Well, so much for that titanic matchup everyone was hoping for…
But it certainly didn’t follow the script, with the Los Angeles Clippers blowing out the Memphis Grizzlies by 26 points on their home floor, Eric Bledsoe calmly running the show as if he were CP3 reincarnated, the Clippers bench exploding for 56 points, and the scary prospect of Grant Hill bolstering an already ridiculously deep LA bench with some nifty defense, pinpoint passing, and smooth jump shots. The Clippers, fresh off a stinging defeat at home to the Orlando Magic, came out and simply smothered the hapless Grizzlies, who had no answers to the onslaught of a determined group. After taking a seven game first round playoff series last season from the Grizzlies, and defeating them twice this season, it’s obvious which team is superior at this point. Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins even acknowledged as much in a pregame interview:
“That’s why I said before the game that they’re the best team in the West, maybe the best team in the league right now.”
One would think that Paul’s absence would hurt us more than Gay’s would handicap Memphis. However, even from last season, the Grizzlies are simply scoring-challenged, and it’s mainly due to Hollin’s uber-heavy emphasis on defense. They do a great job of holding down opponents (which is reflected in their number two defensive ranking) but don’t have the firepower when those inevitable nights come along when they just can’t stop teams – they rank 24th in points scored. Just look at Indiana, which has the same problem and is 29th out of 30 teams in offensive points per game. Without Gay, everything collapses and Zach Randolph suddenly can be tolerated to get his 16 points and 12 rebounds without too much damage overall, because no one else can hit an outside shot to save their skins on that squad. Clankity clank.
The Clippers, conversely, are number SEVEN in scoring and 5th best in points allowed, which is remarkably balanced. Their depth means fresh bodies to rotate in and out, with scorers and savvy play makers galore; did you see the potential Grant Hill adds at both ends? Hill can still defend forwards AND guards and can even run the floor when necessary. Lamar Odom is another two-way threat, who adds high basketball IQ and experience to go alongside the gritty Matt Barnes. Jamal Crawford, blasted for his defensive deficiencies, CAN defend when he needs to as he did tonight, and he can also play a competent point when necessary. Eric Bledsoe, well, he’s just on another planet when it comes to shutting down his man and he’s proving with each passing contest that he will be a star at some point (unfortunately for another team, though with Paul and Chauncey Billup’s blessings). Poor Mike Conley still can’t handle E-Bled. Heck, Blake Griffin only scored 10 points and they won by 26 – that’s what you call balanced in the extreme.
As many of us knew, the Clippers loss to Orlando was more a sign of mental letdown (coupled with Orlando shooting out of its mind toward the end) than a sign that they aren’t as good as advertised. VDN was right to call the loss “embarrassing,” and the team usually responds to such slips with strong follow-up efforts (like tonight’s). Heck, the Miami Heat have lost eight of their last eleven and no one seems to be hitting the panic button on them. The Los Angeles Lakers beat the CAVALIERS and now everyone is back on their championship bandwagon.
Truth be told, most of us long time Clippers die hards are far happier with them running under the radar than going on late night television and doing promo spots for NBA channel. Another win at Houston would be nice, but as long as the effort is there, we’ll be happy, regardless.
Tags: Blake Griffin Caron Butler Chauncey Billups Chris Paul DeAndre Jordan Eric Bledsoe Grant Hill Jamal Crawford LA Clippers Lamar Odom Los Angeles Clippers Los Angeles Clippers Matt Barnes Vinny Del Negro