The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers are tied at two wins each in their first round series. After starting the series with two straight victories, the Clippers have now lost two in a row and will try to recover back home in L.A. What adjustments must the Clippers make?
First and foremost, they need to stop converging on Mike Conley. All the attention paid to him has opened the floor for Memphis from beyond the arc and in the mid-range. Conley, a 44 percent shooter from the field through the season, is shooting only 39 percent in the series. Nevertheless, L.A. is leaving shooters open to trap him, and Conley has taken advantage by finding other people. He is averaging 9.3 assists through four games in the playoffs.
Play No. 1
Blake Griffin has stepped far out on Conley here, even though he's shooting only 20 percent from beyond the arc through the series. Caron Butler is going to shift over towards Conley to assist in cutting off dribble penetration.
Conley drives past Griffin and gets into the lane. The Clippers successfully trap him there, but Tayshaun Prince is open on the perimeter.
Conley passes to Prince who hits the jumper.
The Clippers cannot commit three defensive players to any ball-handler, much less Conley, on a pick and roll.
Play No. 2
Ronny Turiaf is the help defender on this screen and is not in position to make a play on Conley.
Both Clippers' defenders are now shifting in the same direction and are behind the play. Lamar Odom is under the rim to help.
The Clippers are using three defenders to defend the pick and roll again, this time losing Marc Gasol while chasing Conley.
Turiaf tries to challenge the shot, but it's too late.
Instead of trying to help on a play where he's out of position, Turiaf needed to rotate back onto Gasol.
The Clippers are too willing to collapse into the paint when Conley gets any dribble penetration.
DeAndre Jordan makes the same mistake as Turiaf by trying to help on a play where he's out of position. Eric Bledsoe rotates into the paint to help, but Griffin is already directly in front of Conley. The Clippers are making multiple mistakes in their pick and roll coverage. The mistake from play No. 1 (collapsing from the opposite side) and play No. 2 (trying to recover on a play while out of position) combine for a defensive disaster.
The poor decision-making from the Clippers leaves Jerryd Bayless open in the corner and Gasol all alone near the top of the arc.
Play No. 4
The Grizzlies are running high screens against the Clippers often because it has yielded results. They do it again on this play.
Jordan shifts his feet to get in front of Conley. Paul chases the play, which is a costly mistake.
Even when the Clippers need only two defenders to stop the play, they still allow an open jumper. Jordan had done a good job of picking up Conley, so Paul needed to switch onto Gasol once Jordan had stopped the dribble penetration.
Bottom line: the Clippers are putting too high of an importance on a player who isn't great from the field, has struggled through the series and has this shot chart:
That same player is also prone to missing wide open layups, like this:
That has to change in Game 5.
It isn't just the Clippers defensive scheme on Conley that is hurting them. In Game 1, L.A. outrebounded Memphis, 47-23. In Game 2 they topped the Grizzlies again, 40-38. In the two games since the series shifted to Memphis, the Grizzlies have dominated the boards by a 90-61 combined margin. In each of the four games, the team that has more rebounds has won.
Looking closer at Game 3 and Game 4, the Grizzlies had 30 offensive rebounds, which turned into 38 second-chance points. The Clippers lost both games by a combined 33 points.
Play No. 1
Randolph outworks two Clippers for the rebound and putback on this play. Griffin in particular has to body up with the Grizzlies' bigs and box out.
Play No. 2
Three Clippers are in position to get the rebound or at least box out Randolph. Instead, they stand and watch as Randolph grabs the rebound.
Play No. 3
Gasol is surrounded by four Clippers and still gets the offensive rebound.
The lack of effort on the boards is concerning for the Clippers. They must do a better job of denying second-chance points to a Grizzlies team that lacks offensive options. Limiting extra field goal attempts is key for Game 5 and the remainder of the series.
If the Clippers can win Game 5 in Los Angeles, they get Game 7 on their home court in a worst-case scenario. Should they lose to Memphis, the Grizzlies will have an opportunity to close out the series at FedEx Forum in Game 6. Game 5 is therefore pivotal in the series.
But if the Clippers adjust their defense and do a better job of limiting second chance points, their offense should be able to give them the series lead.