Big playoff games are defined by a strategic adjustment that could open a hole in the defense, or attacking a mismatch at the perfect moment, or when a coach’s playbook comes alive on the court with every pass, shot, and screen are guided by purpose. The LA Clippers 82-72 game 7 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies wasn’t that at all. In many ways, Game 7 for Lob City was a typical win. They never relied on tactical ability to down there opponents, nor did they have a coach with the dark arts of basketball strategies, they just played basketball. Very few road teams has won game 7 in the NBA postseason, and if the Clippers were going to overcome probabilities, injuries to their two best players (Blake Griffin and Chris Paul), they weren’t going to do with style points, definitely not in the hostile arena in Memphis.
Despite Paul being injured, he never doubted the Clippers. He got 24/7 treatment for his strained right hip flexor, he even bought plane tickets for his wife and son, so they can head to San Antonio after their expected game 7 victory over the Grizzlies. In addition to Paul’s hip flexor, Blake Griffin was still hobbled with a sprained left knee. The Clippers coughed up an eight point lead in the fourth quarter of game 6, the kind of event that can break any team on the road. Memphis finally regained its defense and dominance of the paint. But like the Grizzlies, the Clippers kept grinding with them, but it wasn’t elegant. Neither team shot above 37% in the first half.
But in other respects, Sunday’s win was a vast departure for the team. The book on the Clippers coming into the playoffs was that they had some fatal deficiencies: defense, depth, and free throw shooting, they were all a huge failure during the season for the Clippers. The starting unit though for the Clippers posted great numbers all season, but their bench tallied a net negative. The Clippers had the NBA’s fifth-ranked offense in the regular season, but their defense was below league average. Orlando was the only team less proficient than the Clippers at the foul line. But Sunday, everything changed, the Clippers were lifted by their defense and their bench, and even managed to shoot 78% from the line.
Kenyon Martin, who didn’t play his first game with the Clippers until early February led the Clippers second unit known as the Goon Squad. While Paul was on the treatment table, the Goon Squad patrolled the floor for the Clippers for nearly the first six minutes at the start of the 4th. While the “Goon Squad” stepped up for the Clippers, what happened to the grizzlies? What happened to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph? Randolph and Gasol both took control of the series in game 5 and 6 like I said they had too in my earlier blog last week. But come Game 7, the Clippers were ready for the two headed dragon that Memphis created, as Gasol and Randolph could only muster up 19 and 9 points respectively between them. The Clippers will now move onto face the San Antonio Spurs that series will begin tomorrow night! The Clippers will be long shots to win the series, but they were also long shots at the beginning of the season to make it to the playoffs, so we’ll see where this goes!