Spurs/Grizzlies Series Preview
Expect a bear fight.
by Patrick Crawley / @BasketballFiend
This is the series only diehards are talking about. The sure thing. The foregone conclusion. Eight versus one. Ho hum. Grab a Snapple and wait for the Lakers to come on.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re in for some drama with this one.
This isn’t an easy matchup for San Antonio.
Just as the Spurs took their offensive game to another level this season (103.7 points per game, 6th in the League), the acquisition of Tony Allen has sparked a defensive revolution in Memphis. In 2009-10, the Grizzlies were 24th in the NBA in points allowed (104). This season they’re allowing just 97.6 points per game, ranking them just ahead of the Spurs (13th overall) in team defense.
Yes, the Spurs are the more offensively gifted team, but Memphis’ size gives San Antonio fits.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol can both score in the post as well as in the midrange, forcing the 35-year-old Tim Duncan out of position (cue 7.3 offensive rebounds per game for Randolph versus the Spurs) and stretching a once impenetrable defense like a wad of Laffy Taffy.
On top of that, the Grizzlies have two of the most notoriously tough perimeter defenders in the League: Allen and Shane Battier. If you don’t think those guys will pester a banged up Manu Ginobili, you’re out of your hand check-loving mind.
The Spurs get better play from their guards and dominate the perimeter game (39.7% 3-point shooting, best in the League), but this series is going to be far from Ghostface. After all, the season serieswas 2-2, and both of Memphis’ wins came after the Rudy Gay injury.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown:
The Breakdown: The Frenchman vs. the Buckeye. But really, does Conley deserve a qualifier other than “inferior” in this matchup? He’s improved significantly this season (he’s enjoying a career year), but he’s about to get torched like a Hawaiian-themed office party. He’ll be hard pressed to stay in front of Parker, let alone keep him out of the lane. Parker’s splits against Memphis this season: 19.7 points, 5.7 assists, 54.5% shooting. Needless to say, I expect a huge series from T.P.
Advantage: Spurs. Coaching aside, this is the biggest advantage of the series for San Antonio.
The Breakdown: Ginobili hyperextended his right elbow (read: non-shooting elbow) in Wednesday’s season finale against Phoenix and will likely miss Game 1 on Sunday. This creates a void for San Antonio.
Ginobili has been the Spurs’ most effective weapon against the Grizzlies this season. Without him, they’ll lean heavily on Tony Parker, which isn’t a problem except that it puts more pressure on San Antonio’s reserves (a few of whom, namely Gary Neal, haven’t been to the Playoffs before) and a Parker-only offense isn’t a sustainable offense, especially not with Tony Allen around.
From what I read, it takes 2-3 weeks to recover from a hyperextended elbow. But this is Manu Ginobili we’re talking about. He’s a badass. He once destroyed a bat with his bare hands. If he’s not back by Game 2 on Wednesday, I’ll be extremely surprised.
With that said, he likely won’t be at full strength and, as I mentioned earlier, Allen will be pestering the crap out of him. Allen’s a gutsy, playoff savvy veteran, and his energy raises the Grizzlies to another level. If he’s able to hold Manu in check it’ll do wonders for Memphis’ confidence in this series.
Advantage: Spurs, but only slightly. Don’t discount Allen’s scrappiness as a factor in this series.
The Breakdown: As improved as Jefferson has been, he was a relative non-factor in games against Memphis this season (9.3 points and 5 rebounds per game). In two of Jefferson’s four appearances against the Grizzlies he attempted three or fewer field goals. In other words, anybody expecting him to be a major factor in this series is delusional.
Still, Jefferson’s more effective than Sam Young, who, let’s face it, has no business starting on an NBA team. You can only have so many “talent-limited, scrappy” players on one team, and the Grizzlies filled their quota an Allen and a Battier ago.
Advantage: Spurs, but only slightly. Jefferson is one of the better 3-point shooters in the League (44%). He hasn’t produced against the Grizzlies this season, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of it.
