Speculation about Del Negro’s future with the team has raged on for months, long before they faltered in the playoffs. With free-agent point guard Chris Paul still undecided about his future in advance of the July 1 free agent free-for-all, where Paul will be as sought after as anyone on the market not named Dwight Howard.
It should be noted that a Paul favorite and a man familiar to Los Angeles, Byron Scott, was on NBA TV’s airwaves Monday night and is available after being fired in Cleveland. The Clippers would be wise to think about coaches that could connect with their superstar point guard while pursuing Del Negro’s replacement.
There’s also the Phil Jackson factor to think about. If he’s interested in returning to the league in some capacity, but not as a coach, maybe the Clippers consider bringing him back and having him select the next coach.
In addition to Paul, the Clippers will have to take Blake Griffin‘s temperature to see what works for him moving forward. Because if Paul bolts in free agency, Griffin becomes the sole face of the franchise heading into the 2013-14 season.
This opening instantly becomes the hottest job on the market for coaches looking for work, especially if Paul remains with the franchise. And you should expect a whose who of candidates to be associated with the rumors in the coming days and weeks. Former Clippers and Suns coach Alvin Gentry, Scott, Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Malone, Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and even Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins will all be targets.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Zach Randolph has come a long way, baby.
From a 20-year-old, tantalizingly skilled and pudgy rookie reared by the infamous Portland “Jail” Blazers, to the now 31-year-old supremely skilled and pudgy leader of the first Memphis Grizzlies team to play for the Western Conference crown.
Randolph arrived in Memphis in 2009 still the bearer of a bad rap and possibly even a worse rep. Thirty-nine games into his stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, Randolph was moved out to move in, ironically, No. 1 pick and soon-to-become Randolph’s playoff nemesis, Blake Griffin.
Randolph’s third trade in two calendar years — from Portland to the New York Knicks in June 2007; from the Knicks to the Clips in November 2008; and finally from the Clips to the Grizz in July 2009 for Quentin Richardson — has been the tonic for peace and happiness and maturity and some darn good basketball.
Randolph can now boast being a two-time All-Star with Memphis. He’s also an emblematic figure of this blue-collar city and a fan favorite of its hard-nosed citizens, and a loyal teammate that his peers pull for and gush over.
“His career has had a lot of ups and downs, and it’s just evident when you think of being in this moment that not a lot of people get here, and Z is a perfect example of that,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said. “He’s been in the league so long and done so many great things, he hasn’t had the experience to go to the Western Conference finals or the Finals yet, and so it’s kind of the message that’s being sent around to everybody, and we’re feeding off what Z’s been through and the fact that this could be special.”
Before the low-post — and lower-center-of-gravity — scoring machine arrived in Memphis, his Portland teams had two one-and-done postseasons. The first, as a rookie, he logged one minute. The next season, in 2003, he averaged 13.9 ppg and 8.7 rebounds as those misfit Blazers almost became the first team to come back from a 3-0 hole against the Dallas Mavericks, but they were blown out in Game 7.
He then went six seasons sitting on the postseason sidelines. Now he’s seizing the moment heading to the biggest stage of his career. Randolph is averaging a team-high 19.7 ppg and 9.3 rpg while shooting 51.2 percent as he and low-post partner Marc Gasol get set to face the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the West finals Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
Along the way, Randolph dominated Griffin in the final four games to dispatch the Clippers in a rugged, emotion-filled, six-game series. He saved his best game so far to eliminate the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in Wednesday’s Game 5, a punishing performance from the jump that ended with 28 points, 14 rebounds and one wide grin.
“This moment means a lot to me,” Randolph said. “I’m happy, but we still have work to do. I want to win a ring.”
Randolph can be the king of colloquialisms when talking about others, such as when he described the defense teammate Tony Allen was applying to Kevin Durant: “Tony’s a dog, man. He’s in the mud.” The Grizzlies marketing department has crafted slogans and campaigns around Randolph’s colorful descriptors and phrases.
But he’s mostly bland when talking about himself. It’s a subject best left unto others, like Allen.
