by Ben Collins
It’s hard to remember this now, 10,000 lobs later, but this time last year, the best two players in the Playoffs were Chris Paul and Zach Randolph.
Granted, this wasn’t even normal at the time. It was actually a reality-rattling moment for a few weeks. America was living in a weird Isiah Thomas fever dream from 2007 and no one knew how to fix it. Zach Randolph was the most dominant force on the low block in all of the NBA for a solid month.
Remember what happened in that deciding game against the 1-seeded Spurs? Randolph dropped 31 and 11 in such a devastating way, Tim Duncan was led to a field in El Paso after the series to be gracefully put out of his misery like a horse who’d done good in a Coen Brothers movie.
Of course, times change. Tim Duncan escaped getting euthanized and Z-Bo is back to just being very, very good, we think.
But that’s the scary thing: We don’t really know if Z-Bo leveled out from last year. All we know is that everybody else on Memphis is playing so well that they don’t need Zach Randolph to score 30 and 10 to advance in the playoffs anymore.
If you strip the emotion out of this thing, this Clippers-Grizzlies first round matchup should resemble Metta World Peace trying to do the YMCA in a room full of people. No one within a 200-mile radius of L.A. would make it out alive.
Then you remember the Chris Paul part.
He was a healthy Aquaman on a ship full of dying sailors last year. He just tied the whole group to his ankle, installed a satellite dish by the hull so no one got bored, and adroitly hauled the whole team to shore for two playoff games last year. It was one of the most skilled I guess I’m gonna have to do this all by myself performances I’ve ever seen in my life.
He’s in the Playoffs again this year, a 5-seed and slightly less healthy, except this year Paul will have teammates around him, instead of weird, barnacle-like insects that were closer to shackles with fangs than NBA basketball players.
What’s even stranger than the Z-Bo dilemma: He’s on a much better team now, but that may not even help.
Blake Griffin is an unbelievable monster who has made almost every 4/5 in the NBA taste test the bottom half of his shorts. He’s one of the best rollers on pick-and-rolls to come through this League since the mid-90s.
But that gets figured out in a seven-game series. He can’t reliably pop out and hit a jumper instead. Griffin’s one post move consists of him saying, “Think about the movie Inception,” then trying to blow by his defender. (This works twice a game tops, except on JaVale McGee. He had to be hospitalized.) His game’s too raw. It’s not enough.
The other late-game scorers have glaring issues. Caron Butler is basically a spot-up shooter at this point. Ditto Randy Foye, who is too small to create when defenses collapse effectively. Mo Williams is a good (if trigger happy) Jason Terry-like creator (this works in the Playoffs, remember), but he’s too small to play at the 2 next to Paul at the end of games. Nick Young is very good friends with Javale McGee, so you can draw your own conclusions on that one.
And then there’s DeAndre Jordan. But there isn’t.
Of course, at the end of games, Vinny Del Negro should give Chris Paul the keys, scream, “Just iso! Pretend like everyone else is dead!” into a megaphone, then walk briskly to Mexico before he changes his mind. That’s what he should do, and he might, but we can’t be sure.
We can’t be sure because Vinny Del Negro makes weird decisions almost nonstop. People in Los Angeles talk about this guy like he’s something they bought entirely by mistake that costs several thousand dollars.
Things like this: “He’s actually a pretty good coach, if he didn’t make terrible decisions at almost every given opportunity.”
Somehow, this makes sense.
The Clippers are potentially a scarier offensive team than Memphis’ indomitable defense. Which is saying something.
But will the Clippers find a way to get Blake Griffin looks at the end of games as he moves without the ball? Maybe. Will they find a way to muscle up on Marc Gasol early so he gets detached and checks out? Maybe. Will they find a way to smother Rudy Gay before he gets too much space? Probably. Will they be able to mitigate the effects of Gasol and Randolph if they both go off at the same time? Possibly. By sheer odds, will one of the Clippers’ 50 swingmen get hot and get past Tony Allen one game? Almost definitely.
But will they do all of these things? No chance in hell.
Start strapping that yacht to your tiny, little point guard legs, Chris.
Memphis in 6.