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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Oklahoma City Versus Memphis Preview

Western Conference Second Round

#4 Oklahoma City (55-27) vs. #8 Memphis (46-36)

Season series: Memphis, 3-1

Memphis can win if…Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol control the paint, Mike Conley harasses Russell Westbrook into some inefficient shooting performances and Shane Battier (and Memphis' other wing defenders) hold Kevin Durant to under 25 ppg/.450 field goal shooting.

Oklahoma City will win because…Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed form a big, mobile and versatile frontcourt rotation that matches up very well with the Grizzlies' power forwards/centers. Ron Artest's physical defense in the first round of the 2010 playoffs slowed down Durant but Durant lit up the Denver Nuggets for 32.4 ppg on .471 field goal shooting in the first round of this year's playoffs and Durant is likely to post similar numbers against whoever Memphis throws at him. Conley did a credible job versus Tony Parker as the Grizzlies pulled off the rare first round upset of a number one seed but Westbrook is bigger, stronger and more athletic that Parker.

Other things to consider: Memphis won the regular season series 3-1 but Perkins did not play in any of those games. The Thunder now have all of the requisite parts to win a championship; the only thing that they lack is collective playoff experience (Perkins has championship experience from playing with the 2008 Boston Celtics but collectively the Thunder's current rotation with Perkins starting at center has not even been together for half a season).

TNT's Charles Barkley predicted that Memphis would beat San Antonio and he was right that the Grizzlies' frontcourt was too big for the Spurs to contain but I still think that Memphis' victory is surprising, if not shocking. Granted, the Spurs have an aging nucleus and each of their three top players experienced some kind of injury in the last month or so but the Spurs were the best and most consistent team in the NBA from October until the end of March; this is just the fourth time that an eighth seed defeated a number one seed since the creation of the current playoff format in 1984 and there were extenuating circumstances for at least two of the previous upsets: in the lockout-shortened 50 game 1999 season the 27-23 New York Knicks were only six games behind the 33-17 Miami Heat, while in the 2007 season the Golden State Warriors used a gimmicky small lineup and rode a wave of great three point shooting to knock off the shell-shocked Dallas Mavericks, a team that seemed to be psyched out before the series began when Dallas Coach Avery Johnson changed a starting lineup that had gone 37-6 during the regular season (the Mavericks finished 67-15 overall). This season was not distorted by a lockout, the Grizzlies did not use any gimmicks and the Spurs did not change their lineup (with the exception of Manu Ginobili missing game one); the Grizzlies just systematically outplayed a 61 win team whose core players helped the Spurs win the 2003, 2005 and 2007 NBA championships. Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks have been viewed with a somewhat jaundiced eye since their 2007 loss to Golden State, so I wonder how the Spurs' loss will affect the way that the Spurs are perceived; the Mavs in general and Nowitzki in particular have received a bum rap and I do not think that it would be right to just bash the Spurs--an aging team that has a championship pedigree--but it also would not be right to act as if the Spurs' loss is anything other than a very surprising and very disappointing ending for a team that had to be considered a legit championship contender based on their track record and based on how well they played over the course of the 2010-11 season.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:00 AM

37 comments

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37 Comments:

At Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:34:00 PM, Anonymous warsaw said...

Going by the standings is misleading because Memphis started the season terribly but improved a lot after the All-Star, and also tanked the last games

While I agree the result was surprising to some degree, I also think people just didn't watch many Memphis games this year and that had an influence on a lot of lazy Internet/media predictions.
People thinking the Spurs would win it easily just didn't paid any attention.

Allen may have been the best SG defender this year, Z-Bo has been one of the best clutch performers in the league and a borderline franchise player (which tells you a lot about how meaningless All-Star appearances can be), Conley has improved dramatically and Marc Gasol, who started the season badly has gotten into great shape lately.
Their bench has been equally strong and Hollins has gotten the most out of every player while hardening the team.

There may have been reasons to favour the Spurs before the series, but Memphis strong play is hardly a sudden revelation. They have played like that the last few months.

I also disagree with the majority, that says OKH will beat them in less than 7 games.
In their frontcourt only Perkins has the bulk to defend Marc Gasol. And that leaves Ibaka on Randolph, which I don't think will work on the long run. Ibaka is a good shot blocker, but he's also very young and Randolph is on fire.

