-80 Game 5 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. “Because if someone jumps and comes down like that and you see them tugging at their knee, that’s not a good sign.”
That someone was Blake Griffin, who was lying beneath Los Angeles’ basket, gripping his left knee.
Events had already turned ugly for the Clippers. They trailed 75-58 with 1:31 remaining in the third quarter and had converted one field goal in the preceding six minutes. In that same span, the team had been hit with a barrage of technical fouls, four in all.
Griffin took the ball off a pick-and-roll on the left side from Mo Williams and readied himself to attack Marc Gasol. Griffin took a couple of dribbles with his right hand, crossed over to his left, and as he elevated, Gasol bodied up to his right shoulder, sending Griffin tumbling to the floor.
“It was just kind of a weird play,” Griffin said. “My foot got caught under me and I kind of came down wrong. It was scary at first.”
Griffin wasn’t down more than a few seconds before the entire Clippers bench emptied onto the court from the opposite end.
“I told the guys, ‘Get up, one of our guys went down,'” Caron Butler said. “Not just one of our guys, but one of our superstars. It’s important that we go down there and check on our brother. He got up. It was a tough play. He got banged up pretty bad, but he’s a soldier. He got back out there.”
Griffin or not, the Grizzlies have only one option to see this series alive beyond Friday night. They have to ground and pound in Game 6 the same way they did in Game 5.
They do that, and basketball lovers everywhere will get what we want — at least one Game 7 from the first round.
“There’s no point leaving home if we don’t know our way back,” Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo said. ” We can’t look at Sunday because we have to make sure we get back home after Friday night.”