The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are tied up at two games apiece with the home teams holding serve to begin the series.
After a Game 1 blowout, followed by a thrilling win on Chris Paul's nifty last-second bank shot, the Clippers traveled to the FedExForum with a chance to punch Memphis in the mouth with a road win.
But the Grizz ramped up their defense in Game 3, limiting Paul to eight points to go along with four assists and five turnovers as the series went to 2-1.
LA Clippers @LAClippers
CP3 on Game 3: "This is where you've got to get greedy and this is where you start to build part of your identity."4/25/2013, 5:26:33 PM
So much for L.A. "getting greedy."
The Grizzlies maintained their defensive intensity in Game 4 and improved greatly on offense, shooting 50 percent from the field and getting six players into double figures in the 21-point victory.
In what is now a three-game series, the Grizzlies own all the momentum after dominating in Tennessee. It's up to Vinny Del Negro and Lob City to overcome Memphis' malicious defense.
Fortunately, they have everything they need to do just that.
Game 5 Time: Wednesday, April 30, 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Staples Center; Los Angeles, CA
Series Record: Tied at 2-2
Game 5 Key Storyline: Can the Clippers Rebound?
Oddly, the Grizz won the turnover battle in Game 3 (18-10) and won the game by 12 points. In Game 4, they lost the turnover battle (13-10) and won the game by 21. Because their defense is so proficient, they can limit points off of turnovers.
It's actually the rebounding stats that have been most significant in this series. In the Clippers' two wins, they out-rebounded Memphis 87-61 and 23-12 on the offensive glass. The Grizzlies won Games 3 and 4 behind a 90-61 rebounding edge, including a 30-10 domination in offensive boards.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan couldn't get on the same page in Memphis. They grabbed 22 rebounds in those Clippers losses, but Blake got only two boards on Thursday, and Jordan was held to the same on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Gasol and Randolph have been pulling down all rebounds in sight with 41 of them in Memphis' wins.
L.A. has the depth in the frontcourt to match Memphis with Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf off the bench.
The big issue, literally and figuratively, had been DeAndre Jordan. They need him for big minutes on the front line, but he just can't figure out a way to score, averaging a measly 2.8 points per game in the series.
But as long as the Clippers control the glass like they did in Games 1 and 2, they will maintain their home-court advantage.
Series Star So Far
Marc Gasol's big game on Saturday (24 points, 13 boards, four assists, three blocks) only increased his already impressive averages for the series to the tune of 18.3 points, 7.5 boards and 1.8 blocks.
The Spaniard has drastically improved his play on both ends of the floor, and he helped lead Memphis to a pair of home wins with two great performances. On a related note, not to name names (see above), but the Clippers starting center was held to four points in Games 3 and 4.
Gasol also improves the play of his teammates tremendously. He's opened up copious scoring chances for Zach Randolph (who leads the team with 19.3 PPG in the series), both by drawing defenders and deftly dishing dimes (3.8 assists per game).
Projected Starting Lineups
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, PG; Tony Allen, SG; Tayshaun Prince, SF; Zach Randolph, PF; Marc Gasol, C
Clippers: Chris Paul, PG; Chauncey Billups, SG; Caron Butler, SF; Blake Griffin, PF; DeAndre Jordan, C
Grizzlies Injury Report (via ESPN.com)
Keyon Dooling (neck), day-to-day
Clippers Injury Report
Grizzlies Will Win If...
They continue to get to the foul line with regularity.
Memphis is averaging 31.5 free-throw attempts per game, which is 8.2 foul shots a night more than L.A. The Denver Nuggets are the only team to get to the charity stripe more often than Memphis, and they average many more possessions per game.
Peter Edmiston @peteredmiston
Per Synergy, the Grizzlies are shooting free throws on an NBA-best 16.8% of their playoff possessions. That # was 10.8% in reg. season.4/29/2013, 4:12:18 PM
Even though the Clippers are shooting a slightly higher percentage on their free throws (81.7 to 73.8), the Grizz have put Griffin and Matt Barnes in foul trouble and racked up easy points at the same time.
The free-throw drill that Memphis has run on the Clippers is indicative of their imposing physical presence. If that continues, the Grizz will be heading home with a chance to put the series to bed.
Clippers Will Win If...
They play with more physicality to match the Grizzlies' intensity.
After going up 2-0 at home, L.A. came back to Earth in Memphis. As mentioned, they got manhandled on the boards and were goaded into too many fouls. The Clippers must return to playing disciplined half-court defense and forcing Memphis to take contested jump shots on the perimeter.
The Grizz ranked last in the conference in effective field-goal percentage, which adjusts for three-pointers. Their hot shooting from Game 4 will return to the mean, and it will be up to L.A. to capitalize by getting tough in the middle.
The Clippers need to force the action in the paint and draw contact. CP3 did not attempt a single free throw in Game 3. In Game 4, three of the Clips' starters failed to get to the line.
And that physical mentality has to extend into protecting the paint to make Memphis hit its shots as well as boxing out for rebounds.
Watching this series, with the matchups so even and style of play so similar, it seems like the Grizz and Clippers would go to the wire in a 77-game series, let alone seven games.
Despite the Grizzlies punishing play in Memphis, the Clippers have too much talent and too much depth to drop a third consecutive game.
Getting back to some home cooking, L.A. will bust out of their two-game slump with 60-plus points from Paul, Griffin and Jamal Crawford. So far in the series, the Clippers have shot 51 percent at home and 40 percent on the road.
Good thing Game 5 is at Staples Center.
Prediction: Clippers 95, Grizzlies 88