Outside Artest, the best defenders against Durant this year have been Allen and Battier. And both play for Memphis.
Allen will also play minutes against Wrestbook and I expect him to slow him down.

I see it at least 50-50. OKH may win, but is going to be hell for them to do it.

 
At Saturday, April 30, 2011 4:21:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

David, it's easy to summarize what happened in the Memphis-SA series by pointing out how rare it is for a #8 seed to beat a #1 seed. However, that's a misleading way of looking at things.

First, there wasn't much difference between seeds 6-8 in the West this year (so it's not like being the #8 seed meant being a mediocre team that got into the playoffs by default). Also, as Warsaw mentioned, the Grizzlies started the year off slow but improved quite a bit as the year progressed. In fact, since Jan. 1, Memphis had a 32-18 record (nearly identical to San Antonio's 33-17 record over the same period).

I did not expect the Spurs to lose the series, but it was clear that they had many weaknesses that would hurt them in the playoffs. The Spurs really overachieved by winning as many games as they did. How did the Spurs win more games this year than they did in any of their championship years with Tim Duncan playing 28 mpg and putting up career low numbers in most categories, and with Manu Ginobili having one of his worst shooting seasons? The answer is they won by being focused and making the most of a gimmicky style that has been proven (by the Nash Suns, for instance) to produce excellent regular season records before getting exposed in the playoffs.

To be more specific, the Spurs relied quite a bit on three-point shooting, small lineups and good play from overachieving role players. As we've seen over and over, that doesn't cut it in the playoffs. The pace slows and defenses are able to zero in on you. Teams who win the battle of the boards and control the paint often win. And role players can't carry you. The star players usually decide the series.

I think Popovich realized the fundamental problems with their approach. As you noted, the Spurs did not change their starting lineup agains the Grizzlies. However, they did change their starting lineup a few weeks before the regular season ended. They benched DeJuan Blair (who had started during San Antionio's historically great start) in favor of Antonio McDyess. Why would Popovich make such a change if the Spurs were as good as their record indicated? The truth is, Blair is a nice energy player, but he would have been in over his head trying to compete with quality front lines in the playoffs. We saw this against Memphis. You can win games in the regular season with an undersized guy like Blair, but such gimmicks don't work in the postseason.

 
At Saturday, April 30, 2011 4:45:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I'm sure that it's disappointing and surprising for the Spurs to have lost in the first round, but their situation is very different from that of the 2007 Mavericks.

Stars carry teams in the playoffs, and none of the Spurs' stars were playing the way they did during their championship years. Charles Barkley made a great point when assessing the Spurs chances as the playoffs approached: it's unlikely that Manu Ginobili can be the best player for a championship team (especially a version of Ginobili that's nearly 34 years old). Critics have historically underrated the Spurs, but they were right to be skeptical of their ability to contend this year. Tim Duncan has slipped too far from where he was 3-4 years ago. He needs more help than ever inside, and instead he had less help than ever. Can you think of any other playoff team for whom Matt Bonner would be more than a 12th man (much less playing 20+ mpg)? It was sad watching Duncan limp around unable to score on Marc Gasol. Kenny Smith made a great comparison: it was like watching Muhammad Ali in his last fights.

This loss will rightfully not tarnish the legacy of the Spurs. They were clearly past their prime and had not been legitimate contenders since 2008. By contrast, the 2007 Mavericks were coming off a trip to the Finals and Dirk Nowitzki won the MVP.

The Mavs' 2007 loss was like Mike Tyson getting KOed by Buster Douglas or Lennox Lewis getting KOed by Oliver McCall. Losing at the peak of your powers really counts against you. The Spurs losing this year is more like Muhammad Ali losing to Leon Spinks. On paper, it was an undisputed champion losing to an unproven fighter. But in reality, Ali had barely been getting by with unimpressive wins (and, as many would argue, some gift decisions) since Manila. While he was technically the champ, he had slipped greatly and clearly wasn't the best fighter at the time (Larry Holmes and Ken Norton fought for that distinction around the same time). Accordingly, no one brings up the Spinks loss when discussing Ali's legacy.

