Tag:Tony Allen
Posted on: April 25, 2011 11:55 pm
Edited on: April 26, 2011 12:30 am
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Spurs: Blues City rising

Memphis takes 3-1 series lead over Spurs in stunning fashion: a blowout. 
Posted by Matt Moore




If you're the type of person who believes one game can save, or change the course of a franchise, then this game may end up as one that lives forever in the history of the Memphis Grizzlies

If you're the type of person who believes one game can end a dynasty, then this game may live in infamy in the history of the San Antonio Spurs. 

Regardless of what kind of person you are, the result is the same. 104-86. The 8th-seeded Memphis Grizzlies now hold a 3-1 advantage over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. And the score isn't even indicative of how much of a runaway it was in the second half. The odds of the Spurs coming back to win this series are now somewhere between terrible and nonexistent. A team lead by Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan is as capable as any of coming out and staging the comeback against an inexperienced Memphis squad who may be feeling too good about themselves, though. There's still a heartbeat in San Antonio.

But it sure wasn't there in the second half. Mostly because the Grizzlies came out and put them into cardiac arrest. The cool, calm composure we've seen from San Antonio so many times in years past? Gone, in a flash of panicked scrambling for loose balls that time and time again proved unsuccessful. The Grizzlies scrapped for every loose ball...

You know what? Let's pause right there. 

In basketball, saying you scrapped for loose balls is often synonymous with the college athlete diving out of bounds to try and save a possession. That that so rarely happens in the NBA is due to the gap in athleticism and ability. Players can much more easily swoop in and collect the ball, springing the outlet pass and scoring, rather than needlessly diving. This is mistaken for a lack of effort in the NBA but in reality, it's just a knowledge of what you can and cannot collect. What the Grizzlies have done in this series is not that. They have actually scrapped for every loose ball, in the sense that in that moment, that rare time span in between the release and catch of the ball, the Grizzlies attacked every single one. The Grizzlies dove into passing lanes, swiped at the catch to prevent possession (negating the foul), then immediately hawked. In the NBA you can defend the possession or you can defend the ball. The great defenses in the league typically defend the position, moving in for charges, cutting off driving lanes, and forcing low efficiency shots. The Grizzlies are the rare great defense that attacks the ball. That 3-pointer we talked about so much in the preview? The Spurs wound up 5-18, because every good look they got was attacked by a swiping hand, forcing it just a bit off to create enough time for the shooter to close. The Spurs wound up with a 19.5 turnover ratio. So on two of every ten Spurs possessions, they simply gave it to the Grizzlies. Seven of their 17 turnovers came in the third quarter, which saw Memphis simply blow the doors off. 

As for the offense? The Grizzlies may never see that kind of lofty shooting again. 53.7 effective field goal percentage for Memphis, which factors their 41 percent 3-point shooting, this for a team that shot a 49 effective field goal percentage in the regular season and averaged hitting just 3.8 out of 11.3 3-pointers per game. They had everything working. The Grizz started working the pick and roll early, driving and kicking. They worked the ball inside, made great interior passes, and routed the Spurs by attacking, getting into the bonus early. By the fourth quarter, they nailed two more threes. The big difference maker offensively was representative of these upstart Grizzlies. Darrell Arthur. Arthur wound up with 14 points off 7-10 shooting. The Spurs dared him to hit from mid-range, obviously not having scouted that that's what Arthur does. 

Earlier this season I visited Memphis and asked to speak with Arthur pre-game about his improvement. The P.R. staff told me he wouldn't be available until right before gametime. Not unusual, a lot of players don't talk pre-game. But the staff told me it was because since no one usually wanted to talk to him, he would shoot right up until the last minute when he had to head to the locker room. Sure enough, there was Arthur, working the mid-range jumper relentlessly with two-ball boys. I found out he does that nearly every game. Arthur punished the Spurs in the third quarter. Then in the fourth, Arthur came over on a huge block, then immediately sprinted ahead of the Spurs' slow, plodding defense. An alley-oop later, and the Grizzlies lead was 16, less than two minutes into the fourth quarter. 

