Something pivotal happened Wednesday night in Memphis, and it wasn’t the fans donning “Take That For Data” shirts. Grizzlies coach David Fizdale decided to play his four most experienced players together. Fizdale started the game with Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and James Ennis. Only Wayne Selden, JaMychal Green and Andrew Harrison got significant minutes off the bench.
Fizdale was heralded this year for inserting Green into the starting lineup for Randolph. The move made sense as it provided more space for Chandler Parsons, Conley and Gasol, especially with Tony Allen out there. It also allowed Randolph to play the lead role on the second unit. But with the losses of Parsons and Allen, the Grizzlies are lacking on the wing no matter what they do. Playing Randolph with Gasol is their best chance to muddy up the series and expose San Antonio’s poor individual defenders in the paint.
So how should the Spurs respond?
(1) Stick to the gameplan: take away Mike Conley
Zach Randolph stole the show, but he was ultimately just a plus five and only shot two free throws. Mike Conley went off, hitting two 3-pointers, eight free throws and several floaters. With Green and Leonard benched a lot of the night, he was able to expose Patty Mills and the Spurs help defense. He commands so much attention, the Grizzlies shooters got into a rhythm and shot 9 of 22 from deep. Mike Conley was a plus 20 and the biggest reason the Grizzlies played so well. If you take him out of the game, and force the Grizzlies to rely on contested post ups, they won’t be able to score enough.
In this clip, Pau gets beat by his brother, and Danny Green helps off Conley:
This can’t happen. Pau has to force Gasol to take the long two, and Green has to stay at home.
(2) Put Dewayne Dedmon on Zach Randolph
Dedmon was the only positive starter with a plus six. But he got yanked early in the first quarter after two fouls, and was part of the starting five that got benched in the third quarter. He was the main culprit, starting the half with a turnover and then over-helping which allowed a Marc Gasol 3-pointer. Then, with the second unit in, Randolph went right at David Lee. Watch both plays:
Dedmon’s best asset is rim protection, and Gasol has drifted further and further towards the perimeter as this series has gone on. LaMarcus Aldridge may be the better candidate to guard Gasol, allowing Dedmon to get physical with Randolph inside. He’s the one starter that can afford to pick up a few fouls and make Randolph prove it from the free throw line.
(3) Try a small lineup earlier
Kawhi had 16 in the first half, but ten of those points were from 3-pointers and the free throw line. There’s just more bodies in the paint with Randolph and Gasol playing together. Look at all five Memphis jerseys in the lane when Kawhi drives:
The Spurs could consider a smaller lineup with Leonard or Bertans at the four, earlier in the game. Popovich went to it in the fourth, but he had already thrown in the towel. Forcing Gasol or Randolph to guard on the perimeter could open up more space for Kawhi and help get the Spurs shooters going. Obviously Bertans can’t guard Randolph, but maybe he could tread water on Gasol if he’s staying on the outside. If nothing else, a small lineup could work out of timeouts or in short spurts to gain an offensive advantage.
Ultimately, the Spurs are the better team, and shouldn’t need to make any huge changes to win this series. But Saturday’s Game 4 is the difference between an easy 5-game series or having to play six or seven games. And a long series against Memphis isn’t advantageous with Houston looming. Taking away Conley, letting Dedmon frustrate Randolph and making Memphis pay for going big could help the Spurs on the road.