Memphis Grizzlies expert says Gasol vs Duncan is basketball at its best

Andy Lyons

I live in TN, and will be attending my first Spurs game tonight as San Antonio visits the Memphis Grizzlies. About a week ago, I reached out to Kevin Lipe from the GrizzlyBearBlues to join me in an email exchange to discuss all things Spurs/Grizzlies. The following is the result.

SpursFanTN:

The Grizzlies started the year on a tear, which kind of surprised me after they let go of OJ Mayo. The reasoning for that, I heard, was that he was basically Rudy Gay lite, and therefore redundant. For a while you guys were sporting the best record in the NBA. Not a trifling thing. Then times changed, and you guys were playing .500 ball for a while. There was also a trade in there I think, some end of the bench players.

But the biggest thing during the buildup to the trade deadline, and perhaps a distraction to the players, was Rudy Gay trade rumors. "Yes, the Grizzlies are shopping Rudy Gay." "No, he is their franchise player." "Yes, they need to get some cap relief." "No, he is their best player and they can't win without him."

And then of course the big trade. And you guys seem to be playing better ball. It looks from here like the season has been a roller coaster. Can you give us an insiders perspective on that?

Kevin Lipe:

The season has definitely been a roller coaster, but so far things are going well. I think the reason the team got off to such a hot start was that they didn't really make any moves over the offseason - which was, in large part, because the sale of the team was in progress and so the front office's hands were tied - and so the team didn't really have to "settle in" to anything at the beginning of the year. The faces were all the same, and everybody on this team had been together for a long time.

After a while, the other teams caught up, and that's when the Rudy Gay trade rumors really started. I don't know what was going on in the Grizzlies' front office that made it leak Rudy Gay rumors like gas from a rusty Datsun, but whatever the reason, everyone on Earth knew Gay was getting dealt. The team just looked shaky from there on out, and their .500 record reflected it. The offense clogged up, Rudy started playing heroball, shooting 6-23 in 40 minutes and only getting to the free throw line twice, that sort of thing. He had to go, really. Rudy Gay's time in Memphis had run its course, and it was better for him and better for the Grizzlies if he went somewhere else. The fact that he ended up in the Eastern Conference, so the Griz only have to see him twice a year from now on? That's the icing on the cake.

SFTN:

Are you a better ball club now? Why or why not? And how is Tayshaun Prince fitting in?

KL:

It's hard to argue with the Grizzlies' record since the trade: they're better. It took a while to get into the swing of things, but once Tayshaun Prince and Ed Davis (and occasionally Austin Daye) started getting their sea legs in the Grizzlies system - especially on the defensive end of things, where the Griz do things a little differently - it's been full speed ahead. The two most recent losses were at Denver and at Utah in a FOGAFINI (did I say that right?) and at altitude, so it's hard to be too upset about it.

Tayshaun Prince fits in perfectly. He's gone on record saying that this year's Griz team reminds him of the 2004 Pistons team that won it all, and the style of play is very similar: win the game on the defensive end, and score just enough points to pull off a victory. It's a game that I can't wait to see them take into the playoffs this year - especially since Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo (and 75% of Zach Randolph) were terrible last year, and those two guys are gone. Prince has been there before, and he's a basketball genius. His basketball IQ is so high I'm surprised he hasn't ended up on the Spurs.

SFTN:

I'm not an expert on PtR abbreviations, but yeah, I think you got that right, or close enough anyway. [Editor's note: SFTN, I'm deeply ashamed. You need to brush up on your Lexicon knowledge, my friend. -JRW] Man, if we had gotten Tayshaun Prince instead of Richard Jefferson? Of all of those old school Pistons, he is probably the one I liked the most. Plays hard, good skills, unassuming, no ego, not going to be tweeting a bunch of garbage, or tossing teammates under the bus, etc. All very Spurs-like. And frankly, with Gay gone, all very Grizz-like. :) It's a little bit terrifying thinking that this group could be even better than last year, or the group that started the year so well. What should we expect in the next matchup between Spurs and Grizzlies, especially ways it may be different than previously?

KL:

What's going to be different the next time these two teams play is the Grizzlies offense has returned to the Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol high-low post game that Spurs fans may remember in their night terrors from the 2011 playoffs. Add to that the passing ability and defensive prowess of Tayshaun Prince, and the ability to bring both Ed Davis and Darrell Arthur off the bench as athletic bigs, and I think this year's team is basically a leveled-up version of the 2011 team. (Except for Shane Battier dropping 3's. Miss you, Shane, baby.) If they can get the outside shots falling consistently enough to space the floor on offense, this team is going to be a nightmare in the playoffs.

SFTN:

I saw the end of the Grizz/OKC game the other day and it was great! Tayshaun was like Durant's personal forcefield, completely encompassing him, but yet not touching him. The guy is so unbelievably long. He's got to have a 7 foot wing span. He made KD take tough, tough shots.

