San Antonio Versus Memphis PreviewWestern Conference Finals
#2 San Antonio Spurs (58-24) vs. #5 Memphis (56-26)
Season series: Tied, 2-2
Memphis can win if…the Grizzlies slow the game down, pound the ball inside, and keep the final scores no higher than the low 90s. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are arguably the best power forward/center duo in the league and they must be productive and efficient against San Antonio's Tim Duncan/Tiago Splitter tandem.
San Antonio will win because…the Spurs are comfortable playing at a fast or a slow tempo; the Spurs can match up with the Grizzlies in a grind it out game but they are too smart and well-coached to rely on this: San Antonio will push the pace and force the Grizzlies to defend all over the court, spreading Memphis' defense with corner three point shooters and attacking the paint with dribble penetration by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Other things to consider: The regular season head to head record is meaningless; three of the games took place before the Rudy Gay trade and the Spurs sat out two thirds of their "Big Three" (Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili) in the fourth game--though it is worth noting that the Grizzlies only won the latter contest 92-90 even though they were at full strength.
The 2011 first round series when Memphis defeated San Antonio in six games is also meaningless; O.J. Mayo, Sam Young and Shane Battier were key rotation players for the Grizzlies at that time, while Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess and George Hill were key rotation players for the Spurs. It is hilarious to hear "analysis" of this series that focuses on some version of "Memphis beat San Antonio without Rudy Gay in 2011 so the Grizzlies won't miss him versus San Antonio in 2013." Both teams have significantly different rotations now, so this series should be evaluated based on the skill sets of the current players and the likely matchups/mismatches.
The Grizzlies enjoyed a favorable path to the Western Conference Finals, beating the overrated L.A. Clippers and then taking advantage of the Russell Westbrook injury to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs essentially had a first round bye against the sleepwalking, Kobe Bryant-less L.A. Lakers but then they faced a surprisingly tough Golden State squad; San Antonio beat Golden State in a high scoring game one (129-127 in double overtime) and then San Antonio closed out the series in a low scoring game six (94-82)--and that is the key factor in this series: the Spurs can play small/fast and they can play big/slow but the Grizzlies can only be effective with a big/slow lineup.
If Parker and Ginobili attack the paint and set up the Spurs' three point shooters then it will be difficult for the Grizzlies to score enough points even if Randolph and Gasol win the battle versus Duncan and Splitter--and it is not at all certain that Randolph and Gasol will significantly outplay their San Antonio counterparts. Memphis will struggle to score more than 90 points per game in this series. The Grizzlies averaged 93.6 ppg versus the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals and the only time they topped 100 points they needed an overtime session to do it. The Spurs will score more points against the Grizzlies than the Thunder scored and the Spurs are better equipped to match up with the Grizzlies defensively.
Could Memphis win the series? Sure; if the final scores are something like 80-75 and if Randolph/Gasol put up 25-12 and 18-10 respectively while the Grizzlies contain Parker/Ginobili without losing control of San Antonio's three point shooters then Memphis can beat San Antonio--but I expect final scores in the 95-90 range or above and I just don't see Memphis scoring 95 points four times in this series.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:10 PM