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.