“I’ve [known] Zach ever since I got in the league, what his skill level was,” said Allen, who joined the Grizzlies a season later in the summer of 2010. “But he was … at first all about going out and getting his. And ever since I got alongside him, he’s done a good job of mixing it up, passing the ball when you don’t have a shot, being more of a vocal leader and just a teddy bear off the court. When I say teddy bear, just a nice guy. He’s the nicest guy in the world. I saw him grow a lot despite what I heard about him previously before I got here.”
“Just rough around the edges, that’s all,” Allen said, chuckling. “But me and him pretty much got the same characteristics. Growing up we overcame a lot. Right now, it’s a big time to do something big and I think that’s what his mindset is right now — trying to do something real big.”
Everything with the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Randolph is big, especially his game. Nicknamed Z-Bo back in middle school growing up in gritty, small-town Marion, Indiana, the southpaw’s game is described as “old-school” or “old man.” That’s because his vertical won’t win him any dunk contests and because he relies more on guile and honed skill than athleticism. Randolph’s excellent footwork makes him quick, agile and unpredictable with his back to the basket. He has tremendous upper and lower body strength to gain position and a sublime touch to finish with short hooks and up-and-under bank shots. And he can always float in fall-away jumpers. His arsenal is a lethal combination of power and finesse that few power forwards today posses.
Just listen to Thunder coach Scott Brooks go on and on when asked to detail the difficulty in defending Randolph in the low post.
“He has relentless determination, he’s an aggressive offensive rebounder and he has so many different shots he can throw at you,” said Brooks, who watched Randolph work over Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Serge Ibaka for 18.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg. “He can face-up and hit a shot; he can drive right with one dribble and the little pull-up off the glass; he goes to the left, to the middle very well, and he has so many different release points. He can score down low at the block. He doesn’t look like he can do it, he just doesn’t have that body that you think that can score, and he doesn’t jump very high, but he has that determination and he obviously has the ability to score.
“He’s a handful.”
Allen calls the whole package “backyard ball.”
“He’s the backyard bully. Welcome to the Z block,” Allen said. “He’s just a monster down there; he’s a load.”
He’s now the responsibility of Spurs big men Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, a tough job compounded by the fact that one of them will be preoccupied with Gasol, also having a brilliant postseason averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.9 rpg.
The big stage has been a long time coming for Randolph, a player many assumed would have run himself out of the league by now. That’s not the case or even any longer an option. The 12-year veteran has found a home and fulfillment in Memphis.
“He just understands the big picture a little bit better. He understands winning better,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “I think there are lot of good players in this league that have statistics, that have talent, but never win, never understand that it takes more than their 20 points to win; that it takes moving the basketball, it takes playing defense, it takes being a decoy sometimes.
“We just try to challenge him and he accepts being challenged, and he’s risen to the occasion.”
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – California’s basketball hierarchy is on its head.
As the second round is set to begin, in is the All-Star-snubbed Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors; out are the two biggest superstars set to hit the free-agent market: Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers.
In strange symmetry, Howard and Paul were both ejected in their final games of the season. Howard twice lost his cool and got the heave-ho early in the third quarter of the Kobe-less and totally injury-depleted Lakers’ Game 4 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Referee Joey Crawford gave Paul a more controversial walk to the showers late in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Game 6 downer at the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers’ fourth consecutive defeat after taking a 2-0 series lead.
Both superstars will become free agents on July 1. While the smart money still says D12 and CP3 love L.A. and will stay, unceremonious endings to what were supposed to be storybook seasons for both franchises at least adds a layer of intrigue and speculation to the proceedings.
For the Clippers, 118-105 losers Friday, suddenly the celebrations of a franchise-best 56-win season and a first-ever Pacific Division title are being washed away by a tidal wave of disappointment and tough offseason decisions headlined by Paul’s choice of where next to take his talents.
“I got a lot of time to think about that,” Paul, wearing a Clipper red sports coat, told reporters after Friday’s game. “As I do with any decision I make, I consult with my wife, my parents, my brother, my family. I might even let little Chris chime in on this. We’ll see what happens.”
L.A.’s front office will wait on pins and needles for July 1 to get Paul’s answer, but they will likely move much quicker to determine the future of lame-duck coach Vinny Del Negro. When management assesses the job he’s done in leading the Clippers to the playoffs in consecutive seasons for just the second time in the franchise’s 29 years in L.A. and first time in 20 years, there will be two sides of the coin to each topic of debate.
