The closest series of these playoffs now has the finish it deserves – a game 7. The Grizzlies and Clippers battled through another tough-fought encounter, full of hard fouls, tough defense and outrageous flops. And in the end, a bit of poise and Zach Randolph is what got the Grizzlies over the line.
No doubt their playoff experience helps here. The Memphis unit of Conley, Gay, Allen, Randolph and Gasol always looked like it was going to close, when the Clippers were basically standing around waiting for Chris Paul. And before I do get onto the votes, it’s worth emphasizing just how much “standing around” we saw from the Clippers today. I was stunned, as was Jeff Van Gundy on ESPN, at some of the lazy efforts the Clippers made getting back on D and chasing loose balls. Just stunned. Maybe a couple of their guys are carrying injuries, but what I saw was an obvious lack of heart and energy. The exact same thing that’s been plaguing their Staples Center co-tenants lately. Maybe it’s something in the water?
3 votes – Zach Randolph. It was a supremely balanced team effort on this night from Memphis, but Randolph’s last quarter gets him the three votes, despite a few missed free-throws. His line in the fourth: 7 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks (he was 18-16-3 overall). But it was his energy that changed the game, his offensive rebounding, and his mere presence as Zach Randolph.
It’s hard to describe Zach when he’s going about his business. He’s unconventional, un-athletic, and prone to terrible decision-making from time to time. Yet just when you expect him to make the wrong decision, he’ll make the textbook play. He’ll throw up lazy shots from 2-5 feet that barely hit iron, yet chase them down with relentless tenacity. His production never seems proportional to the effort he’s expending, but when you sit back and look at it, his production is often what changes a game. He did it tonight, and I won’t be surprised if he does it again in Game 7.
2 votes – Marc Gasol. How ironic is it that Marc Gasol, not Pau, is part of the best big-man combo in these playoffs right now? He started this series slow but sure picked a good time to heat up. This was his best game for the series, no question: 23 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists, including a gorgeous bounce pass to Randolph in the final minutes that helped seal the game. I just love the poise in which Gasol played with today, facing doubles, floating around picks and rolls, but always making his presence felt in the paint. Marc Gasol might be my favourite center in the league right now. I just love watching this guy play. There’s something very Tim Duncan about him, which makes me all the more excited at the prospect of the Grizzlies advancing and facing the Spurs in Round 2.
1 vote – Marc Conley. Three minutes into the fourth quarter, after Bledsoe had just scored again to extend the Clippers lead to 8, I Tweeted quite prematurely “Memphis imploding here…” It was completely justifiable at the time. The Clippers went on a 10-0 run, their bench was playing incredibly well, and Memphis looked like they were caving under the pressure. Rudy Gay helped Memphis get back in it with a couple of tough shots (and one crazy circus shot), but it was Marc Conley who got them over the hump. It was only after Conley’s three with 4:30 when I realised Memphis were probably going to win this game. It was a huge shot. A momentum shifter. And from that point on I thought Conley did a fantastic job distributing the ball and running the right plays for his team. In last year’s playoff diary I wrote that Marc Conley had come of age, and had proved to me he could be a starting PG on a championship team. Tonight was more proof of that. He made big shots, he got his team mates involved, and that is no trivial feat when your opponent is the best point guard of the last 20 years.
I think Memphis win Game 7. They’re just too big, too good defensively, and they’ve been through all this last year. I hope it’s another close game, but I fear the Clippers will unfortunately become the 9th team in NBA history to lose a series after leading 3-1.
Actually, they could become the 10th if the Lakers lose tomorrow. It’s so hard to predict what will happen because the Lakers have been so inconsistent in their efforts against Denver. I won’t make a prediction, but I will say this: the Lakers will either lose or win by 20+ points. It’s been that kind of series for them.