On the front line, Memphis offers a duo that few can match, the Clippers included.
But for a good chunk of their Western Conference first-round playoff series, including Monday night’s Game 4 at Staples Center, the Clippers have outmatched the Grizzlies in that area, bullying Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol into irrelevance.
The Clippers took a 3-1 series lead with a 101-97 overtime win Monday, and Gasol and Randolph, who combined to average 26.2 points and 16.9 rebounds during the regular season, watched most of it from the bench, each saddled with foul trouble.
Gasol finished with eight points and five rebounds and he didn’t even have a field goal during regulation, continuing an awful series for the All-Star reserve center who had attempted just one shot in the fourth quarters of the three previous games.
Randolph, the darling of the 2011 playoffs who would seem to have plenty of motivation when facing the team that sent him to Memphis, had 12 points on five-for-11 shooting.
The image of the Grizzlies’ 7-foot-1 All-Star center and their at-times unstoppable 6-foot-9 power forward sidelined might be laughable, if you consider that they’re mostly facing a pair of 23-year-old big men: Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
But there’s more to the Clippers’ front line than that, even though many pundits and prognosticators left that detail out during their pre-series breakdown.
Reggie Evans, who has become a Clippers cult hero and enters games to chants of “Reg-gie, Reg-gie” and hears the same when he grabs a rebound, has bullied Memphis in the post, using his 6-foot-8, 245-pound frame like a wrestler.
And 34-year-old Kenyon Martin has been effective, grabbing rebounds, contesting shots and blocking them. Like Evans, Martin has made sure that each time he fouls a Memphis player — such as Gasol or Randolph — that foul lands with some force.
In all, the Clippers have used several defensive looks to frustrate Memphis’ big-men duo, but all have been especially physical.
Physicality, a much-talked about subject between these teams as the series has progressed, was an edge that Memphis held in Game 2 but one that the Clippers have recaptured in Games 3 and 4.
After Game 3, Memphis guard Rudy Gay marveled at the Clippers’ physical aggression, saying, “They did all the things we usually do to teams. They really imposed their will.”
If there’s an area where the Clippers are imposing that will the most, it’s down low.
One person they can thank is TNT analyst Charles Barkley. Before Game 3, the Clippers posted a quote of Barkley’s on the locker room wall:
“Other than Kenyon Martin, [the Clippers] are not a physical team…If I was coaching the Grizzlies, I would say, ‘We are not letting them dunk.’ They want to get the ‘play of the day.’ They don’t want to be rough and tumble.”
Sir Charles might want to check with Gasol and Randolph on that.