The Los Angeles Clippers had a 2-0 series lead against the Memphis Grizzlies and that dissipated in what seemed like an instant. The Memphis Grizzlies flipped a switch and took the series over.
The Clippers won the first two games of the series by pushing the pace against the Grizzlies and their defense couldn’t keep up. The Clippers did an excellent job of making the Grizzlies play to a pace that they wanted to play to. The issue with that was that the Clippers couldn’t keep that up.
There were many uncharacteristic things that were happening in the first two games. The Clippers outrebounded the Grizzlies 95-61 in the first two games. With Memphis struggling to get back and defend their bigs were in foul trouble. The officiating was pretty consistent throughout the series. The officials had very little tolerance for any contact–there were 310 fouls called throughout the six games played.
Still, you couldn’t help but think that the Grizzlies had found a formula for success. The Clippers only ran for the first game and half of game 2. Once they slowed down Memphis was able to find their rhythm and impose their bigs on the Clippers for instant offense.
Game 2 was really troubling for the Clippers. They struggled to beat the Grizzlies while outrebounding them at home. Memphis was able to win the game because of their free throw shooting. They went 23-34 from the free throw line in game 2. The Clippers win required a Chris Paul game winning shot that probably could’ve been called off because of this kind of chippy play.
As the series went on the Grizzlies began to settle in on the offensive end and the defensive end. The Grizzlies finished the series looking like one of the best offenses in the NBA.
In fact, outside of the San Antonio Spurs the Memphis Grizzlies have had the second best offense in the playoffs thus far. In the postseason they’re scoring 109.7 points per 100 possession. That’s a mark that would be good for third in the regular season behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat. Its six points higher than their mark for the regular season.
How did the Grizzlies do this? They had a major offensive turnaround in the middle of the series. Lionel Hollins isn’t known as a very versatile coach on the offensive end, but when push came to shove he made the proper offensive adjustments.
Instead of using cross screening to free the post up, the Grizzlies shifted to an offense that primarily featured the pick and roll. According to Synergy sports, 15.5 percent of the Grizzlies offense came from the post.
In the playoffs they used deep position in combination with the pick and roll to pick on the Los Angeles Clippers bigs. Take a look for yourselves:
This video from game 5 shows a pick and roll dive that results in a hi-lo Randolph score. The mistake that the Clippers make here is playing up too high. This is exactly what the Grizzlies wanted to take advantage of.
Marc Gasol is already set up at the top of the key and will be used as a passer. Once Zach Randolph dives into the paint after screening for Mike Conley he gets as close to the rim as he can before he’s contested by Deandre Jordan.
The Clippers tend to send a big over the pick once its set. With their bigs going over the free throw line, the screener only needs to slip and they’ll be deep in the paint. Take a look at the picture below:
You can see that Deandre Jordan is already too high to be preventing Zach Randolph from getting into the paint. If Jordan plays back and chucks Randolph, that at least allows Blake Griffin to recover to him. Instead, he’s trying to trap Mike Conley.
Conley has an option of getting the ball to Gasol for the hi-lo or he can do the post entry pass himself. He gives it to Gasol and Gasol enters the ball into the post. That results in Jordan struggling to keep Randolph out of the paint and resulting in two easy points for a single covered Randolph.
The Clippers play a defensive style that’s very similar to the Miami Heat. The only difference is that they don’t have the wing athletes to come and help in the paint to force the Grizzly bigs into difficult shots.
Because of that lack of athleticism, the Grizzlies were really able to take advantage of single coverage–especially in the 4th quarter. The two best low post defenders on the Clippers are their bigs in Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin.
They’re both good help defenders, but when it comes to guarding other bigs in the low post they just aren’t disciplined enough yet. The Grizzlies took advantage of that.
When Griffin was hurt and playing limited minutes it really hurt the Clippers in the final moments of the game because they had no other bigs that could withstand a low post threat.
Deandre Jordan was too much of a liability with his poor free throw shooting to play in the 4th. Lamar Odom was thrusted into playing very important minutes at the four and five position all series–especially in game 6 when he started.
It results in plays like this from the final game of the series:
There was just no way for Lamar Odom to handle Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph. And on the offensive end he was a liability at best as well. There were stretches where the Clippers went very small with Odom and Grant Hill at their big positions and ran the floor, but Odom still didn’t seem comfortable doing that. It wasn’t until the Clippers went to a zone where Odom was faced with less responsibility that he felt comfortable.
There was really no consistency out of anyone on the Clippers roster outside of Chris Paul. Some of that is because of Vinny Del Negro’s playing rotations. I do believe that Del Negro is a good coach and deserves to coach this team, there is no excuse for Chris Paul being the only player to play over 30 minutes per game this postseason.
Trying to use too many combinations isn’t a good thing when the playoffs come around. Game by game adjustments are needed and throwing everything out at once isn’t how things are normally done.
Also, there wasn’t really a second option behind Chris Paul. Blake Griffin only shot 45% from the field for the series and wasn’t a real option for the Clippers after game 2. The Grizzlies were allowing him to shoot midrange jumpers and also gave him single coverage in the post.
Zach Randolph was able to hold his own against Griffin for the most part because his quickness is taken away with his back to the basket. Randolph isn’t a great defender, but he isn’t a player who you will just overpower on your way to the basket. That’s why you saw so much frustration out of Griffin especially.
The Clippers also stuck with Chauncey Billups for far too long in this series. He only played 19.7 minutes per game, but every minute is valuable in the postseason. In that limited span of time, Billups only shot 30% from the field. Out of his six shots per game, 2.8 were from beyond the arch and he made 35% of those. That’s decent production from beyond the arch, but its not something that the Grizzlies are going to sell out for. For the load to be taken off of Paul, Billups needed to provide more offense.
A lineup combination that we rarely saw was Eric Bledsoe and Chris Paul sharing the court. That would’ve helped the Clippers out immensely on the defensive end but on offense it would’ve mucked up the spacing even more.
The Grizzlies already weren’t guarding Caron Butler to help on Chris Paul. The shooting from Jamal Crawford got worse and worse as the series went on. Seeing Eric Bledsoe in the game with Chris Paul didn’t make much since at all.
Now the Clippers are faced with a lot of tough decisions to make. They’re going to try to bring Chris Paul back first and foremost. That’s likely the number on thing on their list for the offseason. Eric Bledsoe won’t be back most likely so it looks like they’ll need to find a legitimate option at the backup point guard spot.
The most important decision that the Clippers have to make right now is whether or not to re-sign Vinny Del Negro. After a terrible playoff showing where the team lost four straight things may not bode well for him. He couldn’t keep the team on the right track and their frustration was showing through fouling. Those are not good signs for a coach that wants to retain his job.
There’s no question that if there’s a Van Gundy brother available the Clippers should go after him, but Del Negro is still a very good coach and a good option. With some tweaks to the Clippers roster they should be able to run the aggressive defense that started off so strong early in the season.
We’ll see how the Clippers do things this offseason. There’s a strong possibility that things could go south after a historical season in franchise history. This will be one of the more interesting offseason campaigns for a single team since the summer of 2010.