Chris Paul has the Clippers one win away from advancing to play the Spurs in the next round. Will the Grizzlies go down without putting up a fight?
1. Why is Lob City on the verge of a second-round date in San Antonio?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: It's difficult to pinpoint why the Clippers have a commanding 3-1 lead. They've been outscored over four games. Their best shooting night came in a loss. They've been crushed on the glass. Most of all, they've engaged a physical Memphis team on its terms. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but fortunately for the Clippers, they have a player who thrives on disaster prevention: Chris Paul.
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: They have made the plays when they mattered. The Grizzlies have missed two game-winning shots, blown 27-point and 11-point fourth-quarter leads and failed to make key rebounds, free throws and even layups late in games. Simply put, the Grizzlies have choked so far.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Reggie Evans. I can't believe that he is the big difference-maker in this series, but he's completely transformed the outlook. The Grizzlies were the bullies and he came in to show them what physical play really is. He's pushed the Memphis interior around and set the tone for the Clippers to be tough. Without his presence, I doubt the Clippers are up.
Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: They've gotten the perfect combination of things. Chris Paul being Chris Paul, unlikely role players like Reggie Evans and Randy Foye stepping up huge, and getting a few breaks here and there. They've attacked Memphis on both ends and have been more aggressive.
Charlie Widdoes, ClipperBlog: They have the two best players in the series. Chris Paul has foiled Memphis' physicality on the perimeter by "drawing" fouls and orchestrating the Clippers' offense in the half court, while Blake Griffin has been relentless in his attack of the basket, and that patience has increasingly begun to pay off.
2. Why are the Grit 'n' Grind Grizz on the brink of extinction already?
Arnovitz: The Grizzlies don't need a lot offensively to thrive because they can subsist off table scraps like offensive rebounds and transition buckets resulting from turnovers. In Games 1 and 2, they worked the offense beautifully through Marc Gasol and found favorable spots for Rudy Gay. But they couldn't find a lot that worked in Los Angeles, and they've had trouble figuring out how to jam Paul without sacrificing the rest of the half-court D.
Crain: This is the same question as the first one. The Grizzlies haven't made the plays when they've needed to. The blown leads, the missed free throws and layups, etc., have all conspired to put the Grizzlies in a big hole. It's not insurmountable, but it won't be easy. Then again, this is Memphis and nothing seems to come easy for them.
Harper: Memphis has seemingly forgotten what to do on offense. Zach Randolph doesn't look too healthy and Marc Gasol looks exhausted. They aren't running the offense through either big man. Rudy Gay can't seem to figure out how to get good shots against the help defense of the Clippers and it's left Mike Conley to play one-on-five. He's doing a good job, but you can't rely on that.
Moore: Their fourth-quarter offense has basically been the equivalent of a small lemur rooting through its own mess. It's been like watching a worm try to finger paint.
Widdoes: The disappearance of Marc Gasol. In the first half of Game 1, he was picking the Clippers apart, but since then, Los Angeles has made the necessary adjustments to cut off his looks from the high post and the Grizzlies' offense has completely stalled.
3. What is a key Clippers X factor in this series going forward?
Arnovitz: Motion. All that production from Blake Griffin in Game 4? It surfaced because the Clippers worked at creating space for their big man down low by picking strong, cutting along the baseline and flaring guys to the perimeter. If they can continue to be smart in the half court, the Clippers will find optimal spots for Griffin and clean looks for their shooters.
Crain: Reggie Evans has been the key factor in the series. His offensive rebounds on missed free throws are only the most obvious example of this. His ability to frustrate the Grizzlies' big men in so many ways is why the Clippers are not only leading in the series but haven't been swept.
Harper: Blake Griffin's post moves. The way Griffin was using his step-through move against double-teams in the post was truly impressive. It's allowing the Clippers to not just hope Chris Paul wills everything into happening for L.A. If Griffin is able to put pressure on Memphis inside without having the table set for him every time, the Clippers have much-needed balance to score.
Moore: Can the Clippers keep defending this well with a lineup of Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans, which by any objective measure should be getting destroyed? Evans is a great rebounder but has managed to avoid rotation issues and foul trouble. If they can keep that up with the job they've done on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the Clippers can skate out with a win.
Widdoes: Reggie Evans. If it weren't for Evans, the Clippers might be down 3-1. He has proved to be Gasol's foil, and his ability to single-handedly represent the Clippers on the glass will continue to be crucial if they hope to move on to face the Spurs.
4. What's a key Grizzlies X factor in this series going forward?
Arnovitz: Gasol. He has serious skills -- so put them to use. Force the Clippers to make tough defensive decisions and you can get their big men on their heels. The Grizzlies can accomplish this by allowing Gasol to facilitate in the high post. That will help get Gay on the move, open up the perimeter for a hot-shooting Mike Conley, create space low for Z-Bo, and nice face-up attempts for Marreese Speights at 18 feet.
Crain: Ignoring the obvious answer of the Grizzlies' big men, particularly Marc Gasol, coming to play, the X factor could be Quincy Pondexter. Pondexter brings a perimeter scorer and defensive perimeter player off the bench. He has guarded Chris Paul and Nick Young while hitting a high percentage of his perimeter shots. If he gets hot, he can open up the interior.
Harper: It has to be Z-Bo. I know he's still trying to work his way back into a rhythm since coming back from a knee injury in the truncated season, but enough is enough. Z-Bo is the biggest, baddest post bully in the NBA. Someone needs to remind him that he's not the one who should get pushed around. If he gets going on offense, I think we'll see everything open up for Memphis.
Moore: At some point the frontcourt is going to produce. Can they save the day in time? Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are better than they've shown. If they can't get those guys involved, it's over.
Widdoes: Rudy Gay. If the Grizzlies have any hope of beating the Clippers, they'll need more from the guy who is being guarded by one-handed Caron Butler and D-League All-Star Bobby Simmons. For most of the series, Gay has been good but not great, and because he's their best mismatch, it'll be his responsibility to get in the lane, rather than settling for subprime looks from the perimeter.
5. Will this series get to Game 7 in Memphis on Sunday?
Arnovitz: The Grizzlies are due for another Game 2 performance, and the Clippers have to exhaust their miracle supply at some point. But the Clippers have enough talent and a reasonably strong home-court advantage and, if all else fails, Paul. So it's more likely they can scrape together the ingredients for one more win before the weekend.
Crain: One can only hope if you are a Grizzlies fan. The Grizzlies have lost three games by a combined six points, including an overtime game. They have lost games in which they had double-digit leads in the fourth quarter twice. There is no reason to think they aren't capable of winning Wednesday and on the road in L.A. However, the odds are not good that they will succeed.
Harper: I was sure we were getting seven games out of this series before it started, but Memphis looks completely lost and out of ideas. Even Utah looked like it had more resolve and focus against the Spurs than the Grizzlies have showed us against L.A. Until they show some continuity on offense, I have to think the Clippers end this series tonight.
Moore: Probably not. You get the sense that Game 4 was a backbreaker for Memphis, after close losses in Games 1 and 3. At some point, it's too much for Memphis to grit and grind through.
Widdoes: No. I could see the Grizzlies forcing the series back to Staples with a win at home Wednesday, but when they fly back to Memphis, it will be to clean out their lockers. It's become apparent that the Clippers can play a Grit 'n' Grind style, as well, and as we've seen, that generally sets them up for close games and Chris Paul possessions down the stretch. Advantage, Clippers.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz writes for ESPN.com. Zach Harper is an editor for Daily Dime Live. Matt Moore, Chip Crain and Charlie Widdoes contribute to the TrueHoop Network.
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