LA Clippers' 1st-Round Survival Guide for Worst-Case Blake Griffin Scenario
A fortuitous turn of his right ankle in practice left Blake Griffin with a painful sprain that had him shuffling between the court, the bench and the locker room during the Los Angeles Clippers' 103-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 5. The All-Star power forward finished with just four points, five rebounds, five assists and two turnovers in 20 minutes before leaving the game for good with 5:39 to play in the third quarter.
Griffin is listed as day-to-day for L.A.'s all-important Game 6 trip back to Memphis on May 3 (per Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com). Chances are, he'll be getting around-the-clock treatment from the Clippers' training staff up until the opening tip at FedEx Forum, and for good reason. The Clippers will need Griffin's size, skill, physicality and athleticism to stave off early elimination.
But what if Griffin isn't ready to go? What can/should/will head coach Vinny Del Negro do to compensate for Blake's absence and give his Clips a chance to win in the River City and shift the series back to the Staples Center for Game 7?
Small Ball to the Wall
Going small is anything but the obvious choice if Blake can't play. After all, how could the Clips hope to match up with Memphis' massive interior tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph if they downsize? L.A.'s already at a size disadvantage with Chauncey Billups starting at shooting guard.
A turn to small ball, though, could help the Clips up the tempo to their preferred pace while expanding VDN's lineup options. He could insert Matt Barnes, a starting-caliber wing, at power forward, or slot him in at small forward and move Caron Butler up. Barnes' toughness and ability to crash the boards might make him a better fit at the 4, though.
Or, he could go the ultra-small route taken by the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors in these playoffs and insert another guard into the mix. Eric Bledsoe and, perhaps, Jamal Crawford and Willie Green are potential choices.
Of course, any such arrangement would be largely unproven to this point.
According to NBA.com, lineups including the trios of Chris Paul-Matt Barnes-Caron Butler, Paul-Barnes-Eric Bledsoe and Paul-Bledsoe-Jamal Crawford all posted positive plus/minus ratings during the regular season. But rare were the occasions when those groupings played alongside Billups and DeAndre Jordan or, in the case of the three-guard grouping, Jordan and Butler.
All of which is to say, any extended absence for Blake would likely give way to more than a few novel lineups for the Clippers. The key for any small-ball group would be to tire out the Grizzlies' bigs on the break and apply a ton of ball pressure defensively to keep Gasol and Z-Bo from getting touches—and to dislodge the rock from their possession when they do.
A Bigger Role for Lamar Odom
If VDN decides that a heavy dose of small ball isn't an option, he could simply insert Lamar Odom into the starting five.
To be sure, Odom isn't the type of impact player he was just two years ago, and the results of the five-man lineups in which he's been joined by CP3, while limited, have been mixed. But he's experienced in the ways of postseason success—particularly in do-or-die situations—as his time with the Los Angeles Lakers would suggest.
Albeit as a super sixth man.
Still, Odom's abilities as a ball-handler, passer and post player make him the closest thing the Clippers have to a Blake Griffin facsimile on their roster. From a hypothetical skills perspective, Odom represents L.A.'s best opportunity to move forward sans Griffin without skipping a beat.
Chris Paul All Day
Whatever changes Del Negro would make without Blake won't matter one iota unless Chris Paul takes his game to a whole different level...and keeps it there.
Paul tied his career playoff high with 35 points in Game 5, but he was joined by just one Clipper (Jamal Crawford with 15) in double figures. It's tough to ask a player who stands six feet tall (on a good day) and already takes care of nearly all of his team's on-ball duties to do much more, particularly from a scoring perspective.
And, truth be told, L.A. will have to step up its defensive game to keep Memphis from grinding its way into the next round, and Paul isn't about to stop Gasol and Z-Bo from bowling their way to the basket.
But the Clips have been pushed to the brink and will have a tough time of stepping away from the edge without a transcendent performance from their best player, assuming Griffin isn't a go. It'll be up to CP3 to make life difficult for Mike Conley Jr. on one end while rallying his teammates with his offensive orchestration and filling in the scoring gaps himself on the other.
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