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Tag:Tony Allen
Posted on: May 7, 2011 9:41 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2011 10:02 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Thunder: The collapsers



Posted by Matt Moore

If a team falls apart multiple times, they have a reputation as choke artists, collapsers, mentally weak. If a team creates those implosions on a regular basis, the onus is always put on the other team for failing to close. Welcome to the life of the Memphis Grizzlies after a drive past the Oklahoma City Thunder's 16-point lead into overtime, and on to a victory, gave them a 2-1 advantage in the series. Memphis won't get the credit for it. Sure, OKC will get the blame, but the reality is that there may be no better demolition team in the NBA right now than the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The Thunder were the better team for the vast majority of Game 3. That's not home cookin'. It was a product of smart, crisp basketball on offense from the Thunder. And it came through brilliant shooting and ball movement, and physical, bordering on brutal, defense, especially inside. Zach Randolph was scoring, but needing a shot for every point, racking up turnovers, and was extremely frustrated. Marc Gasol couldn't get any of his touch shots to fall. Russell Westbrook's mid-range was falling. It was doom for the Grizzlies, who looked outclassed. 

Then, after building a solid structure of basketball for 3.5 quarters, the Grizzlies swept the legs of the structure out from within, and the Thunder collapsed under their own weight. Those legs were based on the play of Russell Westbrook, and what took them out was most surprising of all, O.J. Mayo

Mayo didn't have a great game. He couldn't get the runner to fall, wasn't hot from the perimeter. He shot just 30 percent from the field. Mayo's known as a pure scorer. Yet when called on to stop Westbrook and provide a spark, he brought the effort. That effort is what carried Memphis into the playoffs and it sparked the Grizzlies on Saturday. But Mayo couldn't do it alone. No, in coming back from 16 down, Mayo and the Grizzlies got a great contribution from... Russell Westbrook. 

Westbrook has the speed to blow by Mayo. He has the strength to back him down. Mayo too often gambles on the perimeter pass and hedges too hard on the screen-and-roll. Westbrook elected to dribble right into Mayo, and force mid-range contested jumper after mid-range contested jumper. Kevin Durant, who had been totally en fuego, was ignored just long enough for the fire to die out. The result was Durant's miss on a last-possession pull-up jumper, and Durant being unable to rediscover his shot.

Durant's last made field goal came with 7:43 to go in the fourth. He had three shots in the remainder of regulation, including the last possession... another Scott Brooks' special. Durant was 10-18 at 7:43. He would finish on an 0-6 run, thanks to the best defense Tony Allen has played all series. He played the passing lane hard, snatched steals, and on the other end, got out in transition. Allen drew fouls, but didn't hit layups. He missed free throws, but got one of two each time. The same kind of grind that got Memphis here. 

The Thunder will look at their defense, at their offense, at their composure. Scott Brooks needs to examine why James Harden, who may honestly be the best distributor OKC has with Westbrook playing as he is, isn't getting time in key situations. He may also question why Westbrook isn't getting the off-ball movement from other Thunder players to get him away from his poor decisions on pull-ups. The Grizzlies played terribly for most of the game. Zach Randolph was inefficient and frustrated. They shot 38 percent from the field, and allowed Serge Ibaka to score 14 points. And they won. 

So OKC goes back to the drawing board, having given up a 16-point lead to go down 2-1 with a scary Game 4 up next. The Thunder were minutes away from cementing themselves as the team in control of the series, possibly on their way to the Western Conference Finals. Instead, the house that Presti built imploded in on itself, another victim of the same thing that left the Spurs Palace in ruins: the other team just wanted it more. 
Posted on: April 30, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: April 30, 2011 5:40 pm
 

Series Preview Grizzlies-Thunder: Lightning flash

Posted by Matt Moore




I. Intro

Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? The 8th seed without a single playoff win coming in knocking off the 1 seed with championship history? Great drama. But that's over with. And now the Grizzlies have to turn around and face a Thunder team that took care of its first-round opponent in impressive fashion and has had plenty of time to rest. And by "turn around," I mean literally turn around and head for the airport. After what was likely a pretty raucous celebration on Beale Street Friday night, the Grizzlies will head to Oklahoma City Saturday in advance of a noon tip Sunday. The Thunder will be the heavy favorites. They have the recognized names. They have more experience (slightly). And they're supposed to contend for a title. Basically, everything is stacked against the Grizzlies. 