Gregg Popovich capitulated early in the fourth quarter, pulling his reserves and submitting that the game was over, something he's done often in the regular season when defeat seems certain. But down 2-1, to pull the best players that have helped win you four championships? That's daring, even for Pop. 

Memphis hit an emotional high Monday night, while the Spurs may never have been lower. This series isn't over, no series is over until that fourth win is cemented. But you got the feeling amid a raucous crowd in a city that's had so many years of disappointment and so many low attendance nights, with the Spurs a victim of poor defense and reliance on perimeter shooting after a decade of pounding the rock, that maybe Game 4 was more than just another chapter. 

Maybe it was history. 
Posted on: April 25, 2011 4:06 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 4:41 pm
 

Series reset: Spurs backed into a corner

The Grizzlies lead the series 2-1. But surely the Spurs respond like they always have... except, they've never done it in this specific situation before. 
Posted by Matt Moore




The Narrative: Alright, it's been fun, Memphis.  You've made some noise. But this is where champions come out and take care of business. This is what the Spurs do. They right the ship and take care of this thing... 

Except the Spurs haven't done this before. Ever. The Duncan-era Spurs have never won a series, down 2-1 when they have surrendered homecourt advantage.  In the Duncan era, San Antonio has been down 2-1 seven times. They've come back to win once, in 2008 against the New Orleans Hornets, when they did not have homecourt advantage to begin with. You can easily argue that it only proves they've overcome tougher circumstances than this. However, it does not change the fact that, when they have surrendered homecourt advantage in two of the first three games, they are oh-fer. In 2009, the Dallas Mavericks stunned the Spurs in the first round, taking two of the first three games and losing in five. In 2006, the Spurs lost two of the first three, again to the Mavericks, losing in seven after a furious comeback. In 2001, they were swept by the Lakers when they possessed homecourt. And, in 2000, they lost a best-of-five series against the Suns after losing two of the first three. 

This isn't to say the Spurs can't do it. In fact, you could just argue this is one more thing to mark off their impressive checklist. After all, the biggest reason there are so few of these situations for them is because the Spurs also won four championships in the Duncan era. But the fact remains they are trying to do something they've never done. 

The way this series has gone is also different. In the 2008 comeback series against the Hornets, they lost the first two in New Orleans, then homecourt held for both teams until Game 7. A stout defensive performance (typical for those Spurs) and a bad shooting night for New Orleans (typical for that city's luck) lead to the Spurs advancing to the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers, who had homecourt advantage. Most notably, though? These are not the Spurs of old. The cast of characters at the front of the bill is, but the way they're trying to win is not. 

The Hook: Read Spurs blogs, listen to their broadcasters, listen to analysts. The message remains the same. The Spurs aren't going to get where they want to go in this series by playing gritty, hard-nosed defense. Instead, they have to rely on the perimeter shot. The Spurs are shooting 32 percent from the arc in this series versus 39 percent in the regular season. You can chalk that up to misses, but they're also taking six fewer shots from deep. (Stats courtesy of NBA StatsCube.)  The Spurs are playing better defense than they did in the regular season, both overall and in the four meetings with the Grizzlies, holding them to 98 defensive efficiency. But their offense has struggled as well and the result is two losses in three games. 

The Spurs shot an average of eight 3-pointers from the corner in the regular season. Against the Grizzlies, they're averaging just five. They're hitting at 47 percent, but the reason for the drop isn't systemic, it's based off the work of the Grizzlies defensively. The Grizzlies' best defensive attribute is disrupting passing lanes. They are great at anticipating and reacting to passes, particularly the drive and kick, which is a huge element in the Spurs' offense. Their help defense on penetration is their weakest asset, but their ability to jump passing lanes is their strongest. Even if they're not intercepting the pass to the corner three or wing, they're causing enough havoc to make the pass just a little harder to make, just a little harder to catch, and that disrupts timing and forces the Spurs to reset. If the Spurs cause enough damage inside on drives to force the Grizzlies to collapse harder, those perimeter threes open up, and San Antonio's success compounds itself. That's what's deciding this series so far. 

