Spurs Tame Grizzlies in Game One of the Western Conference FinalsYes, it's only one game--though game one winners advance roughly 80% of the time in the NBA playoffs--but the first game of the Western Conference Finals went almost exactly as I predicted the series will go based on the skill set strengths and weaknesses of the respective teams. The San Antonio Spurs' 105-83 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies exposed a lot of Memphis' flaws--flaws that went unmentioned in most "expert" analysis of this series:
1) The Memphis Grizzlies were not able to slow the game down; I said that for the Grizzlies to beat the Spurs the final score would have to be in the low 90s but Memphis neither reached that total nor held the Spurs below that total.
2) I wrote that Memphis would struggle to score 40 points in some halves and that it would be interesting to hear what Bill Simmons says at the halftime of the first game when Memphis has scored less than 40 points. Memphis trailed 51-37 at halftime and only surpassed the 40 point barrier in the second half by tacking on eight meaningless garbage time points in the last 1:47. Simmons called the first half the "worst scenario" for Memphis but said that Memphis "still kind of hung in a little bit." No, it was not a "worst scenario"; it was a predictable scenario for anyone who understood the matchups--and since when does trailing by 14 after scoring just 37 points count as hanging in a little bit? The game showed all the signs of the blowout that it eventually turned out to be; I don't expect every game of the series to be a blowout but anyone who watched the first half with understanding would have expected the Spurs to win by at least 20 even after the Grizzlies made a brief third quarter run: the Spurs were completely outexecuting the Grizzlies at both ends of the court and thus Quincy Pondexter's third quarter three point shooting barrage only delayed the inevitable.
3) "Stat gurus" praise the Rudy Gay trade as if it cured world hunger, solved the energy crisis and conclusively proved that anyone who does not swear permanent allegiance to "advanced basketball statistics" is hopelessly ignorant. The Grizzlies dealt Rudy Gay--their leading scorer who is also one of the top rebounders at the small forward position--and received in exchange Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis. If Daye or Davis appear in a game you can be pretty sure that someone is getting blown out and/or the Grizzlies have lost players due to injury/foul trouble. Prince took over Gay's starting small forward position and has become the 6-9 version of the Invisible Man; Prince was a key contributor to Detroit's championship team--in 2004--but he has lost a step (or two or three) laterally and he was never a big-time scorer. As Memphis' offense died on the vine in game one, Prince contributed six points on 2-5 field goal shooting, one rebound and two assists in 29 minutes. The Spurs felt free to sag off of Prince to protect the paint. I don't know what kind of impact Rudy Gay might have had in this series but I'm willing to bet it would have been more than six points in 29 minutes and I suspect that the Spurs would not have sunk his defender into the paint. Daye and Davis shot a combined 3-8 from the field in game one, mainly during what Marv Albert would call "extensive garbage time."
4) The Grizzlies shot .432 from the field as the Spurs fronted Memphis' post players and also collapsed perimeter defenders into the paint, daring Memphis' non-shooters to shoot and not providing any room for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to operate. Randolph made just one of his eight field goal attempts and posted a -28 plus/minus number in his 28 minutes. One third quarter play symbolized Randolph's utter frustration: Randolph committed an offensive foul by pushing Tim Duncan, the officials did not call the foul and Randolph still missed the wide open layup.
5) While Memphis' offense sputtered, San Antonio executed flawlessly and did exactly what I expected: spread the floor and kill the Grizzlies with dribble penetration leading both to layups and wide open three point shots. Tony Parker led both teams in scoring (20 points) and assists (nine), putting on a clinic while he ran circles around Memphis' defense. Neither Tim Duncan (six points, 3-9 field goal shooting) nor Manu Ginobili (eight points on 2-6 field goal shooting) did much offensively but Duncan anchored the Spurs' defense, controlled the glass with a game-high 10 rebounds and distributed the ball well (four assists, second on the team to Parker).
San Antonio may not make 14 three pointers in a game again the rest of the series and Zach Randolph will play better but--barring injuries or serious foul trouble--this series is on course to play out like I expected, much to the surprise of all of the "experts" who considered Memphis to be a heavy favorite.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:58 AM