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NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies go to work, Spurs go home

Apr 30, 2011, 12:57 AM EDT

San Antionio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Six Getty Images

The deed is done. Even the slightest doubts of the Grizzlies’ prowess in their first round series have been put to rest, as have the revered San Antonio Spurs. Memphis completed their seemingly improbable upset by dominating in the most probable ways; the Grizz scrambled, posted up, defended, rebounded, and scrapped their way to a 99-91 Game 6 victory, the final fantastic performance of their 4-2 upset of top-seeded San Antonio.

The momentum of Game 6 seemed to shift in favor of whichever team controlled the glass. Initially, the Grizzlies worked the offensive boards while limiting the Spurs to a single opportunity. Those two aspects of their first quarter play were crucial to forming an early cushion, and would later come into play when the Grizzlies started to create separation — however slight — from their opponents in pursuit. The Spurs had their moments, though; whether due to fatigue or just a lack of effort on Memphis’ part, San Antonio made a push in the second and hung around in the third due to their competition on the glass. It couldn’t last. Not with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol bullying their way into prime rebound position. Not with Shane Battier darting around the court collecting more boards than all but two of the Spurs. Memphis outscored San Antonio in each of the quarters in which they held the rebounding advantage, and while that may be implicit (fewer points usually indicate more misses, and more misses beget more opportunities to rebound), the Grizzlies’ effort to control the boards was clearly explicit.

Rebounding was only a portion of Randolph’s contribution, though. His play in this game and this series is the reason why the Grizzlies are the toast of the league at present; when he hasn’t been dominating the glass, Randolph has been scoring like a legitimate superstar, and the consistency of his point production provided a steady pillar for Memphis’ surge. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili cut into the Grizzlies’ lead repeatedly over the game’s final minutes, but Randolph never relented. He backed down Antonio McDyess. He hit turnaround jumpers over outstretched arms. He converted the kinds of shots usually reserved for the league’s true elite, a distinction which Randolph creeps closer toward with every performance like this one. His production is unquestionable, and now his résumé includes the toppling of a conference power despite being in a position of the greatest seeding disadvantage.

Gasol wasn’t quite as overtly punishing as Randolph, but his ability to exploit Tim Duncan on both ends of the court throughout the series has been eye-opening. Duncan’s decline over the last few seasons has been evident, but Gasol dominated their individual matchup to a degree that would surprise even Gasol’s greatest advocates. The box score only puts Gasol at an advantage of three rebounds and one turnover while merely matching Duncan’s point total, but his defensive presence removed an invaluable failsafe from San Antonio’s offensive plans. Duncan’s post and face-up game were both taken away, as Gasol’s size, length, and defensive acumen put him in an optimal position to contest at all times. Neutralizing Duncan doesn’t shut down the Spurs offense in itself, but it gives the Grizzlies’ team defense the opportunity it needs to swarm ball handlers and attack passing lanes. Duncan may have been Plan C, but removing him as an option puts all the more pressure on Plans A, B, and D. Manu Ginobili (A), Tony Parker (B), and the Spurs’ supporting cast (D) were never able to fully compensate.

The Spurs competed. They fought hard until the very end, and if not for Randolph’s unspeakable might, they likely could have ushered in the hope and potential salvation of a Game 7. Yet they didn’t, and as much as our natural basketball instincts wish to heap praise on the Grizzlies, it’s worth remembering that the Spurs lost this series. They came in with the second-best record in basketball and home court advantage against any Western Conference opponent and were dropped in the first round. I’m honestly not quite sure what the word “choke,” means anymore (the term has been recast and bastardized to the point that it no longer holds meaning), but by most conventional definitions of the word as I understand them, the Spurs did no such thing. They did, however, lose a series in which they were considered a sure favorite, and failed to capitalize on their strong regular season performance. San Antonio remains a tremendous organization and a quality team, but they disappointed in this series with their inefficacy.

In this championship-or-bust playoff framework, it’s not enough to just show up and play hard, even when boasting a supposedly superior roster. San Antonio worked, but they didn’t execute consistently enough; they failed to convert shots at the rim and beyond the arc, and had no answer for the Randolph-Gasol tandem, nor the capacity to match the wild card offensive contributions of Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Tony Allen, and Sam Young. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are obviously still worthy of our respect, but Pop was out-coached and his team was out-played. The Spurs aren’t going home after the first round because of some fluke, but because the Grizzlies bested them — they of the No. 1 seed, the second-best offense in the league, and the fourth-best regular season margin of victory — in a legitimate measure of basketball worth.