 
At Saturday, April 30, 2011 8:16:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Series odds:
Oklahoma City 0.692
Memphis 0.308

Conference odds:
Oklahoma City 0.218
Memphis 0.065

Championship odds:
Oklahoma City 0.078
Memphis 0.017

Comments:
While Oklahoma City is expected to advance in this matchup, Memphis looks like a live underdog to me. It's hard to believe how Memphis can go from being a popular upset pick vs. a talented and experienced 61-win San Antonio team to roadkill vs. a less talented and experienced 55-win Oklahoma City squad.

Classic case of hype vs. substance and I believe Oklahoma City has more of the former. Durant is a good player but not in the Lebron/Kobe stratosphere, Westbrook can shoot his team out of a game, and Perkins cannot single-handedly transform Oklahoma City's defense into an elite unit all by himself.

It must be emphasized that Memphis defeated a Spurs squad that is superior to Oklahoma City - and figures to pose more of a challenge than a newly revamped Denver squad. It would not surprise me at all to see this series go the distance - or for Memphis to pull off a second straight upset.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 3:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

I realize that "going by the standings" could be misleading regarding Memphis but the standings also tell us that the Spurs won 61 games and could easily have won 66-67 if Duncan had not gotten hurt at the end of March.

I cannot speak for others who make predictions but I saw Memphis play this season both in person (once, early in the season) and on TV (several times). I did not say that the Spurs would win easily but I thought it reasonable to expect that a veteran, championship-experienced team would prevail in a 1-8 matchup when the number 8 team had never even won a single playoff game.

I disagree that All-Star selections are "misleading" regarding Randolph; he spent most of the early portion of his career as an injury-prone, malcontent on losing teams. He often put up good numbers but he was a classic example of what Kenny Smith calls a "looter in a riot"--a player who compiles meaningless stats for a bad team. Randolph started to change his attitude last season and was rewarded with his first All-Star selection. He perhaps could have made the All-Star team this year as well but the West is loaded with good forwards.

I am not sure how many games this series will go but I don't see it as a 50-50 proposition; I think that OKC is clearly the better team.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 4:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

There were many other years in which there was not that much difference between seeds six through eight but this is just the fourth time that an eighth seed defeated a number one seed--and, as I noted, at least two of the previous occasions were somewhat anomalous, while in this case the Grizzlies just straight up outplayed the Spurs with no gimmicks.

I have never really believed in the concept of "overachieving"; it is certainly possible to "underachive"--to fail to reach one's potential--but by definition it is not possible to do more than you are capable of doing and it certainly is not possible to do so for 82 games: most people simply underestimated the Spurs prior to this season (I pegged them as the second best team in the West in my season preview).

The Spurs ranked 12th in rebounding during the season and ninth in defensive rebounding. Blair had his most productive month of the season (February) prior to being benched so I am not sure that you are correct about Popovich's reasoning; in past seasons Popovich brought Ginobili off of the bench and I am pretty sure that did not mean that Popovich thought that Ginobili was not good enough to start.

Bonner averaged 21.7 mpg for the Spurs, sixth on the team but just ahead of Neal and Blair. Bonner is a specialist but he is very good at his specialty (he led the NBA in 3FG%). Steve Blake ranked seventh on the Lakers in mpg (20.0 mpg) despite shooting just .359 from the field. Bonner and Blake play different positions and have different roles but I would not say that Blake was any more productive in his role than Bonner was in his role this season.

The Ali analogy is interesting and I agree with it from a sentimental standpoint--basketball purists surely feel sad watching the demise of the Spurs just like boxing purists felt sad watching Ali's demise--but the problem with the way that you framed the comparison is that Ali won those late career fights by judges' decisions; the Spurs won 61 regular season games by outplaying their opponents. I give full respect to the Grizzlies for playing well during this series but I reject the idea that this was not a surprising outcome. The Spurs had the best record in the league all the way until Duncan got hurt at the end of March and then a month later the Spurs were eliminated by a team that barely made the playoffs; this is much different than Ali-Spinks.

I think that the Mavs get too much criticism for losing to a gimmicky team that was never heard from again but I also think that the Spurs' championship pedigree is going to enable them to receive a free pass that almost no other team would receive in comparable circumstances. Just imagine if the Lakers had played Memphis in the first round (which easily could have happened); if the Lakers had lost in six games then Kobe Bryant and company would have been murdered in the media.