Since being hired to lead Chicago with no previous coaching experience, Del Negro has been scrutinized, even ridiculed, like no other coach regarding his acumen of the X’s and O’s.
In this series, Del Negro’s team allowed a 2-0 lead to slip away. But how much of that is on the coach and how much is on a team that seemed to get outworked in the final four games? Did the coach not have his team prepared or did the players not show up? Did the coach fail to make proper adjustments or did the players fail to execute?
Paul averaged 22.8 points and 6.3 assists. He shot 53.3 percent and rarely turned the ball over. He didn’t get a lot of help from what was considered to be the deepest team in basketball. His All-Star teammate Blake Griffin sprained an ankle and played 24 minutes in the final two games. He finished the series with a well-below-average 13.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg while nemesis Zach Randolph dominated in the final four games.
Veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, who missed most of the season due to injury, played as if his head wasn’t in it, finishing the series with more turnovers (eight) than assists (six). After going 4-for-8 from the floor in Game 1, he went 7-for-28 the rest of the way.
Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Jamal Crawford was 7-for-21 in Games 3 and 4 and was benched in the second half of Game 6 after going 0-for-5. Matt Barnes, who threw in 30 points Friday night, was 9-for-24 in Games 2 through 5.
Caron Butler averaged 5.8 ppg in Games 2 through 5 and scored five points in 34 minutes of Games 4 and 5. Del Negro ripped center DeAndre Jordan‘s effort. Grant Hill, either injured or buried on the bench this season, was on the floor in the second half of Game 6.
The Clippers could look quite different next season. They have $45 million tied into Griffin, Jordan, Butler, Crawford, Hill and Eric Bledsoe. Two million could get returned if Hill retires as he speculated he might last month.
So let the introspection begin for a franchise that has scrapped bottom for decades and seemed to be headed for better days, if not glory days. Owner Donald Sterling in his later years has seemed to soften and to smartly open his wallet to make things happen. It’s resulted in two sensational seasons that have produced regular-season results like never before, two rare trips to the postseason while also rousing a fan base and creating a fun environment at Staples Center.
Yet the Clippers failed to accomplish Del Negro’s goal and that was go deeper in the playoffs that last season’s second-round sweep at the hands of the Spurs when Griffin was again hurt and unable to perform at a peak level.
So while Curry and the Warriors keep doing their thing, the mood is considerably darker today down in L.A.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For those who truly love the reality TV drama of the NBA playoffs, this is what we pay and hope for every year. Elimination time, 48 minutes with everything on the line plus seasons (and sometimes careers) hanging in the balance.
The posturing is over. Wear black if you want to (New York Knicks), but if you’re not careful and don’t treat Game 6 with the urgency required, the funeral you’ll be attending might be your own (if the Boston Celtics are able to force a Game 7, that will put pressure on the Knicks that could shake the very walls of Madison Square Garden).
The Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers are all facing a win-or-go-home circumstance in their respective Games 6 battles tonight. Each one of them trails 3-2 and each one of them will have some serious thinking to do in the aftermath of defeats.
That said, the Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies do not want to let this opportunity to end things slip away. A Game 7, be it at home or on the road, comes with an increased level of intensity that can make anyone crack.
So we’re going game-by-game and detailing exactly what is on the line tonight for the winner and loser of these games:
What’s on the line for the Knicks:Everything! An entire season comes down to whether or not they can survive their own foolishness. Suddenly the Knicks aren’t in a playful mood. Too bad they didn’t adopt that philosophy before Game 5, when they had a chance to end this series on their home floor. Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith have to redeem themselves for their words and actions beforeand during that Game 5 disaster. Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, needs simply to return to the MVP form he showed down the stretch of the regular season and early on in this series. Just 21 assists in two games is not the sort of ball movement that led the Knicks to that 3-0 series lead. They either find a way to fix that or face the possibility of a Game 7 at home, which sounds like a good thing … until you remember that the Celtics would welcome another opportunity to silence Spike Lee and the rest of the Knicks faithful at the Garden.
