Rivalries exist for every team in each sport, even if a team does not have much postseason experience, such as the Los Angeles Clippers. These rivalries are typically born from frustration on both sides due to losing big games, but are also formed from feuds and bad blood between players. Combine the two and you come up with the Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies rivalry, a new one but as fierce as any other in the league.
This is the exact matchup the Clippers do not want to see for the third straight season in the NBA playoffs.
There are plenty of reasons as to why the Clippers, nor the Grizzlies, want a part of each other outside of the Western Conference Finals. The past two playoff meetings have produced extremely intense, and combative, first-round series. While the Grizzlies struggled through a large portion of the year and the Clippers have come on after the All-Star break, both teams are mere games away from meeting, yet again.
Let’s not forget that the Grizzlies dismantled the Clippers during the deciding Game 6 last season in Memphis. While the Clippers offense was highly rated all season it was pretty evident that they struggled to score in low possession games, something the Grizzlies excelled at. Furthermore, things got so intense at the end of the series Chris Paul ended up getting ejected.
Afterward, he was upset with himself and the team’s performance, via the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com): "We took too long to come to the fight, Paul said. We waited to Game 6 to start to play aggressively and match their intensity. I don't even know how many free throws they shot tonight. Maybe more than the field goal attempts that we got."
Besides the past history, there are many reasons the Clippers do not want to see the Grizzlies in the playoffs. Part of that comes from the offensive side of the ball, but the Grizzlies have done their damage against the Clippers on defense.
The main reason the Grizzlies have given the Clippers fits has been the Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph high-low combination. The Clippers have been unable to defend either player on the elbow or on the block.
Randolph has had his way with Blake Griffin in the paint for years. Meanwhile, DeAndre Jordan and Griffin have both struggled to contain Gasol’s elite passing ability from the elbow. When either plays off Gasol, he is capable of knocking down an easy 17-foot jumper.
While Memphis' guards and wings have not been a problem for the Clippers, that could change this season. The team added Mike Miller and Courtney Lee, both good three-point shooters, on the perimeter to help space the floor. Put either one on the floor with Tony Allen and his offensive rebounding ability, and the Clippers defense will surely be stretched from sideline to sideline.
The good news is that this Clipper team is much deeper than it has been in recent memory. Danny Granger and Glen Davis provide the Clippers with some solid depth up front. While Granger will likely not be able to defend Randolph, he allows Doc Rivers the option of putting Matt Barnes on the floor so the Clippers can trap, switch and double the post.
Realistically, the onus will be on Griffin to slow down Randolph or Gasol, while Jordan will have to be at his best to adequately defend the rim.
Memphis’ entire team philosophy is based upon slowing the game down and limiting the opposition’s offense with its stout defense. This is part of the reason why the FedEx Forum is called the “Grind House.” The Grizzlies defensive principals limit high-percentage shots and force teams to score late in the shot clock. It also does not hurt to have two All-NBA defenders on the team in Gasol and Allen.
Despite the injuries for long stretches this season, especially to Gasol, last season’s Defensive Player of the Year, the Grizzlies rank eighth in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. Gasol sets the tone for everything the Grizzlies do from the inside out. Meanwhile, Allen and Mike Conley do a great job of pressuring the ball on the perimeter and forcing drives into the teeth of the team’s defense.
One reason the Clippers do not want to see the Grizzlies defense is because they have the ability to switch multiple players onto Griffin, Paul and Jordan.
Long defenders have given Paul fits over the course of his career and Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. The team can also put Lee, James Johnson and Tayshaun Prince on players like Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick and Darren Collison, frustrating their perimeter attacks and limiting open looks from three.
Although the Clippers are better equipped to combat the Grizzlies defensive principals with shooters such as Redick, Granger, Hedo Turkoglu, as well as Glen Davis’ size on the offensive glass, a first-round series against such a physical opponent could pose major challenges. One of those challenges being the health of Blake Griffin.
For the third season in a row Griffin will be battling injuries during the postseason. This season, back spasms are the culprit. The hope if that Griffin can heal somewhat before the playoffs start, but if Griffin is limited offensive because of his back, the Clippers will have a difficult time scoring against the Grizzlies.
Regardless, the Clippers do not want to see the Grizzlies in the first round. They pose too many threats for an opening-round opponent, although that can be said about every Western Conference playoff team this season.
The Grizzlies offense and defense has given the Clippers fits for three seasons, let’s hope that is not the case should they meet in the postseason.