The Adjustment: In Game 1, the Grizzlies pounded the ball inside relentlessly. In Game 2, the Spurs responded by jamming the lane and collapsing on any ball-handler who entered, risking the kick-out to shooters. In Game 3, the Grizzlies spread their bigs more evenly, creating more space in the passing lanes within the paint. That helped with dishing to cutters, which forced the Spurs to not double over-aggressively, which created more room for the Memphis bigs. Again, the problem compounds itself. The Spurs in Game 4 will likely counter that by bringing doubles even faster and risking the Grizzlies having driving lanes. No Memphis wing has proven they can effectively slice through the offense other than Mike Conley. And if Mike Conley beats you, you just have to live with it if you're the Spurs. At some point, down 2-1, you have to pick your poison. They don't want to pick getting huge contributions from Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol

The X-Factor: Matt Bonner can kill the Spurs or the Grizzlies. It's going to be one or the other. Offensively, Bonner is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league. He's phenomenal. He's an abject terror on the catch and shoot. With a tall frame, high release, and consistent form, Bonner daggered the Grizzlies in Game 2 and can do it again in Game 3 if left open. On the other hand, Bonner is a defensive nightmare... for San Antonio. The Grizzlies have started actually isolating Bonner at the elbow with either Darrel Arthur or Marc Gasol (the Spurs don't let Bonner see much time on Zach Randolph, and if they do, they double immediately). And nearly every time it results in a foul or points. Bonner has over a 109 defensive efficiency. That is awful. He can't handle Marc Gasol's girth, Randolph's moves, Arthur's speed, cover rotations or contribute in any way outside of the perimeter shot. But when he hits, it's a key element. That's why he keeps getting time. If the Spurs can find a way to cover for his defensive malfunctions while allowing the Bonner-Bot 2000 to just shoot 3-pointers, they'll be in good shape to tie the series. 

The Sticking Point: Memphis has played what could be arguably better basketball in likely 10 of the past 12 quarters of this series. But the Spurs lost by a Shane Battier 3-pointer in Game 1, and a clinching Zach Randolph 3-pointer (!) in Game 3, and still had a chance to tie that game. Memphis can't rely on San Antonio failing to call a timeout in Game 4. The Spurs, a championship quality team, is backed into a corner. They're going to respond. The big question tonight is how far the Grizzlies really want to go. Are they happy to get their first two playoff wins in franchise history and their first home playoff win ever, or do they really want to shock the world and complete a huge upset of an 8 seed over 1. Game 3 is likely going to be the game that decides that.

It's a must-win. For both teams. 


Posted on: April 24, 2011 12:24 am
Edited on: April 24, 2011 12:46 am
 

NBA Playoffs Spurs-Grizzlies: Zach Randolph FTW


Posted by Matt Moore

Zach Randolph is a career 28 percent 3-point shooter. He was 0-1 in the playoffs coming into Game 3. In the regular season, he shot 19 percent on 3-point attempts. He took 43 3-pointers this year. He hit 8 of them. So naturally, with the Grizzlies up just two in a pivotal Game 3 against the tried and tested San Antonio Spurs at home, Randolph elected to hoist one for all the marbles. 

Ka-ching. 




Just like they drew it up. 

It would make sense that this would happen. All season long, Randolph would launch those threes, and when he'd hit, the reaction was Memphis sounded something like this:
"No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no ZBO NO YES!"

Repeat. 

Randolph, who was considered a team killer, a locker room cancer, and a stats-first nobody when he came to Memphis, has reinvigorated the franchise. Among a cast of characters cast off from other teams, and in the case of O.J. Mayo, this one, Randolph stands as the people's champ in Memphis. And he just handed them their first playoff win in the city of Memphis, against the No.1 seed, and a 2-1 advantage going into Monday's Game 4. 

Just like they drew it up. 
Posted on: April 23, 2011 11:05 pm
Edited on: April 24, 2011 12:42 am
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Spurs: A mystifying end

The Spurs do what they always do, fail to execute in the key moments of the game and surrender a 2-1 edge to the Memphis... wait, what? 
Posted by Matt Moore

Update 11:56 p.m.: Some interesting stuff here. Here's video of the final possession from the Spurs. 