What’s on the line for the Celtics:An era! The Big 3 era ended last season when Ray Allen bolted for Miami. But that was the ceremonial end. The official end comes when this team sees its season finished. No one knows what Danny Ainge has in store for this group when it’s all over. Celtics coach Doc Rivers is a master at preparing his team for big games, but the Knicks did much of the work for him this time by calling out the Celtics. That’s usually all the incentive Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett need to get their fires raging. They responded like the true (and aging) warriors that they are. And they’ll bring a Game 7 zeal to Game 6 and dare the Knicks to match their effort before a home crowd that should be in a full lather by lunch time. While the Knicks have focused their attention elsewhere, Jeff Green has gone about destroying them in the past two games. The Celtics’ supporting cast will be the difference if this series goes to a Game 7.
What’s on the line for the Pacers:Legitimacy! The Pacers fancy themselves as championship contenders this season. And they are serious about it. Problem is, their performance on the road in this series suggests otherwise. If they can’t handle an inconsistent bunch like the Hawks on the road, what exactly can coach Frank Vogel‘s crew do against either the Knicks or Celtics in the conference semifinals? Paul George and David West have designs on leading the Pacers deep into the playoffs, but they better finish this series off first without having to host a Game 7 in the first round. A little help from Roy Hibbert would help. Vogel keeps talking about his team still being young and needing to learn some things along the way. Learning how to survive a mess of your own making with a Game 7 against an inferior foe can’t be what he had in mind.
What’s on the line for the Hawks:The (immediate) future! It’s no secret that the organization is pointing to this summer, and free agency, as their salvation. Any noise the Hawks made in this postseason was strictly for the men in uniform and on the sideline (most of them are playing out the final years of their respective deals). A sustained postseason run is just more advertising, sometimes good and sometimes not so good, for coach Larry Drew and stars Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, Kyle Korver and others. The fitting way to end their six-year run of consecutive playoff appearances is to go out the same way they did in that first-round series against the Celtics in 2008, losing in a Game 7 in Boston. There is more respect earned going down like that than there is in going down on your home floor in Game 6. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You need a passport for this week’s stop on the Phil Jackson rumor train.
Cleveland is history, Mike Brown‘s the new (old) coach there. The Seattle situation, complete with Chris Hansen and his affinity for Jackson, took a serious hit Monday when Sacramento prevailed in its bid to keep the Kings in California. The Los Angeles Lakers’ situation is still in flux as no one knows what is going to happen with Dwight Howard (free agency looms), Kobe Bryant (rehabilitation from Achilles surgery is underway) and coach Mike D’Antoni (good for next season as coach), but they will all certainly be in the crosshairs this summer.
So the attention to Jackson has shifted north, to Toronto, where reports have the Raptors exploring the possibilities of trying to woo Jackson to be a part of their front office structure. Since he’s made it clear that he has no interest in returning to the league as a coach, the ideal situation for the Zen Master is to return as Front Office Phil.
One source said that Leiweke’s “vision and energy” and history of shared success at Staples Center with the 11-time championship coach ensures that Jackson will give the pitch strong consideration despite skepticism around the league about his willingness to relocate to Canada.
Amid its pursuit of Jackson in the wake of Leiweke’s arrival, Raptors president Bryan Colangelo is scheduled to meet with the MLSE board next week in hopes of convincing his bosses to pick up the option year on his contract. The 2013-14 option in coach Dwane Casey‘s contract was picked up by Colangelo before this season, but Leiweke’s arrival has thrown both of their futures into some immediate doubt.
In an interview last week with the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackson said “three or four teams” have already expressed interest and that “none of it involves coaching.”
“There are some interesting situations that are presenting themselves, but I really haven’t made up my mind yet what I’m going to do,” Jackson told the Chronicle.
Jackson also confirmed to the newspaper he’s interested in a developing team “where you’d have the influence in [selecting the] coaching staff and the kind of culture that goes along with it.”
It makes sense, until you remember that Jackson’s ties to the Lakers remain extremely strong. And until the Lakers make some concrete decisions about their future, there always be those who hold out hope that Jackson (alongside his fiancée Jeanie Buss) will return to the Lakers and help fix all that’s gone wrong since he departed two years ago.
