Memphis Grizzlies @ San Antonio SpursSan Antonio, Tx
May 19, 2013, 2:30 PM Spurs Time
TV: ABC - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
Fellow Pounders, it's about that time of year again. After beating the Golden State Warriors in a tough second round matchup, the San Antonio Spurs are in the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row, and will face off against the Memphis Grizzlies.
This marks the second time in three years that the Spurs and Grizzlies will see each other in a playoff series, the previous one being in 2011 when Memphis shocked San Antonio in the first round (check out Cameron Archer's excellent post comparing this year's teams to those of two years ago). That series was won by Memphis bullying the Spurs down low in the post, and controlling the tempo for the most part. And although two years may not seem like a long time, there are noticeable differences on both of these teams that will affect the outcome of the series.
In Game 1, it will be important for the Spurs to come out and set the tone defensively. Although the Grizzlies don't get many shots up, and have a very slow pace, they run a very precise offense, and are extremely efficient in running their sets, so the Spurs will need to play at a high level defensively to give themselves more possessions on offense.
One of the big storylines from 2011 was how the Grizzlies were able to control the paint against a smaller San Antonio team. And while Memphis still has an extremely talented frontcourt led by Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, whose dominance from 2011 will be remembered, the Spurs are no longer a team that can be pushed around in the post. Tiago Splitter has grown from a rookie waiting to be dominated, to a mobile defender, able to hold his own versus whichever post player he might be guarding. Whenever he is teamed up with Tim Duncan (who has been so much better than he was in 2011), they make a defensive presence in the post, able to navigate the whole floor and defend against anything ranging from post ups to pick-and-roll attacks.
When looking at the things that have changed from 2011 to now on the Spurs, one can't help but notice the presence of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Green originally made a name for himself on the offensive end, shooting over 40% from three for the last two years in silver and black. But, as we all saw in the second round series against Golden State, Green is also a very good defender. When Coach Popovich inserted him on Stphen Curry, he showed the perfect mix of quickness and size necessary to slow down the sharpshooter. Leonard is an even better defender, and was matched up against Klay Thompson for most of the series, slowing him down after Thompson scored 35 points in Game 2. Leonard has continued to show his defensive awareness, as he's been capable of taking any assignment thrown at him in stride. I expect their perimeter defense to be just as strong against the Grizzlies, whose offense doesn't revolve around their guards as much, but still relies on point guard Mike Conley to run their offense.
While everyone knows about Randolph and Gasol for Memphis, it is Conley that will be key for the Spurs to stop. Grantland's Zach Lowe recently explained Conley's abilities more in-depth, but Conley is a very heady guard, and understands how the flow of the game goes, and executes the offense well. He is great at running the pick-and-roll, and when Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless are spacing the floor for Memphis, it will take a team effort to stop him in those situations.
Grizzlies perspective can be found here: Grizzly Bear Blues
Game Prediction: In a gritty game one matchup, the Spurs win by 3.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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