Mike Prada hit this point in his excellent NBA Playoffs previews last week: at least part of the reason everyone expresses fear of their team matching up against the Memphis Grizzlies is because the Memphis Grizzlies are so abnormal as an NBA team. It's not exactly fear of the unknown, because we can observe and measure what the Grizzlies do. We know how the Grizz win, and how they lose. The problem is that we are -- and maybe NBA players and coaches are also -- afraid of facing something different, anxious at the specter of having to rearrange our mental gameplan to address new challenges.
The Grizzlies don't shoot many three-pointers, are absolute murder defending the dribble and the passing lines, crush the offensive glass and play outside-in with their superlative big men. All but the last are completely abnormal in today's NBA: the three-point shot has consistently become a bigger and bigger part of offense leaguewide, fewer and fewer teams risk getting beat by playing for steals, and more and more teams prioritize getting back on defense as opposed to hitting the offensive boards. Many teams have skilled big men who can stroke 15-footers as well or better than they can pivot in the deep post; Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are, in that sense, fairly normal.
Consider this: the L.A. Clippers finished the season No. 2 in turnover rate. They are led by Chris Paul, one of the most sure-handed point guards in the history of the NBA. (CP3 has finished in the top 10 in assists per game in each of his seven NBA season. He has never finished in the top 10 in turnovers per game. His turnover rate this season was 10 percent, a level you're far more likely to find attached to a shooting specialist than a ball-dominant point guard.)
On Wednesday night, the Clippers turned the ball over 20 times in 88 possessions, nearly a 23 percent turnover rate. (Nearly one out of every four Clippers possessions ended in a turnover. During the regular season, that number was one in eight. That's an astounding shift.) Of those 20 turnovers, 13 were registered as Memphis steals, which means they were "live-ball" turnovers. That (and sure-handed play by the Grizz) allowed Memphis to win the fast break 20-6. On Wednesday, Memphis forced L.A. into more live-ball turnovers than the Clips usually give up in total turnovers.
Memphis killed the glass, too, which was not unexpected coming into the series: L.A. is a mid-rung defensive rebounding club and the Grizz finished the season No. 3 on the offensive boards. The inverse is also true: L.A. is No. 4 in offensive rebounding and Memphis is middle of the pack on the defensive glass. On Wednesday, the Grizz picked up 16 offensive rebounding in 40 opportunities -- a very strong rate of success. The Clippers had ... four in 25 opportunities. That's not good.
Those two numbers, the rebounds and turnovers, allowed Memphis to do something even more amazing: beat a Clippers team that shot lights-out all game long. CP3 shot 10-17 for 29 points. Blake Griffin went 9-15 for 22. The team hit 9-16 from long-range compared to 2-12 by Memphis. The Clippers finished with an effective field goal percentage of .634, just an incredibly high number. Memphis finished at .493. And won.
According to some research from a man you know as Silverbird5000 from FreeDarko, L.A. had the highest effective field goal percentage for any team that lost a playoff game since 1985-86. That's what Memphis' turnover and rebounding advantages meant: winning a game the Grizzlies had no business winning based on the single most important determinant of wins, which is shooting percentage.
This is why we fear the Grizzlies: they do things you are not accustomed to dealing with, and beat you in ways that are not remotely normal by the standards of the current NBA. You cannot find comfort against them, because even when you shoot lights-out all night, they can still find a way to beat you. Just ask the Clips.
The Hook is an NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.