All I am saying is that people should ease up a bit on Nowitzki--who has been one of the best scorers/rebounders in playoff history--and that the Spurs should not just get a free pass for being old or undersized or any other excuse, because those factors did not seem to matter much during the regular season.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 4:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

You call Memphis a "live underdog" yet your series odds--if I understand them correctly--overwhelmingly favor OKC. I don't think that OKC is overhyped at all. I agree with you that Durant is not as good as Kobe or LeBron but I disagree with your comment about Perkins; OKC is not asking him to transform their defense but simply to add some physicality to what was already a good defensive team last season. When Boston traded Perkins I said that this looks like Paul Silas revisited. Although Silas in his prime was better than Perkins has been so far in his career, Silas was a physical presence for two Boston championship teams and he became a physical presence/leader for a Seattle championship team after Boston let him go.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 5:58:00 AM, Anonymous warsaw said...

I'm not sure why you think Durant will score easily against Memphis. Battier and Allen have defended him well during the season and they have the defensive range and the strength to slow him down through the 6/7 games of the season.

About Randolph and the All-Star appearances I think it comes down a bit to reputation.
That's why Kevin Love is not considered a "looter in a riot" despite neither being a better player nor making his team have any success.
You can say that the Timberwolves were a mess, but then again you can say the same about the teams Randolph played for.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 1:42:00 PM, Anonymous bball said...

you are underestimating memphis once again. memphis will win this in 6 games. russell westbrook's inability to run a half court offense in a grind it out series with memphis will prove to be their major downfall. the only way i can see the thunder winning this series is if durant consistently turns in 40 point performances like he did in game 5 against the nuggets in the previous round. that will be tough to do against two of the premier perimeter defenders in tony allen and shane battier.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 2:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are the Lakers playing the #3 seed rather than the #8 seed Memphis?

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 5:24:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

David,

The term "live underdog" is a relative term that depends on public perception and betting odds.

Memphis went off as a 3-1 underdog and it's extremely rare for a team that has a ~30% chance to go off at odds that high.

If Memphis went off as a 2-1 underdog I'd probably make the argument that they were overrated.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 6:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

that was a series clearly dominated by memphis. they should of won in five games. they were athletic younger and quicker. san antonio won 61 games by beating some good teams but really they never lost to any bad teams. which is rare they were consistent and played consistent. but ultimately they werent good enough to win in playoffs as we seen. i thought they would beat memphis and lose to okc. barkley called it sayin they was overated. memphis wasnt typical 8th seed like gs was in 07. they caught lightning in a bottle. and beat a weak minded mavs team in 07 with as u said a gimmick scheme. memphis was better in all aspects almost of the game. be honest it was a old past prime spurs team people like myself still thought had sumthin left but didnt.

okc vs grizzlies as we seen from game 12 will be better than i thought. i thought this as a easy series for okc for the same reasoons u did they bigs no answer for durant/westbrook. i still like them but it may go distance

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 10:54:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I don't want to argue about what it means to overachieve, but fulfilling your full potential when a lot of your competitors are underachieving effectively amounts to overachieving.

Anyway, even if you disagree with me on that, would you agree that it is possible for a team to post high regular season win totals while having serious flaws that would get exposed in the playoffs? I think that's the way you (correctly) characterized the 2005-07 Phoenix Suns in previous years. The 2011 Spurs relied very heavily on three-point shooting, were undersized, and did not have any players performing at a superstar level. Teams with such characteristics usually have a hard time in the playoffs. In the playoffs, the pace slows and controlling the paint becomes more important than ever. Opponents can focus on and exploit your weaknesses. Role players often go cold and the burden to carry the team falls on the star players. Struggling to generate points when jumpers aren't falling can kill you in close games.

I did not expect the Grizzlies to beat the Spurs, and I agree that it was surprising. But I did expect the Spurs' weaknesses to eventually be exposed in later rounds. The Spurs' flaws were apparent and that's why, to me, their loss is surprising but not an all-time shocking upset as might be suggested by the #1/#8 seed numbers.

I guess it's possible that Popovich benched Blair to bolster his second unit as he did in the past with Ginobili. I'm having a really hard time buying that. Blair is a nice energy player, but he's too short to guard a lot of bigs, struggles to score against tall players inside, and doesn't have a mid-range or outside shot. I think it's obvious that he was going to struggle against quality starting front court players in the playoffs, and the Memphis series confirms that view. If Popovich initially benched Blair to give the team a secret weapon off the bench, he must have changed his opinion by the playoffs. Blair's minutes were reduced in the first four games, and he didn't get any playing time in the last two games. It's much more likely that Popvich was starting Blair mostly to save the aging Antonio McDyess for the playoffs.

