Posted: 9:51 p.m. Sunday, May 19, 2013
By Fred Silva
The San Antonio Spurs began the game aggressively against the Grizzlies and never relented. In Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs looked rusty and discombobulated after an extended break between rounds. On Sunday afternoon, after just three days of rest between rounds, the Spurs picked up right where they left off and seemingly carried their momentum from Game 6 into Game 1. The Spurs dominated the first quarter, winning it 31 to 14.
The Spurs' offense looked sharp, as did their defense. The Spurs shot 58% in the opening quarter while holding Memphis to 44% from the field. The Spurs made four 3-pointers while the Grizzlies had none. Tony Parker and Danny Green led the way early on, each scoring eight. Throughout the game, Tony Parker took whatever he wanted from the vaunted Memphis defense. He penetrated into the paint off of pick and rolls at will and when he wasn't finishing with a layin, he found his teammates for wide-open 3-pointers. Matt Bonner hit two 3-pointers in the first, thanks to Tony's creativity.
Early in the second quarter, the Spurs pushed their lead to 19, but Memphis fought back. After a 31 point first quarter, Memphis clamped down defensively and only allowed the Spurs to score 20 second quarter points. However, the Spurs' defense also played well and Memphis was only able to score 23 for themselves. At intermission, the Spurs led by 14, 51-37.
In the third quarter, Memphis made San Antonio nervous by climbing back within striking distance. After controlling the entire game up to this point, San Antonio had a prolonged series of mental lapses and Memphis took advantage by going on a 10-0 run and cutting the Spurs' lead to six. Quincy Pondexter made a layup and back to back 3-pointers to lead the Grizzlies' charge.
However, six points was as close as Memphis would get, as the Spurs answered with Manu and Bonner 3-pointers to push their lead back to double digits. From there, the Grizzlies were unable to mount another comeback. The Spurs' offense looked too good and San Antonio's defense befuddled the two Memphis giants, Gasol and Randolph.
After a win like that, it's easy to overreact. I mean, the Spurs looked really, really good. So, allow me to temper expectations by explaining why the Grizzlies are still in this series. First, and most obviously, it's just one game. The Spurs have lost playoff series before after winning the first two games and the Grizzlies have won series after dropping their first two. There's still a long way to go.
Also, the Spurs shot exceptionally well in Game 1. They hit a playoff franchise record 14 3-pointers on 48% shooting from distance. It's going to be difficult for the Spurs to replicate their 53%, 48%, 79% shooting moving forward.
Memphis' defense is much better than they performed today. Their communication was very poor and it resulted in many wide-open shots, which is very atypical for the Grizzlies. In his post-game remarks, Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said, "We just over-helped. We were just running all over the place. I mean, we'd have four guys in the paint and nobody would be out on the perimeter guarding anybody. That's not how we play defense."
Later, Marc Gasol reiterated his coach's thoughts, "Defensively, we weren't where we were supposed to be. We did not communicate. Every time we made a mistake defensively, they made us pay. Over-help or no help, whatever it was, they made us pay."
So, one can probably assume that the Grizzlies will come into Game 2 with an extreme focus on the defensive end of the floor. On offense, their leading scorer, Zach Randolph, made only one of his eight shots and finished the game with just two points and a +/- of -28. Prior to this game, Randolph averaged 19.7 ppg in the playoffs to go along with 9.3 boards. Clearly, better performances should be expected from Zach.
So, basically, this game could be viewed as one that had many outliers, all of them in the Spurs' favor. Defense, 3-point shooting, Zach Randolph, etc. It's only one game and Spurs fans know that these series can take turns that seem inconceivable now.
And, with that out of the way, I think the Spurs are simply the better team. Before the series began, I called the Spurs in a sweep. People ask me why, and the simplest response is that the Grizzlies are basically the Spurs, just without the firepower. Stampler wrote an excellent piece that delved into just how good the Spurs' defense has been this season. The Spurs' defense is elite, and if you didn't believe that before Game 1, it didn't get any easier for you after.
The Spurs and Grizzlies both play very good defense. What's left? Oh right, offense. Here are the Spurs' 3-point shooters, in no particular order: Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Tony Parker (if the Spurs really need it and he's in the corner.) Here's the Grizzlies' 3-point shooters: Mike Conley, Quincy Pondexter and sometimes Tayshaun Prince.
Offensively, the Grizzlies just are not that good. The Spurs' offensive ceiling shouldn't even be compared to that of the Grizzlies. It's just not even close. There was one outlier that occurred in Game 1 that Memphis benefited from; a 10-0 third quarter run. It took two back to back 3-pointers from Pondexter. Other than that single run, the Grizzlies didn't make one. And that's to be expected. They do not have an offense capable of putting up points in a hurry.
By the way, aside from the 3-point shooting, the Spurs didn't play a great offensive game. Tim Duncan only scored six points, making three of nine. He missed a lot of open looks that normally drop from him. In addition, Manu Ginobili looked bad. Aside from a nice 90 second stretch in the third quarter, he really played an ugly game on offense.
In 17 minutes of action, Tiago Splitter spent 25 seconds not looking lost. Randolph and Gasol pushed him all over the court and Tiago passed when he should have shot, every time. Tiago will have better games in this series. At worst, he'll have a repeat performance of Game 1. It's difficult to imagine him playing worse. He didn't have a single rebound. That's uncanny.
In my opinion, the Spurs are benefiting from the cost-cutting moves that the Grizzlies made during the regular season, getting rid of Rudy Gay, Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights and only receiving Tayshaun Prince in return. The rest of the pieces they received weren't good enough to crack the rotation. Those moves might help Memphis' salary cap situation going forward, the current Grizzlies team is not as good as the Memphis team that began the season.
The Spurs, on the other hand, are getting healthier with each additional game and seem to be peaking at just the right time. Tony Parker is finally looking like MVP Tony once again. He scored 20 points and had nine assists to lead the Spurs. More than that, he controlled every minute that he played. Tony put the Spurs on his back in Game 1 and carried them to an impressive victory.
Entering this postseason, the Spurs were mired in doubt. Tony, Manu, Diaw and Tiago all suffered injuries to close the regular season and the Spurs' playoff hopes seemed dubious. The Spurs would need a lot to go right in order to succeed, it seemed. Well, the Spurs swept the Lakers and survived their bout with the Warriors. All of this earned San Antonio the time they needed to get healthy to make this final push. After a victory in Game 1, the Spurs will look to take a 2-0 advantage this Tuesday as they continue their quest to win a fifth trophy.
Also, follow me on twitter. I tweet from home games.
CoJo rebounds like I used to in the 3rd grade. Bends over hugging the ball until it's safe to proceed.— Fred (@DartFred) May 19, 2013