KL:

When Tayshaun Prince first got here, I thought his new Grizzly nickname should be "PTayshaundactyl." No one over at Grizzly Bear Blues seemed to agree with me. In hindsight, that's probably for the best, but I've been hanging on to it in my back pocket like a switchblade, waiting for the right time to spring that one on the unsuspecting masses. Has a ring to it, right? "PTayshaundactyl"? Right? Why are you walking away?

SFTN:

Westbrook did his thing, freakishly athletic moves and ill advised jumpers. You guys pulled out a gutsy victory, seemingly doing us a favor by giving us some breathing room at the top of the conference (we'll see if that's a blessing. I'd rather not see LAL in the first round but, I'm not sure there is another team that I would rather see. There IS no pushover team in the playoffs). There were the patented plays Grizzly plays that always drive me crazy when you're doing them to us, the tip-ins, the tough d, the hard fouls down low, the strong rebounding, and the crafty lefty who can't high jump a paperclip, yet still manages to get the better of bigger, taller, and more athletic players.

What seemed to be a problem was getting points when you needed them. Do you see this as the issue? Is there a go-to guy or play. What do you want to see when you need points? And it really seems like you guys need one more D and 3 guy. Would you agree?

KL:

When the Grizzlies need points, they can get them one of two ways now: Marc Gasol/Z-Bo high-low -- which doesn't work when Gasol is out, because then suddenly Z-Bo is operating in a thicket of dudes who are typically more athletic than he is blocking his jab-step jumper and he typically ends up suffocating -- or Quincy Pondexter (who has also battled a nasty MCL sprain this season) can get a corner 3. Pondexter spent most of the offseason working on his corner three, and has been able to hit that shot fairly consistently over the course of the season. He's still not to Shane Battier's level of shooting ability (again, miss you, Shane, call me) but he's working on it.

Of course, there's the third, completely unpredictable possibility, which is that Jerryd Bayless will either do something ridiculously good or ridiculously bad. But that's not really an option so much as a random chaotic force operating out there somewhere. If basketball were AD&D, Bayless would be chaotic neutral. Tony Allen would be chaotic good.

SFTN:

Spurs fans pretty much like to pretend like the 2011 playoff didn't happen. We definitely don't like to talk about it. Z-Bo was soooo good that series. We definitely weren't equipped to go against a big team without our wing play being excellent. And it wasn't. Last year we did a lot better against big teams, LAL, LAC, and UT, two of whom we saw in the playoffs. I think we're even better in that regard this year. I know you probably haven't seen a lot of Spurs games this year, but have you heard of this guy named TI-A-GO Splitter? He's coming along right well and makes us a lot bigger up front. Darrell Arthur, though. Man, I'm pretty sure that he pads his midrange shooting percentage by going like 80% against the Spurs every time he plays us. So, while we don't exactly relish a playoffs rematch with the Grizz (even if we advance, I think we would get beat up), we no longer wake up sweating and screaming.

From the last couple of games that I have seen, we're doing a lot more high-low post game lately, using about 4 guys, Diaw, Jackson, Splitter, and of course, The Big Fundamental. It should be fun seeing our bigs match up against yours.

KL:

The Marc Gasol/Tim Duncan battles this year -- especially the OT game in Memphis that the Grizzlies ended up winning -- have been epic. So fun to watch. The pinnacle of (a certain kind of) basketball. Some nights the Grizzlies look like they could beat any team in the league and it wouldn't be close, and some nights the Grizzlies look like a team that used to be able to beat any team in the league. There are definitely some nagging doubts about the way this year's model Grizzlies are constructed. But I think, most importantly, that the team's chemistry is coming together at the right time.

SFTN:

Ok, got another question about Rudy Gay, that really has nothing to do with the Spurs. I saw a news article that quoted Rudy as saying that the Memphis ownership didn't give him a chance to prove himself. I've gotta ask what you think about that. Personally, I look at it and go, just exactly how does he think that is going to work? They tell him he's on probation and then he starts to perform differently? After however many years with pretty much the same core, he just needs a little bit longer to make it work out? You're making big bucks, have the lowest effective FG% in the NBA (I read that somewhere), and are a ball stopper (also read that). So was he right that the Memphis ownership give up on him too soon? Did you get the impression that he was coasting, playing his best, or had more to give or what? Were there other problems? Was he a good teammate and leader? Did he just not fit? He mentioned that he needed a change, and if that is the case, then wasn't it best that ownership got him out of there -- best for both of them? I had a hard time reconciling his comments. Did you see that or have any comments on that?

KL:

I saw those Rudy Gay comments, and actually wrote a big thing about how it was stupid. I'll say again here what I said there: Rudy Gay had plenty of chances to prove himself. The biggest chance, on the biggest stage, was the 2012 first round series against the Clippers. Zach Randolph was back from injury but he was operating at about 75%, and Rudy really needed to take over if the Grizzlies were going to win that series. Especially in Game 7 at home when Mike Conley had the flu.

