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Tag:playoffs
Posted on: April 18, 2011 1:47 pm
 

Ranking the NBA Playoffs opening weekend games

Ranking the Game 1s in an epic opening weekend of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. 
Posted by Matt Moore




What a weekend, huh? The NBA's first round is often looked at with a "ho-hum" response most years. Not in 2011. The opening weekend we had three upsets, two near-upsets, and the other three games were close right down to the finish. It may have been the best opening weekend of the playoffs in league history. So we thought we'd look back and rank the eight Game 1s on a level of awesomeness. 

8. Miami 97 Philadelphia 89: Leave it to the Heat to give us the least interesting game of the weekend. It says a lot that the worst game of the weekend was one in which the 7th seed lead after the first quarter and made a serious run in the 4th before falling to the power of Wade. This one suffered from letdown, having to follow the Pacers-Bulls insanity of the opening game, and with the Heat grinding out a tough one against a feisty Sixers team, the playoff intensity didn't really shine through, no matter how much Chris Bosh (rightfully) yelled. 

7. Atlanta 103 Orlando 93: Again, how amazing is it when a game where Dwight Howard scores 45 points isn't even in the top half of the games? Howard was incredible, and watching the Hawks' energy was really infectious, but the game itself wasn't as compelling. The Magic's shooting, combined with the Hawks casual dominance, was enough to overcome the thrill factor of watching Howard dominate in what would have been a classic performance. This series looks like it might be mighty interesting overall, but matched up against the insanity of the top, it didn't hold. 

6. Dallas 89 Portland 81: A good game of runs, featuring a furious fourth quarter comeback by the Mavs behind a vintage Dirk Nowitzki clutch performance. The Blazers had about fifty alley-oops in this one, and the game featured a Jason Kidd 3-point barrage for crying out loud. It had everything you look for in a classic, right down to a series of questionable calls that will probably get the visiting coach fined for his post-game comments. The Mavericks hang on, but everyone has to think this is going to be a long, great series based off of Game 1. 

5. New Orleans 109 Los Angeles 100: The defending champs, the second seed in the West, falls to a seventh seed team without its second best player behind one of the best point guard performances in recent history, and it's not even in the top half. This one would have been higher if the Lakers had made any effort whatsoever. They did not. A truly pathetic defensive effort individually, systemically, categorically from the Lakers. It was exciting due to the Hornets pulling off a huge upset. But the game itself was a massive conglomeration of defensive fail by the Lakers. Now, if we're ranking top performances of the Game 1s? Paul's got a case for the top spot. 

4. Oklahoma City 107 Denver 103: Maybe the best played game of the opening weekend. It was an offensive slugfest where every time a team thought they had made the play to put the other one away, the opponent would respond. An incredible effort from Kevin Durant (41 points, 9 rebounds) who was simply unstoppable, and a heroic game from Nene, fighting off a knee injury to nearly push the Nuggets to the win. It came down to a series of tough, tough shots from the Thunder and a questionable non-call. If it weren't for the drama of the top three, this would have easily taken the top spot. 

3. Memphis 101 San Antonio 98: The 8th seed gets a win versus the top seed in the West, earning their first ever franchise win with a Shane Battier 3-pointer and a last second miss from Richard Jefferson.  The actual game featured a ton of free throws, but it also featured scrappy play, great aggression on the perimeter, vintage Tim Duncan, and brilliant interior offense from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The world didn't know who the Grizzlies were on Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon they had a pretty good look. 

2. Chicago 104 Indiana 99: The team with the worst record in the playoffs leads all the way until the very end, when the presumptive MVP leads a furious 16-1 comeback run capped off by a drive-and-kick assist to the little-known crack 3-point assassin for the win, destroying what would have been one of the biggest Game 1 upsets in history. What more can you say about Derrick Rose? What more can you say about how heartbreaking the game was for the Pacers? What more can you ask for in the first game of an incredible weekend? The Bulls' defensive effort was severely lacking, the Pacers' offense was impressively on target. It had all the makings of a magical upset. And yet the cliches come a-running in. Big-time players make big-time plays. Derrick Rose made the plays. 