Matt Bonner is a good three-point shooter, but he is a liability in virtually every other aspect of the game. He can't guard anybody. He simply lacks the size and athleticism. Again, I'm having trouble thinking of another playoff team for whom he'd get any substantial playing time. Bringing up the Lakers' struggles at point guard isn't a good comparison since the Spurs' weakness inside is what Bonner's prominent role highlights. In his prime, Tim Duncan always had a front-court running mate with some size who could play competent defense. Now, a broken down Duncan who needed more help than ever actually had less help than ever.

My Ali comparison isn't perfect, but the point is the legitimacy of one's status depends on what they've been doing recently. Ali was not a champion coming of a series of impressive or convincing victories. He was coming off many questionable and unimpressive wins, his skills had diminished, and he was clearly far from his peak despite his champion status. The Spurs were a number one seed based on a nice regular season. But they had not had a good playoff run since 2008. Last year, with virtually the same roster, they were swept by the Suns. So yes, they were the number 1 seed, but they were several years removed from their championship level of play and their stars were on the decline. That is why the upset won't tarnish their reputation very much.

It's tough to think of another great player who produced as little as Nowitzki did in Game 6 against Golden State in 2007. But I agree with you that he has otherwise been a stellar playoff performer (and he hasn't had the best supporting cast either). I agree that he doesn't deserve most of the criticism he gets.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 11:00:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

If the Lakers lost to the Grizzlies in the first round, it's true they would have received a lot more criticism. But the Lakers have also done a lot more than the Spurs in the playoffs in recent years. The difference in recent playoff performance is why the Lakers got a lot more respect as legitimate contenders and why they would have gotten much more criticism if they lost in an early round.

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 5:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

In game one, Durant scored pretty easily (33 points on 11-21 field goal shooting) and I see no reason to think that this will change very much as the series progresses. However, you may very well be correct about the larger issue: the Grizzlies simply looked like the better team in game one, so the Thunder have some serious work to do if they are going to come back and win this series.

Fans vote for the All-Star starters (five spots) but coaches vote for the reserves (seven spots). For most of his career Randolph has had a well deserved reputation for being a selfish, undisciplined player; no one questioned his talent but in most seasons he was putting up big numbers for losing teams. That seems to have changed recently and Randolph made the 2010 All-Star team. The West is packed with All-Star caliber forwards, so Randolph did not make it this year (LaMarcus Aldridge is another All-Star caliber forward who did not make the cut). I would have chosen Love over Randolph at the time that the All-Star selections were made because Love led the NBA in a major category (rebounding) and because of his versatile skill set (scoring, rebounding, passing, three point shooting). That said, Randolph has arguably been the best player in the playoffs so far but there is an award for that if he leads Memphis to the championship: Finals MVP.

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 5:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bball:

Your comment arrived with game one in progress, so you had a chance to see Memphis' quick start but after watching game one I have to concede that you may be correct. I am surprised that Memphis came into OKC after a quick turnaround from Friday and pretty much beat the Thunder into submission even with Durant scoring very efficiently. I think that the Thunder need to consider double teaming Randolph to force Memphis to make some three point shots.

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 5:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The NBA playoff bracket is not reset if there is an upset; the first round is 1-8, 2-7, etc. and then in round two the winner of 1-8 plays the winner of 4-5 while the winner of 2-7 plays the winner of 3-6. The second seeded Lakers were going to play the winner of the Dallas-Portland (3-6 matchup) series regardless of what happened in the Spurs-Grizzlies series.

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 5:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

Thank you for the clarification.

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 5:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I did not say that this would be an "easy series" for OKC but I certainly thought that OKC would win the series; naturally, Memphis' strong game one performance has made me question if I was right but sometimes NBA playoff series have many twists and turns so it will be interesting to see how things play out.

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 5:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I understand what you are trying to say but I think that "overachieving" has more to do with outside perceptions; if the full potential of a player or a team is correctly understood then there would not be a perception that a given player or team "overachieved." I don't think that the Spurs "overachieved" to win 61 games; prior to the season I thought that they were the second best team in the West. It seems to me that the Spurs underachieved by losing in the first round but it may also be that the Grizzlies are better than most people realized and that the Grizzlies are peaking at the perfect time.

