Let me start off by stating that I had zero interest in putting my thoughts into words about what took place in Memphis, TN on Sunday between the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies. With it being Mother’s Day I was able to carry on with my day spending time with my wife and daughter. Then something happened, I ran out of TV shows to watch, my 2 year old daughter was in bed and no longer asking me about mine and Mommy’s boobies (somehow this word has entered her limited vernacular and is currently in her top 5 of favorite words to say), and my wife was marinating in the final episode of Desperate Housewives. So that left me to my iTunes and my thoughts. Since I did not allow myself any time during the day to grieve I naturally began to replay what transpired today in the Game 7 matchup between the Clippers and my Grizzlies. Only then did I feel compelled to write this article. I need to vent and at the same time pay my respects.
If you watched the game you probably felt like you were watching the latest installment of UFC 100 and whatever it is up to now (boxing fan) as opposed to an organized basketball game. There is regular season basketball, there is playoff basketball, and then there is Game 7 Clips/Grizz. I for one feel it was the most intriguing, poorly played basketball game I have seen in a long time. Each game had moments when what was taking place on the floor was nothing that resembled how the sport of basketball should be played, and this had my nostalgic juices flowing. This series was a throwback to the hand-checking, no blood no foul era of hoops perfected by the likes of the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons and the cheap shot kings of New York, Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason. It brought me back to those Knicks/Pacers, Bulls/Pistons, and Bulls/Knicks series 90’s and those Celtics/Pistons series of the 80’s. The overall quality of play in this series did not compare to those timeless classics. But the physicality and chippiness displayed by both teams definitely took me back to when I watched NBA playoff basketball in between episodes of In Living Color and 90210.
Why the Memphis Grizz? By now you should be able to tell that I have been a NBA junkie for most of my life. Being from Kentucky I was not required to have a favorite team. This allowed me to become a fan of the players and the league as a whole while growing up in the “Golden Age” of the NBA. Well that all changed when Michael Hiesley decided to move his crappy Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis while I was in college. Instantly I became a loyalist. I was there for the first ever pre-season game played at the Pyramid as the Memphis Grizzlies verse a loaded Portland Trailblazers squad. The Grizz won the game which caused the late Lorenzen Wright to predict that the Grizz were going to make the playoffs….they won 23 games. I didn’t give a damn. I was getting an opportunity to attend a ton of live NBA games and at the same time developing a passion for one team. I have been there through it all rooting on a fledgling NBA team who seemingly has never had a chance to win the title. Until now…well at least I thought they did until Sunday.
Now that you understand why I root for the Memphis Grizzlies (see we actually do exist!) let’s get back on track. Being that I am a Grizz fan the typical response to the Clips winning this series would be me saying, “Eff those floppers” or maybe “Chris Paul is a punk.” I get those responses. Anyone who watched this series would not blame a Grizzlies fan for making such statements because that was what was going on. If Blake Griffin had actually been as injured as he was leading us to believe he was. Then the 47 times he went to the floor flailing like he had just been shot means he must have suffered about 14 concussions, a blown achilles, and a shredded ACL. Yet he was throwing down 360s in warm-ups for today’s game??? Chris Paul is a model citizen off the court. However, on the court he is a spokesperson for those who suffer from the Napoleon complex. He will slap, scratch, and elbow his way to whatever he wants during the game. If you do the same to him he gives you a look like he is about to do something that could result in criminal charges. CP3 toes the line of playing hard and being a cheap shot artist better than anyone in the league. That is what makes him one of the best players in the league and one of the most feared opponents. He knows all the tricks and he knows how to get his team, the refs, and even the opponents to buy into it. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of in-the-flesh dirty players on the roster like Reggie Evans, who once thought an effective way to prevent Chris Kaman would from snagging an offensive rebound would be to grab onto Kaman’s bean bag, and Kenyon Martin who racks up techs faster than he can decide on what his next terrible tattoo will be. The Clips have perfected their identity and have no shame in using the strategy of flopping, grabbing, clutching, shoving, or whatever it takes to dictate how the game will be played. It just so happened that their first round opponent, the Grizzlies, had their share of players who weren’t afraid to throw some bows. The forecast called for a bloodbath of a series and that is exactly what we got in the first six games.
So it came down to a Game 7. The tone was set in Game 1 and it only got stronger as the series carried on. The games, from an offensive standpoint, had not been aesthetically pleasing. But the physicality of the games had us all sucked in and wanting more. Well more is what we got for Game 7. The refs essentially used their whistles to start the game and to call timeouts. The game played out fairly similar to the other games. In the first three quarters, both teams attempted to pull away from the other without any success. The fourth quarter is when things got strange. Vinnie Del Negro and Lionel Hollins both proved that they have no rhyme or reason to their thought processes. Del Negro decided that Blake Griffin’s services were not needed for the fourth quarter of Game 7. Somehow this strategy worked and he was actually receiving praises from some prominent media “experts” in postgame reports. This made me laugh because if the Clips lose the game Del Negro wouldn’t have made it to the locker room before being fired by CP3. It’s no secret who makes the executive decisions for the Clips. Lionel Hollins countered Del Negro’s mind numbing strategy by giving Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph some extended rest while the Clippers started to pull away midway through the fourth quarter. It appeared Del Negro’s strategy of benching Griffin was so strange, yet successful, that it caused Hollins to become concerned and felt that he needed to implement a similar unorthodox strategy. Who wants to look like they are getting outcoached by Vinny Del Negro? Well Hollins did and that fourth quarter instantly put his job security on the line.
In the end the lead became too much for the Grizzlies and the series ended rather unceremoniously. As a Grizz fan it sucked. This was the year the Grizz were to take the next step which included expectations of reaching the Western Conference Finals or further. Now there are a number of off season questions that need to be answered. Is this roster good enough to keep together? I think it is. We have yet to see what this team can do a completely cohesive unit. Both Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph have missed extensive time due to major injuries. I think one more season is needed to evaluate whether or not this current batch of Grizzlies are going to make the leap. As for the Clippers, the brilliance and ruthlessness of Chris Paul propelled the Clips to the second round where a well rested Spurs team awaits. I don’t see the Clips/Spurs series being anything as physical as what we just witnessed these past 10 days. I expect that series to be won easily by the Spurs. However, I wouldn’t tell Chris Paul that. Nonetheless, the NBA fans and critics will be watching and I am sure the Floppers of Flop City will be Flopping. That’s what they do best!
– Drew Stratton