The last time the Clippers and Grizzlies played at the Staples Center, Chris Paul hit a buzzer-beater that gave L.A. a strong 2-0 lead in their first-round series. Now, after Memphis responded with two strong performances on their home court, the Clippers have to hold serve at least one more time in a series that has already seen some drastic swings in momentum.
Both sides have reason for optimism. Over the last two years, the Clippers have had the edge whenever the games between these two teams have gone to the wire, thanks to Paul, one of the premier closers in the NBA. From the Grizzlies' point of view, Paul's shot in Game 2 is the only thing preventing them from being in firm control of the series with a 3-1 edge.
Either way, Game 5 could very well be the decisive contest between these two evenly matched teams, both of whom can dream of a run to the NBA Finals if they can just survive the first round.
Game time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles
Odds: Clippers favored by -5.5
1) Which Zach Randolph shows up?
Through the first four games of the series, the play of the Grizzlies' All-Star power forward has been the key. In Games 1 and 2 in L.A., Randolph had to battle through foul trouble, averaging 13 points and six rebounds in only 27 minutes a night. In Games 3 and 4 in Memphis, he looked like the Z-Bo of old, averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds and controlling the interior of the lane.
When Randolph is rolling, it takes a ton of pressure off the other Grizzlies starters, none of whom are capable of being the primary option offensively. However, when his shots aren't falling, the Memphis offense can stagnate, which allows the Clippers to turn them over and get out into the open court, where they are unstoppable. Look for L.A. to attack him early; Randolph has to move his feet and avoid picking up cheap fouls.
2) The Clippers supporting cast
Vinny Del Negro knows more or less what he's going to get from his two All-Stars, Paul and Blake Griffin. The question for L.A. is how the rest of their players can respond to a stifling Memphis defense. In Game 4, Paul and Griffin combined for 38 points on 14-of-26 shooting. The rest of the team scored only 45 points on 18-of-52 shooting.
The two biggest culprits were Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, who were both held scoreless. At this point in their careers, the two former All-Stars don't give much on the defensive end of the floor, so they have to find a way to impact the game by scoring. Del Negro has been reluctant to make any changes to his starting five, but if Billups and Butler can't get it going on Tuesday, he may not have a choice.
3) The winner goes the spoils
In a best-of-seven series tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 advances 83 percent of the time. And with the Thunder looking vulnerable without Russell Westbrook, whoever advances in this series has a great chance of at least making the Western Conference Finals. As a result, Tuesday's Game 5 may end up being the most pivotal contest of the entire playoffs.