The Los Angeles Clippers hold a 2-0 series lead over the Memphis Grizzlies in their first-round playoff showdown. As the series shifts to Memphis for Game 3 in the best-of-seven series, here are a few takeaways from Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles:
No answer for Paul or Griffin
Despite the Grizzlies' defensive acumen, they have shown no signs through two games that they can stop Chris Paul, who’s averaging 23.5 points, eight assists and one turnover while shooting 59.3 percent (16-of-27 FGs).
While his buzzer-beater got most of the attention Monday night, Paul’s shots before it were even more impressive. He went one-on-one out of pick-and-rolls against Tony Allen and Marc Gasol, getting the shots he wanted and making them.
“That’s what he does, he closes games,” Allen said.
Griffin, meanwhile, battled foul trouble in Game 1 and never got into rhythm offensively (10 points, 3-of-9 FGs). Still, he was active around the rim, missing a few easy baskets but drawing fouls on Zach Randolph.
Game 2 was a different story. Griffin was dominant from the get-go, blowing by Randolph and using a slew of post moves to erase any confidence the Grizzlies had that they could defend him one-on-one. He had 13 first-quarter points, and 21 overall.
The rule of thumb in the playoffs is the team with the best player in the series generally wins. Paul is undoubtedly the best player on either squad, but if Griffin can assert himself as the second-best player in the series, the Grizzlies will have almost no chance at mounting a serious comeback.
Bench is dominating again
Two games (96 minutes) is a small sample size, but the Clippers' bench lineup of Ronny Turiaf, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe has outplayed the Los Angeles Clippers' starting lineup and dominated the Grizzlies’ bench.
In the 16 minutes the group has logged together, it has outscored the Grizzlies by 33.9 points per 100 possessions.
The bench’s 104.7 offensive rating is below-average (the Clippers have a 115 offensive rating in the playoffs), but the bench has been suffocating defensively, registering a 70.9 defensive rating and thwarting any offense the Grizzlies’ second unit has tried to muster.
With the exception of Odom (minus-8.9), each bench player has a positive net rating, led by Bledsoe (plus-32.7). By comparison, every Grizzlies player has a negative net rating, and only one bench player, Quincy Pondexter, has a single-digit negative rating (minus-6.2).
In the regular season, the Clippers’ bench lineup outscored opponents by 11.0 points per 100 possessions. However, they were much better at home (plus-18.3) than on the road (minus-0.6). It’ll be interesting to see if the bench can have a similar impact in Memphis, because if not, coach Vinny Del Negro will have to play the starters extended minutes.
Winning the 50-50 battle
The Grizzlies ranked second in the league in rebounding percentage this season (52.2 percent) while the Clippers were the sixth-best (51.6 percent).
However, counting the playoffs, the Clippers have outrebounded the Grizzlies in four of the six games in the season/postseason series. The Clippers are plus-22 on the glass in those six games, which is largely a result of their plus-24 advantage in Game 1. Overall, the margin has usually been close, with the Clippers narrowly edging out the Grizzlies.
“They live in the paint. For us to control the paint the first two games is a plus,” Barnes said after Game 2.
In low-possession games, such as the slogs between the Clippers and the Grizzlies (85 possessions in Game 1 and 92 possessions in Game 2), the stakes are higher, as a few costly mistakes can tilt the game in either direction, whereas high-possession games allow more room for variance.
It’s difficult to quantify, but something about the Grizzlies brings out the grittiness in the Clippers. They’ve outscored the Grizzlies in second-chance points (36-20), tipped loose balls to gain extra possessions, snatched seemingly impossible offensive rebounds, and universally outhustled them. They’re beating the Grizzlies at their own game.
“I don’t think it’s about adjustments,” Allen said of what the Grizzlies need to do for Game 3. “It’s about clawing and fighting and doing the little things that help the team: diving for loose balls, boxing out, rebounding and second-chance points.”
Poor transition/pick-and-roll defense
In Game 2, the Grizzlies made a simple adjustment that the Clippers had no answer for: Instead of having their wings crash the defensive boards, they leaked out in transition for uncontested layups.
After the Clippers pounded them on the offensive glass in Game 1, the Grizzlies realized they could score in transition if they attacked the Clippers’ defense early, since L.A.’s wings would be unable to get back in time. The main beneficiary was Allen, who scored nine of his 16 points in transition.
“They did a good job in transition,” Del Negro said. “They got behind us a few times. … (Mike) Conley’s penetration bothered us; he was getting to the rim too easy.”
The Grizzlies aren’t a fast team, but they’re effective whenever they get out in the open floor. In Game 1, they ran only eight transition plays, but scored on seven of them.
“They have a great high-low game,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “When we’re in pick-and-rolls, we have to hurry up and get back to the shooter, and Blake or myself is rolling back and we’re already late getting out of the pick-and-roll. So it’s tough. You’ve got to give something up; you can’t take away everything.”
From Game 1 to Game 2, the Grizzlies’ shot attempts at the rim jumped from 15 to 28. Their accuracy fell slightly, from 73.4 percent to 67.9 percent, but they made eight more shots.
The Clippers had a playoff franchise-record 10 blocks in Game 2, but that’s not the norm. For the Clippers to escape their current trip to Memphis with at least one win, they’ll need to shore up some of their defensive gaps.
Stats used in this post are from ESPN.com, NBA.com/Stats and MySynergySports.com.