The Memphis Grizzlies do not boast speed or elite scoring, but they stormed out of the gates in Game 3 and never looked back, winning their first game of the series, 94-82.
Zach Randolph scored 13 points in the first quarter alone as the Grizz opened a 47-39 halftime lead. Z-Bo finished the game with 27 points and 11 rebounds. Marc Gasol collected his Defensive Player of the Year Award before the game, then celebrated with 16 points and eight boards.
Chris Paul played dreadfully on Thursday, but he wasn't the only player in an L.A. Clippers jersey to look silly against the Memphis defense. With Lob City still smarting from their 82-point effort on Thursday, the Grizz face a tough test ahead to even up the series in Game 4 before heading back to Staples Center.
Game 4 Time: Saturday, April 27, 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn.
Series Record: 2-1 Clippers
Game 4 Key Storyline: Can Memphis Keep the Momentum?
In baseball, the 2-1 count stands as one of the most important pitches in an at-bat. A strike gives the pitcher a distinct advantage, while 3-1 is the ultimate hitter's count. Though the Grizz forced a Game 7 in last year's playoffs after falling behind to the Clippers 3-1, such a deficit would be too much to overcome against L.A.'s deeper roster this season.
Tony Allen turned in an excellent all-around performance on Thursday, with 13 points, nine rebounds and four steals. Mike Conley fought off an illness to dish 10 assists and snag three steals of his own. And even Quincy Pondexter scored a baker's dozen.
This smattering of scoring, plus Randolph and Gasol, will deliver Memphis a victory every single time, provided that they play their typical brand of smothering defense and don't get beaten on the glass.
For L.A., DeAndre Jordan's scoring has disappeared (3.0 points per game, down from 8.8 during the season), as he managed just two points in Game 3, while Eric Bledsoe laid a big, fat goose egg, missing all four of his shots.
Paul will almost certainly bounce back in Game 4, but Blake Griffin has been the only Clipper excelling in the frontcourt. With the Grizz looking so solid up front, L.A. will need resurgent performances from their bigs and their backcourt.
Series Star So Far
This spot was held by Chris Paul until he rolled a gutterball in Game 3. Instead, the Grizzlies have played better with each successive game and now have momentum in their favor heading into Game 4 at home.
Thus, Marc Gasol is the series star to this point.
It's not just that he's averaging 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.7 dimes and 1.3 blocks per game in the playoffs. He's also logging over 40 minutes a night—more than any other player in the series by four minutes per game—and his phenomenal 5.5 assist-to-turnover ratio is also a series best.
His defense speaks for itself, but the one-two punch of Gasol and Randolph could carry the offensively challenged Grizzlies further than most expected.
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Chris Paul, PG; Chauncey Billups, SG; Caron Butler, SF; Blake Griffin, PF; DeAndre Jordan, C
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, PG; Tony Allen, SG; Tayshaun Prince, SF; Zach Randolph, PF; Marc Gasol, C
Clippers Injury Report (via ESPN.com)
Chris Paul (thigh), day-to-day
Grizzlies Injury Report
Clippers Will Win If...
Chris Paul plays like Chris Paul.
When asked why they were so successful at guarding Paul in Game 3, Memphis coach Lionel Hollins stated, "We didn't make any adjustments. We just played better" (per AP, via ESPN.com).
CP3 struggled through a dreadful game on Thursday night, scoring eight points on 4-of-11 shooting, failing to get to the foul line, dishing just four dimes and coughing up five turnovers.
Paul had tallied more turnovers than assists just twice this season: in losses to the Miami Heat on Feb. 8 (his first game back from a knee injury) and the Dallas Mavericks on March 26. The MVP candidate will be eager for redemption Saturday afternoon.
Chris Paul hasn't been himself tonight. This looks like when the Monstars stole the skills from the NBA stars in Space Jam.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 26, 2013
After reviewing film and practicing on Friday, Paul expressed frustration with his sour Game 3, saying: "I've just got to be more aggressive. I played 30 some minutes and didn't shoot one free throw. Something ain't right" (per AP, via NBA.com).
Paul must limit his turnovers and attack the rim, even if it just results in free throws instead of layups. His potency opens up so many other opportunities for L.A., and he has to bounce back if the Clippers want to maintain their edge in the series.
Grizzlies Will Win If...
They rebound like they did in Game 3, when the Grizzlies out-rebounded L.A. 45 to 33 and 17 to five on the offensive glass.
Offensive rebounding was the exact key to victory that I singled out in my Game 3 preview. During the regular season, Memphis averaged 12.9 offensive boards and 2.6 per game more than their opponent. Heading into Game 3, the Clippers were slaughtering Memphis in offensive rebounding 23-12, including a 14-4 deficit in Game 1.
Memphis regained its identity with some home cooking on Thursday night. Though both teams shot just 38.8 percent from the field, Memphis attempted 13 more field goals than L.A. did. The gulf in offensive rebounding translated to a 22-4 advantage in second-chance points.
That stellar job on the boards delivered a victory in Game 3. The challenge will be translating that momentum into a 2-2 series tie.
While Lionel Hollins may claim that his Grizzlies didn't change anything in Game 3, it sure looked like they defended Chris Paul differently. After he got away with a minor push off of Tony Allen just before hitting the game-winner in Game 2, Memphis looked very motivated after getting back to Tennessee.
Will the winner of this game win the series?
On Thursday night, Hollins increasingly matched players with greater length on Paul. Allen, one of the finest defensive 2-guards in the league, saw increased time on CP3, as did small forwards Pondexter and Prince, with Conley shifting to Billups.
The Clippers must either find ways to work around the Grizz keying on Paul or have him draw copious contact against slower SFs.
Vinny Del Negro will make rebounding a point of emphasis, so expect to see the margin on the glass be much closer in this one. Jordan and Bledsoe must contribute in addition to their bench mob (Matt Barnes led the team in free throws in Game 3), but L.A.'s success rests heavily on Paul's performance.
The Clippers managed only nine fast-break points in Game 3, and they should look to open up the transition game against a slower Grizzlies squad. With so much depth and the positional matchups so close, the Clippers will avenge Thursday's loss and seize a crucial 3-1 advantage in the series.
Prediction: Clippers 91, Grizzlies 86