What else is new?

II. What happened? A Look at the Season Series

Believe it or not, the Grizzlies went 3-1 against the Thunder this year. That's right, the Grizzlies beat the Thunder three to one this season, with a win coming even after the Kendrick Perkins' trade. Most notable was a February tilt where the Grizzlies had played in Memphis against the Lakers and lost the night before. On the second night of a back to back, Memphis went into OKC, in their first game without Rudy Gay (after suffering the shoulder injury vs. L.A. the night before, and beat the Thunder. Tony Allen scored 27 points in that game. Weird things happen.

The consistent themes in the season series were what you'd expect. Zach Randolph and Kevin Durant went off. For two teams that stress defense so much, this wasn't a slugfest. It was a moderate-pace series with high offensive production.  The Grizzlies had a 111.6 offensive efficiency against the Thunder in the four games. That's high. The Thunder haven't been a great defensive team this season and the Grizzlies took advantage of it. The one Grizzlies loss? Kevin Durant dropped 40. 

III. The Easy Stuff: Kevin Durant Will Get His

Kevin Durant is the NBA's scoring leader. So yeah, he's pretty good. And he's going to get his in this series. The Grizzlies will have a similar approach against him as they had against Manu Ginobili. Tony Allen and Shane Battier will both spend time on him. And it won't really matter.  Durant averaged 28.9 points against Allen, shooting 49 percent.  But against Battier, he scored "only" 23.4 points per game, still on 49 percent shooting. Durant is going to draw fouls on Tony Allen, he's going to blow past Shane Battier. He's the best pure scorer in the NBA right now, and he is relentless. The Grizzlies don't have the help defense to shut him down.  He'll get looks from the perimeter. He'll get to the line. He'll get buckets. The question will be if he can go off for 30+ consistently against tough individual defense, which will force the Grizzlies to bring help, opening up opportunities for his teammates. It's not a matter of whether Durant will dominate, it's how and how much. 

IV. Secret of the Series: Just How Good is Kendrick Perkins?

Very good, is the answer to that question. But Perkins is still coming back from serious knee surgery. And he's going to be facing an extremely tough matchup along with Serge Ibaka. Perkins will likely spend the most time against Marc Gasol. Perkins is known as the guy who stopped Dwight Howard, but Gasol is a different type player. Not as athletic or explosive, obviously, but a legit seven-footer with good touch inside and most importantly, a big, burly body that can hammer in the post. 

Serge Ibaka versus Zach Randolph is all sorts of interesting. Randolph struggles against extremely long defenders, which Ibaka definitely fits the bill. But Ibaka can get worked by good post moves, which Z-Bo has, oh, about a billion of. Randolph hooked-and-shook Antonio McDyess, Tim Duncan, and DeJuan Blair, but Ibaka's going to be a younger, tougher matchup. On the other end of it, though, Ibaka's amped-up, emotion-fueled play is going to get frustrated because Randolph? He just scores. By hook or by crook, the guy gets it done, and leaves you wondering how he did it. 

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: Memphis Can't Handle the Pressure

Are you kidding me? The Grizzlies just faced down the 1 seed Spurs. They walked into San Antonio, took Game 1, and haven't lost a home game yet. The only thing that made it a six-game series was a shot even Manu Ginobili deemed "lucky." This team isn't going to be intimidated by any environment, any stakes. After winning their first playoff game ever, then their first playoff game in Memphis? Shane Battier said they're playing with house money. There's zero pressure on the Grizzlies. But how they respond to that is by attacking. 

We're going to be seeing something in this series that should give the NBA and its Board of Governors pause. The crowds will be insane in both houses in this series, in small-market cities that many say don't deserve teams. That insanity is going to fuel cash registers through merchandise, concessions, and season ticket packages. Maybe take a look at how good teams with great fanbases can be instead of teams in high-cost-of-living areas. 

