Grizzlies hope experience helps close out Clippers
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)
Sure, Blake Griffin is questionable with a sprained ankle and Chris Paul has a left thumb bruised. But the resilient Clippers are deep and talented.
That is why the Grizzlies are focusing only on themselves and their defense, the inside games of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, along with the work ethic they call grit and grind. They are 3-0 in Game 6s, and they lead the Clippers 3-2 going into Friday night's contest in this first-round, best-of-seven series.
But Memphis has lost both Game 7s the franchise has played in the past two playoffs - at Oklahoma City in 2011 and on the Grizzlies' own court a year ago to these same Clippers.
''We've had to deal with just growing pains I think in the playoffs, and hopefully all those experiences will help us come tomorrow and we'll be able to get it done,'' Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said Thursday.
The Grizzlies are on the verge of rallying from an 0-2 deficit to win a seven-game series, which has been done 15 times with Oklahoma City the last to do it - beating San Antonio in the Western Conference finals last year. In the process, the Grizzlies have won three straight postseason games for the first time and have their first series lead since being up 2-1 on Oklahoma City in 2011.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins is pitching this as a two-game series that has the potential to be one if his Grizzlies take care of business before a sold-out crowd. He likes how his Grizzlies have prepared and played with discipline since losing the opener in Los Angeles.
''Now we're on the cusp of maybe moving on,'' Hollins said.
Griffin will likely be a game-time decision Friday night with the sprained right ankle that kept him on the bench in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night's 103-93 win by Memphis in Los Angeles. He has been receiving constant treatment and said Thursday that his ankle feels better before the Clippers caught a flight to Memphis.
Paul had his left hand bandaged after that loss but plans to play. He matched his postseason high with 35 points in that loss but says he has to do a better job getting his teammates involved. If Griffin can't play, Paul said they will have to use a committee approach and may have to go small.
The Clippers do know they can win in Memphis. They took Game 1 in last year's series chewing away a big Memphis' lead, took Game 7 by a score of 82-72 and won both games during the regular season in Memphis to grab home-court advantage for this series as the No. 4 seed between teams with the same records.
''We got to go there, win there,'' Paul said. ''We've shown the ability to do it before. We know it's going to be rowdy in there. We knew that Game 6 was going to be a close-out game for somebody. We just hoped it wouldn't be an opportunity for them, but it is. We just got to make it work.''
Paul could use some help getting the Clippers' offense going again.
They averaged 101.2 points a game in the regular season and scored 112 points in taking Game 1. Since then, the Grizzlies have held Los Angeles to 87.7 points over the past four games thanks to Gasol, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, in the middle and Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter helping stifle the Clippers' shooters.
''They've outworked us I think the last few games, and that's been the most frustrating thing overall,'' Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.
The Grizzlies struggled a year ago hosting Game 7 with a packed FedExForum cranking the emotions up to a new level. Tuning out the noise and playing under control will be a must.
''The adrenaline's going to be pumping I know,'' Allen said. ''I just want guys, me personally just me personally, I want to keep my composure, stay within myself and just take it as a game where we can close out and stay with what we've got intact.''
The Grizzlies have enough experience on the roster to help manage both the expectations and the intensity. Prince, a trade pickup Jan. 30, won an NBA title with the Pistons in 2004 and an Olympic gold medal in 2008. Guard Keyon Dooling has played 53 postseason games himself, and Gasol won a silver medal himself last summer in the London Olympics with Spain.
Gasol insists the mindset must remain the same as when the Grizzlies trailed 0-2 in this series.
''We're just a step closer,'' Gasol said. ''When we were down 2-zero, our margin of error was really low. Now we have to have the same mindset of trying to be a little better and polish the stuff we did not do well on previous games and try to do it a little better in Game 6.''
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker