Continued from here.
Game 3. Wow. Quarter 1 was a stinker for SA, but Memphis gets a lot of credit. They were totally ready to play, were all up into the Spurs, were in the passing lanes, and totally aggressive. A Pop timeout couldn't even turn the tide. Totally looked like Memphis was playing the Bobcats. Pop benches the starters. Now you would think that would a perfect time for Memphis to go on a run, especially with Bonner and Diaw on the floor AT THE SAME TIME, against the best front court tandem in the NBA. But the bench came to play, played with energy and discipline, and held their own. After that the game was actually watchable for me.
In fact, by the time the end of the fourth quarter came around and it was headed into overtime, I really didn't care who won the game. That's unusual for me. I was just enjoying watching both teams play. Total contrast to the end of game two where I felt like Spurs were playing like crap. I do hate that the refereeing is so subjective, with touch fouls or phantom fouls getting called sometimes, and full on pushes, trips, and even forearms to the face not getting called. One part of me feels like in the end it usually evens out. But another part feels like, throughout the years, it has sucked to have so many bad calls come at sensitive times. I am thinking specifically of Spurs vs Lakers playoffs in the pre-review era where we ALWAYS seemed to get screwed. Even when the calls are in the favor of a team I'm rooting for, it still sucks. It also sucks that guys like Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant get special treatment, even from in the after game review process. If Bruce Bowen had elbowed somebody like Dwayne Wade did, you think he wouldn't have gotten suspended?
So first let's talk about something from Game 2. Tony Allen gets the steal, Manu holds him, TA falls awkwardly, flagrant foul is called. We've probably all seen it, and seen the replays. Do you think it should have been called a flagrant? And do you think TA should have been fined for "flopping"?
Now back to Game 3. At half time, ESPN showed footage of the Memphis players going to locker room. They were up 4. Their body language looked, if not deflated, then certainly not confident. You may have had a better perspective though than the shots I was seeing on TV. How would you describe the Memphis body language at half time and after the game in the locker room?
Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless seem to be playing great. What's up with Mike Conley? He's made some big shots, but he seems to be a non-factor for large portions of the game. This is the guy that totally outplayed Parker two years ago, and has done nothing but improve since then. He was great in the first two rounds. He has been great against the Spurs in the regular season. Is he playing up to the level that you have come to expect from him? If not, can you enlighten us on some possible causes, e.g. nagging injury, defensive schemes, confidence, etc?
This whole series has been fun to watch, from a basketball standpoint. Well, mostly. Watching the Grizzlies and Spurs adjust to each other's adjustments to each others' adjustments has been really interesting in a way that the Grizzlies' first two playoff series weren't. I think that speaks to the quality of coaching more than anything.
When you're talking about suspensions, I think Dwyane Wade is a special case. To me, he's one of the dirtiest players in the league. You may remember him as the guy who broke Kobe Bryant's nose in an All-Star Game. You may remember that he kicked Ramon in the Sessions. [Editor's note: Not to mention his recent elbow on Lance Stephenson. - jrw] He's always inflicting harm on other players on the court.
I've talked about the Ginobili/Allen situation extensively on Google Talk with J.R. Wilco, so I've formulated a pretty clear position on the foul at the end of Game 2. I think it was a flagrant. I think the fact that Tony Allen rolled around on the floor holding his head, for which he received a $5000 flopping fine, has nothing to do with whether or not the foul was a flagrant. What made it a flagrant foul instead of a "hard playoff foul" was the fact that, if you watch the replay, Ginobili grabbed Allen's arm and pulled him down. That's just straight-up dangerous. I'm sure Ginobili didn't intend for Allen to hit the deck that hard -- and he did hit it pretty hard, which is a good way to screw up an elbow or arm -- but that doesn't make the foul any less unnecessary.
It's a flagrant because it was a dangerous play. I think Ginobili could have just hacked Allen's arms instead of grabbing him, and it wouldn't have been a flagrant.
I don't know that it matters all that much anymore, with the Grizzlies down 0-3. If it had actually impacted the outcome of the game(s), I think it'd probably be worth more debate.
I was talking about body language with Matt Moore after Game 3. I think the Memphis players have a feeling they're done for. I don't know that they don't think they have a shot, but they know that the Spurs have them figured out, and that they just don't have the right matchups at the right places to overcome The System. I think the 2011 loss to the Grizzlies made the Spurs spend a lot of time developing players that would be able to swamp defenses like the Grizzlies'.