  1. liltmac2003 - Apr 30, 2011 at 2:16 AM

    I think this has to go down as one of the biggest upsets of all time. Big time kudos to Memphis going hard!

    I don’t know if anyone remembers that Dallas-Golden State series a few years back, that was another time when a No. 8 beat a No. 1.

    I think that series had much more energy from the Warriors than the Grizz did, but I think the Spurs-Grizz series was more of an upset that Mavs-Warriors was.

    • edmazeing1 - Apr 30, 2011 at 7:55 AM

      Cant wait to see durant & westbrook go off on this weak team they threw the last to games to face spurs instead of lakers thats sissy stuff but anyway, thunders in 4 games leggo, get em back for takeing out my spurs!!!

      • grizzfan - Apr 30, 2011 at 8:48 AM

        Ed, sounds like sour grapes to me. You are just mad because that weak team just ran your Spurs in 6. They got beat by a better team, so don’t start crying now.

      • memphismiracle - Apr 30, 2011 at 12:15 PM

        Well, I think the first round series was awesome to watch. Great, great games and I was so excited that Memphis actually won the series. Going back to regular season, the Grizzlies won 3-1 against the Thunder, but that was before they got Perkins. I think it should be another fantastic series with two young and hungry teams. I can’t wait to see them take the floor tomorrow.

  2. cookie2117 - Apr 30, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    How is this a major upset no one picked the spurs to go all the way like they were picking the mavs like they were in 2007

  3. zrbk - Apr 30, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    The Spurs is no longer the championship team with Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen sticking hands and feet all over the place. We just have to face it. Tim Duncan’s era is coming to an end. It was never entertaining, but it was doubtlessly legendary. We all owe the old boy some applause.
    The Grizzlies had a great matchup against the Spurs, and executed really well to secure this win. Wish them good luck in the next round.

  4. cookie2117 - Apr 30, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    Okc’s going hunting

  5. omniusprime - Apr 30, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    Hey Rob Mahoney – when a prohibitive favorite team loses in the playoffs that’s called The Big Choke! The vastly overhyped Spurs choked massively against the Grizzlies pure and simple.

    Coach Popovich made a massive strategic blunder early this season trying to turn the over-the-hill gang Spurs into an uptempo team offensively. Everyone knows that uptempo offensive teams never win championships, especially an aged veteran team. Pop had his team too wound up too early for too long and this collapse was inevitable. The aged Spurs played well the first 80% of the regular season but then ran out of gas going down the stretch and were too pooped to pop in the 1st round. Unlike the Repeat World Champion Lakers they can’t flip the switch. Pops forgot that in the playoffs it’s all about the half court offense and defense, and pacing an older team through the regular season so that they have something left in the gas tank for the playoffs. Anyone who thought that Pops was a genius changing the Spurs offensive scheme knows nothing about NBA basketball!

    That’s why Phil Jackson is so awesome as a coach, he understands pacing an older team during the regular season so they’re not worn out for the playoffs. Yes we Laker fans pull our hair out at times during the regular season whenever the Lakers decide to take an in-season vacation for a few games, but we can only laugh at the buffoonish pundits who constantly write off the Lakers when they lose a few regular season games. That’s why they were able to rise to the occasion after getting surprised in game 1 against the Hornets, they have plenty of gas in their tank despite being the oldest team in the playoffs because they understand how to pace themselves.

    So Spurs fans if you want to know who to blame for the Spurs Total Choke against the Grizzles you can lay all of the blame on coach Popovich. Only a total idiot would try to turn the ancient Spurs into an uptempo offensive team when that was never their modus operandi and Pops deserves to be taken to task for his utter stupidity of not understanding what his aged team was and was not capable of. That’s why the Spurs choked against a much younger team who can play uptempo while the Repeat World Champion Lakers sent the younger Hornets fishing. That’s why Phil Jackson deserves coach of the year, because he understands his team and what it takes to win championships! That’s why the Repeat World Champion Lakers will Threepeat this June.

    • borderline1988 - May 1, 2011 at 12:55 AM

      Too bad omniusprime wasn’t coaching the Spurs instead of Gregg Popovich. Imagine how far they would have gone then!

  6. henryd3rd - Apr 30, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    Give the Spurs credit for their guts and determination; but their time on the big stage is over. The “young guns” of Oklahoma City and Chicago Bulls are coming on and no one seems to have told them that the script said that this was supposed to be Jackson’s last championship.

  7. edmazeing1 - Apr 30, 2011 at 10:57 PM

    So now there are memphis fans on here!!! how long have they been fans 2 days now!!!

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