Things are suddenly trending very well for the Grizzlies in this series, who have the Clippers reeling — on the verge of elimination, on the road, with their second-best player limited if available at all.
But history is too fresh for too many of these Grizzlies players — and certainly their coach — for overconfidence to be a concern. They remember the fourth-quarter collapse in Game 1 last spring. They remember the Game 7 quagmire. They remember losing to this team at FedExForum a few weeks ago, with homecourt likely on the line.
So much work toward this has been done. After losing six of seven games to the Clippers dating back to that Game 7 last spring, the Grizzlies have now won three in a row, all by double figures. After losing closing quarters badly last spring, they've won four fourths in a row. After living in fear of Eric Bledsoe, they've quieted the beast since his destructive fourth quarter in Game 1.
But the completion of the deed yet awaits.
Sure, it could happen another way. The Clippers could do what the Grizzlies did last season — win a road Game 6 to force a home Game 7. And then the Grizzlies could rip out their hearts on their home floor to complete the mirror image. That would be sweet — but not worth the risk. They want to do this at home, in front of 18,119 “We Don't Bluff” towels.
What could stand in the way?
Probably not Blake Griffin, who is questionable with a badly sprained ankle and likely would be very limited if he plays at all. Chris Paul may well be brilliant, as he so often is, but he will not do this alone.
The biggest concern for the Grizzlies — assuming they, themselves, play with purpose, which, given relative health and considerable experience, they shouldn't need to be too concerned about now — is that necessity begats invention on the opposing bench and that three-point shots suddenly start falling for their opponents.
With Griffin limited or absent, the Clippers will need to choose between playing conventional lineups with lesser talent or playing smaller lineups to supply more shooting and attempt to disrupt the Grizzlies' game plan.
The Clippers have tried this — lineups with three guards and only one “big” — in comeback attempts in the fourth quarters of each of the past two games, and it hasn't worked. But on the series, they've played the Grizzlies roughly even with small lineups. And I expect you'll see this again, forcing the Grizzlies to choose between matching up defensively or pressing their dual-post advantage, with the former a temptation coaches, including Lionel Hollins, struggle to resist.
Basic three-guard alignments haven't been an advantage for the Clippers, despite their theoretically superior backcourt depth. If anything, the Grizzlies have been more likely to maximize defensive match-ups against these lineups.
But small-ball still seems like the best path for the Clippers tonight, and it could work if Paul is at his peak, if the Grizzlies slump or struggle with the stronger double-teams that would likely come with it, and, most of all, if the Clippers' three-pointers finally start dropping.
The Grizzlies' league-best three-point defense (post Rudy Gay trade) has won out over the Clippers' prolific, deep cast of shooters so far — holding the Clippers to 29.5% shooting on the series.
If the Clippers win tonight, I suspect it will be because that flips their way, because secondary perimeter players — Matt Barnes, Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford — get hot from outside.
A good start will set the tone, will determine if the crowd roars with anticipation or murmurs with trepidation.
It'll be a massive night, one way or another. And it tips at 8:30 p.m.