PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Clippers are the only NBA team in Los Angeles still in the playoffs, and Chris Paul knows the spotlight is now directly on him and his team. And if he wants that spotlight to last longer than a few days, Paul knows the Clippers have to win Tuesday's Game 5.
"We have to come out with more energy," Paul said. "We won two games at home and they won two games at home, and that's why you fight so hard for home-court advantage. We have to come out with the same intensity in Game 5 that we did in Games 1 and 2. We have to understand that it's a three-game series now, and we have to play hard and compete and play the way that we know we can."
The term "must win" gets thrown around far too casually during the course of an 82-game NBA season, but the Clippers realize Tuesday's game is as close as you can get without it actually being an elimination game. If they thought it was hard for them in Games 3 and 4, they don't want to think about what it would be like in Game 6 in Memphis, with the Grizzlies in position to close out the series and avenge last season's first-round loss on their home court.
"I think you understand what you're getting into in the playoffs," Paul said. "Every team is trying to win 16 games in order to win the championship. We hoped to go undefeated through this whole thing but it definitely makes you stronger. ... We got to win this game. It's win or go home."
There have been some key statistical discrepancies between the Clippers and Grizzlies over the past two and a half games. The Grizzlies have dominated the Clippers when it comes to rebounding, points in the paint, second-chance points and free throw attempts. These are all energy stats that Clippers hope they will get a boost in heading home, but if Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol don't get into foul trouble as they did in Games 1 and 2, it might be more of the same in Game 5.
"Marc and Zach have really hurt us in the last couple of games," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "They got into some foul trouble in the first couple of games when we were the aggressors, so we have to get back to that."
Being the aggressors is one thing, but making the proper adjustments is another, and it doesn't seem like the Clippers have made many proper adjustments from the second half of Game 2 through the end of Game 4. The Grizzlies have been one step ahead and could very well be a Paul buzzer-beater away from being up 3-1 in the series.
"I just felt like we didn't have our best stuff in Game 3, we had won the first couple of games, and in Game 4 we tweaked a couple of things, but really they made a couple of adjustments against our zone," Del Negro said. "But really I just have a lot of confidence in the guys and what we're doing."
Randolph and Gasol have almost outscored and outrebounded the Clippers' starting lineup by themselves, which is why Paul doesn't believe all the responsibility for rebounding and points in the paint falls on just Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Other players have to contribute as well.
"It's impossible to find another big man combo like that," Paul said. "They're like two old-school big guys, banging. It's going to take a collective unit, all of us; we can't put all of it on our big guys. We have to bang with them and run them. In those first two games here, we were aggressive and were able to get them into foul trouble."
It would appear the pressure of this series has shifted back to the Clippers with the momentum on the Grizzlies' side, but Chauncey Billups shook his head when that was suggested. The way he sees it, the series hasn't really started with both teams winning their home games. It's now a three-game series that begins Tuesday with two of the next three games in Los Angeles.
"That's why you work so hard for home court," Billups said. "If we were faced with this situation and had two games in Memphis and one at home, the pressure would be on us, but the pressure is not on us."
The Clippers don't have history on their side when it comes to many things, but in the history of the NBA playoffs, teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 94 percent of the time (233 of 248). The Clippers now are hoping not to make the wrong kind of history as they enter the first game of their new "three-game series" with Memphis.
"We don't want to be that team," Paul said. "We're going to come out and fight and scrap."