VI. The Line-Item Veto:

PG: Mike Conley held his own against a discombobulated Tony Parker. Russell Westbrook has a chip on his shoulder after a frustrating and disappointing series against the Nuggets. Westbrook will likely see Tony Allen quite a bit, while Conley will have Westbrook attack his dribble to create turnovers. This is a huge advantage for the Thunder... if  Westbrook gets his decision making right. 

SG: Tony Allen thinks he can do too much on offense. But he can produce, and did against the Thunder this year with his season high. Thabo Sefolosha isn't asked to do too much, and he doesn't. But he's a capable defender who will neutralize a lot of the Grizzlies' perimeter opportunities. James Harden and O.J. Mayo is a matchup of two USC guys who can score and who can disappear. That matchup is going to be way bigger than people think. A big swing-vote player in this series? Sam Young, who is really a G/F who can attack at times and then get lost in ISO offense (a more polished Tony Allen, really). 

SF: Durant. Durant Durant. Durant Durant Durant Durant. Kevin Durant. 

PF: Hey, Ibaka is a really fun player. Z-Bo is an All-Star worthy player who just took out the Spurs nearly on his own. Gotta give Z-Bo the nod here. 

C: Call it a wash. Perkins' technique and toughness versus Gasol's size and muscle. 

Bench: The Grizzlies, all of a sudden, have a pretty good bench. Nick Collison versus Darrell Arthur is going to be a fun one to watch, with Nazr Mohammed in there for good measure. Mayo is dangerous but has yet to really go off, though he's been more of a playmaker in the playoffs. The Thunder have a solid bench, but not enough to make this a clear advantage. It's close. 

Coaching: No one expected either of these interim coaches to make it this far, nor to be this good. They both get their teams, and connect with their players. They've both made impressive adjustments in the playoffs. They're both former players with the respect of their organizations, players, and fans. This will be a great matchup. 

VII. Conclusion

Everything points towards a long, tough series. The matchups are actually pretty even. The Thunder have some holes no one is focusing on, and the Grizzlies are really good at exploiting those. The Grizz are over their heads, but playing without pressure. They have some legit stars, but not like OKC does. It looks like it'll be a great series. 

But Memphis... can't possibly... do it again... can they? 

We're going Thunder in five, because of the first game being Sunday at noon, a little over 36 hours from the Grizzlies' biggest game in franchise history. That sets a tone for the series. But as to whether we feel good about it? Well, ask the Spurs. 
Posted on: April 30, 2011 3:12 am
 

San Antonio Spurs: The end of an empire

The Spurs were ousted in the first round and everyone's begun the funeral song. But why does this feel so different than previous Spurs failures? 
Posted by Matt Moore




Maybe they'll come back. After all, they did win the most games in the West this season. They still feature three Hall of Famer players and a Hall of Fame coach. Maybe it was just lightning striking four times out of six in the same place. Maybe it was just Manu's elbow, or Duncan's knee, or fate or the Basketball Gods, or whatever. 

But it doesn't feel like it. 

There will be many, many eulogies for the Duncan-era Spurs in light of the Grizzlies' stunning first-round series win over San Antonio. Spurs fans will balk and guffaw at these claims, because heroes never die to their fans, or because they've already accepted that the championship-era Spurs are over. They'll point to the fact that the Spurs haven't won a title since 2007 as reasons why all this talk of the end of an empire is silly and overdramatic. But that's because they're in it. They're living it, every day, reliving series against the Lakers and Mavericks and Suns while approaching each season with faith. It's different for those of us outside of the palace walls, because this series respresented something different. It wasn't that the Spurs lost. Most expected that in these playoffs. It was the realization they couldn't win. 

