The Los Angeles Clippers need to bruise the Memphis Grizzlies. While the Clippers would seemingly prefer to let their game speak for itself on the hardwood, there comes a time where elbows need to be thrown, players need to be pushed, and guys need to be put on the floor to make a statement. The statement made between the previous contest between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies is the start of a haunting, false sense of confidence for Memphis, and an emerging bullyish trend that Clippers coach Doc Rivers wants no part of.
On Monday night, the 7-3 Los Angeles Clippers entered their home matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies winners of their last four contests, currently ranked first in points per game, 11th in rebounds per game, first in assist per game, and 28th in opponent points per game, up two spots from the league’s worst rank a week prior. Unbeaten at home and carrying a 50 percent field-goal average in Staples Center, the Clippers have recently put forth a more consistent display of defense, united with greater offensive chemistry, resulting in Chris Paul continuing his double-double streak and Blake Griffin bagging Western Conference Player of the Week recognition.
In their first matchup since the Grizzlies sent the Clippers home during last year’s first round of the playoffs, Monday night’s matchup would be a tell-all for how impactful the Clippers offseason acquisitions are and will be. Currently sitting on the .500 bubble and winners of their last two, the Griz opened up the first quarter with the most familiar matchups of Mike Conley on Chris Paul, Marc Gasol covering DeAndre Jordan and the matchup of Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin, undoubtedly the one that garnered max attention from fans and the watchful eyes of the referees.
The Grizzlies showed why they’re the NBA’s third stingiest defense, closing the first quarter with a 29-20 lead, forcing the Clippers to shoot 32 percent from the field and a miserable 13 percent from three. Tony Allen was ejected for kicking Chris Paul in the face, resulting in a flagrant foul 2, but not before displaying tight defense on J.J. Redick, who was 0-for-3 before being snagged for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford. The Clippers’ attempt to keep Randolph in check was a failure as he ended the quarter with 13 points and 6 rebounds.
With increased defensive tenacity, the Clippers forced three second-quarter turnovers, which proved uneventful offensively as the Grizzlies suffocated any fast break or turnover opportunities by quickly getting back on defense. Doc Rivers commented on the Grizzlies pace of play: “I think they owned the game, really. I thought they controlled the pace; they controlled the way the game was going to be played. I thought we fell into their game again.”
The Clippers would open the second half with DeAndre Jordan guarding Zach Randolph, as Doc Rivers would seek to avoid four fouls on Blake Griffin early in the third quarter. Griffin entered the contest after the half with a contribution of 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting, and although valiant strategy, he’d end up with his fourth foul with 9 minutes to go in the third. A Clippers rally would mask Griffin’s foul trouble as Redick would get going offensively, in addition to Chris Paul seeking a triple-double while taking advantage of Mike Conley’s three fouls with hard drives into the paint for layups.
But the Clippers had no answer for the Memphis big men, as Kosta Koufos took over the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter, scoring four points, grabbing five boards and collecting a block and steal. After a Mike Conley three, the Clippers weren’t left with much to work with, and even less guns to fire as the Clipper guards had their worst shooting game of the season with Redick going 3-of-13, Jamal Crawford 3-of-11, and Chris Paul tallying 5-of-14 from the field.
Their season low 39.5 percent shooting as a team contributed to the Grizzlies 106 to 102 win, but the true story was Memphis looking more like a bully to the Clippers, who in turn looked more like schoolyard nerds. Although big men DeAndre Jordan (8 points, 3 blocked shots and 16 rebounds) and Blake Griffin (23 points and 11 rebounds) have made noticeable improvements in their games, Memphis has shown once again they have a ways to go when thinking of contending against any team that has two capable post players. Zach Randolph exited the game with a team-high 26 points, followed by Marc Gasol who put up 23 in a win that had everything to do with attitude and less about ability.
The Clippers will hit the road to take on Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday in what will be a test in perimeter defense, as the T-Wolves have been rolling with shooters Love and Kevin Martin.
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