1. Boston 87 New York 85: I assure you this isn't big-market bias. You can check my zipcode if you want proof of that. This game had everything. The juggernaut struggling to get its feet under it. The impressive upset bid from the upstart New York team. The defending Eastern Conference champs buckling down and doing what they do best, creating opportunities for borderline calls and turnovers, then crunching down on shooting percentages. Amar'e Stoudemire takes KG to the rack. The twisting layup. Toney Douglas' step-back 3-pointer. And of course, Ray Allen, Ray Allen, Ray Allen. Throw in the dramatics of Carmelo Anthony's failures and how close the Knicks came towards that big step forward and you've got the best Game 1 in a weekend full of them. 

Let us know where we screwed up in the comments. 
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. 
Posted on: April 17, 2011 2:30 am
Edited on: April 17, 2011 2:46 am
 

NBA Playoffs First Round Saturday Wrap-Up

Click on each photo for our coverage on Saturday's first-round playoff games. 





Posted on: April 17, 2011 12:22 am
Edited on: April 17, 2011 2:29 am
 

NBA Playoffs Sixers-Heat: How Bosh got it done

Chris Bosh takes advantage of what should always have been his role with the Heat: cleaning up after the attention on Wade and James. 
Posted by Matt Moore
Chris Bosh does not have the same fanfare and attention that his two superstar teammates -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- possess.

And while James, a two-time league MVP, and Wade, a former NBA Finals MVP, will have a bright spotlight cast upon them throughout their first playoff experience together as teammates, they both know that Bosh, a six-time All-Star, will need to play at a high level if the Heat are going to be holding the championship trophy come June.

"C.B. is the most important player on our team," said James following the Heat's 97-89 win over the 76ers in Game 1. "When C.B. plays aggressive, when C.B. shoots the ball well, and when he rebounds, we are a very, very, very good team."
via Bosh's play could be determining factor in Heat's playoff run - NBA - CBSSports.com Basketball .

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Chris Bosh was key in the Heat's victory over the Sixers, and while he's caught the most criticism as a member of the Triad this season, he also holds huge potential to turn them into an entirely different team. Perhaps most interesting about his 25-point, 12-rebound performance against the Sixers Saturday was that his production came so much as an auxilliary player. In essence, it was more what the Heat had planned when they got together this summer. 

The idea was that with three of the top ten (at the time, five, but, let's be honest, not so much in retrospect) players in the league, the Heat would always have someone open. But their inability to create space or work in tandem effectively meant instead it was three great players going ISO a lot. Against the Sixers, Philadelphia keyed on James and Wade. The result was Bosh getting lots of looks off-ball.

Bosh scored six points on seven possessions in the post, but four of those came on drawn fouls. He put back two offensive rebounds, created both times by attention caused by James and Wade. He scored seven points on seven possessions in the pick and roll, and this was his bread and butter. Twice he benefited from a pick-and-pop situation involving someone other than himself as the screener. When James or Wade came off the pick, the defense hedged hard on them, opening up the screen man, and driving the defense to rotate to that man. Bosh would then leak out. Twice he got open looks on account of this set.

Sounds stunning, right? Hey, let's use the third best player on the team who is a top power-forward in this league and use him to get easy buckets considering he can score from anywhere! Magic! But this is the kind of play that eluded the Heat all season. Getting it going against the Sixers is a step towards getting themselves in a position to compete in the second round against (presumably) Boston. While the Heat offense was far from its best against a feisty Sixers team, it was good enough to show what it's capable of. 

Bosh drew fouls, worked off-ball, hit the glass (which cannot be emphasized enough), and helped the Heat walk away with a win. If the defense is forced to account for Bosh, that's going to create more opportunities for Wade and James. As long as the reserve players can provide anything, literally anything, the Heat are on track for where they want to go offensively in the playoffs. 


Posted on: April 16, 2011 7:31 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2011 8:52 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Sixers-Heat: Miami grinds it out


Posted by Matt Moore




And again, the underdog nearly pulls it off, but comes up short . The Sixers started hot against the Heat. Then, the Heat slowly chipped away, chipped away, and took over. It looked like an easy win for the Heat when they were up 11 with 5:57 to play. By the 2:26 mark, it was a one-point game. The Sixers made a late run, keyed by Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday, working inside and out, but couldn't close. Then, Wade did this fun thing .