That reconciliation seems impossible as long as Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak remain at the controls for the Lakers. Quite frankly, they have more pressing matters to tend to, namely what Howard will do in free agency. Having him in the fold with Pau Gasol makes the Lakers’ recovery from their ragged 2012-13 season one of the most crucial stretches in recent franchise history, considering they’ll have to do it without a healthy Bryant to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility.
There remains another potential option in Jackson’s preferred Southern California, one that Lakers faithful fear above all others, and that’s Jackson working down the hall at the Staples Center in the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room. What better way for the Clippers to cement their takeover as the city’s top basketball outfit than to lure Jackson over to their side in his return to the NBA?
A team with a nucleus of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with Jackson working behind the scenes (or as coach/executive, if things don’t go Vinny Del Negro‘s way during this postseason) has all sorts of possibilities. Same goes for the Brooklyn Nets, who could have a coaching vacancy this summer, barring a surprise championship run during these playoffs.
So much of this is speculation at this point, with everyone believing that they have the perfect situation for Jackson to walk into and craft to his liking, it’s hard to know what’s a legitimate possibility and what’s just hot air.
But as long as Jackson is reportedly interested in making a comeback, in whatever capacity, there will be suitors lined up to pitch him and plenty of fans anxious to see if he bites.
LOS ANGELES – Opposing playoff coaches Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins have a lot in common. Both men have improved their clubs’ winning percentage each season as coach. The last two soared over .600 for consecutive top-five finishes in the rugged Western Conference.
Both won 56 games this season to set each franchise’s record for most wins.
While both have produced excellent seasons by any measure, one will be going home earlier than hoped. And despite public stamps of approval this week from their superiors, neither coach’s future is certain, and prior to Monday’s Game 2, neither was pretending otherwise.
“Would I liked to have had a contract before this? Of course,” said Hollins, now in his fifth consecutive season and third stint as the Grizzlies coach, a relationship that dates back to the franchise’s roots in Vancouver. “But that’s a decision that’s made and you go and do the best job you can, and it’s not like it had to be done before the season is over. It’s just like players, you can extend players early or you can wait till later. Guys become free agents and they go out in free agency and sometimes it gives you leverage and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Del Negro, who guided the Clippers to the franchise’s first Pacific Division title and first 50-win campaign in his third season and second with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, has been one of the most scrutinized coaches since Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf hired him without any coaching experience five years ago. Del Negro lasted two .500 seasons there before being fired and then hired by the Clippers.
L.A. advanced to the West semifinals last season, but with Paul and Blake Griffin banged up, was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Del Negro said this season’s goal is to go deeper, which implies a goal of achieving another franchise milestone, a first conference final. It would take finishing off Memphis and then likely ousting the reigning West-champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I believe in what we’ve done here,” Del Negro said. “I think my assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job and I’ve had great support from ownership and the front office … and everybody to try and put the best team out there possible.
“Right now the focus should be on the playoffs, should be on the players and the commitment that they’re putting in to help us be successful. And all those things (contract situation) will get answered at the end.” (more…)
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.
Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.
The national guys aren’t perfect either. And if they’re not careful, they may be featured here, where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.
For all non-ABC games in the first round of the playoffs, fans have the option of watching the national broadcast (ESPN, TNT, NBA TV) or their local broadcast. And we here at NBA.com have the privilege of listening to what both sets of local broadcasters have to say about a particular play.
So the following play (a double foul called on Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph in Game 2 of Grizz-Clips on Tuesday) is presented without commentary, just a transcription of the conflicting comments made about the same play…
The Memphis perspective
Brevin Knight: “[Griffin] wraps his arms around Zach … Zach Randolph has two hands in the air. I don’t know how you even foul like that?
Pete Pranica: “It appears as Griffin initiated the contact and Randolph was just trying to protect himself.”
Knight: “And has both hands up. I don’t know how Zach Randolph gets called for a foul with both hands in the air. That’s impossible for that to happen.”
The L.A. perspective
Michael Smith: “I think if we see the replay, you’ll see that Blake blocks him out. Watch what happens afterwards. What does Blake Griffin do wrong there? What does he do wrong? … Watch right there where Zach is hanging on and pulling him back.”
