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Clippers are feeling punky heading into make-or-break Game 5

First-round series with Memphis is tied 2-2 after Game 4 loss in which Clippers were 'punked,' as Matt Barnes put it. How they respond Tuesday could decide series.

April 30, 2013|Ben Bolch
  • Clippers forward Blake Griffin struggles to drive past Grizzlies big men Zach Randolph (50) and Marc Gasol (33) late in Game 2.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin struggles to drive past Grizzlies big men… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

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Vinny Del Negro playfully bulled his way through a scrum of reporters Monday afternoon to reach a designated interview area, showing more toughness than any of his players had the previous six days.

Were you watching, DeAndre Jordan?

Did you take mental notes, Caron Butler?

The only player who showed heart when the Clippers became the Memphis Belly Flops in a pair of double-digit playoff road losses to the Grizzlies was Matt Barnes, and that was only after his team had already flubbed Game 4.

"We got punked," Barnes said in a refreshingly candid admission.

This leaves the Clippers with only one option to win a Western Conference first-round series that is tied at two games apiece: They have to punk the Grizzlies back, starting with Game 5 Tuesday night at Staples Center.

Wrap so many arms around Zach Randolph that he wonders whether he's competing in the NBA or MMA.

Frustrate Marc Gasol into becoming a 7-foot-1 nonentity.

Surround Mike Conley with so many defenders his only option is to surrender the ball and his will.

"We're going to come out, we're going to fight, we're going to scrap, we're going to try to play our game," Clippers guard Chris Paul said Monday.

That means getting back to the template the Clippers used in the series' first two games, when they neutralized Randolph and Gasol with foul trouble and swarming defense while collectively outrebounding the Grizzlies by 26.

It was the inverse in Games 3 and 4, Randolph and Gasol coming up big while Memphis outrebounded the Clippers by a combined 29. Jordan was unworthy of wearing that name across the back of his jersey after finishing with two points and two rebounds in 17 minutes in Game 4.

Barnes went on to say there was "no scouting report or adjustment," which was taken by some as a dig at Del Negro.

What Barnes meant was that there was no scouting report or adjustment that could save the Clippers from their insipid play.

It's all on them.

"I think the biggest thing is just a sense of urgency," said Clippers guard Chauncey Billups, who has made five of 22 shots over his last three games. "They played desperate basketball and it's our turn to do the same thing."

Jordan could start by showing up, but this goes well beyond him. Butler and Billups need to make a shot after going a combined 0 for 10 in Game 4.

Paul has been brilliant late or early but unable to sustain his play for an entire game. Blake Griffin needs to have more dunks than jumpers.

And then there's the reserve unit known as A Tribe Called Bench, which has been as spotty as a Dalmatian in the last two games.

Super-sub Jamal Crawford has struggled with his shot because the Grizzlies have smartly made him a focus of their defense, essentially crossing out the player who the Clippers hoped would be an X factor.

"When you fight to get clean looks," said Crawford, who made seven of 21 shots in Games 3 and 4, "that makes it a little bit more difficult, but we'll adjust."

There's no other choice. Ronny Turiaf must make a stop or two while defending in the post. Eric Bledsoe needs to play not only fast but smart.

Everyone has to rebound, rebound, rebound.

"They're a big, dunking, high-low team," Del Negro said of the Grizzlies, "so from L.O. [Lamar Odom] to Ryan [Hollins] to Ronny to Blake to D.J., everyone's just got to find ways to recognize things quicker, to lock in quicker and make sure we're getting back to those guys when the ball goes up."

To underscore the urgency of the situation, Del Negro should have taken his team to a certain practice facility in El Segundo on Monday.

There, the Clippers could have witnessed the glum reality that awaits them unless they quickly man up.

You know, exit interviews.

"This is right now a one-game series," Del Negro said, "and that's how we're taking it."

Win or get punked.

Punk and get a win.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latbbolch

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