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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Poor Shooting Predictably Dooms Grizzlies

Earlier this season, I caught some flack for writing that not only would the Memphis Grizzlies make an early playoff exit due to their lack of outside shooting but that--contrary to popular belief--they did not fit the mold of the proverbial "team nobody wanted to face."

I never said that Memphis is not a good team or even that it would be easy to beat the Grizzlies in a playoff series; I just said that Memphis has a glaring flaw and that because of this flaw if I were an NBA coach I would rather face Memphis in a seven game series than most of the other Western Conference playoff teams.

Given a choice of battling Golden State, Houston, L.A., San Antonio or Memphis, I would prefer Memphis every time. The Warriors perform at an elite level at both ends of the court, the Rockets have a good roster even though James Harden is overrated, the Clippers have a legit MVP-caliber player in Blake Griffin and the Spurs have a championship pedigree. In contrast, Memphis has a plodding, predictable style of play that can be broken down over the course of a seven game series. It might take six or even seven games to do so but it can be done.

Memphis Coach Dave Joerger knows his team's fatal flaw and he mentioned it after Golden State eliminated the Grizzlies in six games to advance to the Western Conference Finals: "We won 55 games, and we have something that other people have to really scheme against. We found in Game four that they made a nice adjustment. Basically, they just jammed it up and dared us to shoot it from the perimeter."

The Grizzlies play hard, they are a good defensive team and they can extend a playoff series against a superior opponent--but they cannot make outside shots and therefore their inside advantage can be neutralized in a seven game series. 

Memphis took a 2-1 lead before Golden State rattled off three straight wins but if you understand basketball you never doubted that Golden State would eventually prevail. Memphis relies on slowing the game down and pounding the opponent into submission. A team that pushes the pace, sags off of Memphis' perimeter players and crowds Memphis' big man duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will beat Memphis every time over the course of seven games because Memphis shoots so poorly. Memphis might wear down an opponent early in a series but in the long run Memphis' big guys wear down because the defense focuses on them and ignores their teammates.

In game four, Memphis shot .375 from the field and .222 from three point range. Randolph and Gasol shot 12-29 (.414). Golden State won 101-84.

In game five, Memphis shot .398 from the field and .267 from three point range. Randolph and Gasol shot 14-34 (.412). Golden State won 98-78.

In game six, Memphis shot .374 from the field and .250 from three point range. Randolph and Gasol shot 12-37 (.324). Golden State won 108-95.

Some people will look back at this series and insist that it was a tough fight because Memphis took two of the first three games but the reality is that this series was not close at all. Golden State dismantled Memphis three straight times. 

In the first half of game five, 2015 NBA MVP Stephen Curry shot 5-8 from three point range, while the Grizzlies combined to shoot 1-7 from behind the arc. Curry averaged 24.5 ppg in the series, 5.3 ppg more than any Memphis player. He shot .406 from three point range and he made more three pointers (26) than the entire Memphis team (25). Anyone who thinks that this Memphis team as currently constructed is likely to win a championship is misguided.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:44 AM

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At Sunday, May 17, 2015 2:25:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I mean, I picked Golden State too, but let's not pretend that Conley and Allen being injured didn't make things a little easier on GS. The later wins had as much to do with Thompson and Curry getting in groove against a hobbled backcourt as it did with Memphis' crummy shooting. I left that series feeling like a healthy Memphis team could have won it.

 
At Wednesday, May 20, 2015 10:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Conley and Allen are good players but neither one makes outside shots consistently enough to prevent an opponent from sagging into the paint and stifling Memphis' inside attack. Memphis is a good team that fights hard but, as presently constructed, it will be very difficult for the Grizzlies to beat an elite team in a seven game series, let alone beat multiple elite teams and win a championship.

I left that series feeling like it pretty much validated everything that I have written about Memphis for the past several years. I never said that Memphis would get swept by elite teams or that Memphis would get blown out in every game--but I have insisted that over the course of a seven game series Memphis' inability to consistently make shots outside of the paint would prove to be a fatal flaw and that is exactly what has happened to Memphis in the playoffs every single year.

 

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