Now let's look at it frame by frame. Tim Duncan is trucking down the floor trying to call time. Here's the halfcourt set before Duncan reaches the Spurs' side of the floor. 




You'll see Bonner up top calling for the Ball to hit an open three, not calling time. Pay attention to the clock in the upper right, not the broadcast clock. There's time remaining, but no one on this side of the floor is calling time. You'll see George Hill bottom left also calling for the ball, not calling for time. 




You'll see here, the red light is NOT on, and though the image of the clock is fuzzy, that tells us time is left on the clock. That certainly looks like .1 seconds. On the left, you'll see Tim Duncan racing in, screaming for a timeout. The official at the top of the screen, though, is watching the action and doesn't see and can't hear Duncan screaming. None of the other Spurs realize until after Duncan gets there that they need to be calling time. 




The buzzer sounds as the clock expires, Duncan is frantically calling for time. The broadcast clock says .2, but the game clock above the goal says .00. George Hill is still calling for the ball. Matt Bonner is pointing at Tim Duncan. And the Grizzlies are going up 2-1 in this best of seven series. 

Now, there's a world of things that can be talked about here. 1: the Spurs should have called time when they got possession. 2: Bonner, closest to the official, or Ginobili, or Hill need to be calling time once the ball crosses the timeline. 3: Even if the officials had seen Duncan motioning, there may not have been time for the Spurs to get a shot off. 4: The player has the responsibility to alert the official. 

But the fact remains that before time expires, Tim Duncan is calling timeout. 

-------------------

Original post: The truth is, they've always been, well, the Spurs. 

The Spurs have been the model of execution for over a decade. They're a -- pardon the term --- "grizzled" veteran squad that does everything right, knows how to extend or speed up the game, makes the right pass, delivers the right play, works it down to the nub and pulls out the win more often than not. And all of that crashed and burned on their final possession in a pivotal Game 3 loss to the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzlies Sunday night, 91-88. 

The Spurs managed to survive a final possession from Memphis which would have ended things right there. Zach Randolph missed a pull-up jumper just minutes after sinking a 3-pointer (yes, a 3-pointer), and the Spurs grabbed the rebound. That's when the hijinks began. 

George Hill grabbed the rebound, but instead of calling timeout, which would have progressed the ball to halfcourt, allowing the Spurs to set up a final possession, Hill took off like a rocket, trying to push. The Spurs did have a timeout remaining. Without the timeout, a rushed, hurried possession resulted in Manu Ginobili nearly getting the ball stripped in a trap, unable to get a shot off, and time expired. 

Memphis 91, Spurs 88. The 8th seed now has a 2-1 edge and maintains homecourt advantage in the best of seven series, with a chance to put the veteran Spurs on the cliffs of insanity Monday night in Memphis. 

There's some discussion that Tim Duncan may have been calling for time on the final play. The minute Hill elected to dribble, the opportunity to advance the ball was lost. However, the Spurs still would have been awarded a timeout and gotten the ball inbounds from under the Grizzlies' basket. But without the timeout, a Spurs team that looked out of sync and overwhelmed for much of the game, barring a stellar third quarter was unable to get the set they wanted. The result was an out-of-sync play and Ginobili, who was a hurricane in Game 3, was unable to pull out the miracle.

Questions will abound as to whether the Spurs did call time, and if they didn't, why in the name of George Gervin they didn't. In a series that has shown that records don't always show the difference between teams, Memphis has gained the advantage in the most unexpected of ways. 

By the Spurs not being the Spurs. 
Posted on: April 23, 2011 11:37 am
Edited on: April 23, 2011 3:11 pm
 

Series Reset Grizzlies-Spurs: Rhythm and blues

So... no pressure, guys, but, uh... this game probably decides the series. 
Posted by Matt Moore




The Narrative: The series will either right itself in terms of the logical order of the universe, where the No.1 seed takes control of the series, disheartening the home team in their first playoff game in five seasons... or, the inmates run the asylum for another few days and may just have a chance to break out. How big is Game 3? The Duncan-era Spurs have never won a series in which they lost two of the first three games when they had homecourt advantage. They've only lost one series in which they won two of the first three (Lakers). So this is kind of a big deal. Will Memphis' fans show up? Will Manu Ginobili have an even bigger impact in Game 3 than he did in Game 2 (when he had five turnovers)? There's a lot of uncertainty about this game, but a Spurs win will calm the waters and restore some order to our chaotic universe. 

