Memphis Grizzlies 90, Los Angeles Clippers 88 (series tied, friends, at 3-3)
It's been a nasty series, full of flops, strange possessions, dodgy officiating, and low scoring. But it's also been, by many accounts, the best series in the first round. It's the Grizzlies and Clippers — now 100 percent lottery free — and it's going to seven games. And we couldn't be happier.
The Grizzlies prevailed in Game 6, but this game really did come down to the obvious absence of the Chris Paul we all know and love and sometimes pick series' based on how well he'll play. The Clippers won't make such excuses (save for the team's coach, perhaps), but Paul really was a shell of himself on Friday night, especially in the fourth quarter when the Clippers needed him most. Paul finished with 11 points on nine shots with five rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three turnovers. Not a terrible line in the slightest, but a far cry from the sort of MVP-level production that the Clippers need to make a difference in these playoffs.
No excuses, there, but Paul's limited mobility wasn't even made up for by a tough and determined performance from Blake Griffin. Griffin was also hobbled, and it showed, but he still put together a 17-point night with six assists and five rebounds. And it wasn't enough, because the Memphis Grizzlies made damn sure of it.
To start, the Grizz put together a 40 percent offensive rebound rate, and when you're allowed the chance for a do-over on nearly half the shots you miss, you're going to have a sound shot at the win. One particular passage in the fourth quarter was rightfully brought up several times by the ESPN crew, as Zach Randolph (who still doesn't really look like "Zach Randolph," as he still works around his knee injury from last winter) pulled in two offensive caroms for a put-back that halted a Clipper run and chipped into what was then an eight-point Los Angeles lead. That might not seem like much, if you missed the game, but eight points felt like a major obstacle at that point — something neither team could seemingly combine to score over the last half quarter of the game.
The Grizzlies did, though. Outscoring Los Angeles 22-9 at one point to come back, pull away, and extend their season.
Our Eric Freeman was right when he pointed out that the Clippers may have been better served going with Eric Bledsoe down the stretch. I can't fault Vinny Del Negro in the slightest for going with a gimpy version of one of the finer point guards in NBA history in the fourth quarter, there's no way anyone sits CP3 for Bledsoe and there's also a good chance the second year guard slides back to his averages even during his great game (14 points, six assists, one turnover), but it sadly probably was the better move to stay with Bledsoe over Paul.
Even though, as we should re-state, this is not at all a criticism of Vinny Del Negro; despite our history of doing just that, incessantly. That'd be like criticizing someone for walking into a spot that lightning was about to hit.
While we hand-wring over the Clipper fortunes gone wrong, it's best to point out that the Grizzlies absolutely took this game. Mike Conley ran a steady ship, Tony Allen pulled that gorgeous yin/yang nonsense, and Marc Gasol and Randolph dragged Memphis into a seventh game that will actually be in Memphis. Forty-one points on 17-33 shooting combined for the two, with 25 boards and four blocks. Too big and too much; and for all the talk that Reggie Evans seemed to get during this Game 6, the Grizzlies' twin towers made the biggest difference in this game.
(Also, Hamed Haddadi had three rebounds, two points and a block in less than three minutes of action in the fourth quarter. Everything's Grizz.)
We get another game. Which is just brilliant.