Spurs Sweep Offensively Challenged GrizzliesThe San Antonio Spurs will be well rested when they face the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers in the 2013 NBA Finals; the Spurs earned a nine day vacation with their 4-0 sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. Tony Parker had a magnificent series, averaging 24.5 ppg on .532 field goal shooting while also leading both teams in assists (9.5 apg). Tim Duncan played outstanding defense (3.0 bpg) while also ranking second on the Spurs in scoring (15.5 ppg); he dominated the overtime period in game three and he dominated the overtime period in game four, playing his best basketball in perhaps the two most important five minute stretches of the series. San Antonio's third option, Manu Ginobili, averaged just 10.0 ppg while shooting a wretched .407 from the field; Ginobili only ranked fourth on the team in scoring behind Parker, Duncan and Kawhi Leonard (11.3 ppg) but he hit some timely shots and his dribble penetration opened up opportunities for San Antonio's three point shooters. Ginobili ranked second on the Spurs in assists (4.5 apg).
As I predicted, the Grizzlies struggled to score 90 points versus the Spurs; the Grizzlies averaged 87.8 ppg, with their two highest scoring efforts coming in the two overtime games (89 points in game two, 93 points in game three). The Grizzlies are a well-coached team that plays excellent defense; if they had not traded Rudy Gay for spare parts (Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis) then they might have had enough offensive firepower to defeat the Spurs. Prince averaged 5.8 ppg versus the Spurs while shooting .360 from the field; although Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins kept Prince in the starting lineup, Hollins slashed Prince's minutes because of Prince's ineffectiveness. Daye and Davis rarely played during the regular season and, not surprisingly, they rarely played in the Western Conference Finals, logging a combined 25 minutes. Gay's absence--and the uselessness of the players brought in to replace him--meant that the Spurs could pack the paint, making it difficult for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to even catch the ball, let alone score. Gasol averaged 14.3 ppg on .397 field goal shooting and Randolph averaged 11.0 ppg on .302 field goal shooting. Call this the anti-Kobe Bryant effect. Kobe Bryant's presence and impact boosted Pau Gasol's field goal percentage after Gasol joined the Lakers even though Bryant's field goal percentage is not extraordinarily high; the absence of Gay had a correspondingly negative effect on the field goal percentages of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the Western Conference Finals. This is something that "stat gurus" do not understand: a player who can create shots for himself and others distorts the opposing defense and thus his value cannot be measured just by looking at his individual field goal percentage (or by looking at his "advanced basketball statistics"). Gay is not nearly as good as Bryant but Gay performed a similarly key function for Memphis--and that role inevitably becomes more important as a team advances deeper in the playoffs, because the game slows down and defenses focus on a team's top offensive options. The Grizzlies advanced to the Western Conference Finals despite the Gay trade, not because of it; the Grizzlies survived their first round matchup because the L.A. Clippers are not a championship caliber team and the Grizzlies eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder mainly because of Russell Westbrook's season-ending injury.
ESPN's halftime shows during the Western Conference Finals provided great comic relief as baffled "stat guru" apologist Bill Simmons struggled to explain what was happening; it was hilarious to hear Simmons criticizing Hollins for not benching Prince earlier in the series; not too long ago, Simmons predicted a Memphis win, he did a symbolic victory lap because he had praised the Gay trade for improving the Grizzlies and he said that Prince was a better fit for Memphis than Gay.
It will be very interesting to see if the Grizzlies retain the services of Hollins, an excellent coach who publicly criticized the money-saving but strategically unsound Gay trade by saying, "When you have champagne taste, you can't be on a beer budget." Hollins has played a major role in Memphis' steady rise in the standings but his playoff rotation demonstrated that he has no use for the players who the Memphis "stat gurus" acquired in the Gay deal so his vision of how to compete for a championship may be incompatible with the front office's plans.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:56 PM