Two years ago, the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in 4-2 dominating fashion.
Well... Not really.
It wasn't an "upset." The 2011 Memphis Grizzlies were a defensive buzz-saw that no one knew about, except for teams in the Western Conference. And not one playoff team looked forward to going up against those upstart Grizzlies, especially San Antonio.
The Spurs limped into the 2010-2011 playoffs, fresh off yet another gut-wrenching injury to guard Manu Ginobili. In the final game of the regular season, Manu Ginobili broke his non-shooting arm in between a Grant Hill and Tim Duncan collision. Not even a month before Manu's freak accident, Tim Duncan severally sprained his left ankle against the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs were seriously hurting but, regardless of health, that Spurs squad didn't have a prayer that post-season anyways.
San Antonio was in a transition phase. Tim Duncan was obviously no longer capable of handling the role of being the primary offensive focal point and 2010-2011 proved to be their first true season of being "Tony's team." Manu Ginobili finally played an 80-plus game season but was performing at an inefficient level. The Spurs shipped out the old hats of Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto, and Kurt Thomas in exchange for Richard Jefferson, a (then) 20 point-per-game scoring forward. The idea was the give the Spurs another weapon out on the wing for Tony, Manu, and Tim to kick out to but the Jefferson experiment flamed out in a hurry.
The Spurs once notorious defense finally descended to middle-of-the-pack quality and the memories of championship defense felt like ages ago. Although the Spurs certainly had the mindset and some defensive pieces, they just didn't have the right combination. George Hill didn't fit right with Tony Parker and was too small to consistently man the two-spot. Tiago Splitter was a rookie still recovering from injury. Antonio McDyess had the mind and heart but no longer the body. Tim Duncan was slow, tired, and overloaded with defensive responsibilities (Tim ended with his second-worst defensive rating of his career that season). Jefferson, who was once a capable defender early in his career, had lost all comprehension of the subject after spending most of his career with offensive-oriented teams.
Against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs were simply outmatched player-to-player. Michael Conley made Tony Parker's life a living hell. With a bad wheel, Tim Duncan was a shadow of himself and the Spurs front court of Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair, and Matt Bonner (rookie Tiago Splitter barely played) were hilariously undersized against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Richard Jefferson, the offensively-limited George Hill, and rookie Gary Neal were matched up against a grizzled lineup of bigger, athletic defenders - Tony Allen, O.J. Mayo, Sam Young, and veteran Shane Battier.
The San Antonio Spurs spent most of that series just picking themselves back up off the glossy hardwood floor.
But 2011 might as well be 1911 because the Spurs team the Grizzlies face this time around are decades apart in both appearance and talent. Tony Parker is now the unquestioned leader of the Spurs offense. Tiago Splitter has emerged into a solid defender alongside Tim Duncan, who somehow figured out how to reverse time (Duncan's 2012-13 defensive statistics have returned back to his championship years). Boris Diaw has provided the Spurs with even more spacing to operate their motion offense (something that barely existed in 2011). Even Matt Bonner has developed into a dependable player on both ends of the court. The Spurs backcourt improved in youth, size, speed, and athleticism with the additions of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. And the young, defensive-minded Cory Joseph has proven that he can confidently operate the Spurs offense under the bright lights of the playoffs.
Perhaps most striking is that the two teams have diverged in terms of pace. Each was middling in 2011, but the Grizzlies have become one of the slowest teams in the league and the Spurs one of the fastest.
- Cameron Archer in his article, "Forget 2011, the Spurs are ready this time."
As Cameron pointed out in great detail in his May 18th post, the Spurs offense has evolved into a high velocity system of murderous efficiency. The previous season was a coming-out party for San Antonio's offense and Spurs fans (and national media) spent most of the lock-out shortened season with their mouths agape. These weren't the "boring" Spurs that we've all become accustomed to. The 2012 Spurs light burned fiercely but was eventually snuffed when the team finally hit adversity in the Western Conference Finals.