It didn't happen. For a guy who was supposed to be a superstar player, when he was actually on the floor in the playoffs for the first time ever in 2012, he looked terrified and he played like he was terrified. His subpar ball handling became sub-subpar, his subpar midrange iso jumper -- which he always takes instead of driving to the rim, even though he's a freakiskly gifted athlete, because his brain isn't connected right -- because sub-subpar... basically, Rudy Gay was terrible. If he'd been even a small bit more efficient in the Clippers series, and been able to defend Caron Butler (who, lest we forget, had a broken hand) worth anything, the Grizzlies would've made it to the second round (and played... I dunno, some guys from Texas).

That certainly wasn't Rudy Gay's only chance to prove himself. He's been in the league for 7 years now, and is consistently talked about as one of the best non-KD small forwards in the game, but he's never even made an All Star team. He's never even deserved to make an All Star team, really. So for him to get to Toronto and say the Grizzlies never gave him a chance?

The rumors were that he and Z-Bo didn't like each other. I can't speak to that; I've only really interacted with them in a locker room setting where everybody was on their best behavior. The other rumor going around after he left was that he didn't want to stay in Memphis in 2010 but he did because the Grizzlies offered him that (ridiculous, stupid, horrific) $84mil contract. I don't know what his deal is, but I'm glad he's stopped talking about the Grizzlies. I was a Rudy Gay fan until last year's playoffs.

SFTN:

I make my home in Tennessee nowadays. And I love it. But I was a Spurs fan before I moved here, even though I never lived in TX. I live in the middle of the state, but still, all of my basketball friends are Grizz fans. And almost all of them hate the Spurs. Respect them, yes. But hate them. And there is a lot of hate around the league for the Spurs, much of it centered around them winning in the past, but doing so in the most boring manner possible, with some hate for dirty plays and flopping. What's the feeling towards the Spurs amongst your group? And as a close observer of basketball and all things pertaining to basketball, do you 1) Think the Spurs are boring? 2) Think the Spurs will ever shed the label of being boring?

KL:

I think Grizzlies fans have a healthy respect for the Spurs, because up until 2011 or so (and still last season) the Spurs have always had the Grizzlies' number. Now the teams seem to be pretty evenly matched when they play each other, but I'm still not sure when the Grizzlies will ever get a chance to actually win the Southwest division. Maybe in the year 2099. I don't understand hating the Spurs (well, unless you're Steve Nash and you're remembering getting hip-checked into the scorer's table by Robert Horry in 2007). But even that Spurs team isn't this Spurs team. That 2007 team had a little bit of an edge to it. This year's Spurs? They're a good team, and they play hard. Not much to hate there, to me. But maybe that's not necessarily what you want opposing fans to think.

1. No, the Spurs aren't boring. The Spurs are a good basketball team. I love good basketball. Watching Tim Duncan and Marc Gasol battle against each other is my #1 most favorite basketball activity. When those two guys are on the floor together, I barely even watch the ball. It's a master class in how to be a big man in the NBA.

2. No. I don't. Until they get some sort of "superstar" flashy player. But Tony Parker isn't boring to me. Manu Ginobili (the "old" Manu, not the current, hobbled version which seems to possibly be the dessicated corpse thereof) isn't boring. Tim Duncan is not boring. All those random white dudes on the bench are ... kinda boring. But most of them don't start. Cap'n Jack is maybe the least boring NBA player ever.

SFTN:

I am planning to go to this Spurs/Grizz game. I've got tickets, a baby-sitter and most of the day set aside. It will be just the second time I've seen an NBA game in person and the first time seeing the Spurs or the Grizzlies. A little bit embarrassing for a life-long NBA fan. Is there any Fedex Forum signature food or special customs I should know about? And if I convulsively cheer at the "wrong" time, like when Parker spins and makes some ridiculous layup, am I going to have to run for my life? And is wearing Spurs apparel a surefire way to get beat up? I could hide behind my wife. She's pregnant and they might take pity on my unborn son - he needs a daddy.

KL:

Barbecue. You want to get a pulled pork sandwich from the Rendezvous. You might have to hide, but probably not. Just don't wear a Clippers jersey.

You might get a little friendly heckling, but you have to be prepared for that if you're going to go to any team's home court wearing the other guys' jersey. FedExForum crowds are pretty easygoing about that kind of stuff.

Just don't wear a Clippers jersey.

SFTN:

Finally, taking a page from one of my fellow blogger's play books, a prediction about that game that DOES NOT have to do with the final score. You know, something like, Tim Duncan falls on a layup attempt, lands on a camera, completely destroying it, gets big gash on his leg, and hydraulic fluid starts leaking from his cybernetic limb. You know, something plausible like that.

KL:

Here's my prediction: Mike Conley will try to steal the ball from Tony Parker, will miss, and will accidentally steal Parker's knowledge of the French language, and from here on out we'll have to refer to him as "Le Mike." And then he'll try again later and will really get a steal, making Monday night's game the 65th consecutive game in which he's had one. Only Michael Jordan (77 games) and Chris Paul (108 games) have had longer streaks in the last 20 years.

My other prediction is that Tony Parker will dominate Fisher. (editor's note: Tony must, and will, always dominate Fisher. Well played- SfS)

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