For the first two series in the postseason, Zach Randolph was unstoppable in the post, while Marc Gasol justified his selection as the defensive player of the year, clogging the lane to any drives to the basket while operating at extreme efficiency on the offensive side. Then came the Western Conference Finals, and all the perceptions about the best big-man duo in the NBA were proven wrong.
Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter didn’t score that many points every night, but they had no problem shutting down or at least significantly decreasing the effectiveness of the one big thing the Grizzlies used as their advantage against the Clippers and the Thunder; their inside game. Their perimeter defense, also heralded as one of the best in the NBA with the likes of Tony Allen (All-Defensive First Team), Mike Conley (All-Defensive second team) and Tayshaun Prince (four-time All-Defensive second team in the past) couldn’t handle Tony Parker and the clever ways of the Spurs’ offense, with its constant motion and multiple screens.
If you exclude the first game, in which the Spurs simply hammered the Grizzlies right out of the bat, keeping Randolph on a pathetic 2 points while shooting 1-of-8 from the field, the average win margin in the series was 7.3, including two games that went into overtime. And yet it doesn’t seem like this was a series between two teams in the same class of quality, with no one feeling the sweep was a little bit misleading.
Randolph ended up averaging 11 points while shooting 30.2% from the field, after dominating in most of the games in the previous series. Once their main option to score points went away, the Grizzlies turned to what they had left – hustle, effort and hoping that Marc Gasol or Mike Conley come up with huge offensive games.
They didn’t. The Spurs are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA this season thanks to Tiago Splitter playing more and more minutes, making Tim Duncan, improved from the last couple of season on his own merit and personal adjustments, the defensive threat he used to be in the past. When all you’e left with is trying to set up spot up shots for Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, while the bench doesn’t really pull in its own weight compared to the opponents, there wasn’t really a chance of a comeback.
You usually see adjustments in series, but the Grizzlies had none. Maybe Lionel Hollins didn’t know what moves to make, but he had a limited roster for this kind of opponents. Once their plan A of pushing the ball to Randolph was called and taken out, they really had nothing else to add. More hustle, more offensive rebounding and trying to create turnovers. As long as the Spurs weren’t making any mistakes, they were fine. They didn’t make enough for the Grizzlies to win even once in the series.
The frustration shown by Hollins at the end, shoving Jerryd Bayless to the bench on one of the plays, was anger as his team was hustling and putting in the effort, but not thinking. There were too many times were only one player was left to guard the basket on Spurs’ transition attacks. The Grizzlies didn’t give up, but they didn’t really put up enough of a fight in the final game to make it closer.
Next season, it might be a very different team. Memphis don’t want to be in the business of the luxury tax, which means not only that Tony Allen and Jerryd Bayless won’t get a contract renewal, but it might also mean that the disbanding of their big man duo might begin via a trade or two, knowing they’ve probably hit the limit of potential for this group.