The Breakdown: This is the biggest mismatch of the series. Z-Bo owns the Spurs like Jeffrey Ross owns celebrity roasts. In four games this season, Randolph has blasted the Spurs to the tune of 23 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. Blair may as well pack up his stuff and put it in a U-Haul in the driveway because Randolph is coming for everything he owns: the bed, the La-Z-Boy, the stash of Snack Packs in the fridge…(Mmmm. Snack Packs.) Everything. His inside-outside game is simply too much for the Spurs to handle.
In the regular season, Duncan guarded Randolph, while Gasol took Duncan on the opposite end. The strategy worked well for the Grizz. Duncan (11.3 points per game, 41.9% from the field) and Blair struggled, while Z-Bo and Gasol thrived. I expect more of the same in this series.
Randolph is a legitimate threat to go 20-20 in every game of this series. I have a feeling Gregg Popovich is going to throw some interesting double teams at him to ensure that doesn’t happen. Still, I can’t see Z-Bo averaging less than 20 points, 12 rebounds when all is said and done.
Advantage: Grizzlies in a landslide. A chocolate Snack Pack-flavored landslide. It’s on Lionel Hollins to make sure Z-Bo doesn’t eat it. Good luck, dude.
The Breakdown: If you think I’m using All-Star logic to avoid sacrilege against Timmy D, you’re right. There’s no way I’m listing him at power forward. Can you imagine not seeing Duncan’s name in the “advantage” section? It’d be like seeing an ugly picture of Minka Kelly.
Duncan is the best “4” of all-time, but he’d get murdered in print if I put him next to Randolph. I can’t have that on my hands.
Besides, Duncan’s been in conservation mode all season. Stats be damned. He’s 35 years old. He’s been saving everything he has for a postseason run. Regardless of what happens in the offseason, this is his last good chance to win a fifth championship.
Now that the Playoffs are here, we’ll see a change in disposition: more hustle, less Energy Star. He may not be the Duncan of old, but he’s sure as hell going to be more difficult to stop.
Marc Gasol is good, but he’s not good enough to deny The Big Fundamental – at least not when he’s fully invested. I predict at least three 15-10 games from Duncan in this series. Gasol will get that maybe once.
The Breakdown: The Spurs beat the Grizzlies twice this season and in each of those wins their bench was a major factor. One game Chris Quinn and Gary Neal combined for 21 points. In the other, Matt Bonner and George Hill joined forces for 28. That’s the kind of production San Antonio needs to make this a quick series, especially if Ginobili has to miss more than one game.
With O.J. Mayo and Shane Battier in the mix, the Grizzlies have a respectable bench. But the Spurs are on another level. They have veteran leadership (Antonio McDyess), solid decision making (Hill) and enough 3-point shooting to make Steve Kerr gush like that chewy snack from the 90s (Neal, Bonner and Quinn). They’re set like seasons 1-9 of Seinfeld.
By the end of the series, the bench scoring ratio for these two teams will be nearly 2:1 in favor of San Antonio.
The Breakdown: Gregg Popovich is 106-69 in the Playoffs. Lionel Hollins is 0-0. The Spurs have home court advantage. The Grizzlies are 16-25 on the road. The Spurs have four starters with championship experience (Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson and Duncan). The Grizzlies have one (Tony Allen).
Advantage: If you can’t figure this out, you deserve one of these.
Series Prediction: Ginobili missing the first game changes the series significantly. As poorly as San Antonio has played lately (4-8 to finish the season) and as well as Memphis matches up with them on the interior with Randolph and Gasol, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Grizzlies steal Game 1 on the road. Once Ginobili returns, though, all bets are off. He’s a Grizzly killer and something tells me he’d like nothing more than to send Allen and Battier home early.
I foresee him and Parker playing well and picking up the slack for Duncan and Jefferson. The Grizzlies’ 12-game Playoff losing streak will end here, and they’ll make it a series worth watching, but in the end they won’t be able to stop the dynamic duo of Manu and TP.
San Antonio wins 4-2.