The Hook: The Spurs' 3-point barrage broke out a little big in Game 2, but hasn't fully gotten loose. The corner three was available, especially late, helping the Spurs to put Memphis away.  That's got to continue. Matt Bonner has to make big shots to justify his floor time considering he's a defensive liability that calls for a clearout every time he's on the floor. George Hill can destroy the Grizzlies if he can pull defenders and then hit when they collapse. And Manu Ginobili can just straight up pull-up and nail big shots. 3-pointers are often affected by homecourt advantage, there's a weird energy that affects those plays, being the big momentum swingers they are. How the Spurs respond will be a big deciding factor. In the regular season, the Spurs shot 5 percentage points worse from the perimeter on the road than they did at home. There are some playoff veterans on this team, and some inexperienced shooters. If the Spurs get hot from the outside, Memphis may drown defensively. They've done a good job running them off in this series. Keeping them off is another matter. 

The Adjustment: The Grizzlies gotta get space, man. In Game 2, the Spurs collapsed the lane, daring the Grizzlies to beat them with mid-range jumpers. The correct response here is to spread the Spurs out using spacing and continue to attack the rim. Instead, Memphis obliged and the result was control of the paint for San Antonio. The Grizzlies have to clear things out and that means hitting a few mid-range jumpers. But instead of the off-dribble pull-ups they went to in Game 2, the Grizzlies need to utilize the space created by the pick and roll. They have reliable spot-up shooters in Darrel Arthur and Marc Gasol, and on the perimeter with O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley, and Shane Battier. If they use ball movement to create open looks, their offense looks much better. Off the dribble, it's an abject mess, and that's before you factor in San Antonio's penchant for creating turnovers out of such situations using their trap-and-swipe. If those shots open up the floor, the Spurs' defense will adjust which opens up interior passing to Randolph and Gasol, who can score, even if they're slightly out of position as long as they're not blanketed. How that adjustment fairs will determine if Memphis can carry any efficiency offensively at all. 

The X-Factor: O.J. Mayo has had decent, but not great games in the first two of this series. In Game 2, he went hero mode, trying to attack off the dribble and forcing shots while still drawing bad fouls. Mayo is a phenomenal streak shooter. When he works off the catch-and-shoot, or when Lionel Hollins uses him as such, Mayo can burn a defense and leave them shaking their heads. When he tries to produce off the dribble against bigger and longer defenders like George Hill, he gets swallowed alive and his bad decision making compounds it. The Grizzlies' bench unit is much better than it was at the start of the year, but still needs some form in order to function. Called plays for Mayo off-screen and catch-and-shoot could hurt the Spurs and frustrate them. Running improvisational sets with Mayo as ball handler or working with Greivis Vasquez at point will lead to more of the wasted possessions we saw in Game 2. Mayo has to get his if Memphis wants to take the advantage in this series. 

The Sticking Point: If you're talking about talent, outside of the Big 3, you could make the argument the Grizzlies have looked like the more talented team in this series. Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, O.J. Mayo, Shane Battier, Mike Conley, the list goes on. It's not a runaway by any means, but you could make the argument. It's been close these first two games. But championship caliber teams know when to take control of the wheel.  The Spurs function better than the Grizzlies systemically, and that's why Game 1 was so tight, and Game 2 was a win for the favorites. That's what this series really comes down to. Individual efforts vesus group think. And in those situations, group think usually wins when they have the strength and ability the Spurs do. That said, a loss would unravel that system somewhat, and create self-doubt. Once that's introudced, it's a whole new ballgame and Memphis will be riding a surge of momentum going into Game 4. Game 3's are always pivotal. Most playoff games after the first two are pivotal. But you get the sense that this game really will decide the  series. 
Posted on: April 21, 2011 2:39 am
Edited on: April 21, 2011 3:51 am
 

NBA Playoffs Spurs-Grizzlies: Bring the walls up

Manu was fine. The Spurs' defense? It was great.
Posted by Matt Moore




The popular story will be Manu Ginobili. Ginobili, returning from an elbow injury, scoring a game-high 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds! Hero! In reality, Ginobili had a decent 17 points on 13 shots, but had five turnovers. There was some rust there. And if we want to look at the change that improved from Game 1 to Game 2, it wasn't the offensive output from Ginobili. It wasn't their offense at all.

