The San Antonio Spurs against the Memphis Grizzlies in a playoff series? Let’s check if this has happened before…oh…OH…OH NO, GRIZZLIES…WATCH OUT…
These two Southwest Division counterparts are no strangers when it comes to the playoffs. But changes to both squads make this matchup slightly different than it was in past years. First, as you may have heard, Timothy Theodore Duncan has moved on, retiring following last season. Also, this Grizzlies team, while still being gritty, isn’t quite the “Grit and Grind Grizzlies” we have seen in the past. Along with those two major changes, this series figures to look different, or at least that is what the Grizzlies are hoping for.
As mentioned earlier, these teams have met in the playoffs before. The Spurs have won two of their three playoff meetings in the last six years, including a first-round series sweep last year. In 2013, Memphis’s only franchise Western Conference Finals appearance, the Spurs also earned a sweep.
During the regular season, the Spurs and Grizzlies split their four games, 2-2. Kawhi Leonard missed one of the matchups, which was an 89-74 Grizzlies win. Leading the scoring in this foursome of games for the Grizz was “should-be-an-All-Star-if-he-wasn’t-in-the-West-in-the-most-loaded-point-guard-field-in-history” Mike Conley, with 18 points per game. Conley was also Memphis’s leading scorer for the season overall, with a tick over 20 points per game.
The Spurs boast the second-best defense in the league, one of two that allows less than 100 points per game. That is with the likes of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Pau Gasol playing heavy minutes while starting to gain AARP benefits. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s lone team is third in points allowed per game sitting at a nice, round 100. Don’t expect too many points in this portion of your eight-course meal.
Leonard, one of four presumptive MVP candidates this season, has had an incredible season. I know that goes without saying, but putting it into numbers might make you re-think your “Russell Westbrook should definitely win MVP” mantra.
Leonard’s numbers: 25-6-3, 1.8 steals, 48-38-88 shooting splits (FG-3FG-FT), 27.5 PER (3rd in NBA), 13.6 win shares (4th in NBA)
Add that he is the league’s best perimeter defender (ever?) and the lone All-Star on a 61-win team, and it looks like Leonard’s had one of the best seasons in recent NBA history.
Now the question for the Memphis Grizzlies is how they handle Leonard. Chandler Parsons, their $94 million Baywatch-destined wing with 65-year-old knees, has not panned out, to put it nicely. Parsons has already been ruled out for the season due to continued injury problems. The wing who would see time on Leonard is Tony Allen, but Allen is out for the series due to a calf injury. Guarding Leonard will certainly be a challenge for Memphis’s remaining wing players, including Vince Carter and James Ennis III.
Conley, as mentioned before, is having one of the best seasons of his career and did not struggle to keep that up against the Spurs. Now the question for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is how can he mold together his batch of guards to slow down the Grizzlies’ engine and still be effective on the other end of the court?
The Spurs will mainly rely on Parker and Aussie reserve Patty Mills to take on much of the point guard duties, but Ginobili will still handle some of the lead ball handler duties. The other name that could see some time is Dejounte Murray, a rookie out of the University of Washington. Pop doesn’t usually play rookies, but knowing his history against Memphis, he could give the rookie a chance to get his playoff sea legs a little damp.
The good news for the Spurs, on the defensive end, is that Memphis, despite having an All-Star caliber point guard, has some less threatening wings next to him. Because of that, the Spurs can hide poor defenders (Parker, Mills) on those Grizzlies wings and put a strong defender – Danny Green – on Conley. Oh, and when Green comes out of the lineup? Let me introduce you to a player not short on athleticism, Jonathon Simmons.
And when the game comes down to crunch time, don’t be surprised to see Leonard draw the Conley assignment.
Team A’s leading rebounders: Zach Randolph, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol
Team B’s leading rebounders: Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dewayne Dedmon
Now, these groups look fairly similar. They both have a Gasol, a young big with Energizer-energy, and power forwards who have been good rebounders their whole careers. Nope, Team B (the Spurs) are 10th in the association in rebounding while Team A (Memphis) is 24th. How can this be explained? One word: Pop. He is just a smart coach who affects all facets of the game, including rebounding.
Dedmon could end up being the difference in this series. To go along with his rebounding, he is a player who the Spurs have been able to take from the Orlando Magic abyss and turn into not just a serviceable big, but an elite rim protector (50.2 FG percentage allowed within six feet of the rim).
The Spurs come out of the gate firing, dominating Game One behind a strong performance by Ginobili. Memphis keeps the next three games close with their Gasol besting San Antonio’s Gasol, but the Grizzlies are unable to get a win. The Spurs complete the sweep.
The Grizzlies go home for the off-season with a familiar, eerie pit in their stomachs from getting Pop’d again.