The Spurs stayed the course over the offseason, opting to entrust their 2013 title chances with their aging core and the development of the young supporting cast. Now, with the offense still burning the floor and with the defense back to top-ten status, the Spurs are back at the doorstep of the NBA Finals again. They may not be able to pay the Oklahoma City Thunder back for last year but the Spurs are more than happy to settle an old score with another rival.
Standard Pop Pre-Game Quote
-Pop on whether or not he told his players to not get complacent with a lead.
Spurs fans, I ask a simple task of you. Print out Tony's face and "Cage" someone. - USA TODAY Sports
- DeJuan Blair and Danny Green almost completed an alley-oop off a backwards bounce pass between the legs.
- Memphis players were actively defending each other on one-on-one drills from various spots on the floor. They did cover some high screen-and-roll action but most of it was just isolation defense.
- Kawhi Leonard did some work in the block but it was light contact. Leonard was just focusing on his post-work mechanics.
- I can't stress just how different the shot quality is between Golden State and Memphis. It was "swish, swish, swish" whenever I looked over at the Warriors side. With Memphis, it was "clank, clank, clank."
- Case in point, Marc Gasol had the best shooting performance in shoot-around of all the Memphis players.
- A ball boy kept getting in the way Tim Duncan's drives to the rim. Duncan almost landed on him at one point.
- Jimmy Goldstein must like Matt Bonner quite a bit. Matt is the only Spurs player I've seen Jimmy talks to with any regularity.
- Tracy McGrady's legs looked much stronger than the last time I saw him. T-Mac was moving swiftly to his spots on the floor and his shot was smoother.
The Essential Hash
Be sure to read Fred Silva's recap of last night's game if you haven't already.
The San Antonio Spurs blitzkrieged the Memphis Grizzlies for the most of Game One but it wasn't all ruthless efficiency (121.9 offensive rating). For a moment, there was a part where things looked a bit shaky.
In three minutes and 15 seconds, the Spurs watched a 17-point third quarter lead dwindle down to just a two possession game. A Jerryd Bayless steal and dunk cut the Spurs lead to 6 points with roughly four minutes remaining in the quarter and was the cap on a 13-2 Memphis run lead by Qunicy Pondexter's seven point outburst.
Coach Popovich finally called a timeout after watching his players go 1 of 4 from the floor along with two turnovers during the Memphis scoring run. The Spurs responded with an 11-1 run to close the quarter, 9 of those points contributed directly by Manu Ginobili (6 points and an assist). After that, the Memphis Grizzlies never got closer than 14 points, or within 20 points after the 7:29 mark in the final quarter.
The San Antonio Spurs are an incredibly disciplined team and they rarely ever falter during the streaks and runs that frequently decorate a game. Hell, they expect runs like the one Memphis pulled off to happen. "It's basketball," as Coach Pop once said. Players are going to get hot, get going, and it's on the team to stay calm, cool, and collected in order to right the wrongs. The previous series against the Golden State Warriors was a perfect example.
Tony Parker was the best player on the floor last night and his aggression early on in the game set the tone for the full 48 minutes. Parker directly contributed to 16 of the Spurs 31 first quarter points through a perfect 3-for-3 shooting and 3 assists. Memphis gave Tony all the space that he could ever want and, whenever the help defense rotated, was finding the open man with ease.
Zach Randolph, the focal point of the Memphis Grizzlies offense, was completely shut down. Randolph is averaging 14.7 attempts per game but was unable to operate against the collapsing defense of San Antonio or one-on-one against Tim Duncan and -cough- Matt Bonner. The Spurs frontcourt also did a terrific job of preventing Randolph getting strong position down low.
Randolph was also a major liability on defense against the Spurs screen sets and especially when the Spurs ran out their stretch-four players, Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw.
Good job, good effort, Tony Allen. - USA Today Sports
By the Numbers
- 9 - Number of Spurs players who scored more than Zach Randolph (2 points).
- 5 - Number of Spurs players who scored in double-digits.
- 0 - Number of three-point attempts by the starting crew of the Memphis Grizzlies.