Game 1 was a slower, methodical affair, with a pace of 89 possessions versus 95 in Game 2. But the efficiencies were higher on both sides. Basically, the Grizzlies benefited from a slower, more efficient game. Game 2 was an ugly, brutal affair. Even when the Grizzlies were able to convert turnovers at a higher rate than in Game 1, things bogged down on offense for Memphis. Particularly inside. 

In Game 1, the Spurs' largely went one-on-one in defense, trying to rely on their individual defenders to prevent cuts and open shots. The result was largely Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph killing them softly. In Game 2, the Spurs shifted their strategy completely. Instead, the Spurs sent everyone to collapse once the ball entered the paint. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for just 23 points on 23 shots Wednesday night. In the block, the Spurs would wait until either post player made their move to the paint, then bring an aggressive double, swiping at the ball from a wing. Often, Richard Jefferson did the job. Instead of swinging baseline and nailing hooks or fadeaways as they did in Game 1, the two found themselves turning the ball over, or unable to get a clean shot. When the two beasts inside turned face-up to the basket, three defenders would close to shut off any chance of a clean shot, even with the size advantages. 

San Antonio also threw a whole world of effort at denying the entry pass. By keeping the ball out of the block, the Grizzlies tried more interior passing. That didn't work. The result was a slew of awkward possessions, most often resulting in a poor pull-up jumper by a wing. Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Sam Young, O.J. Mayo and Shane Battier combined for 59 shots in Game 2, versus just 37 in Game 1. The Spurs set the tone, the wings would have to beat them in Game 2, and Memphis couldn't get it done. 

Matt Bonner was the one weak point the Grizzlies actually attacked, and Darrell Arthur finished 4-5 for 8 points, mostly from destroying Bonner. But, again, the Grizzlies didn't commit to exposing Bonner, and the result means Bonner hangs around to hit threes on the other end. 

The Spurs set the tone in Game 2, playing the kind of defense they haven't all year. Memphis was more than happy to play into it. Going forward, the shot distribution between the paint and the wing is going to go a long way in determining if Memphis can make this a series.
Posted on: April 20, 2011 12:22 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 1:21 pm
 

Series Reset: Manu Ginobili and the Memphis fits

Can the Spurs get back on track now that Manu Ginobili returns? Will Marc Gasol keep up his production? What about all the fouls? 
Posted by Matt Moore




The Narrative: Manu Ginobili's going to help. A lot. That's why he's Manu Ginobili. The Spurs very nearly beat the Memphis Grizzlies without Ginobili, and since he's the Spurs best/second-best/third-best player (depending on who you talk to), it's not arrogance for a Spurs fan to feel like all will be well once Manu hits the floor for Game 2. The Grizzlies have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Tony Allen and Shane Battier. Allen will try and body Ginobili, to wear him down physically, specifically on that sore elbow. Battier will try and distract and frustrate him with precision and consistency. 

Neither is likely to succeed. 

Ginobili has a wide range of basketball talents. Shooting, driving, particularly to his left, and a hesitation dribble followed by a burst where applicable. The Euro-step. But also among those talents is flopping -- the art of drawing the foul. Allen has a reputation for falling for the pump-fake. Combine the two and you've got a recipe for three quick fouls in the first half on Allen, and five by the 10-minute mark in the fourth. Battier will do better in avoiding said fouls, but he also doesn't have the speed anymore to stick with Ginobili on the drive. Considering the Grizzlies' notoriously slow rotations in the paint, Ginobili could have a big game in his return. 