The Spurs have lost in previous years but because the other teams had matchup advantages or a few things fell their way or the Spurs couldn't make the necessary adjustments. The losses didn't serve as judgment on the identity of the Spurs. To put it simply, the Spurs failed to win a championship because of other teams' ability to beat them, not fundamental flaws in the city walls that held the kingdom.  This loss?  To an upstart eighth seed without its highest paid player who tanked to play them, then took them out in the first game on their home floor and closed at every opportunity? Yes, the Grizzlies were better, and yes, they had matchup advantages. But there were moments where you expected the Spurs to do what the Spurs do and for that to be the difference. It wasn't. 

Tony Parker struggled with Mike Conley attaching his dribble. Manu Ginobili suffered when the Grizzlies responded to Ginobili's quickness by backing him down in the post. And Tim Duncan just plain struggled. The greatest power forward of all time found himself overwhelmed by a 26-year-old quick-footed center who is most commonly known as "Pau's little brother." Marc Gasol is a really great player, a future star in this league, maybe one now, after this series. But the Duncan that defined those teams would have tore him to pieces from mid-range with the bank-shot-straight-up. The Manu Ginobili who defined the mid-oo's run for the Spurs would have called timeout to reset the offense with the final possession of Game 3. The Tony Parker who won Finals MVP would not have had his play so thoroughly undercut by an attack on his handle. 

But beyond the Big 3? The Spurs of old would never have relied on the 3-pointer this way, would never have had to cover for a gigantic flaming neon defensive red target like Matt Bonner just to space the floor, would never have had to rely on Gary Neal and George Hill's mid-range jumpers to fall. They would have fallen back on clutch plays and defense, always defense. The Spurs' empire isn't over because their players got old, that's been happening for a long time and in reality, the team is pretty young. The Spurs' empire is crumbling because what made them the team you couldn't count out, now has become the very thing that makes you not that shocked at this shocker. A mediocre defensive club falls to a better one, a team that relies on an aging Tim Duncan is toppled by younger, more spritely bigs, the squad that allows Matt Bonner on the floor defensively is beset by easy scores and foul trouble when Matt Bonner can't contain his man in the post. There's nothing shocking here, not if you've been paying attention.

Afterwards, Gregg Popovich was his usual self. Congratulatory to Memphis, classy in defeat, dismissive of dramatics like the question of the end of the Spurs' run. If they go out, they go out on their own terms. The franchise that defined class, humilty, and above all, excellence, would not go out in a pitiful blow-up of egos or blame. They simply hugged their worthy opponent, packed their things, and headed home. 

Spurs fans may have already come to terms with the end of an era, or rationalized that there will be no end, only a transition. But for the rest of us, the Grizzlies' shock of the world serves as a reminder of the mortality of dynasties. It's not just that the Spurs lost a first-round series to an 8th seed. They lost to a team more willing to grind, more willing to defend, more able to close. What is it about these Spurs that make them seem so far removed from what defined those great, inevitable Spurs teams? Just think back to what we saw from the upstarts, the team that simply wanted it more. That's what means the empire has reached its end. 
Posted on: April 30, 2011 2:22 am
 

Grizzlies defeat Spurs: Grading the series

Memphis Grizzlies do the unbelievable, knock off the 1 Seed Spurs in Game 6. Here are grades for the series. 
Posted by Matt Moore




Memphis Grizzlies:
Zach Randolph: Sometimes your guy is just better than the other guys' guy. Zach Randolph has been the model of consistency his entire career in terms of statistical production. But never has the change he underwent when he became part of Memphis been on showcase like it was in Game 6. 17 fourth-quarter points, and clutch basket after clutch basket. His decision making has been phenomenally better in terms of understanding when to take his man off the dribble or in the post and when to reset or repost. He was simply unstoppable when the Grizzlies needed him most. The toughest shots in the biggest moments. That's what you rely on your guy for. And when Memphis needed a hero, it was Zach Randolph who stepped up. 

