FanPost

Thoughts on the Grizzlies, Leonard's emergence, and containing Randolph




Great write up by Jesse Blanchard on Project Spurs about the Grizz's unlikely path to the WCF. Worth a read.

I actually like the Grizzlies as a team. Though it stung, I respected the way they beat the hell out of the good guys in the 2011 playoffs. No question that the Spurs' late-season injuries was a more significant factor than most of the media has yet to acknowledge, but you can't blame the Grizzlies for tanking to play a beat-up old team beating who is on their schedule.

If this plays out anything like the last playoff meeting between these two teams, containing Randolph will be key to our defensive success. He averaged 21.5 and 9 in the 2011 playoffs, and though McDyess gave a valiant and commendable effort, Randolph was able to absolutely take over when needed and the Spurs had no answer. In my mind, I still think Randolph stole enough of McDyess' mojo, swagger and unwavering self-belief in that series that he retired that offseason with a year or two left in his career. It was that kind of amazing performance.

As such, I expect us to employ a bit of the kitchen sink strategy early in the series, much like we did against Curry in game 2. Splitter, Duncan, Diaw, Bonner -- and maybe even short stints of Leonard -- will all get a crack. Many want to see Baynes too, and if we have the lead and the fouls to give I'd love to see it as well, but I doubt Baynes will be given meaningful minutes at this point just because of his relative inexperience playing with his new teammates. (Though, I am really excited to see what he can do with a full season, and if he can be our legitimate 3rd big [if we keep Tiago{I'm getting side-tracked now}]).

Unlike most pundits I've read, I think the Spurs might find more success sticking Duncan on Randolph and Splitter on Gasol when they deploy their two-big lineup. Unlike against Golden State, Duncan will be a key to this series. I think his old-man defense, underrated strength and veteran savvy actually matches up well against Randolph's old-man, pump-fake-ad-infinitum, punch-his-mother-in-the-nose offense. If nothing else, I don't think either of these guys even bother jumping anymore, so at least he won't get Timmy off his feet.

Gasol is a difficult matchup for anyone, but as he has played primarily in the high post in these playoffs I think Splitter's relative quickness, defensive activity especially in passing lanes, BBIQ and international experience playing against Gasol make him a decent option. Of course, Timmy will have to guard Gasol too when he is the only big on the floor, which will leave minutes at the 4 for...

Yes, we will see Bonner trying to guard Randolph at some point in this series. Sigh. Yes, he will look overmatched. Yes, he will get torched at some point (Randolph is a beast). He'll probably give up a stupid and-1. BUT, he will hustle and maybe even hit some 3s. Call me crazy, but I think he's played relatively well these playoffs -- and even looked a little calmer than in years past. Zen Red Mamba?

The more interesting matchup to me -- and the matchup we may see much more of than Bonner v. Randolph or that we may not see at all -- is Leonard v. Randolph. Does Leonard lend enough offensive strength to risk the deficiency on defense? First blush might make you say no since he doesn't put up gaudy offensive numbers, but having a PF on the floor like Kawhi can help push the pace and help the team get out in transition for easy points. The steals he generates often lead to fast break opportunities as well, and he is a good enough shooter to create space in the lane on offense for Tony and Manu. Against a half-court defense like Memphis', every layup or uncontested 3 you can get is huge.

We all know that small-ball lineups have their problems, and we've seen them fail in the past. But even against a ready-made-once-Lee-was-hurt small-ball team like the Warriors the Spurs were very successful at times going small, as Rob Mahoney points out:

"According to NBA Wowy, in the 52 minutes that the Spurs played with Leonard on the court without Duncan (including that final few minutes of Game 6), they outscored the Warriors by 33.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s a blowout margin carried out in short bursts of playing time, possible in part because of the way that Leonard complements bigs like Splitter and Boris Diaw."

That is incredible. Sure Randolph would have a rebounding advantage, but Kawhi's 8.5 boards per game in the playoffs are nothing to sneeze at, and he earned those while mostly being tied to one of the best 3-point shooters in the league on defense. I think it's worth a look.

Sorry for the long spiel, just couldn't wait to get the conversation started. Very excited for this series and really believe it will be a classic either way. Believe game 1 is especially important, as the Grizz are a great road team so far these playoffs. Cant wait! Go Spurs!

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