The Hook: And all of Ginobili's wiles won't help with the biggest problem the Spurs had in Game 1. He can't guard Marc Gasol nor Zach Randolph. More than one Spurs fan remarked after Game 1, "There's no way Marc Gasol goes off for 24 points again!" Then they guffaw. There's much general guffawing. This is likely due to their not being aware that Gasol was one of the league leaders in field goal percentage last season. He shot 53 percent from the field this season, and it was a down year for him. He struggled with his shot for most of the year before correcting it in the last two months of the season, and shooting 56 percent. As for why his point totals never got that high? He's not often asked to be a big scorer in the Grizzlies' offense. His responsibilities are more focused on facilitating ball movement at the pinch post, working the offensive glass, and setting screens. But to confuse his versatility with an inability to convert his opportunities into buckets is to short-change Gasol. Tim Duncan said after Game 1 than he didn't focus on Gasol because he was concentrating on Randolph. That's going to be key in this game. Antonio McDyes can't check him, Gasol has too much quickness. DeJuan Blair can't, Gasol has too much length and agility. Matt Bonner can't because... well, he's Matt Bonner. So it comes down to whether Duncan can shut down Gasol. Zach Randolph's going to get his. But if Duncan can shut down Gasol, it will put the Spurs in a much better position. If he can't, it's going to be an issue for San Antonio.

The Adjustment: The Grizzlies did what they do in Game 1, not sending help on perimeter penetration, letting the Spurs get where they wanted and picking up about seventeen hundred fouls. It worked out in some ways for Memphis, they avoided the Spurs' perimeter shooters daggering them to death.  But giving up so many free throws is not a sustainable approach.  Part of that will fluctuate from officiating crew to officiating crew. But I've yet to see a crew who doesn't give Tony Parker the benefit of the doubt when he launches himself to the floor following contact. Memphis has to be able to defend without fouling, which means smarter, better rotations and help defense, which the Grizzlies have not done well all season. If the free throw disparity keeps up in this series, Memphis' hopes for an upset are dashed. 

The X-Factor: George Hill was aggressive in Game 1, but eventually became frustrated as the Grizzlies switched off on him and Tony Allen got his legs under him. Allen may spend more time defending Parker in Game 2, and going forward. But more confusing was the solid defensive work O.J. Mayo did on Hill in Game 1. Mayo is not a great defender, but his lack of size isn't compromised against Hill, and Hill was unable to shake Mayo. Hill is the superior athlete and player, however, and could have a big impact if he shakes off his frustrations from the second half of Game 1 and gets back to the damage he did in the first half. The Grizzlies' bench is thick offensively to begin with. The Spurs can deliver a knockout blow if Hill leads a charge off the bench with Manu Ginobili back in starter rotations. 

The Sticking Point: How do you defend the drive-and-kick, ball-movement-led corner 3-pointer in the NBA? The traditional model is to "run it off." Close as hard as you can off the help defense, swinging your arms wildly and praying to distract the shooter enough to get his aim off. The Grizzlies did a fair amount of that in Game 1, but also threw in another element. Memphis' best defensive element is their ability to create turnovers by playing the passing lanes. The Spurs did a great job in Game 1 of avoiding turnovers, winning that battle 16-10. But the Grizzlies impact was in preventing opportunities, as the Spurs were cautious with those passes, and when they did make them, they were often adjusted to avoid interception. This strategy usually led to struggled catch-and-shoot situations, forcing a reset. The Grizzlies can't let the Spurs kill them with the corner three. If that happens, Memphis will drown under a tidal wave of the Spurs' biggest strength: their offense. 
Posted on: April 17, 2011 5:35 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 6:14 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Spurs: The joy of one

Memphis wins first playoff game in franchise history as unlikely heroes come full circle. Oh, yeah, and there's a whole series in front of them.

Posted by Matt Moore




Joy comes in the morning . The Memphis Grizzlies entered the postseason 0-12 in postseason play. They walked out of the AT&T Center in San Antonio with a 1-0 series lead and their first ever franchise playoff win. 

It would be really easy to put this win in terms of the culmination of questionable moves the franchise has made, the history of failure and how far the team has come in getting one measly win in a playoff series. A win in series in which they are a considerable underdog to the very model of a small-market franchise that has won four NBA championships in the past ten years. 

I will do so now. 

