After a rough first game against Los Angeles, the Grizzlies hung around in Game 2 until the bitter end, getting a huge performance from Mike Conley and putting themselves in position to send the game into overtime.
Marc Gasol tied the game up on a dunk off a pick-and-roll (something that Blake Griffin had been stepping into perfectly for the entire game), and Memphis was looking at a single stop to send it into overtime.
Then, Chris Paul happened.
Tony Allen gave Paul just a bit too much space (whether he was held or not is beside the point) and he banked in the game-winner at the buzzer.
Just like that, the thought of an early elimination arose and the Grizzlies were staring at two must-win games coming up at home.
Obviously, there are some positive takeaways. Conley has looked both capable and clutch in two games, Jerryd Bayless is apparently going to try to give them something off the bench, as is Darrell Arthur, and they've got that Gasol guy.
If there's one team that can look at an 0-2 hole, dig in and completely turn the series around, Memphis is just the group to do it. The Grizzlies have just got to find a balance between rough play and over-the-top, whistle-inducing physicality.
For about 18 of the 24 minutes in the second half of Game 2, Memphis controlled the style of play. It was a slower pace, whistles were blown and players on both teams were starting to get frustrated.
Of concern was a six-minute stretch from the end of the third into the beginning of the fourth that led to a 10-point lead for the Clippers, but that's just something that the Clippers are going to do. Containing them for an entire half is one of the more difficult things to do in this league.
The biggest issue, and the thing that must change for Memphis to turn the series around, is the type of physical game they were playing.
For much of the third quarter, the physicality was just for the sake of being physical. Thirty percent of the game's free throws (17 of 56) came in the third. It wasn't Memphis preventing Los Angeles from scoring; it was just Memphis scoring at a better rate at its own pace.
Memphis' fourth quarter really showed off the type of game it needs to play. Rather than ferocious attacks on the ball, its defense closed passing lanes, practiced extreme ball-denial and absolutely refused to allow a decent shot in the post.
The Grizzlies ended the game on a 20-10 run—not because they threw their bodies around, but because they played sound defense, with a few elbows and shoves sprinkled in.
You know the story from there: Conley and Paul traded baskets, Memphis left too much time on the clock and the Clippers won.
For the Grizzlies to make the rest of this series a more enjoyable one from their point of view, a lot hinges on which Zach Randolph shows up.
Looking at Randolph in his past nine games against the Clippers in the playoffs brings out a startling revelation: He's horribly matched up.
The vertical challenges that Randolph faces are well-documented, but what we seem to fail to realize is that he has an immensely hard time guarding Blake Griffin without fouling him. Blake is just too big and athletic.
Randolph averages 3.9 fouls per game dating back to last year's playoffs, compared to just 2.3 fouls per game during the regular season in the past two years.
For a performance in small sample-size theater, Randolph had just two games during the past two seasons in which he picked up five fouls. He's done it three times in nine playoff games against the Clippers in that span.
He's great at getting into position and fighting for rebounds—Randolph's always a threat in that respect. However, his brick-wall routine in the post when Griffin is facing him up just doesn't cut it. There's not enough lateral quickness, and leaving his feet generally results in Griffin driving into his chest and drawing an easy foul.
More fouls on Randolph lead to more frustration and the higher likelihood of an outburst, and possibly a technical.
Randolph didn't play in the final four minutes of the most recent loss to the Clippers. Arthur was able to step in and admirably score five huge points down the stretch, but that's probably something they shouldn't count on moving forward.
It might be wise for the Grizzlies to switch Randolph onto DeAndre Jordan and let Gasol take on Blake. Jordan isn't a markedly better matchup for Randolph; it's just that Randolph could likely get an improved foothold on his own position and would be less prone to being taken off the dribble by Jordan.
If the Grizzlies can control the style of play like they did in the second half on Monday, only in such a way that they're not playing physical to a fault, there's no reason to think that they can't turn around and win the next two games.
At this point, though, it's all hands on deck. Memphis has to run a near-perfect series the rest of the way if it wants to sniff the second round.
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