May 7, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) is defended by Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) and shooting guard O.J. Mayo (32) during the second half of game four of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
The Clippers took a commanding 3-1 lead in their first round playoff series with Memphis, on the strength of a virtuoso overtime performance from Chris Paul. Paul is, plain and simple, the difference in the series.
In his post game remarks to the media, Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins summed up Game 4 -- and really, the entire series between his team and the Los Angeles Clippers -- fairly succinctly in the first couple of questions he was asked.
Reporter: Coach, what was the difference in this close game?
Hollins: Chris Paul.
Reporter: What do you have to do to win the next game?
Hollins: We're going to try to shut down Chris Paul.
Well put, Lionel. Of course, shutting down Chris Paul is easier said than done.
In yet another classic in this series that is carrying the 2012 NBA Playoffs the way that Paul has carried the Clippers in countless fourth quarters, the Grizzlies overcame a 10-point deficit in the final four and a half minutes of regulation, only to watch Paul break their hearts again in the overtime period. With the win, the Clippers took a commanding 3-1 lead as the series heads back to Memphis. During regulation of the three Clipper victories, a total of two points has separated these teams. That's how close this has been. Any or all of those three games could easily have gone the other way.
From the final 30 seconds of regulation through the end of overtime in Game 4, Paul had the ball for every Clippers possession. He scored 10 of the Clippers' final 16 points himself and made the pass that led to a shooting foul against Blake Griffin that resulted in another point. The only other points the Clippers scored came when Griffin rebounded a Paul miss and put it back for the and-one, and the final two free throws of the game when Mo Williams iced the victory.
Paul is routinely amazing, but consider all that was happening here. He was being defended by Tony Allen, the best perimeter defender in the league. Everyone in all of STAPLES Center knew exactly what was coming, though Hollins and Allen had about as much chance of stopping it as the folks in section 321. And Paul mostly made it look easy. With 26 seconds remaining he got an uncontested layup -- a LAYUP! -- to put the Clippers up two. In the overtime he continually got open for 15 footers, which he drained.
The most riveting thing about this series has been how neither team can put their opponent away. As evidenced by the Clippers comeback from 24 points down with eight minutes remaining in Game 1, no lead is ever safe. Memphis came back from six down with 23 seconds left on Saturday and had the ball with eight seconds left with a chance to win the game that just rimmed off. The Clippers seemed poised to run away with Monday night's game on multiple occasions, most significantly when they took that 10-point lead, their largest of the game, with less than five minutes remaining. But an 11-1 run is apparently the only available response to a 10-point deficit in this series, so that's what Memphis did.
In a series where neither team can seem to get a stranglehold on any one game, the outcome is by definition going to come down to the wire. In that situation, Hollins is pretty much spot on: Paul is going to be the difference. Mike Conley played the game of his life Monday night and matched Paul stat for stat overall (Conley had 25 points on 15 shots, seven rebounds and eight assists while Paul finished with 27 points on 22 shots, nine rebounds and seven assists), but he can't do what Paul does with the game on the line. No one can.
And that is why, in a series between two teams that are incredibly evenly matched, where neither team can put the other away, the Clippers are up 3-1. The Clippers have Chris Paul, and the Grizzlies have to try to stop Chris Paul. Advantage: Clippers.
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