The Grizzlies won behind two huge efforts from their frontcourt. Zach Randolph led the way with 25 points. Randolph was acquired ina  trade from the Clippers for Quentin Richardson. At the time, it was considered terrible, since Randolph was known as a locker room cancer who never won anything. Instead, he became the Grizzlies' first All-Star since Pau Gasol, and, on Sunday, did what he does: create shots underneath the basket where there's seemingly no room to create one. Without a legit player with length underneath, Randolph was able to create slight tip-ins. Throw in some poor defense by DeJuan Blair, and you've got a big day for Randolph.

In one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history, the Grizzlies traded their All-Star Pau Gasol for the expiring contract of Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and the rights to Gasol's brother Marc who was playing in Spain. Randolph gets all the attention, and rightfully so. But Marc Gasol is as big a part of what the Grizzlies do as any player. He's a tremendous defender, both down low and on pick and rolls. He shows hard on screens and recovers, runs off mid-range Js (as he did Sunday), and has a wide offensive repertoire. While Tim Duncan was taking him one on one in the post in the first half, Gasol was getting his own, and wound up outscoring Duncan 24-16.  Anyone have that figured to start the day? 

Memphis made a series of terrible decisions in trading a first-round pick for Ronnie Brewer last season, then renouncing his right as a restricted free agent. They then used that money to acquire Tony Allen, another player with questionable skills and reputation, who wound up with a huge fourth quarter. Allen was plagued by foul trouble, but still managed to have an impact on the game with a series of gritty late-game defensive plays and some key buckets. 

The Grizzlies nearly traded O.J. Mayo at the deadline before the deal fell through and they got the trade request in too late. Mayo had 13 points off the bench. 

Memphis signed Mike Conley to a 5-year, $40 million contract, and were blasted for it. Mostly by me . (I made amends later after Conley continued to show his improvement, though the decision at the time was still irresponsible). Conley had 15 points and 10 assists and actually held his own offensively against Tony Parker (defensively, it was a different matter). 

The list goes on and on.

Then there's this. The Grizzlies drafted Hasheem Thabeet, one of the biggest busts of the decade with the No.2 overall pick in 2009. They had to send Thabeet along with a pick just to get rid of him. Houston took him on, in exchange for an expendable veteran defender who can hit the occasional 3-pointer. The Grizzlies got Shane Battier


Seems like a lot to make out of a Game 1 win when Memphis is just as likely to get blasted in the next four games, especially considering Manu Ginobili's absence. But, for a franchise trying to establish some level of legitimacy and momentum, it's a big deal. They won that first playoff game, and now have stolen homecourt advantage from the No.1 overall seed. This series looks long, it looks physical, and it looks exciting. And for the first time in franchise history, Memphis fans have to feel like they actually have a shot. 

You want some perspective on this? How about Manu Ginobili's absence? The Spurs' best element today was drawing fouls against a perimeter Grizzlies' defense that couldn't stop a drunken toddler from getting into the lane and resorted to just beating them up. The Spurs shot 15 more free throws than the Grizzlies, and hit 15 more. When Ginobili returns in Game 2, as he probably will, that number may actually increase. Ginobili and Parker are two of the best at drawing fouls (and some would say flopping). There may actually be dents in the AT&T center hardwood if the pattern from Game 1 keeps up.

The Grizzlies won despite only forcing 10 turnovers and losing the turnover battle. The Spurs were deliberate with their attack, and while the Grizzlies did succeed in forcing the Spurs off the 3-point line, outside of a handful of Richard Jefferson threes and two Matt Bonner bombs late to make everyone forget how terribly, terribly awful he was in guarding Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies outshot the Spurs by 12 percent, holding the Spurs to 40 percent from the field... and only won by three. That's a bad sign. 

If the Grizzlies don't figure out how to keep the Spurs out of the paint on the drive, or not foul them every single time they do enter, they're going to go down in flames. They gave up 29 free throws to George Hill and Tony Parker. That may seem like an outlier that won't hold. Given Memphis' style, it's likely not an outlier. 

But at the end of the day, Memphis did what they've done all season. Find a way to beat a better team by grinding it out, making big shots, and playing remarkable defense. For a day, it was good for a win, the biggest in franchise history. 
 
 
 
 
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