Monday, the NBA announced that its assorted media did not feel Jamal Crawford was the best bench player in the country, and it wasn't particularly close. J.R. Smith won by a relatively large margin. You could even give Jamal the apparent hanging chad accidental vote for Jordan Crawford, and he's still quite a bit behind.
Those who voted are entitled to that opinion, and in fact, I'd agree with them -- I'm somewhat partial to the no-no-no-yes low-efficiency escapades of Mr. Smith. But one thing they can't argue as that the Clippers bench crew, front to back, is the best in the league. It's a fact that was on display Monday night as the Clips made moves to go up 2-0 against a Grizzlies squad that was hesitant to bring in non-starters, seemingly only doing so out of absolute necessity.
In Game 2, Memphis' bench played for 31:54. That's combined. Crawford played 33:30 by himself, with Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, and Eric Bledsoe also playing key factors. Sure, the star was Chris Paul, who scored the team's final eight points and the game-winner, but they were in a position to succeed thanks to strong play from the bench. Crawford was pretty much engulfed in flames in the first half, dropping in rainbows from beyond the arc, and a stretch at the fourth quarter with Paul and Blake Griffin out saw the Clips' bench extend the lead from four points to 12 before Memphis rallied to force Paul's game-winner. A Tribe Called Bench is constructed neatly to spell the Clips' starters, and it showed Monday.
Meanwhile, Memphis really only opted only once to give a bench player significant minutes: with Zach Randolph looking uncomfortable after suffering he tweaked his ankle a bit and in foul trouble with five, Lionel Hollins opted to play Darrell Arthur down the stretch. It paid off: Arthur was 4-for-5 from the field in the game, played solid defense, and streaked down the court to finish an and-one that tied the game up - a play Randolph, not exactly prone to moving at anything faster than a jog, never could've made. But even despite a) Randolph's hobbled nature and foul predicament and b) Arthur's strong performance, Hollins' decision wasn't necessarily well received by Grizzlies fans.
The rest of the starters were run ragged. Mike Conley only rested for 3:59, Marc Gasol for 4:18. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince both played over 38 minutes.
It's tough to say what Hollins could do otherwise. He could go to Jerryd Bayless, who's a sparkplug-type scorer. But he'd have to pull either Allen - an elite perimeter defender charged with locking down either Paul or Crawford - or Conley - who actually scores more efficiently than Bayless in every facet of the game and is actually capable of distributing. I've always liked Arthur as an up-tempo big, who could serve as a foil to Blake Griffin, but Hollins is probably better suited sticking with Randolph to jostle and fluster Griffin endlessly in the post and the Defensive Player of the Year in Gasol. Quincy Pondexter is the team's best shooter percentage-wise, but Hollins has shied away from him in the playoffs, opting for the length of Tayshaun Prince.
Clips Nation notes that Hollins is in a bit of a pickle:
The Grizzlies are surely devastated at this point, wondering what they have to do to overcome their nemesis. I pointed out in the preview that the Grizzlies best chance in this series is to stick with their game plan, as none of the contingencies seem to favor them, and that's exactly what Coach Lionel Hollins did tonight... Barring fatigue becoming a major factor, that's more or less the only option Hollins has. If Memphis is counting on Bayless and Keyon Dooling to be major factors, the series is already over.
The 2-0 deficit might make it hard to remember that the Grizzlies' defensive-minded starting five is pretty damn good. The problem is, the Clips' strong bench -- and their lack of one -- could sway the series in Los Angeles' favor.