Despite playing against a hurt Oklahoma City Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies didn’t have it easy, or at least harder than the 4-1 end result suggests. The San Antonio Spurs had a harder time against the Golden State Warriors, needing six games to make it through, but finally figuring out how to stop the three point shooting, while developing an alternative to their big three.
And that’s the label you can put on the series – the big three of the Spurs, with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in an attempt to win a fourth NBA title ring together, against the big two for the Grizzlies, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, taking the team to new heights. Just like the Spurs, the Grizzlies are much more than the more famous faces on the package.
Because a lot is going to be riding on how Mike Conley handles Tony Parker, although Tony Allen is going to get some looks of his own on Parker. The Frenchman had a hard time early in the series against Golden State while carrying an injury, but he did look much better in game 5, scoring 25 points. On the other hand, he finished with an awful 3-16 from the field in game 6 and the Spurs still won, so stopping Parker and especially the Pick & Roll, which the Spurs go to on almost 30% of their possessions, averaging 0.79 points per possession, is going to be a key.
But the Spurs’ best weapon is their ball movement, which leads to open jumpers. Shots didn’t drop for them earlier in the series against Golden State, but they missed open looks all throughout; they weren’t shut down by a Warriors defense that was good, but didn’t do anything special except for the occasional defensive superiority of Andrew Bogut. The Spurs scored 1.06 points per possession in the previous series and were even more efficient in the final game.
The Grizzlies did a very good job against both the Pick & Roll of the Thunder (0.87 points per possession) and the Spot Up shot (0.94 PPP). It’s going to be harder after playing against a simple-minded (offensively at least) team like the Thunder, who had only one player doing almost everything for them, eventually falling apart from exhaustion and the load in the final two games, delivering awful performances.
For the Grizzlies, offense means mainly one thing – Zach Randolph getting the ball down low, and working his way from there. He is averaging 19.7 points per game during the postseason, and the Grizzlies are the number one post up team in the playoffs thanks to him. The Spurs didn’t face anyone like him in their series against the Warriors, but handled both Howard and Pau Gasol pretty well earlier on. The key for the Spurs is as much time as possible for Tiago Splitter on the floor. The Spurs allow only 97 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.
These playoffs are showing us that it’s not about the superstar. The Grizzlies don’t have a go-to-guy like other teams, but they had no problems manhandling the Clippers and the Thunder, with Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. The Spurs are of the same ilk, although with slightly bigger, more accomplished names. Two teams that ranked very high in defensive efficiency will try and find weaknesses and openings in the armor of their opponents, and the ability to find the guys beyond the recognized, obvious plays, that step up, will decide the series.
Predictions – The Grizzlies and the Spurs both have mismatches that worked well during the regular season, splitting their four games, each team winning at home. As long as injuries don’t hurt Parker or Ginobili and the two of them stick to keeping the ball moving instead of looking for a little bit of personal glory, the Spurs should have a slight advantage with their ability to keep the offense going. Spurs in 7.