Grade: A+

Lionel Hollins: Hollins is the ultimate players' coach. He's a guy who's been there, who's tried to get that contract you need so badly, who's tried to fight through adversity in the face of perception, who's dealt with the media's criticism. When he says he knows what they're going through, they can believe him. But Hollins showed in the first-round a stunning understanding of adjustments, counter-adjustments, and rotations. He managed to play Tony Allen in spots and lineups where he could be effective without trying to do too much. He consistently relied on post-play from his two strongest players. He helped turn Mike Conley into a wash vs. Parker. He did things like say "Okay, Manu Ginobili, you're going to do your crazy Euro-step stuff and blow past Shane Battier? That's fine. We're going to post you and see how you like life in the block." He also constantly attacked Matt Bonner as the defensive weakpoint, exposing the soft underbelly of the team's inside play. Hollins out-coached Gregg Popovich. Who saw that coming? Oh, yeah, and a game after they fell in the most gut-wrenching way possible, his team responded in the biggest game in franchise history with confidence and swagger. 

Grade: A+

Mike Conley: Conley was limited by foul trouble in Game 6 and never got in a rhythm. That does not take away from the unbelievable work he did on Parker throughout this series. Conley, who couldn't hang with Parker's penetration, instead attacked his dribble, forcing turnovers. Conley rarely forced his offense too much and trusted his teammates. He was the perfect cog and showed why Chris Wallace looks like a genius all of a sudden for giving him that extension.

Grade: B

Tony Allen: The "Tony Allen ISO Project" is a house band that starts to play when Allen gets the ball on the perimeter, as Allen believes he can create off the dribble. And it often results in terrible shots and wasted possessions. But without that desperate hero-play, you wouldn't get what makes it all worth it, his stellar defense. Allen is the most active defender in the league, and the pressure he applied on the Spurs' passing lanes was a huge part in creating the turnovers the Grizzlies capitalized on in this series. He fell for Manu's pump-fake time and time again, and still made his presence felt.

Grade: B

Bench: Darrell Arthur, Greivis Vasquez, Shane Battier, O.J. Mayo. Where did these guys come from? The bench stepped up in a big way for Memphis and what was their weakest element has become strong. Arthur in particular made a huge difference in this series. 

Grade: A-

Memphis, TN: Once again showing that if you give small-market fans a chance, they'll respond like nothing in sports. 

Grade: A

San Antonio Spurs

Gregg Popovich: Relying on Matt Bonner. Trusting Richard Jefferson early. Not bringing enough help on Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph. Failing to attack players in foul trouble. Seriously, letting Matt Bonner on the floor actually happened a lot. Gregg Poppovich is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. But he was out-coached in this series. He was partially unable to adjust because of the roster he and R.C. Buford helped put together, but he also couldn't get back to the kind of defense that won them four championships. He was just another coach with a great offense undone by better defense. 

Grade: D

Manu Ginobili: Ginobili hit some good luck shots. He made some big plays. But he didn't have the extra gear he needed, and when it came down to it, twice in four games he made crucial poor decisions which ended his team's comeback chances. His lack of poise in calling a timeout in Game 3 and a panicked cross-court jump-pass turnover in Game 6 sealed Memphis' fate. Whether his elbow injury was legitimate or not, Ginobili was not the Manu of old. Had he been, the Spurs may not be headed home.

Grade: C+

Matt Bonner:  If you have a player on the floor who the offense specifically attacks on nearly every possession and nearly every possession results in either points or a desperation foul to avoid points? Maybe, just maybe, that guy's offense isn't worth keeping him on the floor. Matt Bonner is used to wide-open catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Instead the Grizzlies constantly ran him off and disrupted the passing lanes to interupt the pass and catch. Then on defense, the Grizzlies posted Bonner every time. Bonner is too much of a defensive liability to remain on the floor. Darrel Arthur's athletic plays? Bonner'd. Arthur's mid-range jumpers? Bonner'd. Randolph with easy slip-ins? Bonner'd. Marc Gasol drawing foul after foul to put Memphis in the bonus early? Bonner'd. The Spurs Bonner'd themselves. The Spurs used to rely on veteran tough guys like Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, and Robert Horry. Now they rely on Matt Bonner. 

Grade: D

Gary Neal: Showed a lot of promise and huge onions as a rookie, including a game-saving 3 to force it to a sixth game. Neal showed an impressive poise and clutch shooting the Spurs lacked. 

