May 5, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) and Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) battle for the ball during game three of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals at the Staples Center. The Clippers defeated the Grizzlies 87-86. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
In a playoff season that has featured far too many blowouts and few competitive series, the Clippers and Grizzlies are engaged in an exciting struggle between two evenly-matched teams.
The 2012 NBA Playoffs have been pretty boring so far, let's be honest. Of the eight series, five of them are currently 3-1, one of them is already over after a 4-0 sweep and one stands at 3-0. In most of these series, the team with the better seed is winning, the exceptions being the Philadelphia-Chicago series that has seen last season's MVP lost for the season and the Boston-Atlanta series where everyone suspected Boston was the better team all along.
There have been an inordinate number of blowouts. There have been several depressing injuries (beginning with Derrick Rose's ACL and with the latest being Baron Davis' dislocated patella Sunday afternoon). There have been lots of scores in the 80s, and more than a few in the 70s.
Sure, there have been a couple of good games along the way. Indiana and Orlando went to overtime on Saturday; the Knicks staved off elimination in a nail-biter in Madison Square Garden on Sunday. But for the most part, it's been pretty disappointing.
Almost single-handedly making up for the other less compelling series, the Clippers and Grizzlies have played three hard-fought, entertaining and exciting games. Even before the playoffs started, this was the series that most people picked as the most likely to be close. The four seed and the five seed are usually going to be evenly matched, and both teams finished the season playing their best basketball, with the Grizzlies closing the season with 14 wins in their final 17 games and the Clippers going 14-5 in their last 19. Home court advantage in the series wasn't even decided until the last games of the season as the Grizzlies edged past L.A.
If expectations for the series were high, they've easily been exceeded. Game 1, in which the Clippers overcame a 24 point deficit in the final eight minutes, is destined to become an all-time classic, arguably the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history. Game 2 was close throughout and particularly compelling for the manner in which the Grizzlies asserted their will, no small feat after such a devastating loss in Game 1. It's not often that a team shoots an effective field goal percentage of .634 and loses, but that's just what happened to the Clippers in Game 2, as the Grizzlies bullied their way to 13 steals, 21 forced turnovers and 16 offensive rebounds.
Game 3 featured not one but two fourth quarter comebacks, with the Clippers reeling off a 13-1 run to turn a six point deficit into a six point lead with just 23 seconds left, before a pair of Rudy Gay three-pointers and some terrible L.A. free throw shooting gave the Grizzlies the ball with a chance to win in the final seconds. But for two Gay jumpers that didn't miss by much, the Grizzlies could be up 3-0 in this series instead of down 1-2.
Looking at the box scores for the three games, the outcomes straight down the line seem counter-intuitive. The Grizzlies made a season-high 11 three pointers on just 16 attempts in Game 1 ... and lost. The Clippers shot better than 56 percent from the field and from the three-point arc in Game 2 ... and lost. The Clippers missed 17 free throws in Game 3 ... and won. Such has been the nature of this series. These games have all defied easy characterization.
Game 4 Monday night in Los Angeles will be huge. If the Clippers win, they'll take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, and few teams in the history of the NBA have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. But if the Grizzlies win, they'll regain home court advantage, effectively turning the contest into a three-game series in which two of the games will be played in Memphis.
There's no telling what's going to happen in Game 4, but you can expect it to be exciting, and count on it coming down to the wire.
For all news and information regarding the Memphis Grizzlies, please visit Straight Outta Vancouver. For updates and perspective on the Los Angeles Clippers, head on over to Clips Nation or check out SB Nation Los Angeles. For complete coverage of the 2012 NBA playoffs, stay tuned to SB Nation's dedicated NBA hub.