Coach Lionel Hollins Reveals What He Thinks of the Rudy Gay TradeFor the first 36 minutes, game two of the San Antonio-Memphis series looked like an instant replay of game one: the Spurs led 51-37 at halftime of game one and extended that margin to 73-57 by the end of the third quarter; they led 46-31 at halftime of game two and still led 76-64 entering the fourth quarter. In game one, the Spurs pulled away in the fourth quarter to post a 105-83 rout but in game two San Antonio's offense completely fell apart in the fourth quarter, while Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins made a shrewd--and very necessary--lineup switch to give just enough of a boost to his team's anemic offense; those two factors--plus a very questionable flagrant foul call that contributed four points to the Memphis cause--enabled the Grizzlies to grind their way to 85 points and force overtime but that just delayed the inevitable: the Grizzlies only scored four points in the extra session and the Spurs took a 2-0 series lead with a 93-89 victory.
Tony Allen deserves an Oscar--and a flopping fine from the NBA--for his acting job after Manu Ginobili fouled him to prevent a layup in the final minute of regulation; Allen rolled around on the floor cradling his head in both of his arms as if Ginobili had caved in his skull with a brick even though replays showed that Ginobili never even touched Allen's head and that Allen did not hit his head on the floor, either. Allen made both free throws and then Mike Conley took advantage of the extra possession by scoring on a tough floater to tie the score with just :18 remaining in regulation. The game's biggest story, though, is not that sequence but rather the fine coaching job Lionel Hollins did as he attempted to strategically overcome the big mistake his front office made by trading away Rudy Gay, Memphis' leading scorer. Less than two weeks ago, I wrote, "Maybe the Grizzlies will find good use for the money that they saved by getting rid of Gay's contract, maybe Davis and/or Daye will develop into rotation players--but does anyone in his right mind believe that if Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins were given a lie detector test he would say that this trade improved Memphis' chances to win a championship this season?" After watching game two, we do not need a lie detector to figure out Hollins' answer to that question; Ed Davis and Austin Daye were the only two Memphis players who did not play at all, while Hollins benched Gay's replacement Tayshaun Prince--who finished with two points on 1-5 field goal shooting in 16 minutes, compiling a -11 plus/minus rating--and Tony Allen for key second half stretches in favor of Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter. Bayless tied Conley for game-high scoring honors with 18 points and even though Bayless shot just 7-18 from the field (.389) that subpar field goal percentage was somewhat better than Memphis' overall field goal percentage (.340) and much better than either Prince's or Allen's (2-11). Bayless played 34 minutes after averaging 22.1 mpg in the regular season and 20.4 mpg in the playoffs. Pondexter added seven points on 3-6 field goal shooting and he grabbed nine rebounds in 37 minutes after averaging 21.1 mpg in the regular season and 22.7 mpg in the playoffs.
It is foolish to suggest that trading an 18 ppg scorer for spare parts did not hurt Memphis' chances to win an NBA championship but many people stubbornly insist on believing foolish things. Hollins is obviously no fool, because during Memphis' biggest game of this season he rejected the spare parts his team's management foisted on him and instead hoped that Bayless and Pondexter could save the day. ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy did a great job during the telecast of both pointing out how San Antonio's defense completely disregarded Prince and Allen when they were on the court--thus clogging the lane and making matters difficult for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol--and also noting that San Antonio defenders were reluctant to leave Bayless and Pondexter unattended, which is why Randolph finally got going a little bit after being a non-factor in game one.
The Spurs' Tony Parker shot just 6-20 from the field en route to scoring 15 points but his deft passing (18 assists) dissected Memphis' defense. Tim Duncan was saddled with foul trouble but he dominated the overtime--scoring six of San Antonio's eight points--and he finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Ginobili had a quiet game (seven points, four assists in 29 minutes) but the beauty of being the third option is that you are not expected to be great every single game--a luxury that James Harden will learn to appreciate the longer that he is away from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Hollins will no doubt insert Bayless and Pondexter in the lineup earlier than usual in game three and he will reduce Prince's and Allen's minutes but the problem is that Bayless and Pondexter are bench players for good reason; they are not equipped to effectively play heavy duty minutes game after game. Bench players generally play better at home than on the road, so Hollins' lineup switch may help the Grizzlies win one or even two games in Memphis but in the long run Bayless and Pondexter cannot undo the damage that the Gay trade did. Memphis will continue to struggle to score enough points to beat San Antonio.
San Antonio squandered a 2-0 lead against Oklahoma City in last year's playoffs and Memphis overcame a 2-0 deficit versus the L.A. Clippers in the first round of this year's playoffs but those were exceptions to the NBA rule: teams that take 2-0 leads win the series nearly 94% of the time. Some people may suggest that the second half comeback in game two will give the Grizzlies momentum as the series moves to Memphis for the next two games but the reality is that, barring an injury or suspension to a key player, this series is already over and all that remains to be decided is how many games it will last.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:41 AM