Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies made it clear on Wednesday night that they won't go away quietly. Randolph broke out to lead the Grizzlies victory. The Memphis defense came alive. Even more, the Grizzlies hung on after building a big second half lead.
The Grizzlies showed in Game 5 that they're anxious to rally and win the series. Now that Randolph has turned the corner and the Clippers' two best players, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are injured, the Clippers can't do much to stop Memphis.
Randolph is back to his true form
As any team's best player surely does sometimes, Randolph must have told Marreese Speights that he didn't need to worry about anything. Lionel Hollins has steadily taken the wheels off Randolph, who had come off the bench most games after returning from injury.
Randolph's minutes have generally increased since the first two games of the series (Game 1-32, Game 2-29, Game 3-38, Game 4-35, Game 5-37). Meanwhile, Speights' minutes have generally decreased during the series (Game 1-18, Game 2-22, Game 3-18, Game 4-11, Game 5-9).
As the series has progressed, Randolph's confidence has steadily grown. After scoring just six in Game 1, he scored 17 points in Game 3. In Game 5, he dropped 15 points in the first quarter and finished with 19 on the game.
His offensive metrics have been splendid. In each of the last four games, his offensive ratings have been 109 points or more per 100 possessions. He's been fairly involved in the offense, holding usage rates of 20.9 percent or higher in four of the five games.
His rebounding has been good as well. He's averaging a nice 8.2 rebounds per game, including 3.2 offensive boards per game. His offensive rebounding percentage has been a characteristic 11.2 percent.
Since Randolph has gathered his confidence, he'll be tough to stop. The Clippers will be hard-pressed to keep him from rolling his energy from Game 5 into two more big games to finish the series.
Injuries to key Clippers will hurt L.A.
Some may ruse that the Grizzlies upended the San Antonio Spurs last year in the first round of the playoffs because of the absence of Manu Ginobili. Still, it was a series win nonetheless for the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies might have caught a break to help them towards a first-round series win via the injuries to Paul and Griffin. As Clippers reporter Madelyn Burke tweeted after Wednesday's game, Paul has a strained right hip flexor.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Paul plans to play in Game 6.
However, his effectiveness will surely be limited due to the injury. His hip rotation will likely be hindered, limiting his ability to make quick cuts and turns to make strong passes. This could enable Mike Conley and Tony Allen to grab steals from him more easily. Allen had done well keeping Paul in check in Game 5.
Without Paul's remarkable efficiency, the Clippers would be in deep trouble.
Meanwhile, Griffin's athleticism and show-stopping dunks often energize the Clippers. He said after the game that his knee injury seemed "pretty serious," per the above Los Angeles Times article. He'll have an MRI Thursday afternoon.
Now, if his knee is as serious as he fears, the Clippers would be at a great loss. Griffin wouldn't be able to get as much explosiveness on his jumps and he'd struggle to get leverage when being guarded by the Grizzlies big men. If Griffin, who hopes to play on Friday, is playing injured, Randolph and Marc Gasol could neutralize him.
Conclusion: Grizzlies' defense sure to take advantage of situation
The Grizzlies have made a living on being opportunistic. They led the league in steals and turnovers forced, and turned those into offense. They used the easy late-season stretch to push past the Clippers for the No. 4 spot.
Now, they'll use that opportunism to rally past the Clippers. They'll take advantage of Paul's injury to force more turnovers, leading to the fast break points they were used to scoring in the regular season. Also, they'll be able to take out the Clippers' inside game with Griffin injured.
While the Grizzlies generally aren't good on the road, they'll be able to use the injuries to Paul and Griffin to take Game 6 at the Staples Center. When the series goes to Game 7 in Memphis, the Grizzlies will be able to take an even stronger hold because of their home-court dominance.