Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies showed how dominant they could be in a decisive 104-83 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 4 of the two teams' first-round series on Saturday. But all that victory did was even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
So now the question is: Who's really got the advantage in what amounts to a best-of-three series between the Clippers and Grizzlies?
Well, if momentum counts for anything, the Grizzlies surely have it.
After defending their home court with a pair of impressive wins, the Grizz look like a team ready to go on a roll. Interior dominance, dogged defense on Chris Paul and just enough perimeter shooting from its role players have Memphis firing on all cylinders at the moment.
Zach Randolph has been a revelation over the past two games, suddenly rediscovering his scoring touch while gamely battling with Blake Griffin inside. He has averaged 25.5 points and 10 rebounds in the Grizzlies' two series wins.
Without a reliable post-up option, the Grizzlies could really only score through Gasol's orchestration from the elbows. Paired with a terrific defense, Gasol gave Memphis enough offense to be competitive. But now that the Grizzlies can throw the ball into Randolph and wait for him to either score or kick out of double-teams, their offense has a whole new dimension.
His return to form has given Memphis the offensive diversity it desperately needed. In addition, the Grizzlies have (for lack of a better term) sort of figured out how to stop the Clippers.
Paul is in control of everything in L.A.'s offense. By hounding him with a combination of Tony Allen, Mike Conley and wave after wave of helping big men on the pick-and-roll, Memphis has made things extremely difficult for CP3.
Without enough help from his supporting cast, Paul hasn't been good enough in the past two games to get the job done alone. In the fourth quarter of Game 4, Paul scored just one point.
The recent past isn't the only determinant we have to go on, though. The full slate of matchups between these two teams is also valuable, and it tends to favor the Clippers in what's now going to be a three-game series.
L.A. won three out of four meetings against Memphis during the regular season, posting an offensive rating of 106 and a defensive rating of just 95.9. In other words, the Clippers were more than 10 points per 100 possessions better than the Grizzlies in their four regular-season meetings, which is a massive margin.
Memphis has certainly had the edge lately, but over the entire sample of matchups between these squads this year, L.A. has been the better team.
In the age of analytics, tired axioms really only live on in discussions between crusty coaches and NBA fans who are afraid of using numbers to support their opinions.
But the notion that "the team with the best player usually wins the series" really has a lot of anecdotal appeal, so let's go with it, shall we?
Over the course of the first two games in this series, Paul was unequivocally the alpha dog. He controlled the tempo throughout, dominated fourth quarters and essentially declared himself in charge of everything that happened on the court. In Games 1 and 2, CP3 averaged 23.5 points, eight assists and just one turnover.
But since being bottled up in Memphis, Paul hasn't looked the same.
In the meantime, Gasol has established himself as the best player on either team. His impact on both ends has been immense, and his defensive dominance is something Paul simply can't match because of his size.
Because most pundits seem to view Paul as the league's third-best player (a solid notch below LeBron James and Kevin Durant), it might be a little blasphemous to say this, but Gasol is probably the best player on either team right now.
If the old-timey wisdom that says the team with the best player wins is true, Memphis is in good shape.
Here's the kicker, though: The Clippers have two home games left, while Memphis has only one.
Home-court advantage has meant everything in this series, as both teams have been undefeated in their own gyms. If L.A. returns home and notches a Game 5 win behind a raucous home crowd, Memphis is likely to do the same when it heads back to Tennessee for Game 6.
In a series that seems destined to go seven games, the Clippers have the narrow advantage of an extra home contest.
With two teams so evenly matched, that tiny edge could end up being the difference.