Chris Paul and Vinny Del Negro discuss, um, "strategy" (Getty Images)
Los Angeles Clippers 101, Memphis Grizzlies 97 (OT) (Clippers lead series, 3-1)
There were far too many factors in this Clippers win prior to Chris Paul's late-game takeover -- factors that allowed Chris to step into an environment that allowed him to create -- for us to completely point to CP3 and put the win on his shoulders. Blake Griffin's post moves seemed to grow before our very eyes. Reggie Evans (eight rebounds, four offensive) was all over the place in his time spent frustrating Grizzlies off the bench. And the Grizzlies themselves lost several opportunities due to close referee calls, missed free throws, a foot on the line of a Mike Conley 3-pointer, and those damned offensive rebounds off free throws.
With those unfortunate reflections in place … ah, forget it. You can go ahead and completely point to CP3, and put the win on his shoulders.
Why not? This was a terrible, fantastic game. Players were flopping and frustrated, but also legitimately getting hit hard (you can take the lick and still overreact) and earning the right to kvetch. Referees were missing calls or making dubious ones, but they also had quite a bit to work through in a contest between two teams that clearly do not like each other right now. And though Vinny Del Negro made his typical series of questionable calls down the stretch, Memphis coach Lionel Hollins (a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate two years running) cannot be happy with some of his rotation work and play calling in this loss.
It wasn't a great game. It was kind of the greatest, though.
Mike Conley has to be fawned over, before we get to Chris Paul's play. Early on, it was evident that he was squaring his shoulders and getting that elbow under the ball, and his line reflected his touch with the jumper — 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, and he would have hit 4-of-4 threes had he not barely stepped on the line with one third-quarter bomb that was downgraded. One move late in the fourth quarter actually saw him forced to his right and finishing with his off hand on the floater. Seven boards and eight assists as well. Marvelous.
Not enough-e-lous, too. Because Chris Paul had the ball on a string, ready to take over after V.D.N. tempted fate and left Mo Williams in for a hefty chunk of time to start the fourth quarter.
Paul scored eight points in overtime, and probably would have had a fantastic look at a last-second game-winner in his wheelhouse toward the end of regulation were it not for a terrifically timed double-team from Rudy Gay, who shaded on CP3 after he had busted past Tony Allen's defense on consecutive possessions. Twenty-seven points on 22 shots, nine rebounds, seven assists, two turnovers and his D on Conley was just fine, despite Mike's great line. Rhymes.
Add that to Blake Griffin's encouraging 30-point, seven-assist game, and the Clippers had just enough to beat the Grizzlies at home. Which makes us think we'll see these two bash it out again at least a few more times before this series is through.
Thank goodness for that.
Gregg Popovich leads the way while half of Salt Lake City looks at its phones (Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs 87, Utah Jazz 81 (San Antonio wins series, 4-0)
We've already discussed what the Utah Jazz can look forward to as they enter the offseason, and the playoff preview for San Antonio's second-round series will have to wait for another day. For now let's just sit back and wonder just exactly what the NBA's hottest team will do with potentially another week off before its next series.
The Los Angeles Clippers could very well defeat the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. They've already taken a game in Memphis, and the Grizz might be a little despondent following a tough overtime loss on Monday night. But reasonable expectation would have the Grizz winning Game 5 and forcing a Game 6 in Los Angeles on Friday, which would have the next series (assuming the Clippers take Game 6) setting up shop in San Antonio on either Sunday (less likely) or Monday. That's a good week for the veteran Spurs to recover.
That's a good week to rest for the team that has won 25 of its last 27 games. You do realize the Spurs have won 25 of their last 27 games, right? And that they rested each of their starters for one of those losses (to the Jazz, coincidentally)?
Of course, momentum is a tricky thing. And both the Clippers and Grizzlies work off rhythm quite well, while the Spurs' go-to move of late is to beat teams with superior offense (predicated on passing and ball movement) rather than knockout defense. This isn't to say they're lazing it up on the defensive end, but this is the sort of style the personnel demands. And it's hard to jump back into those extra passes and smart cuts after a few days off.
We need to marvel at this run, though. And the way the team came out on Monday night determined to cut the cord. The Jazz made a fourth-quarter run, of course, after the Spurs went up 21 points — so it isn't as if San Antonio completely demoralized Utah. That's more a function of Utah's resolve, though, than it was the Spurs' play. While San Antonio struggled to finish on the inside as the Jazz switched Derrick Favors' long arms into the starting lineup, the Spurs hit from behind the arc (45 percent), and only a crazy and pell-mell style of basketball allowed Utah to make a game of it late.
The Clippers and Grizzlies sometimes employ that style. But you can't run it for 48 minutes, and if Manu Ginobili is going to start scoring 17 points on 11 shots again, then the Spurs are going to be tougher than ever.
Utah never had a chance in this series. And it's a fascinating, smile-inducing killer that every time we think we know these San Antonio Spurs inside and out, they evolve into something wonderfully different.
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