If Zach Randolph scores only 2 points while shooting a terrible 1-for-8 from the field, it’s as if the Memphis Grizzlies haven’t even shown up to the first game of the Western Conference Finals. To make matters worse, their defense was non-existent compared to usual, as Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince simply couldn’t keep up with the ball movement and passing they were facing.
Some numbers are easy to spot – Fourteen three-pointers by the San Antonio Spurs, more than anything else the Grizzlies have given up this season or in the playoffs. The Spurs didn’t wait for the Grizzlies to let their defense settle down, but attacked early. Gasol and Randolph were bombarded with Pick & Rolls, which led to easy shots for the ball handler (quite often Tony Parker, hitting 64.2% of his shots) or a series of passing, which led to plenty of open shots, as the Spurs took jumpers on 30% of their possessions, averaging 1.5 points on such plays.
So the Grizzlies defense didn’t function, but it had direct correlation to Zach Randolph being out of the game thanks to the defense of Tim Duncan and the rest of a very deep and fresh looking San Antonio Spurs. Randolph has been averaging 19.7 points per game before the conference finals, but was left utterly ashamed with only 2 points on 1-8 from the field. The Grizzlies heavily rely on their post-up plays, but ended up going to them on only 12.5% of their possessions, averaging a pathetic 0.27 points per possession on those plays.
The Grizzlies were forced to go into plays they were uncomfortable with. Marc Gasol didn’t do the usual job he does on defense, but also couldn’t provide the usual smart, productive pivot play he does. He did finish with 15 points, but the Spurs kept him away from the basket, and cut off his connection with the frustrated Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies turned up trying a few isolation plays, which is something their team and personnel isn’t equipped to do. They ended up turning the ball over on 60% of their 10 iso attempts, scoring only by getting to the line.
Shellshocked is how it seemed. Lionel Hollins was confused in the end-game interview, and so was Marc Gasol, saying his head was to full of information, unable to answer a few simple questions after the loss. The Grizzlies knew that a loss was on the horizon, but not in this way. Not when every possible factor went in the Spurs’ favor, while nothing but Quincy Poindexter (17 points) went right.
Only four times has a team lost a conference final opening game by 22 points and went on to win the series. The last time that happened was 1982, as the Philadelphia 76ers overcame the Boston Celtics. But the Grizzlies can’t play worse than they did, looking so lost on every defensive switch, or anytime their option to pass it down low to Randolph was taken away from them. The Thunder lost twice to the Spurs last season before winning four straight, although Memphis are a different team, without the superstar to pull them out of games when nothing works.