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Tag:2011 Grizzlies-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 .)
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. 


 
 
 
 
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