Post Up: On to the Next One

by May 28, 2013

Spurs 93, Grizzlies 86 (Spurs win series 4-0)

The Spurs were a little better than the Grizzlies in the Conference Finals. San Antonio handled Game 1 easily, but Games 2-4 came down to the wire. Each time, the Spurs were the better closers. Game 2 saw a furious Grizzlies comeback fall short in overtime. Game 3 came down to poor free throw shooting late by Memphis, and another squandered chance in OT. In Game 4, with the season on the line, the Grizzlies’ offense completely disappeared.

Last night, a pair of Quincy Pondexter free throws cut an eight-point Grizz deficit to six with nearly four minutes left. From there, Memphis held San Antonio without any points for over three and a half minutes, but couldn’t muster up a bucket of their own for nearly as long. With 48 seconds left, a Marc Gasol jumper cut the Spurs’ lead to three, but Memphis never scored again. Tony Parker iced the game with four late free throws.

Parker was unbelievable all night, and finished with 37 points (15/21), 6 assists and 4 rebounds. He didn’t miss from beyond the arc (1/1) or the free throw line (6/6) and played a team-high 40 minutes. Tim Duncan added 15 and 8 with 4 rejections, and Kawhi Leonard scored 11. Memphis was able to limit the Spurs’ other key guys like Manu Ginobili (6), Danny Green (5) and Tiago Splitter (9), but Parker couldn’t have played much better.

Pondexter had a huge third quarter and finished with 22 for Memphis. He shot 7-for-11 overall, including 3-of-6 from deep. But Marc Gasol (14 and 5) and Zach Randolph (13 points off 4-13) were pedestrian once again. After a dominant series against the Thunder, they were unable to make any noise against San Antonio. Mike Conley had one of his worst games of the postseason, and finished with 9 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

Memphis’ offense looked lost in crunch time. The Rudy Gay trade is a tough one to analyze because the Grizz developed into a better team after the deal. But after watching Game 4, and, really, Games 1-3, too, it’s fair to wonder whether a team can get over the hump without a guy like Gay. I think he’s typically overrated, but there’s something to be said for having a player who isn’t afraid to take (and make) big shots. Somebody needed to step up and get a bucket for the team late in massive games and nobody did it. I thought Gasol, whose offensive game had been so impressive in the first two rounds, could have been that guy, but it just didn’t happen.

Still, Memphis looks like a team that has at least one more trip to the Conference Finals in their future. Conley and Gasol are in their primes, and Z-Bo is still producing at a high level. If they can bring back to-be free agent Tony Allen, their roster will be solid once again. Another year under the belts of some of their younger guys (Ed Davis, Tony Wroten, Austin Daye) as well as an offseason to work with the newish, post-Gay team should help them improve.

Meanwhile, the Spurs get to wait out the winner of the Eastern Finals, which won’t end until Thursday at the earliest. A few weeks ago, it seemed like the Heat were a lock for the title, but now I’m not so sure. Here are three things I’m using to talk myself into thinking that we might see a competitive Finals (assuming Miami gets there), and maybe even an upset:

1. It’s easy to forget how good Memphis looked until they ran into San Antonio. They were legitimately scary. 2. Miami only has a B-version of Dwyane Wade, who’s averaging 14 points on 48 percent shooting in the Playoffs. 3. Throughout the Conference Finals, Duncan was clearly better than Gasol, a superior player to Chris Bosh (especially defensively and on the glass). Duncan would have a massive Finals against whatever tandem of Bosh/Birdman/Battier/Joel Anthony Miami threw his way.

The bad news: It’s possible—and dare I say likely—that the only thing that really matters is what team LeBron James plays for.—Leo Sepkowitz