- 14 - Made three-pointers by the Spurs, a playoff franchise record.
- 92.4 - The opponent's point per game average of the Memphis Grizzlies prior to last night's game.
- 64.5 - Kawhi Leonard's shooting percentage over last three games (20-31 FG).
- 2 - Total rebounds for Kawhi Leonard last night. Kawhi had been averaging 8.4 per game in the post-season.
- 8 - Number of Spurs players that scored in the first half.
- 2:57 - Amount of minutes and seconds the Grizzlies were either leading or within 5 or less points.
- 7 - Number of first half rebounds for Tim Duncan, the same as Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined.
- 70 - Percentage of the Spurs 40 made baskets that were created off an assist (28).
Bird is the Word
Tim Duncan being forced to appear in a Will i Am video is still the funniest thing ever.— Marcel Mutoni (@marcel_mutoni) May 19, 2013
Spurs making the Dubs look good right now.— Eric Blase (@BlaseEW) May 19, 2013
Bonner-Diaw in. They're going to somehow keep the Grizz out of the paint and it's going to be bizarre.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) May 19, 2013
Funny thing about all the Grizz love is that these same people HATED the Spurs when they were winning with ugly grinding games 10 years ago.— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) May 19, 2013
- San Antonio defenders loosely played the high screens, basically daring Memphis to take outside jumpers - very similar to how the Spurs played Los Angeles in the opening round.
- For as much as the Memphis front court struggled, Tiago Splitter had mostly a rough outing against Marc Gasol. Tiago didn't grab one board the entire game, made some poor decisions on offense, and picked up 4 fouls in just under 17 minutes of play. That said, the Brazilian did do a decent job battling with the much bigger Gasol on the floor. Tiago didn't always win (he got shoved around quite a bit) but he didn't make life easy for Marc.
- Danny Green continues to make amends for his vanishing act last post-season. Green finished with 16 points (6-9 FG), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and only 1 turnover. Danny is now 53% from three-point range over the last three games.
- Nothing has been said but I'm wiling to bet that there isn't a Spurs player that wants this series victory more than Manu Ginobili.
- Tony Allen's tripping of Tony Parker was pretty obvious. It will be interesting to see if the league hands down a fine.
- Cory Joseph continued to put in the hard work but showed his inexperience when he had a one-on-one with Marc Gasol. Joseph had the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year beat but tried just for a straight layup. Gasol smashed the shot out-of-bounds. Next time, Cory may decide to use the rim to protect his shot.
- Memphis is known for their complete team aggressiveness on the boards but the Spurs showed more hustle from start to finish.
- Matt Bonner did an excellent job against Zach Randolph in the first half. Randolph was covering more distance on defense than he is used to and Matt was beyond open on several looks from deep. Bonner also did a good job boxing out and preventing looks down low to Zach.
- Spurs made the Grizzlies sprint all over the floor for the entire game. It was expected too. Defending the Spurs offense requires much more than a Durant isolation play starting well outside the perimeter.
- It's not surprising that the Memphis Grizzlies only attempted 12 three-pointers. They're were at the bottom of the league in attempts per game. Memphis is similar to the old Spurs, except that they don't have sharp-shooters they can kick out to (24th in percentage).
"Aww, Dad! C'mon! Ten more minutes. It isn't even dark yet." - USA Today Sports
Going into Game 2, the Spurs Need to...
...do more of the same. Load up defensively on the Grizzlies frontcourt, primarily Zach Randolph, and force the rest of the Memphis to come up big in the Western Conference Finals (a place most of the team has never been before). Offensively, the Spurs need to keep pushing the pace and striking before the Grizzlies can set-up their defense. The Grizzlies perimeter defense will be a bit more tenacious in the next game so San Antonio also needs to continue with the fantastic ball and off-the-ball movement.
I can promise you this - Nobody's happy in our locker room because we were up 2-0 last year and we lost. It's just one game. It means nothing. We still have a long way to go.
-Tony Parker after the Spurs victory.