This season's Spurs were not as gimmicky or as defensively challenged as the Suns were a few years ago.

I don't know for a fact why Popovich benched Blair but I don't necessarily buy the narrative that you have constructed. There may be something about Blair's practice habits or some other factor that caused him to fall completely out of the rotation but if Popovich really thought at the start of the season that he could not win in the playoffs with Blair as his starter then I don't think he would have ever put Blair in the starting lineup in the first place. Blair played well as a starter, so it seems to me that the reason for his benching is an internal matter on the team.

I agree with you about Bonner's relative skill set weaknesses but a similar critique could be made of most players who received comparable minutes for playoff teams.

I agree with your larger point (no pun intended) that Duncan needs another big body to take some pressure off of him at both ends of the court.

Nowitzki played poorly in game six versus Golden State in 2007 but he scored at least 20 points in games two through five and he grabbed at least 10 rebounds in five of the six games; he was far from the only (or even main) reason that the Mavs lost yet that series is treated like a major blot on his career.

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 5:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

The Lakers' recent playoff success may be the quite logical reason that you expect more from them than you do from the Spurs but I don't think that this explains how the media treats the Spurs; the Spurs are simultaneously lauded as a team with a championship pedigree and yet they are excused for losing in the first round as a number one seed, while the Mavs are derided for having no championship pedigree and yet are also blasted for their various playoff losses.

In other words, I understand your reasoning regarding the Lakers, Spurs and Mavs (even though I disagree with some of what you said about the Spurs' roster) but I don't think that the media is using your reasoning when constructing their narratives about these teams. The media narratives are that the Spurs are venerable champions above reproach, the Lakers are a lackadaisical team that wins because of overwhelming talent and the Mavs are chokers. I prefer to judge players and teams by the same logical, consistent standards, so I would say that the Spurs have had a great run but they underachieved in this year's playoffs, the Lakers are not as talented or deep as many people say but Kobe Bryant has driven them to championship success and the Mavs are a very good team that has fallen short in the postseason for different reasons in various years (sometimes they were just not the best team, sometimes they were not physical enough, one year they just ran into a gimmicky team that stunned them in the first round).

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 3:48:00 PM, Anonymous catclub said...

Coaching.

When the Spurs lost the first game, many Spurs fans said no worries, the spurs have almost always lost the first game of their winning series.

My understanding was that Pop had been able to make adjustments and find weaknesses in the other teams.
I _thought_ that would happen afetr game two, in which Tony Parker pretty much ran wild. But since that did NOT continue in all the other games, I figure that Memphis and their coach figured out something else as well, and Pop was not able to find any further weakness to exploit.

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 5:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Catclub:

I am not sure what adjustment Coach Popovich could have made to counteract the reality that Memphis' stars outplayed San Antonio's stars. As I said in an earlier comment, the Knicks beating the Heat in 1999 may not have even been that much of an upset--those teams were separated by six regular season wins in a bizarre, truncated season; Golden State beat Dallas in 2007 at least in part because Dallas Coach Avery Johnson changed his (very successful) starting lineup before the series even began. The Grizzlies just straight up outplayed the Spurs, with no gimmicks and no extenuating circumstances (other than Ginobili missing game one).

 
At Tuesday, May 03, 2011 5:25:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

I was surprised as anyone by Memphis' strong performance in Game 1 and they have looked like a Championship contender so far in the playoffs. Let's see if they can gain a stranglehold on the series by taking another 3-1 series lead.

 
At Tuesday, May 03, 2011 7:15:00 PM, Blogger DRP said...

I could picture the Grizz handling the THunder and giving the Lakers of Mavs all they handle. I think the league is in one of those shifts it goes through every ten years or so when the young guys are taking over the league from the old vets.

http://theresastatforthat.blogspot.

com/2011/03/blog-post_15.html

 
At Wednesday, May 04, 2011 5:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39/DRP:

OKC was sluggish in game one but I think that we saw the real Thunder in game two and I still expect OKC to win the series; OKC has the size to match Memphis' frontcourt but Memphis has no one who can deal with Durant.

 
At Saturday, May 07, 2011 1:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Spurs were healthy for most of the season AND they had an uncanny timing of facing an opponent missing an important player or two.
They only lost 2 games against sub .500 teams, they lost 19 against winning teams.

