Here are three ways the Clippers can bounce back in Game 5:
Lean on their stars more
It’s not uncommon to see superstars play 40-plus minutes a night in the playoffs, as most teams don’t have enough depth to remain viable with their bench players on the floor.
The Clippers clearly don’t have that problem, as they have arguably the best bench in the league, but their depth has actually worked against them this postseason: It has prevented them from playing their stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, as much as they probably should play them.
Currently, 13 players are averaging 40 or more minutes per game (MPG) this postseason. In the regular season, no one averaged more than 38.7 MPG, implying a considerable uptick for more than a dozen players.
On that list you’ll find Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who has averaged 40.8 minutes per game despite the fact that the Grizzlies have backup big men Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis, who would start on a lot of teams. Mike Conley, Paul’s counterpart, isn’t far behind Gasol, having already logged 37-plus minutes in three of the four games.
Meanwhile, Paul and Blake Griffin are averaging 35 and 31 minutes per game, respectively. Paul has yet to play more than 36 minutes, and Griffin has yet to log more than 34.
While foul trouble has certainly hampered Griffin’s minutes, he actually played more in Game 3 (33 minutes), when he had five fouls, than in Game 4 (32 minutes), when he had only three. In comparison, Zach Randolph, who also battled foul trouble in Games 1 and 2, played 37 minutes in both Games 3 and 4.
There are unforeseen issues, such as injuries or foul trouble, which can inhibit a star from playing 40 minutes. But those factors notwithstanding, the Clippers can afford to lean on Paul and Griffin more and reap the benefits.
Help off non-shooters more aggressively
In Games 1 and 2, the Clippers thwarted the Grizzlies’ post-ups and high-low action by largely ignoring Memphis’ wings spotting up. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince aren’t 3-point-shooting threats, so the Clippers were able to help off of them and either hedge or double-team down low.
Not only did their aggressive approach halt the Grizzlies’ big men from gaining extra ground on the block -- by making them pick their dribble up or stop short at times -- but it also put them in better rebounding position.
In Games 3 and 4, however, the Clipper wings were more conservative in their defensive approach, rarely helping off their man and often leaving Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to try to defend Gasol and Randolph one-on-one. As the rebounding margin and points in the paint show, the results were disastrous.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins elected to play Quincy Pondexter, a 39.5 percent 3-point shooter this season, more minutes in Memphis, resulting in a slight increase in the Grizzlies’ 3-point attempts from 11.5 on the road to 14.0 at home (although the shots still weren’t falling). This adjustment stretched out the Clippers’ defense and allowed the Grizzlies to put a larger, longer defender on Paul.
Regardless of the lineups they deploy, the Grizzlies have yet to make more than five 3-pointers in a game this series and are shooting a paltry 29.4 percent beyond the arc. During the regular season, the Grizzlies weren’t much better, making 4.2 3-pointers per game on 32.6 percent shooting; both figures ranked in the bottom five of the league.
By any measure, the Grizzlies are subpar 3-shooting team. Until they win a game by burning the Clippers from deep, L.A. needs to regain its focus on limiting Randolph and Gasol in the paint.
Stagger the starting lineups’ minutes
Throughout these playoffs, the Clippers have constantly shuffled their lineups, with only three five-man units logging 15 or more minutes. As such, it’s difficult to glean much from the lineup data. However, this much is clear: The starting lineup has struggled immensely against the Grizzlies.
In 59 minutes (the most by any lineup), the group has mustered a 96.8 offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), which would rank lower than the Washington Wizards’ 97.8 last-place rating, and a defensive rating of 117.3 (points allowed per 100 possessions), significantly lower than the Charlotte Bobcat’s 108.9 last-place mark.
Overall, the lineup has a net rating of minus-20.5 (net differential per 100 possessions).
Conversely, the Grizzlies’ starting lineup, which has played 66 minutes, has a 110.5 offensive rating and a 90.8 defensive rating (both figures would lead the league) and an impressive +19.7 net rating.
Since Paul and Griffin should already be playing more, the changes will have to come from the three players around them.
Billups appears to be the weakest link, as he’s been a nonfactor offensively in two games already (30 percent shooting overall) and hasn’t been able to defend Allen in the open court -- he’s shooting 52.2 percent with Billups on the floor and 44.4 percent with Billups on the bench.
Whether it’s tweaking the starting lineup by inserting the energy of Matt Barnes or Eric Bledsoe, or just playing those two a little earlier in the game, the Clippers have to figure out a way to have more success in the beginning of games.
Stats used in this post are from ESPN Stats & Information and NBA.com/Stats.