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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Recurring Themes: San Antonio's Game Three Win Over Memphis Featured Familiar Storylines

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best of seven playoff series--and it does not seem likely that the Memphis Grizzlies will accomplish that feat against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs took a 3-0 lead over the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals with a 104-93 overtime victory on Saturday night. Many of the themes discussed here during the playoffs recurred during this contest:

1) Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins made it clear that he does not agree with the Rudy Gay trade

Tayshaun Prince, who replaced Rudy Gay in the starting lineup, scored seven points on 3-7 field goal shooting and had one rebound in 21 minutes. When Prince and Tony Allen are on the court, San Antonio packs the paint on defense and makes it difficult for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to even catch the ball near the hoop, let alone score. Prince sprained his ankle during the game but he was available for action; Hollins chose instead to often use reserve players Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter in place of Prince and Allen because Bayless and Pondexter provided a spark in game two with their shooting ability. This time, though, the results were mixed, as I predicted when I wrote, "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." Pondexter scored 15 points on 6-13 field goal shooting in 28 minutes but he had a -9 plus/minus rating, while Bayless scored seven points on 3-11 field goal shooting in 31 minutes and had a -18 plus/minus rating. If the Grizzlies still had Rudy Gay then Hollins could keep Allen on the court because Gay's presence/abilities would open things up enough offensively to compensate for Allen's lack of shooting range--but this series has shown that when Prince and Allen are on the court together it is very difficult for Memphis to score enough points to win.

2) Memphis missed Gay's ability to create his own shot/spread the floor

Right after Memphis traded Gay, I wrote, "Gay's field goal percentage has been hovering in career-low territory all season but his presence still created space for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and he ranked third on the team in rebounds, steals and blocked shots; Gay provided a lot of value that is not captured by 'advanced basketball statistics.'" During the game three telecast, Jeff Van Gundy repeatedly pointed out that the Spurs' defensive strategy is to smother Randolph and Gasol because the Spurs can just ignore the Grizzlies' perimeter players. Here is Van Gundy's comment after Mike Conley missed a tough runner on the last play of regulation with the score tied: "That's where you need someone with size and skill to go get you a shot. To ask Mike Conley to drive it on the dribble handoff into all that size--it's their best opportunity with the personnel that they have on the perimeter--but it's also a very difficult way to play." In other words, Van Gundy agrees with my analysis: it does not make sense for a contending team to trade a 6-9 player who was their leading scorer for spare parts.

The scientific method involves creating a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis experimentally and then modifying the hypothesis if the experiment proves that such modification is necessary; if "advanced basketball statistics" were the objective science that its supporters purport it to be, then those supporters would modify their hypotheses in light of experimental evidence: in other words, when a contending team trades its leading scorer because "advanced basketball statistics" assert that said player is not valuable/necessary and then the subsequent evidence shows that the team desperately misses said player's ability to create open shots for himself/others the "advanced basketball statistics" should be modified to reflect what the experimental evidence shows. Instead, we can expect to continue to hear "stat gurus" praise the Gay trade for supposedly propelling the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals--when, in fact, the Grizzlies advanced this far despite the trade, not because of it--while ignoring the obvious fact that the Grizzlies sorely miss Gay in this matchup with the Spurs.

3) The Difference Between Being the Third Option and Being the First Option

Less than two weeks ago, I wrote, "When Manu Ginobili scores 14 points in a half--as he did during the San Antonio's 97-87 overtime loss to Golden State on Sunday--he is a hero and a spark plug; when he is not making his shots the Spurs look elsewhere for scoring punch." Ginobili is not having a great series versus Memphis--or a great playoff run overall--but he played a key role in game three, scoring 19 points on 5-9 field goal shooting in 30 minutes while grabbing seven rebounds and passing for five assists. Being the third option is perfect for a player with Ginobili's skill set; he is talented and fearless but he is too erratic to be the number one option for a championship team. What Ginobili is doing for the Spurs is exactly what James Harden would be doing for the Oklahoma City Thunder if he had not rejected their contract offer in order to get a max deal with Houston; Harden is perfectly suited to be the third option on a championship team but he is a bit overmatched as the first option.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:50 PM



At Tuesday, May 28, 2013 3:22:00 AM, Anonymous Don said...

Hey man,

Long time reader here. Got any insights about the Heat-Pacers matchup?


At Tuesday, May 28, 2013 3:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


So far, the Heat-Pacers series has gone as I expected/predicted; the Pacers have the right elements (including size, physicality and excellent team defense) to challenge the Heat but I questioned if the Pacers have the necessary mental toughness/focus to beat the Heat four times in a seven game series. The Pacers could easily be leading this series but instead they have lost focus in critical moments and could end up losing 4-1.

At Tuesday, May 28, 2013 3:55:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

Now that the Spurs have dispatched the pretenders from Memphis (tho I didn't expect a sweep) I'm eager to see how Pop prepares for the Heat.

Not only is San Antonio a good defensive team, they also have the necessary focus or mental toughness to challenge the Heat.

It's just too bad that this will be the first Finals the Spurs don't have homecourt advantage. Maybe the Finals format make a difference?

At Tuesday, May 28, 2013 5:30:00 AM, Anonymous Don said...


I've been thinking that the Pacers lack a player with a Cleaner mentality in order to take charge whenever there's a lull moment or whenever everyone just don't know how to attack the Heat defense. Do you think that this is the case?


At Tuesday, May 28, 2013 1:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


This article is about the Spurs and Grizzlies, not the Heat and Pacers, so this comments section should focus on the topic at hand.


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