Grade: B

Antonio McDyess: Injured. Overmatched. Desperate. Antonio McDyess kept fighting. The saddest part of the fall of the Spurs is this classy, reliable veteran won't get the ring he's worked so hard for. He did everything he could against Randolph. There wasn't anything anyone could do. 

Grade: A-

Tim Duncan: Let's just ignore what happened so we don't have to deal with our own mortality, shall we?

Grade: Incomplete
Posted on: April 29, 2011 2:54 am
Edited on: April 29, 2011 3:13 am
 

Playoff Fix: Spurs and Grizzlies, do-or-die

Where the series stands before Spurs and Grizzlies Game 6. 
Posted by Matt Moore




One Big Thing: How do you respond after a game like that? How does Memphis possibly pick themselves up off the floor after being a blown goaltending call, a Manu desperation step-back off a broken play, and a Gary Neal leaning, game-tying three away from winning their first playoff series in franchise history? The Grizzlies have handled every charge the Spurs have thrown at them and responded. Their mental toughness, as an 8th seed, has impressed everyone. But how they respond to the suckerpunch they suffered in Game 5 may determine whether the Grizzlies' season ends in a heroic upset or an unbelievable collapse. 

The X-Factor: Sam Young is turning into a pretty good player. When Young is rebounding, attacking the rim, and playing off the catch-and-shoot, he's a major asset. When he's trying to create off the dribble, turning the ball over, and committing unnecessary fouls, he's a considerable liability. So, the question is, which Sam Young will show up?  Young wasn't expected to be a factor this season, or in this series. But, with his size and speed on the wing, he's become a problem for the Spurs. A strong performance from young could turn a close game into a big Grizzlies' lead, as was the case in Game 4. 

The Adjustment: The Spurs are used to having the big advantage with Manu Ginobili and George Hill's speed on the wing. The Grizzlies have flipped that advantage on its head by posting both players when matched up against Shane Battier. Battier's not known for his post-work, but then he's usually not matched up against players as soft as those two. Battier's ability to punish both of the shifty wings physically has worn on the Spurs. Both players have the speed to get around Battier into the soft underbelly of the Grizzlies' help defense. But Battier's post defense forces the double, creates passing lanes and opens the offense for Memphis. It's a rather genius move from Lionel Hollins who continues to look one step ahead of Gregg Popovich. 

The Sticking Point: There have been 20 quarters played in this series. The Spurs have won more in the box score, the Grizzlies have won more in the quality-of-play department. This has been an exceptionally close series, despite the Grizzlies' control in the wins column. The Grizzlies have never won an elimination game. The Spurs haven't won a game in Memphis yet in this series. But a win on Friday puts an enormous amount of pressure on the Grizzlies to win a road Game 7. It's do or die for the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night. 
Posted on: April 28, 2011 12:59 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 1:38 am
 

Grizzlies-Spurs: A question of luck or fate.

There are times in sports when you wonder what the line is between fate and luck. Manu Ginobili's improbable step-back and Gary Neal's desperation 3-pointer make up one of those times. 
Posted by Matt Moore




O-Ren Ishii: "You didn't think it was going to be that easy, did you?"

Beatrix Kiddo: "You know, for a second there, I kinda did." 

- "Kill Bill"



"I don't think we showed the heart of a champion. We got lucky."

-Manu Ginobili via Chris Vernon on Twitter



What's the difference between luck and fate? What separates grit, will, determination, and the ability to make the biggest plays from abject desperation and the right bounce at the right time? How do you define what's true greatness and what's the unpredictable flow of random events? The lens of sports is such an infinitely trivial window trough which to view such things, but after Grizzlies-Spurs 5, the most wild game of the most unpredictable series in the 2011 NBA playoffs, those are questions that have to be running through the mind of everyone who has borne witness to what happened in San Antonio, Texas. 
The scene:

The 4-time champions were up against the ropes, and up against an upstart 8th seed who has dominated what feels like at least 16 of the 20 quarters played. Down three points after a flurry of clutch free throws from Zach Randolph; the redeemed All-Star for a small-market franchise. A tipped ball. Another tipped ball. And then, of course, Ginobili. 




