The most important player in the Los Angeles Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies series is a guard. He’s an athletic, defensive, and young guard. His contributions go beyond a box score for the Clippers. His name isn’t Chris Paul.
The most important player is Eric Bledsoe.
The 23-year old reserve guard is not just an X-factor, he’s the reason the Clippers won last year’s playoff series against the Grizzles. With another year of seasoning under his career, Bledsoe’s role on the offensive side of the ball expanded. He’s the third guard in the Clippers’ three-way attack that finished off the first game of the Clippers’ playoffs in the Game 1 blowout victory.
His value comes from a combination of speed, athleticism, length, and strength. His speed makes him a one-man fast-break, as his 13 fourth quarter points in Game 1 indicated. His athleticism coupled his small stature creates nightmares on the offensive ends with great finishing moves to the hoop. The deceptive length of Bledsoe and strength are the main factors to his stifling defense. Together, he is a matchup the Grizzlies do not have a counter to.
Bledsoe’s suffocating defense made Grizzlies’ point guard, Mike Conley, invisible in game one. His speed and length created few holes for Conley to drive in or find rhythm. At the end of the game, Conley only had 12 points and five assists with a +/- impact of -16 when he was in the game. Bledsoe, on the other hand was a perfect 7-7, 15 points, and a +/- impact of +12.
In Game 2, his impact was blatantly obvious in the fourth quarter. With the score in the Clippers’ favor, 83-76, Bledsoe was taken out with just a little over seven minutes left in the game. From there, Conley was given space to breathe and scored five points until Bledsoe was forced to enter the game again at the 1:37 minute marker in the fourth quarter.
By then, the score was 89-88, Clippers. The pairing of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, especially if Billups is not shooting well, puts too little pressure on Conley on the offensive end. Bledsoe would be substituted a couple more times for defensive purposes and the Clippers ended up with a 93-91 victory.
While, the fourth quarter is a small sample size (especially since it’s just two games), but Bledsoe’s impact is biggest in “winning time.” His +/- impact of +5 was crucial to winning the close games and to closing out games. Before everyone awards Chris Paul for his “closer” role in the fourth quarter or Blake Griffin‘s defense on Zach Randolph, it is Bledsoe with the biggest impact thus far.
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