With two teams that have very similar strengths, someone has to be the game changer that breaks the tie. So Chris Paul, the one you’d expect to be that guy, stepped up and took the Los Angeles Clippers to a very impressive series-opening win over the Memphis Grizzlies, who were outplayed and out-coached from the first moment they stepped on the floor.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph couldn’t assert their usual domination in the paint, as the Clippers won the rebounding battle 47-23, scoring again and again off second chance points, leading to a 112-91 win in Game 1, something no one expected to be this one-sided so early on in the series.
Nothing seemed to be working for the Grizzlies from the get go, and that sent Lionel Hollins into a panic. Some say that an exit in this series, missing out on the first round for a second straight year means the end of his tenure with the team. Maybe it got to him, because Hollins couldn’t stop replacing players and keeping a rotational nightmare going on, never putting his team in any kind of rhythm or getting them out of a game-long shooting and defensive funk.
Chris Paul, on the other hand, was everything the Clippers need him to be, from the first moment. He finished with 23 points and 7 assists, also playing like a man possessed on defense, which didn’t create too many steals or turnovers, but sent the right kind of message to his teammates, eventually sinking in so well that they pulled off a 37-22 fourth quarter, something the Grizzlies couldn’t keep up with.
Blake Griffin was one of only three players (along with Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford) on the Clippers to make less than 50% of his field goal attempts. It looked like the Clippers never took a wrong one. The ball moved well and pushed inside early, which is always the key against the Grizzlies, before their defensive scheme gets too comfortable. The Grizzlies are known for what is possibly the best defense in the NBA, but they allowed the Clippers to make 55.4% of their shots, getting out-muscled and out-thought through the process.
The backup point guards both made a difference, as Jared Bayless scored 19 points for the Grizzlies, but couldn’t get his team to keep up or pretty much wake up from their fourth quarter slumber. On the other side, it was Eric Bledsoe who made a few big shots after the Griz managed to put the game back within reach early in the fourth. Bledsoe scored 15 points on a perfect 7-7 from the field in only 18 minutes of basketball, as the Grizzlies looked like they didn’t know what hit them.
In order to gain some sort of foothold in the series, Lionel Hollins has got to make sure he knows what he wants to see on the court, instead of trying experiments that usually fit earlier stages during the season. The Clippers look like the exact opposite – a team that knows what works and what doesn’t, following the one player that makes them a bit more special than their tough yet disappointing opponents.