LOS ANGELES – Where’s Vince McMahon when you need him?
When Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph get together it’s always a no-holds-barred (depending on what the refs actually allow) steel-cage match and tonight’s Game 2 at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT) should be no different.
In Saturday’s 112-91 victory for Blake’s Los Angeles Clippers, the opposing big fellas — who combine for at least 511 pounds — grabbed, pushed, bumped, used elbows, shoulders and whatever else to gain an ounce of traction against the other.
In the end, they effectively canceled each other out, combining for more fouls (11) than field goals (nine), free throw attempts (seven) and rebounds (nine). Both logged well below their season average for minutes played because of the constant whistles.
At one point they were handed the usually rare double-foul, only it’s not so rare for these two. It happened twice in four games during the regular season.
“It’s going to be a physical series that way,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It was last year, it was all of regular-season games and obviously the playoffs, with the energy in the building and just kind of what’s at stake, it’s going to be like that.”
No one needs to remind Griffin what he’s in for again tonight when he steps into the ring with Randolph.
“For anybody else, I feel like it’s not that much of a fight, because most of the time things get called no matter what,” Griffin said. “But that’s his game. Over time, people get used to that. So it’s not going to really work in my favor. I just have to make sure it’s even.”
It was in Game 1. Griffin fouled out with 10 points, just nine shot attempts, and five rebounds in under 26 minutes. Randolph had five fouls, picking up two in the first quarter that sent him to bench early. He had 13 points and four rebounds in less than 25 minutes.
It’s been the norm whenever Blake and Z-Bo lock up. In four regular-season games, Randolph has shot 37.3 percent, his second-lowest field-goal percentage against a team he played more than twice. Griffin averaged 13.8 points, more than four points below his season average, and seven rebounds, also below his season average.
“People might look at the box score and say, ‘Oh, he’s not contributing,’” said Griffin, who did acknowledge that he’d like to be more aggressive on the offensive end. “But watching the film (of Game 1), our coaches and our team felt like we did the job we were supposed to do. If you look at the final stats, it reflects that because we won the rebounding battle.”
In a huge way: 47-23 (and 14-4 on the offensive glass for a 25-5 advantage in second-chance points), a margin that surely won’t be repeated in Game 2.
But the larger point to tonight’s game and the series is that Memphis, dependent on running its offense through its two “bigs” — Randolph and Marc Gasol — can’t count on Randolph to be a dominant force matched against Blake at both ends of the floor. If those two continue to cancel each other out, the deeper Clippers are better equipped to find other ways to win as they did with a tremendous bench effort to grab the 1-0 series lead.
It was their fourth win in five games against the Grizzlies this season.
Prior to Game 1, Jamal Crawford described the physical play to come as going to be a “bloodbath.” Prior to Game 2 he said, “I think it will get progressively more physical as the series goes on. I think the best is yet to come.”
LOS ANGELES – How poor was the Memphis Grizzlies’ rebounding in Saturday night’s Game 1?
So poor that Lamar Odom’s seven boards in 18 minutes were one more than Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined to bring down in 66 total minutes.
“Very surprised,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said when asked about the Los Angeles Clippers’ 47-23 overall margin on the boards and 14-4 on the offensive glass. “But I’ve been saying when we played them before, they’ve gotten more boards than they should. Their wing people come in and get offensive rebounds.”
Hollins then noted after his team’s 112-91 loss the seemingly impossible with what can only be described as stunned exasperation: Randolph managed four rebounds in 25 foul-plagued minutes and Gasol got just two rebounds — one defensive board in the first quarter and another in the third — in 41 minutes.
And just look at those offensive rebounds that Hollins is talking about for the Clippers. Of their 14, the starters had five — center DeAndre Jordan (three), Caron Butler (one) and Blake Griffin (one), who, like Randolph, was taken out of the flow of the game by fouls — some seemingly very ticky-tack both ways — and played less than 26 minutes.
The bench, led by Odom’s three offensive rebounds, accounted for nine, and remarkably equaled Memphis’ overall 23 rebounds. Even little-used Ronny Turiaf, getting nine minutes of in place of Ryan Hollins late in the third and early in the fourth, outrebounded Gasol, 3-2, including an offensive board and a put-back.
