It feels a bit like déjà vu for the Grizzlies and the Clippers. The Clippers have squandered a commanding series lead and slipped into a must-win situation in Memphis for the second-straight season, and once again some key players are banged up; Blake Griffin is battling a high ankle sprain and Chris Paul has a sprained thumb. Last year the Clippers pulled out a huge Game 7 win on the road. This time it's up to Memphis to flip the script, find a way to avoid a Game 7 and clinch the series at home.
Can the Clippers Stun Memphis Fans Again?
The thought of the Game 7 Clippers win in Memphis from last year still stings for most Grizzlies faithful. It's part of the reason why Memphis fans were so nervous about another matchup against L.A. in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. Steve Perrin of Clips Nation has noticed the parallels between the situation last year and this scenario, and he thinks a Game 6 win could lead to a similar result for L.A. in the end:
From a historical perspective, you may be surprised to know that the Clippers current predicament (down 3-2 with Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at home) is not much worse, and in some ways not as bad as last year's situation (tied 3-3 with game 7 on the road). That makes no sense from a logical standpoint of course -- it's clearly not easier to win a road game AND then win a home game than it is to simply win a road game -- but history doesn't always make sense.
Historically, the home team wins about 85 percent of the time in Game 7; the Clippers overcame those odds last year. And historically, the team leading 3-2 wins the series about 86 percent of the time in the NBA (216 wins, 36 losses, .857). However, when you look at the specific pattern, two wins followed by three losses, it's a very different story. In 19 prior instances in NBA history, the team up 3-2, that is to say the team riding a three game winning streak, has gone on to win the series 10 times, while the trailing team has come back to win 9 times. Obviously that's a very small sample size, but it paints a very different picture, a much more balanced picture.
Will Blake Griffin Be Effective?
The Clippers' star forward injured his ankle in practice on Monday and then struggled through parts of Game 5 on Tuesday. He tried to play, but left in the third quarter after scoring just four points on 2-of-7 shooting in 20 minutes. Griffin has received plenty of treatment on his ankle over the past few days, but his status for Game 6 is still sketchy.
If Griffin is hobbled or otherwise ineffective, it's hard to see how the Clippers could win. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol aren't going to let up in the biggest game of the year. In fact, Randolph isn't very impressed with Griffin's injury battle (via ESPN):
"Banged up?" Randolph said of Griffin. "I'm banged up. You forgot about my ankle? Banged up. My ankle is as big as a balloon. Talk to the trainers. I'm getting treatment every day. It's the playoffs."
Can L.A. Stop The Gasol/Randolph High-Low Game?
The combination of physicality and skill in the Memphis front court is probably unmatched in the NBA, and when the offense stalls the Grizzlies can always count on creating good matchups and getting solid shots by running high-low action with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Memphis will probably need to avoid a long scoring drought on Friday night to get a win, and Kevin Lipe of Grizzly Bear Blues knows how they can do it:
The Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph high-low game has to continue. The Clippers don't seem to be able to do anything to stop it, short of cloning Blake Griffin and putting three of him on the court at the same time (which I don't see happening tonight). If Griffin is still hobbled by his ankle injury, expect the Grizzlies to go at him every single possession until he either leaves the game or is TKO'd in a violent struggle with Z-Bo under the basket. Unlike last year, the Clippers don't seem to have enough guys willing to go at it down on the blocks to be able to slow the Grizzlies' roll.
If L.A. can find a way to solve this problem and send the Memphis offense into a funk, they may be able to pull the upset again.
Clippers vs. Grizzlies, Game 6 (Memphis lead series, 3-2)
Game Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
Odds: The Grizzlies are 6.5-point favorites at home, according to OddsShark.com.