If it wasn’t for Zach Randolph switching gears after the first two games in the series, maybe Blake Griffin wouldn’t be injured right now. But the Memphis Grizzlies forward wasn’t about to find himself out of the playoffs in the first round for a second year in a row, simply steamrolling and bulldozing the competition to make it three wins in a row as his team has taken over the series.
The Clippers, on the other hand, are in trouble. After some fantastic performances from Chris Paul in the first couple of games, they had no answer to the physical, “old-style” basketball the Grizzlies switched to in game 3. Marc Gasol had no problem playing the pivot once again, while Zach Randolph became the focus of their offense, which is fine by Z-Bo, completely dominating Blake Griffin in the paint.
In the Game 5 performance, Randolph scored 25 points, adding 11 rebounds on 11-21 from the field. The Clippers haven’t reacted and had no answer to the Grizzlies Big-Man basketball style, while Chris Paul, the ace they were suppose to build on and let carry them, hasn’t been able to erase other advantages the Grizzlies have.
Without Griffin, Paul did take it all on himself – he finished with 35 points, but it wasn’t enough in a home losing effort, dropping to 2-3 after a 93-103 loss. Now it’s back to Memphis, where they lost twice in double digits, in order to remain in the series, hoping Griffin’s ankle isn’t banged up too bad.
Griffin was injured even before the game began, hurting his ankle during a Monday practice. He didn’t last more than 20 minutes, and it’s not looking like he can contribute too much anyway, giving the Clippers only 4 points on 2-7 from the field. Looking towards their rather deep bench, no one stepped up. Not Lamar Odom, with 5 points in 13 minutes, and not Matt Barnes, who scored only 6 points and didn’t add much in terms of defense.
Randolph didn’t even need Marc Gasol in the end, as he scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, handling the Clippers’ big men on his own while the Spaniard was sitting out with foul trouble. The Grizzlies hardly got anything from their bench, but got plenty of offensive power to go with the taken-for-granted defense, as Marc Gasol added 21 points, Mike Conley in a wonderful series scored 20 (16.2 points, 8.6 assists), and although he didn’t make life too hard on Chris Paul, he’s been huge throughout the first five games so far.
Our whole thing was just keeping our composure, playing hard, playing together, and not letting those guys get those lobs and the highlight stuff that they normally do. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph were huge for us. We won with defense. Zach did an amazing job under the basket, but defensively is how we won the game.
And that’s it more or less. With a healthy Griffin, the Clippers had a chance of matching up with the best big man tandem in the NBA. Without him, or without 100% of him, it’s not looking like they can turn this thing around, even if Chris Paul continues to play better than he ever has before. Even in today’s NBA, which is based on point guards who can score, having two big men who can defend, pass and pretty much dominate the paint without competition is quite a safe way of moving ahead in the world.