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If we're trying to find a real theme in this game, it comes from this. The Heat turned this game into a slugfest. Slowed it down to a snail's pace and ground it out. The Sixers shot 42 percent from the field, but had an effective field goal percentage (factoring 3-point attempts) of 45.8 percent. That's bad, but still better than the Heat. And that was a big part of how they hung around. The reality is that, for a team that relies so much on transition, buckets and speed, the Heat turned into a slow-it-down, brutalize-it club. And that was their biggest success against Philadelphia. When the Sixers got in transition and sped the game up, they had considerably more success. Factor in Chris Bosh's 25 points and 12 rebounds and that's the model for a Heat win. 

Defensively for the Sixers, there has to be more help and it has to come before the point of attack. The Sixers gave up 39 free throws (as opposed to the fifteen they managed). Philadelphia gave up fouls on nearly 19% of all possessions for Miami. Some of that's star calls, sure. But that doesn't change it from being something Philly has to respond to. There needs to be more communication defensively to help out on possessions, especially when James is leading. 

The Heat were not efficient in this game, outside of creating free throws (which is, in itself, efficient, but bear with me). Their three leading scorers (the Triad) shot 41 percent from the field. On the one hand, you have to say the Sixers won't be lucky enough to run into that bad of a shooting performance across the board. On the other, the Heat have to convert more opportunities. This was a solid win that the Heat had control of for 3.25 quarters. But it was also a game in which they left the door open. 

That said, if the Heat's defense maintains its intensity for the entire game, Philadelphia's options become more and more limited. 

Notes: 

  • Somewhere in the back of their minds, the Heat coaching staff has to be concerned about the work of Jrue Holiday (19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists).  Point guard is a soft spot for the Heat defensively, and Holiday has a higher ceiling than he showed Saturday. 
  • On the flip side, Philadelphia has to be terrified about Spencer Hawes. The Heat do not have strong center play and Hawes was totally overwhelmed in a limited 13 minutes. He shot selectively and efficiently but was unable to work well on the glass. 
  • Andres Nocioni should not play. He's too much of a liability in this series. 
  • Jodie Meeks did a great job in the first half against Dwyane Wade. Later, when switched against LeBron James, he was overmatched. Which isn't surprisingly. It's confusing that Collins would go that route. 
  • Late in the game, LeBron James largely played a "spy linebacker" position; waiting low to block whoever came to the paint. It was frightening to see him in that kind of lurking role. 
Posted on: April 15, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 6:56 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Western Conference First Round Picks

The NBA playoffs are here. We've previewed the Western Conference. Now here are our picks along with the rest of the CBS NBA staff for you to mock or praise. Be gentle. 




Here are the EOB picks for the Western Conference, with a little 'splainin. Leave your picks below. 

8 Grizzlies vs. 1 Spurs

Ben Golliver: The Manu Ginobili elbow sprain is a real drag and Memphis will surely give San Antonio all it can handle in the paint, but the Spurs are near untouchable at home and this isn’t their first rodeo. The Grizzlies deserve all the credit in the world for how they played the second half of their season – especially given the absence of Rudy Gay – but disciplined, experienced veterans with a clear system almost always beat out the enthusiastic, aggressive upstarts during the post-season. Look for Tony Parker to introduce Mike Conley to a crisis of confidence. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Royce Young: The Grizzlies wanted the Spurs, well now they're going to get them. It's silly to wish for things, but man, I can't help but think what the Grizzlies would look like with Rudy Gay. Alas, it's not meant to be. The Spurs are proven winners and the Grizzlies are the young, talented kids. It's not going to be easy for San Antonio, but Memphis just isn't ready to move on. Prediction: Spurs in six.

Matt Moore: It wouldn't surprise many to see Memphis take two games in this series. It also wouldn't surprise many to see a sweep by the Spurs. I'll aim for the middle. A five-game gentleman's sweep, which means Memphis wins a playoff game, and that's a step forward for the franchise. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Ken Berger: There are two big health questions for the Spurs: Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. The Grizz have a lockdown defender, Tony Allen, capable of minimizing Manu's impact. The Grizzlies are a dangerous offensive-rebounding team, and they're second in the league in turnover differential. But the Spurs have the experience and presence to win on the road, they have enough big bodies to contend with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and Tony Parker will be the best player on the floor in this series. Prediction: Spurs in five. 