Yup, there was nothing gimmicky about how the Grizzlies handled the Spurs. I think the right term here is "overpowered." I agree that the Spurs underachieved in the playoffs but I am having a hard time thinking of a way that they could have won that series. I am having a hard time believing this myself but the Grizzlies did look like the better team. Your thoughts?

2. The Spurs didn't receive much media attention during the height of their power. They didn't receive much attention when they were swept by the Suns. Even when they were on a 70 win pace, not a lot of noise was made.

I think they will get a "pass" because the media is simply not interested.

Fair or not, when the Lakers lose to the Mavs, I doubt that the Spurs will be mentioned again until the start of the next season.

 
At Saturday, May 07, 2011 1:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The media narratives are that the Spurs are venerable champions above reproach, the Lakers are a lackadaisical team that wins because of overwhelming talent and the Mavs are chokers."

Well if the Lakers do come back from 0-3...

 
At Sunday, May 08, 2011 7:13:00 AM, Anonymous warsaw said...

Well if this isn't a 50-50 series I dunno what is. Maybe a 51-49 for Memphis.

Tony Allen has defended Durant well through the NBA season and he did it again in game 3.
Is not true Grizzlies have no one to throw at him. It's only true that Durant can play great offense even against elite defense, as he did in game 1. The Grizzlies flat out stopped him in the 4 quarter yesterday.

The Grizzlies bigs dominated the third game too even while shooting badly. They rebounded, scored free throws and created space and screens for the perimeter guys.

No OKH big can't stop Grizzlies 2 bigs 1 on 1, but they've been getting a lot of help defense by perimeter players and it's been effective.
This is caused by Memphis real flaw: they can't make threes.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 4:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

I thought that Westbrook played very good fourth quarter "defense" on Durant by not passing him the ball; if Durant gets the ball at his spots early in the shot clock--as opposed to either not getting the ball at all or getting it out of position with the shot clock running down--then I don't give anyone on Memphis' team much chance of stopping him. Durant is bothered more by big, physical defenders (like Artest) but he can just shoot right over Allen or Battier provided that he gets the ball in the flow of the offense as described above.

Memphis is playing well but I expect OKC to get at least one road win and then ultimately take the series.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 9:51:00 AM, Anonymous warsaw said...

To me, Durant never got into position to get the ball because of Allen's defense. When Wrestbook tried to find him he was not in position. Hence, turnovers and Wrestbook's bad shots.

If Durant has the ball in good position, I agree that Allen can't stop him. But Allen is good at ball denial and tends to take Durant's favourite places.
Which is why Durant jacked up that long three at the end. He thought he was not getting a better shot.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

Allen is a very good defender but Durant has advantages over him (length, quickness); Durant should be receiving the ball either coming off of screens or in face up isolations early enough in the shot clock for him to use those advantages over Allen. If Allen is screened effectively the Grizzlies will either have to switch or else the much shorter Allen will be delivering an ineffective late contest (ineffective because of the height difference); if Durant catches the ball at the top in an iso situation I don't believe that Allen can consistently defend against both the long-striding drive and the one or two dribble pull-up.

By the time Durant received the ball on that last shot opportunity the play was already broken and Durant did not have many good options left. Allen did play good denial defense but OKC also executed very poorly not just on that play but in the final several minutes when they did not make a single field goal.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 8:59:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I can't say for sure that Popovich benched Blair because he knew he'd have trouble in the playoffs. In any case, we have actual evidence from the Memphis-SA series that Blair did have serious trouble competing with a quality front court in the playoffs. The point is that Blair was able to do a nice job during San Antonio's impressive regular season run but struggled in playoff competition. This relates to my larger point about some of the gimmicky aspects of the Spurs that worked in the regular season but did not hold up well in the playoffs. As for why Popovich would start Blair in the regular season, what were his other options? Bonner? An ancient McDyess who had to be preserved for the playoffs? Tiago Splitter could have been considered, but he got injured in the pre-season and he struggled to learn the system.