I also think the Grizzlies have squandered the last two offseasons not signing a true three point threat. They had to wait for Quincy Pondexter to take the initiative to make himself one. But he can't do it alone. You can't win a championship with one player who's a consistent 3-point threat. Bayless is too streaky, and he doesn't have a conscience, so when he doesn't have it, he's going to shoot forever anyway. Conley makes them sometimes, and sometimes he doesn't, and he (wisely) shifts himself into more of a "faciliator" role.
I said it in my game three piece. The Grizzlies still miss Shane Battier. No matter who they miss, I think they know they're up against it. How could they not? There's going to be a weird vibe in the Grindhouse tonight. I'm not sure what to expect.
I know the heartache of coming so close and watching it slip away. It seemed like the refs stole a number of series from us against LA that were oh, so close. Like the .4 seconds. If I recall, there wasn't supposed to be that much time left on the clock but the refs added some. Or maybe that was another series against LA. Just horrible; crawl- into-bed-scream-into-your-pillow bad.
Memphis is a great team as built. Perhaps with a training camp, another outside shooter or two, and an entire season for everybody to play together without Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, they'll be able to figure out what things they need to add to their game to fill in weak spots. Even without that, these teams are so, so close. Two overtime games - meaning a free throw anywhere in regulation would have won the game.
I don't remember the end of game 2 as much as the end of game 3. Tony Allen misses a free throw, makes the second. Game tied. Manu misses an open 3 from same spot he had just made one. Conley misses a well-contested layup, but still a makabe shot for him. And the thing that I saw in the replays, but was never mentioned, is that Zach Randolph had a shot at the put back, but was rushed because of time, and it hit the rim going up. How many of those has he made?
This series could easily be 1-2, or 2-1 and the narrative would be much, much different. Of course, so much about a playoff run is luck and circumstances. The Spurs were able to face a Lakers team that some said was just starting to gel and they were still the underdogs. Steve Blake played out of his mind, but then the wheels just came off with like 5 of their guards getting injured at the same time. OKC might have added a piece and/or been able to work out some new offensive scheme if Westbrook injury had happened earlier than it did.
Honestly, 3 of the 4 healthiest teams have made it this far. The NY teams were probably healthier than Indy, but the Knicks were a train wreck waiting to happen, and Brooklyn was just never were quite good enough. I wonder if teams will start looking at the numbers and realize how they need to protect their players to keep them as fresh as possible to prevent fatigue related injuries? I hope so, but am doubtful.
Going into Game 4, I am worried that the Spurs are not going to be very fresh. And I'm worried what that will mean. You saw how poorly they played coming into Game 3 completely rested. Especially Tim Duncan. The stats have showed that he performs great with two days between games. He performs well with one day between games, and his production is much lower on back to backs. This is one day between games, but he was on the court for about 50% more minutes than what he typically played during the regular season. I think Memphis has a great opportunity to take Game 4.
Before Game 2, the narrative flying around the media circuits was that Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince couldn't play together, they were being left alone and they were hurting the Grizzlies. Then they came out and absolutely destroyed the Spurs in the first quarter -- both of them put together a pretty good game. I say good game because the box score looks pretty good. But really, both of them had a great first quarter, and a good first half. The second half not so much. Anyway, I thought they each upped their game coming into Game 3, on both ends of the floor. It was good to see them getting some vindication and changing the narrative, but was it still a problem? How much did they really impact the game from Q2 on?
I'd say the winning team is the one who brings more tonight. Is Hollins going to bust out one last playoff change or gimmick that he has been saving for a time of need? Looking forward to another great game. Love the Grizzlies as a team. Love to see them successful. Wish this was the finals instead of the WCF for the success and validation it would bring to this organization.
I think it's very much still a problem. The Grizzlies are playing 3.5 on 5 when they're on offense a lot of the time. Tony Allen has gotten much better at making the right cut at the right time to punish defenders for helping off him too far (that is, for pretending he's not even on the court) but he's still just not consistent enough to command respect on offense. Tayshaun Prince's shooting has been a disaster since he arrived in Memphis. I don't know if it was that bad in Detroit, but it's been terrible for Memphis.
I think, until the Grizzlies retool a little bit and add a small forward that can shoot 3's or figure out some way to add a high-percentage shooting 2-guard who can be on the floor at the same time as Allen or something, they're going to face this problem.
I have no idea what to expect from the Grizzlies tonight. On the one hand, it's probably over. I don't know how they'll find the strength to pull this one out. I don't know what adjustments are left to make. On the other hand, once the Grizzlies had won a game in both previous series, they didn't lose again. So part of me is holding out hope, and the other half has already surrendered.
I also wish this were the Finals. I also wish the Grizzlies were up 3-0. Can't always get what you want, I guess.
[Editor's note: Thanks a lot, Mick Jagger. -jrw]
To be continued?