Originally Published: May 1, 2013

1. Without Griffin, Clips Have Few Answers

By Kevin Arnovitz | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Few athletes move with the combination of force and grace of Blake Griffin, which made it surreal to watch the Los Angeles Clippers power forward struggle through the ordinary task of pulling on a pair of charcoal slacks. Moments after the Clippers fell to the Memphis Grizzlies 103-93 in Game 5, Griffin's right ankle looked as if it had swallowed a grapefruit. He tried to steady his bionic frame so he could crawl into his pants, but it was a physical trial every bit as difficult as wrestling with Zach Randolph on the low block.

"I got treatment all through the night, but it didn't hold up," Griffin said. "It felt good enough at the beginning of the game today, but it kind of got worse as time went on."

Griffin suffered a high sprain of his right ankle during a scrimmage at the Clippers' practice Monday when he landed on a teammate's ankle. On Tuesday night, sources with close knowledge of Griffin's injury said unequivocally that the power forward would have never seen the floor had Game 5 been a regular-season game. After struggling through 20 minutes of action, Griffin checked out at the 5:39 mark of the third quarter and was declared out for the remainder of the game. He finished with four points.

The best evidence of the severity of Griffin's injury was Chris Paul, who typically maintains an equilibrium between shouldering the burden for the Clippers and sharing it. On Tuesday night, out of necessity, Paul traded balance for an all-out personal assault. He finished with 35 points (11-for-24 from the field, 11-for-11 from the line), but only four assists. With Griffin hobbled and most of the supporting cast ineffective, Paul's production couldn't match a Grizzlies team that's playing an efficient brand of basketball and now leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 with Game 6 scheduled for Friday in Memphis.

Clippers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsAn ankle injury limited Blake Griffin to four points.

"We're running pick-and-rolls and different things," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "If nothing's working, throw the ball into the post."

Therein lies the Grizzlies' luxury -- if nothing materializes out of the first or second offensive options in the half court, Memphis can always deliver the ball inside to Randolph or Marc Gasol, a blueprint they followed again in Game 5. When Griffin is healthy, the Clippers have a similar outlet down low, a guy who with a mere entry pass into the post can punish defenders. Without Griffin, the Clippers have little recourse, little to fall back on, especially if the bench is erratic and shots from the perimeter aren't falling.

The Grizzlies had no such problems. Randolph scored 25 points (11-for-21 from the field, 3-for-5 from the line), with Gasol chipping in 21 more (6-for-14 from the field, 9-for-9 from the line).

"Zach did an amazing job offensively," Gasol said. "He drove when he had to drive. He attacked the paint when he had to. He read every situation perfectly."

Memphis worked close to the basket Tuesday night, with Randolph manning his usual spot on the right block, while the Grizzlies dumped the ball repeatedly into Gasol on the left post, especially after intermission when the center scored 14 of his 21 points. The Grizzlies went in to Gasol four times in five possessions on the left block during a telling stretch in the opening minutes of the second half. Gasol breezed past Griffin and DeAndre Jordan for a pair of easy layups, drilled a turnaround jumper over Jordan, and hit a diving Randolph with a pinpoint pass out of the post, a rare bunny that Randolph couldn't convert.

Memphis' win was defined by its inside game -- nothing new there -- but point guard Mike Conley was a source of calm against Paul's relentless attack. There was a revealing exchange in the middle of the third quarter, when the Grizzlies solidified their lead. Paul flew coast-to-coast in transition for a wild, off-balance layup. Eight seconds later, Conley had raced the length of the court off Paul's made basket for a scoop shot of his own. Less spectacular, perhaps, but a devastating buzzkill for the Clippers, who promptly called timeout down nine.

"I've always grown with this team not trying to match the other guy, especially when he's capable of going for 40 any night," Conley said. "I'm not a guy who's going to try to get 40 on a team with so many guys. I just try to stay within myself and stay within the team game."

Conley has always been reliable, if a bit conservative. He's a low-risk, medium-reward point guard for a team that, as Hollins said, generally has a late shot-clock option down low. But when the Grizzlies could smell an enormous road win down the stretch Tuesday night, Conley kept his foot relentlessly on the gas.

The Clippers don't know whether Griffin can suit up and be effective in an elimination game in Memphis on Friday. If he can't go, Paul will have to unilaterally lead a smaller squad, play some hero ball, and hope he can drive-and-kick against an emboldened Grizzlies defense.

If that plan can't be executed in a hostile environment in Memphis, the Clippers face a devastating consequence. Despite stocking the bench with savvy veterans, getting 80 games from Griffin, winning 17 straight at one stretch, playing the league's elite teams mano a mano and selling out every seat in Staples Center for the duration of the season, the Clippers would've taken a step backward as a first-round casualty -- and a season that was supposed to complete the most aggressive rebranding in sports will be deemed a failure.

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