7 Hornets vs. 2 Lakers

Ken Berger: This could get ugly for the Hornets, who I fear will be seeing the Lakers team that won 17 of 18 after the All-Star break, not the team that got bored and lost six straight at the end to nearly squander the second seed. New Orleans is among the grittiest defensive teams in the league, but not against the Lakers; Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to shoot 67 percent in the four-game season series, swept by the L.A. Even if Bynum isn't 100 percent, the defending champs should cruise. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Royce Young: With David West being out, I think the Lakers are privately saying it's sweep or bust. Everyone is expected a sweep and it's hard to argue it, but with the semi-uncertainty of Andrew Bynum's knee and the fact Chris Paul is very, very good, the Hornets might be able to sneak up and steal a game. That would be the goal for New Orleans because they are climbing a mountain here and they're barefoot. Lakers in four.

Ben Golliver: Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Sacramento Kings in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Matt Moore:  HORNETS SEASON = OVER; OVERMATCHED = VERY YES. Prediction: Lakers in four.

6 Blazers vs. 3 Mavericks

Matt Moore: When was the last time a three seed was slept on this much? All of a sudden the Blazers, with Wesley Matthews as a key weapon (fine player that he is) are going to knock off a team with playoff experience who shored up their biggest weakness with Tyson Chandler? The Mavs miss Caron Bulter. They're not going to miss him that much. Prediction: Mavericks in six.

Ben Golliver: Mavericks/Blazers has become the hot upset special pick, but I see Dallas eventually pulling it out because Portland has struggled to win on the road, has dealt with inconsistent outside shooting all season and isn’t nearly as deep as everyone thinks they are. The Mavericks have the cohesiveness factor on their side and Portland doesn’t have a good option for defending Jason Terry. The Andre Miller / Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby / Tyson Chandler match-ups are very much toss-ups, and the Mavericks will need to pay extra attention to Gerald Wallace, but it’s difficult to see Dirk Nowitzki and company not taking care of homecourt. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Ken Berger: What does it mean that this is the only first-round series I'm picking to go seven games? It means that I'm too much of a wimp to pick an upset. There is ample evidence to support the theory that Portland could dump the playoff-fragile Mavs, not the least of which are the Blazers' advantages in turnover differential (No. 1 in the league) and offensive rebounding rate (third). This could come down to a really fun Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge show. But even after the trade for Gerald Wallace, the Blazers haven't won on the road consistently enough to suggest they could pull off a Game 7 upset in Dallas. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Royce Young: I like the Blazers. It's almost irrational, but I can't help but like them. I see them as a team ready to challenge almost anyone. But the Blazers have almost become too much of a chic pick to be entirely comfortable with it. The Mavs are good. They won 55 games. They have Dirk. But it just seems like Portland is the better team. Blazers in seven.

5 Nuggets vs. 4 Thunder

Royce Young:  Why is everyone acting like this will be a high scoring, up and down series? The two games these teams played in the last couple weeks were won by the Thunder by an average score of 102.5 to 91.5. Oklahoma City plays some serious defense now. They match up well with the Nuggets and Denver doesn't have anyone to defend Durant. But getting a healthy Arron Afflalo is a wildcard and as we know, don't doubt the Nuggets. They're dangerous. Thunder in five.

Matt Moore: We have yet to see the Thunder in a series where Kevin Durant just takes over (because they've only been in one series). Durant could choose to end this series if he hits that level. But until he does, you have to believe George Karl will have some tricks up his sleeve, that the Nuggets will continue to play hard, and that the Thunder will have some trouble with dispatching the Nuggets. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ben Golliver: Thunder/Nuggets has epic potential given how well each team has played since making massive moves at the trade deadline and how selfless each team’s overall approach to the game is. In a nailbiter, I give the Thunder the edge because both of their stars score efficiently, can get to the line and because newcomer Kendrick Perkins fits in with the rest of the starting unit perfectly. Denver’s depth is second to none but Oklahoma City’s bench is no slouch, either, and when it comes to crunchtime I have a feeling Kevin Durant will add to his legend in a big time way. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ken Berger:  Along with Blazers-Mavs and Knicks-Celtics, this will be among the most entertaining and competitive first-around series. The Knuggets like to push the pace, shoot threes, and exploit mismatches in the pick-and-roll game by getting opposing bigs on the move and forcing them to make decisions. The Thunder are almost as efficient offensively, though at a slightly slower pace. Both teams are better defensively after their major deadline trades, though the Thunder are more consistent in that area. It could come down to which team has a superstar to make big shots and carry the load down the stretch. The Knuggets traded theirs, Carmelo Anthony; the Thunder acquired a diabolical screen-setter, Kendrick Perkins, to make things easier for Kevin Durant. Prediction: Thunder in six.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 12:28 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 12:36 pm
 

