How can the Spurs survive versus the Grizzlies in an elimination game down 3-1? Here's the plan.
Posted by Matt Moore
Well, this is just not what we expected at all.
It would be one thing if it were just an 8 seed. It would be another if it were just your typical 1 seed. But this is the Memphis Grizzlies usually deemed a punchline in and of themselves, with a 3-1 seed against the top team in the West, the top team in the league for most of the season, and the 4-time NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. If Game 1 was off-putting like a day where the sun just doesn't seem bright enough, and Game 3 felt like a rising surge of bile before you vomit, then Game 4 was seeing the meteor headed through earth's atmosphere. And now, before Game 5, there's a bizarre calm washing over San Antonio, as this simply cannot seem real.
But it is.
The Spurs face an elimination game down 3-1 for the sixth time in the Duncan era. They are 0-5 in their previous attempts to come back.
So how do the Spurs rally around the old Pop coach and push this thing back to Memphis with the pressure then on the Grizzlies? It's got to be a 3-part plan.
I. Punish the jump: You may have noticed in this series that the Spurs are not shooting 3-pointers often, and not well when they do. You may also have noticed it seems like the Spurs can get layups when they really want. Both of these things are true. The Grizzlies are not playing position like most defenses; they're not trying to intercept Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, or Geroge Hill on the drive. They're playing to the ball. They're trying to force turnovers, disrupt passing lanes, force the Spurs' offense to consantly reset itself. It's a bold and unusual approach, which is partly why the Spurs have had such trouble with it. The layups are contested, sure. But it's not the same kind of wall they face when they play the Lakers, the Celtics, even the Mavericks. The Grizzlies' goal is to disrupt the corner-three kickout from San Antonio, and it's worked to perfection. If the Spurs want to gain control, they have to force that defense to collapse so far in, that the space on the perimeter opens. Which means Tony Parker has to be as aggressive as he was in Game 4, and Manu Ginobili as aggressive as he was in Game 3. They'll ratchet up fouls, those passing lanes will clear, and the 3-pointers will fall. It's odd to think of the Sprus that way, but without the 3-pointer, they're doomed. If the Grizzlies want to keep playing to that, the Spurs have to punish them at the rim.
II. Pick the perimeter poison. On the flip side, the Grizzlies are not a good 3-point shooting team, but have been hitting in this series. So much so that the Spurs' defense has been sent scrambling to recover. In turn, that means more spacing in the lane. The Grizzlies are an exceptionally good interior passing team. In Game 2, the Spurs clamped down on the paint, forcing the Grizzlies to hit mid-range jumpers instead of punish them on the inside with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. In Games 3 and 4, the Spurs got caught up in the up and down style of the Grizzlies, and went back to guarding ther perimeter. The result is more points for the Grizzlies inside, and more opportunities for offensive rebounds, which the Grizzlies finally started to assert. Memphis is not a great jump-shooting team. The Spurs need to commit to containing Randolph, Gasol, and Arthur (who they may be doomed against as he has the most reliable 18-footer of any of the three, believe it or not), and if the Grizzlies beat them with outside shooting, so be it. You have to pick your poison down 3-1, and San Antonio should pick the unreliable perimeter shot.
III. Hold on to the freaking ball. The Grizzlies are a great team at creating turnovers. That's their biggest defensive asset, in all reality. They are exceptional at wreaking havoc. So to say that the Spurs are beating themselves is an abject lie. The Grizzlies are beating the Spurs by creating loose balls and then getting to them first. But that's not to say that the Spurs haven't done their fair share of shooting themselves in the foot. Tony Parker, in particular, has struggled with passing and handle. He's missing passes high, wide, short, all-over. Mike Conley has managed to get the upper hand in a matchup he's at a severe disadvantage at in terms of ability due to his approach. Again, just like stated above, Conley's not playing position, he's playing the ball. He's attacking Parker's dribble instead of trying to stay in front of him. And Parker's obliging him. The Spurs cannot win this game without winning the turnover battle.