Tonight, Memphis will be rocking with the Grizzlies back in town and their season on the line. The pressure is there — if they lose this game, not only is the series over, but there’s a chance the team gets broken up in the offseason. Chris Paul saved the Clippers in Game 2, hitting a running floater off the glass at the buzzer to win it. But he’ll need help now that they’re on the road and in hostile territory.
The Clips have never gone up 3-0 in a series. Amazing. And the Grizzlies have the Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best inside combinations in the NBA. Something will have to give. Here are two major x-factors for tonight’s Game 3.
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MATT BARNES, Los Angeles Clippers
Although he only started four games during the regular season, Matt Barnes can be found in five out of the eight Clipper lineups that garnered a net rating above the league average (minimum of 50 minutes played together). Much of what Barnes brings, however, is difficult to quantify. When Matt Barnes was a member of the Orlando Magic, he once tried to make Kobe flinch before an inbounds pass, one in a series of little tussles between Barnes and Bryant. Barnes’ antics actually earned Kobe’s admiration, and Kobe later recruited Barnes to join the Lakers. Barnes crossed over to the Clippers when Chris Paul, upon learning that Barnes was a free agent, recruited him, despite a previous incident involving Barnes and Blake Griffin. Notice a bit of a pattern?
There’s no way around it: Barnes is, well, a punk, and on a team whose high-flying star has a reputation for being a fake tough guy, Barnes’ enforcer approach is a welcome addition. The flagrant fouls and post-whistle elbows are especially useful when facing the grit-n-grind Grizzlies. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are not exactly paragons of stoicism, and the Clippers could use a well-timed Barnes elbow here, and a well-timed Barnes shove there for an advantage. Whatever the case, Barnes’ physical style, both before and after the whistle, is key for the Clippers, even if PUNK is not yet an official stat category.
JERRYD BAYLESS, Memphis Grizzlies
Last year when the Grizzlies and Clippers faced off in the playoffs, the Clippers pulled off an inconceivable comeback that was fueled by, of all people, Nick Young. Most of the time, Young’s usefulness as an NBA player is, shall we say, limited. But in that instance, Young’s conscienceless gunning proved to be the Clippers’ boon.
Since ball-stopping Rudy Gay was traded to Toronto, the Grizzlies offense has been reinvigorated and simultaneously become more efficient. Memphis has a roster full of smart, unselfish players: Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tayshaun Prince, etc. Their players know their limitations, know their roles, and fill them nicely. However, when faced with a team like the Clippers that can break off big runs (especially with their bench), sometimes a gunner is needed.
Jerryd Bayless is that man. Bayless is nowhere near the trigger-happy habits of Nick Young, but he is capable of stretches of irrational (or at least disproportionate) confidence that can lead to either what some NBA bloggers have taken to calling “Evil Bayless” or some much needed microwave offense on a team that otherwise cooks with a slower boil. And since Bayless doesn’t possess faux-superstar status, when the microwave meal blows up and out of the packaging, Lionel Hollins can freely rein the backup guard in.
In Game 1 of this series, Bayless was key in keeping the Grizzlies close at the end of the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter before the Clippers pulled away. Bayless ended up leading the Grizzlies with 19 points. In Game 2, his minutes were limited, in no small part due to Jamal Crawford, the Clippers’ own microwave man, toasting Bayless a number of times. Bayless will need to channel some of that confidence to bounce back, both offensively and defensively. If the Grizzlies are going to steal homecourt away from the Clippers and their army of bandwagon fans who have “always” loved the Clippers (much respect, Billy Crystal), they will need a few helpings of instant Bayless.
Who is the biggest x-factor going into this pivotal Game 3?
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