Entering the past two postseasons, Memphis has been the franchise-snake bitten by the injury cobra. In 2011, the Grizzlies began the postseason without athletic swingman Rudy Gay in the lineup. Last season, the Grizzlies welcomed Zach Randolph back into the starting lineup in Game 1.
During last season’s Game 5, injuries to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul gave Memphis an opportunity to cut into the 3-1 series lead. However, Memphis’ hole was too deep by then. One year later and the Grizzlies have finally become the beneficiary of the NBA’s injury SARS. Griffin may be down for the count. Now, all they have to do is hammer the nails into the Clippers coffin.
Griffin has been injury-addled throughout this series. Before Game 1, he strained his back. Prior to Game 5, Griffin turned his ankle on Lamar Odom’s foot and suffered a high ankle sprain. With painkillers numbing the ankle, Griffin played 19 minutes, scored four points, snagged five rebounds and had five assists.
Paul scored 35 points, but the rest of the Clippers lineup was a dud. Jamal Crawford scored 15 off the bench, but no other scorer eclipsed double digits.
While Paul attempted to play hero, Caron Butler improved on his Game 4 zero by scoring all of five points.
The Grizzlies also highlighted the problem with the Clippers starting a 37-year-old point guard at shooting guard that can’t score or attack the defense. Billups has only scored three points in two games and as a result, the Grizzlies perimeter defense is starting to swarm Paul.
Gasol and Randolph are having a scoring fiesta in the paint and Griffin was the piñata. Griffin faced an uphill battle against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but at least he came correct on the offensive end, as well.
With Griffin on the bench or ineffective for much of the night, the Clippers don’t have another big man capable of standing up to either of the Grizzlies’ twin towers. There were times during the first two games when the Grizzlies would have to double Griffin because of how well he was working Randolph facing up to the hoop.
The Grizzlies big men aren’t providing DeAndre Jordan with as many highlight opportunities as little Brandon Knight. The Clippers YouTube star is averaging just 3.4 points per game and has seen his highlight opportunities plummet.
Meanwhile, Randolph is looking less like Eddie Winslow and more like one of the best power forwards in the game, while Marc Gasol is handling the rock like Arvydas Sabonis. The Grizzlies have hit their stride while the Clippers are in desperate need of a second wind.
With Game 6 back in Memphis, the Grizzlies are preparing to finish the Clippers off.
Head coach Vinny Del Negro was defiant, but he sounded like the captain of the Titanic going down with his ship.
“We’re not going to lay down and we’re never going to give up,” Del Negro said. “We’re going to play hard, play together and try to do what we can to make it work. We’ve got to regroup and see how healthy we can get between now and then.”
Fortunately, the Clippers get an extra three days of rest, but the Grizzlies are going to be highly motivated, and most importantly, healthy.