LOS ANGELES – The beauty has been in taking away the beauty.
The Clippers are a glamorous, fun-to-watch group with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin playing the transition game in the fast lane as the Los Angeles team with a future. Lob City, population: As Many As Can Fit On The Bandwagon.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are impressive in the ways that matter this time of the year. They have asserted their will in a way the opponent can not match, or at least has been unable to in several games, the latest example a 103-93 Memphis victory Tuesday night at Staples Center. They have held their composure in a way the Clippers did when the teams met in the 2012 opening round.
It’s been that way all season, really. The Grizzlies had an impressive first half of the season, then invited severe criticism by trading leading scorer Rudy Gay from a team that already had trouble scoring. But Memphis kept winning despite the predictions of doom, just as they have kept winning despite falling into an 0-2 hole against the pyrotechnic Clippers in this series.
There is a toughness about this group, and not just from physical center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies have defined the style of play — it’s a grind — in these last three wins.
“… At the end of the first quarter, we were down two and we even had the lead a couple of times,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “Then the second quarter, we took the tone of the game with our defense and we played with that the rest of the game.”
We are not in Lob City. Blake Griffin was floor-bound Tuesday with a sprained right ankle suffered the day before in practice, managing 20 minutes before being pulled for good in the third quarter (four points on 2-for-7 shooting and five rebounds). But the Clippers are not on the verge of elimination because of Griffin’s injury. It’s more about what Memphis has done.
Memphis wanted a slower pace and has gotten it the last three games by mostly shutting down the Clippers in transition. Memphis wanted a ball-control, mistake-free offense to play through Gasol and Randolph. The Grizzlies have mostly gotten that, too.
Point guard Mike Conley in the three wins: six assists and two turnovers, 13 assists and two turnovers, 10 assists and no turnovers.
The Grizzlies, overall, in the wins: seven, 13 and 10 turnovers. Thirty miscues in 144 minutes of playoff basketball.
“They really execute their plays,” Clippers guard Chauncey Billups said. “They run their plays all the way through. We know pretty much where they’re going. After the play is over, they dump it down. They’re just a really disciplined team.”