There was an inbounds pass. It was tipped up in the air. It was tipped again. It landed in Ginobili's hands. A desperation heave, good. The tip goes any other direction, the game is over. The ball isn't tipped, the Grizzlies may be in position to defend the shot, and the game may be over. But it winds up there. And Ginobili hits it. Afterwards, after what happened later, he's the deferential. He admits it was luck. But was it? How many times have we seen him hit that kind of shot? I've kept track in this series. Ginobili has hit four 3-pointers off of broken plays. Does that invalidate them? The opposite. How big is it when you can make a non-possession into a 3-pointer? How much can that change a series that has seen three of the five games decided by five points or less (not including the overtime period in Game 5)? You have to believe that, if that shot wasn't due to Ginobili's undeniable focus and concentration, there was some sort of intervention by whatever you choose to reference as the "Basketball Gods". Random chance? Perhaps. But, if so, then the Spurs have a keen way of turning those instances of random chance into points. Maybe that's just "valuing each possession." 

But even then, his foot was on the line. It's just a two. Are you kidding me? The Grizzlies have avoided the dagger? All they have to do is hit free throws, deny the 3-pointer, and it's done? How kind can those Basketball Gods be to a franchise that drafted Hasheem Thabeet? Z-Bo sinks two free throws. Clutch, from the player so often derided for not being "a winner." Just deny the 3-pointer. That's all that separates Memphis and the proverbial "Shock of the World." 

The inbounds, you can deny it to Manu, you can deny it to Parker. But you're going to have to let one of the others get free. Gary Neal? Sure. The undrafted rookie the Spurs picked up in Europe and really decided to keep in Summer League? Sure. He can have it. O.J. Mayo will contest, but from that distance, with the series on the line? There's no way. There's just no way. 


Buckets. Onions. Glory. Pain. The whole thing. Sports. 

In overtime, and the Grizzlies had no legs. There's nothing left. Parker does his damage. The Grizzlies fight back, but not enough defense. The shots fell, and that's what happens. Spurs win. 3-2, going back to Memphis, and all the pressure is on the Grizzlies now. Lose in Game 6, and that feeling, the one where it was so close they could taste it when the ball was tipped on the Ginobili possession? It's going to be the opposite. The knowledge that it's all slipping away. The Grizzlies have fought through being the underdog. They've fought through being without homecourt advantage. They've fought through being down 16 in a desperation elimination game for the opponent, on that team's home floor. 

But can they fight the Basketball Gods? 

At some point you recognize that things fall into place for teams, in part because of those random chances, and in part because of that team's determination to seize the moment provided. It wasn't that Memphis didn't seize them. It's simply that the Spurs were granted them. 

In the larger scheme of things, this was simply a Game 5 between a perennial power and an upstart trying to establish some sense of legitimacy. The veteran team executed down the stretch, by hook or by crook. But you still have to wonder, where is that line between fate and luck, and how, in the name of Naishmith's Nets, did that just happen? 

Game 6 is Friday, in Memphis. 
Posted on: April 27, 2011 1:47 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Spurs: Desperate measures

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. 
Posted on: April 26, 2011 11:19 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 11:40 am
 

O.J. Mayo's goggles and guns motion

Mayo makes goggles into guns as he shoots down Spurs in Game 4. 
Posted by Matt Moore

O.J. Mayo, after nailing a huge 3-pointer in the Grizzlies' huge Game 4 win Monday night, decided to have some fun with the "3 goggles" trend sweeping the league (started in Portland):



The question is if that constituted a "threatening gesture" or not.  If you'll remember, the NBA fined DeShawn Stevenson for making a "throat slash" gesture , and Paul Pierce was fined for something even more innocuous. Since Mayo's technically imitating guns, the NBA in its notorious sensitivity could wind up taking a glance at this. 

We hope not, since this was a pretty innovative approach to the "3-goggles" gesture started in Portland and sweeping the NBA. It's good to see Mayo with his swagger back after what has been a pretty disruptive season.

(Via John C. Townsend on Twitter .)
 
 
 
 
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