Grizzlies-Spurs Preview: Quick and brutal

Our first-round series previews continue with this look at Memphis vs. San Antonio. Are the Spurs the grizzled defensive team of old? Can Tony Allen do anything to disrupt Manu? 
Posted by Matt Moore




I. Intro

If the playoffs were one giant game show, Grizzlies-Spurs is the box with the gigantic question mark on it. Are the Spurs as good as their record indicates? Because if they are, this thing's going to be over in about forty-five seconds. Are the Grizzlies able to translate that toughness to the playoffs and is San Antonio in a weak spot with an injured Manu Ginobili and some defensive questions? Because if that's the case, this thing could go the distance. We just don't know. The Spurs have so much experience. The Grizzlies are playing with so much emotion. The Spurs are an elite offensive team. The Grizzlies are a great defensive team. Tim Duncan. Zach Randolph. Manu Ginobili. Tony Allen's abject insanity. Good benches, good coaches. This one has all the makings of a great series. It's a 1 seed vs. the 8 seed. Which means it could be terrible. 

We don't know anything. We're waiting for both of these teams to define themselves. We're pretty sure San Antonio's going to win, because they're better with better players. But Memphis has been on such a roll, has such good chemistry, has size and good wing play and attack the rim. Trying to decipher this series is maddening, but that also means it could be fun, even if it's a sweep. 

II. What Happened: A Look at the Season Series

The Spurs only lost 21 games. Two of them were to Memphis. One was a tank game at the end of the season, though. Memphis averaged 103 points against San Antonio, who only scored 101. Both teams won their home games. The Spurs took the first two meetings, the Grizzlies the last two. Three of the meetings were after the trade deadline acquisition of Battier for Memphis. 

You want a weird one? Both of Memphis' wins over the Spurs came after Rudy Gay was lost for the season. 

Other than that? It's a bizarre amalgam of information from those games. The Spurs won when Tony Parker scored 37. They won when Parker scored 2. Memphis won a slow paced game, lost a slow paced game, won a fast paced game, lost a fast paced game. The Spurs won when they shot over 50 percent, and lost when they shot over 50 percent (the tank game). Memphis won when they controlled the rebounding battle, and lost when they controlled the rebounding battle. There is literally no discernible pattern other than individual matchup advantages that were at times expressed and at times not expressed. 

The consistent theme is that Zach Randolph's going to get his. He plugged in 24, 24, 23, and 21. That's predictable, considering Randolph's consistency in the 20-10 game. But the fact that Randolph's production isn't tied to Memphis winning has to be a concern for the Grizzlies. 

III. The Easy Stuff: Manu vs. the Yin-Yang

Manu Ginobili is one of the toughest covers in the NBA. Tony Allen and Shane Battier are two of the best defenders in the league. Manu has the Euro-step. Battier and Allen are obsessed with tape review to figure out tendencies. This is a huge matchup to watch. Ginobili will need to be in full flop mode. If he can frustrate Allen by drawing fouls via flop, Allen will start to gamble more. Given his penchant for falling for the pump-fake, it may not be too difficult for Ginobili to do that quickly. Against Battier, Manu has more speed advantage, and the Grizzlies' frontcourt help defense is not good. 

For Memphis, the key here needs to be to deny the ball. Ball pressure has to be a key part of their attack on Ginobili. They can't bring help at the elbow, due to the Spurs' plethora of shooters. So they have to focus on keeping the ball out of his hand, which is nearly impossible when they set the offense with Manu as ball-handler in the deep backcourt. The Grizzlies focus on turnovers, and Ginobili's turnover rate is the lowest of his career (that factors how many possessions he uses). If Hollins doesn't figure out a way to attack Ginobili at the elbow on the drive before he slips low (where he is nearly impossible to defend), he's going to hurt Memphis in a big, big way. 