Nothing in Saturday’s Game 1 held to form for either club other than the Clippers’ bench playing outstanding basketball. The rebounding aspect went haywire. During the regular saeason, Memphis ranked third in allowing the fewest offensive rebounds per game (10.3), was tied for third in accumulating offensive rebounds (12.9). It was also third in rebounding differential (plus-3.6).
The Clippers are big up front and are a good rebounding team, having finished sixth in differential (plus-2.5). But to have a plus-24 advantage in Game 1 and to be outscored 25-5 on second-chance points, it was all about outhustling the burly Grizzlies.
“We got beat at our game. We got to give them credit,” said Gasol, a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate. “Once we got a stop, they kept running and getting offensive rebounds and second-chance points. The way we played for 36-40 minutes, I think we played good basketball. Even though we weren’t fully feeling like ourselves, they were doing a good job of trying to get us away from what we’re trying to do.”
For Memphis fans who were screaming at Lionel Hollins through their television sets to see more of Ed Davis, who was first off the bench when Randolph got in foul trouble and started fast with six points and three rebounds in the first quarter (he finished with six and six in 12 minutes), the coach made it clear why he Davis saw just five minutes of action after the first quarter.
“We’ve got to stop people, too,” Hollins said. “That sounds good and I know that everyone’s chirping at that (playing Davis more), but there’s a lot more to this game than just one step.”
LOS ANGELES – There’s plenty at stake for the Los Angeles Clippers as they begin a second consecutive postseason for only the second time in their 29-year history in the city.
For the first time, the franchise has a 50-win season and a Pacific Division crown. They have one All-Star, Blake Griffin, locked up under contract and another, Chris Paul, who they hope will sign this summer to stay long-term. Finally, this notoriously cheap and irrelevant organization is slowly finding a small spot in the city’s heart.
So wouldn’t it be terrible if the Clippers allowed all that to slip away by allowing their hot heads to get in the way?
“That’s been our Achilles heel all season is losing our temper and I think I kind of set the tone,” Matt Barnes said after Saturday morning’s shootaround in preparation for tonight’s Game 1 against the physical Memphis Grizzlies.
Barnes said the Clippers are ready for a tough, physical series, the kind of grinding play that can instantly flare emotions and result in quick-trigger reactions. Barnes said he hopes the referees will let them play, but L.A. can’t worry about chirping at the refs or committing silly retaliatory plays if calls aren’t going their way.
“I’ve been telling these guys it’s a whole new attitude and stop getting in so much trouble,” Barnes said. “There’s a lot at stake, but you really don’t want to give anything away, you want to make a team earn everything. That’s something we’ll probably address before the game, something we’ve already addressed, so we kind of have to police each other out there because we know we’re susceptible to that.”
The Clips are among the top teams at drawing technical fouls. Griffin tied for the second-most during the regular season with 14. Center DeAndre Jordan and Barnes both got nailed 10 times and Jamal Crawford nine times. Even Lamar Odom‘s been T’d up six times and Paul five times.
During a late March game at Dallas, Griffin picked up a T with seven seconds to go in the third quarter that allowed the Mavericks to take the lead. Then Crawford got one a minute into the fourth quarter. The Clippers went on to lose in overtime. Those kinds of shifts on a technical foul can sabotage a playoff game, and undermine a series.
So can flagrant fouls, and L.A. is no stranger to those either. Speaking of playing intelligently, Barnes leads the Clippers with three Flagrant One penalties and one Flagrant Two. And reserve forward Ryan Hollins, whose minutes might get reduced against the Grizzlies, has three Flagrant One fouls.
The Clippers matched the Lakers as the only teams with two players in the top 10 in that dubious category.
“I know nobody on this team is a bad guy, like Blake has, I don’t know how many technicals, and he’s one of the nicest guys in the league,” Jordan said. “I think it’s really just a heat-of-the-moment type of thing. We get so caught up into the game and how competitive it is and sometimes your emotions get the best of you and you may snap for two seconds.
“But those two seconds are going to cost you some points and potentially a game. So we really have to harness our emotions in this series.”