Anyway, even if you disagree with me about most of the Spurs' flaws, perhaps we can agree on the following: superstars often have to carry the load in the playoffs and it's the superstars who often determine how far a team can go. For instance, we just saw what happened to the Lakers when Kobe Bryant was unable to match his past level of performance. Similarly, the Spurs relied heavily on Tim Duncan to win all of their championships. Since Duncan slipped from an MVP-caliber player to just another All-Star, the Spurs have failed to seriously contend for a title. With that in mind, and taking into account the fact that Spurs did not suddenly have much more talented players around Duncan than they had from 2003-2008, I was skeptical of San Antonio's ability to win a championship this year.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 9:13:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

David, it's difficult to understand sometimes why the media does what it does. I agree with the critiques you have made throughout the years of the low-quality, hypocritical analysis that the media often produces.

I think it's fair to have had higher expectations for the Lakers than the Spurs during this postseason based on what the two teams have done in the playoffs in recent years.

For some reason the media has always treated the Lakers and Spurs differently. It's true that when the Lakers lose they get much more criticism than the Spurs. But it is also true that when the Lakers win they get much more praise and hype than the Spurs. For instance, think back to the 2007-08 season when the Spurs were defending champs and still good enough to win a championship and consider the lack of coverage, hype, and respect as contenders they got compared to the Lakers. Everything involving the Lakers, good or bad, is magnified, while everything involving the Spurs, good or bad, is minimized. I don't think it's right, and I don't know why it is that way (perhaps its a product of the Lakers playing in a larger media market and having personalities like Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson who attract a lot of attention).

 
At Tuesday, May 10, 2011 5:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I did not expect the Spurs to win the 2011 championship but I did expect them to be one of the top two teams in the West (I ranked them second behind the Lakers in my season preview) and I certainly did not expect them to lose in the first round after posting the best record in the West.

Without asking Popovich directly or reading some authoritative quote from him there is no way to prove why he changed his rotation.

A lot of the skewed coverage of the Lakers probably relates to the agendas that various people have regarding Kobe Bryant; his supporting cast is consistently overrated and his every decision to shoot or pass is subjected to ludicrously intricate (and yet incredibly superficial) examination.

 
At Tuesday, May 10, 2011 1:30:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

As I said, even if we do not know why Popovich changed his rotation, the point is that it's clear from having actually watched the Memphis-SA series that Blair is the type of player who was able to do a good job in the regular season but struggled greatly in playoff competition. Anyway, it doesn't look like you agree with me that it was obvious that the Spurs' size issues were going to cripple their ability to contend. So let's just move on.

I agree with you that a lot of the skewed coverage of the Lakers is related to agendas people have regarding Bryant. For instance a certain ESPN writer wrote before Game 3 of the LA-Dallas series about Bryant: "He already has two Finals losses offsetting those five rings of his, and a second-round flameout of this magnitude, with everything set up for the Lakers to three-peat, will always be remembered when you assess his career." I wonder if the Lakers had lost in the conference finals in 2004 and 2008 there wouldn't be as much "offsetting" Kobe's accomplishments. I'm curious if this same writer thinks the nine times Michael Jordan's team did not win a championship somehow "offsets" MJ's six rings. It's ridiculous.

Anyway, beyond the obvious agenda some people have against Bryant, I do think there is a general tendency to constantly talk about the Lakers (whether in a good or bad way) and overlook the Spurs as much as possible (when they deserve praise as well as when they deserve criticism). Can you think of a team that won multiple championships and contended for as long as San Antonio that received less media coverage?

 
At Tuesday, May 10, 2011 4:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I thought that the Spurs would have trouble against the Lakers in a hypothetical WCF matchup but, no, I did not expect that the Spurs would lose in the first round. The bottom line is that their star players underperformed; that may be due to age or injury but that is what happened. A similar thing happened to the Lakers: Kobe "merely" played like an All-Star and the rest of his supporting cast completely disappeared.

The sad thing is that any one of a dozen ESPN idiots could have penned the words you quoted (Abbott and Krolik spring to mind but they are far from the only ones). Magic got swept in the Finals twice, he lost in the first round in 1981 as a defending champion and he made so many mistakes in the 1984 Finals that Kevin McHale called him "Tragic." None of those things affected Magic's legacy in the long run. The main problem with ESPN is that they have hired a bunch of writers who have poor writing skills, little to no historical knowledge and blatant agendas that color everything they produce.

I agree with you that one could make a strong case that the Spurs are the most overlooked dynasty in NBA history (and perhaps in the history of the major pro sports, though hockey champions in general do not receive the kind of attention or adulation that NFL, NBA and MLB champions do).

 

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