IV. Secret of the Series: Underground seating

Memphis does not have a good bench. But they may have advantages against the Spurs. Matt Bonner is a terrific 3-point shooter, but who is he going to defend? Zach Randolph will bury him. Darrell Arthur is both faster and stronger. Antonio McDyess is a capable defender, and he could have a huge impact in this series. George Hill has had a great season, but with Battier and Mayo coming off the Bench, there are answers. Darrell Arthur is a big secret for Memphis. He's not only strong and quick, but he has a reliable mid-range from 18. Stretch bigs give the Spurs fits, and if Conley and Arthur start to operate in space, and that jumper falls for Arthur, that's some damage that could be done. 

It'll be interesting to see if the Spurs start McDyess to cover Randolph, giving Duncan the less offensive-focused Marc Gasol. In that situation, DeJuan Blair would come off the bench. Blair's defensive issues are problematic, but he could neutralize the boards advantage for Memphis. Do that and the Grizzlies lose some of their umph. Lineups and rotations will go a long way in deciding this series.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: "THE SPURS ARE TOUGH, GRITTY, VETERAN DEFENSIVE TEAM."

Anyone, and I mean anyone, who spins this yarn at you, needs to go. I've talked about the Spurs' defensive slide on this site quite a bit, and there's been no dramatic shift in the other direction. The Spurs simply don't have the personnel they used to. Gone are the veteran wing defenders like Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen. Instead George Hill, who has great speed and is a terrific offensive player, is asked to play in a reserve two-guard role often. Richard Jefferson has solid length, but isn't an elite defender. DeJuan Blair doesn't have the length or explosion to defend bigger players in the post, and is still young as to not have the savvy experience necessary to overcome those limitations. He'll get there, but he's not there yet.

Every year prior, if you asked who had a better defensive efficiency, the Spurs or their first-round opponent, you'd automatically answer "San Antonio." But this year? The Grizzlies are 8th in defensive efficiency. The Spurs? 11th. This doesn't mean the Spurs won't win, or that they won't find that extra defensive playoff gear. It just means that going into this series, the Spurs are not that old, veteran tough team they're always known to be. 

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each matchup?

PG: Tony Parker has terrific speed on the perimeter. Mike Conley has made huge strides this season, but he routinely gets blown by faster guards.  Conley will probably get his fair share of points and assists, but Parker's ability to dominate this matchup is unquestionable. Advantage: Parker.

SG: We discussed above, but it should be put this way. Manu Ginobili is a championship caliber wing with savvy, speed and great scoring ability. This is a no-brainer. Advantage: Manu.

SF: The Grizzlies run Sam Young and Tony Allen in tandem at the 2/3 spots. Young has added bulk and been taken under TA's wing this season. But Jefferson has about a million more moves. Young will be more aggressive, but that will also lead to leaving Jefferson open in the corner, where he's become deadly (highest 3-point percentage of his career). Jefferson get the nod here. 

PF: Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time. Zach Randolph is a top five power forward in the league right now. And neither will guard each other much in this series. We're going to give the nod to Duncan, only, and we stress only, for his defensive impact. Randolph is a poor defender, Duncan is still strongest. Advantage: Duncan.

C: Marc Gasol is constantly the most underrated center in the league. McDyess is a solid veteran defender. DeJuan Blair is a nice rebounder and put-back machine. Neither is seven-feet tall with the ability to run the pinch post, nail the open 16-footer consistently, pass well out of the post and attack the offensive glass as easily as Gasol. Plus his beard is mighty. Advantage: Gasol. 

Bench: We just got through telling you the Grizzlies have some matchup advantages on the Spurs on the bench. But the Grizzlies bring off Ish Smith and Hamed Haddadi. Advantage: Spurs. 

Coach: We'd comment more thoroughly on this, but we're afraid Popovich will make fun of us. Advantage: Popovich.

VII. Conclusion

When you have a matchup that becomes as complicated and confusing when you get in the details as this one, you have to take a step back and look at the simple picture. The Spurs have had one of their best seasons ever. They have championship players. They have Hall of Famers. They have a Hall of Fame coach. They are an elite offensive team that understands what they have to do defensively to win. They have experience, where the Grizzlies have almost none. The Spurs are the top seed in the West versus the 8th seed. 

It wouldn't surprise many to see Memphis take two games in this series. It also wouldn't surprise many to see a sweep by the Spurs. I'll aim for the middle. A five-game gentleman's sweep, which means Memphis wins a playoff game, and that's a step forward for the franchise. Prediction: Spurs in 5. 
Posted on: April 15, 2011 11:45 am
 

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