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Western Conference Finals preview: Grizzlies vs. Spurs

May 19, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

Tony Parker, Zach Randolph

SEASON RECORDS

Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West

San Antonio: 58-24, second seed in the West

PLAYOFF RECORDS

Memphis: Beat the Clippers 4-2 in the first round. Beat the Thunder 4-1 in the second round.

San Antonio: Beat the Lakers 4-0 in the first round. Beat the Warriors 4-2 in the second round.

SEASON SERIES

The teams split the four games with two wins apiece, although both are very different now. In the first three matchups the Grizzlies started Rudy Gay, and in the final meeting, the Spurs started Stephen Jackson and played him 35 minutes. Neither players are with their respective teams anymore, with Gay being traded in late January and Jackson being waived in mid-April.

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY

Memphis: Offense 104.4 (5th in the postseason), Defense 99.9 (6th in the postseason)

San Antonio: Offense 107.0 (2nd in the postseason), Defense 96.2 (3rd in the postseason)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

Point guard matchup: It’s not an understatement to say that the team that gets the better of its point guard matchup is likely to win the series. That’s because both Tony Parker and Mike Conley are extremely vital to what each team does offensively. While Parker often takes on the role of a primary scorer in the current iteration of the Spurs, his dribble penetration and overall performance is what makes his team’s offense go. Parker is averaging 22.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.3 assists in the postseason.

As important as Parker is, Conley is even more critical in setting up his team’s offense. That’s because Memphis doesn’t have the range of guys who can create their own looks that the Spurs do, and the Grizzlies’ offense has been known to stall for extended stretches even during their impressive postseason run. Conley’s improved play over the second half of the season has carried into the playoffs, and he’ll need to continue to perform at a very high level for his team to succeed.

Battle of the bigs: From a matchup perspective, Memphis would appear to to have the upper hand here — not only in terms the total amount of skill shared between Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph versus that of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, but also in terms of sheer bulk. Memphis has the physical size to punish teams both in the paint and on the glass, so it will be crucial for the Spurs’ big men to be in strong position defensively early in possessions to keep Randolph from establishing deep post position. Gasol spends more time at the high post than on the low block, where he’s an excellent facilitator of the Grizzlies offense.

Scoring: Offense will be at a premium in this series. Not only do we have two of the more defensively-focused teams going at it, but each has excellent individual defenders as well as players who have strong basketball IQs and can fit seamlessly into their respective team’s defensive scheme.

The balance of the Spurs and their ability to get contributions from multiple players on this end of the floor should be the difference in this series. Parker’s ability to consistently knock down mid-range jumpers will be huge for San Antonio, as will his effectiveness in getting into the lane to create for drive-and-kick opportunities for his teammates. The Grizzlies have largely gotten by in these playoffs by scoring just enough. If the Memphis defense has more trouble slowing the Spurs offensive attack than it had versus its opponents in the first two rounds, that might not be good enough this time.

OUTLOOK

While the Grizzlies have accomplished a lot in the first two rounds of the playoffs and were impressive at times on the way to the Conference Finals, let’s look at the reality of that last series against the Thunder. OKC was playing without Russell Westbrook, and was thrown into complete disarray in trying to replace what he brings to the table for them offensively. And still, all of those games were extremely close, and could have gone either way in the final minutes.

Expect the Spurs to be much more cohesive as a unit in playing their brand of system basketball than the Thunder were, and expect Memphis to have more difficulty in slowing San Antonio offensively because of it. In a series where both teams can defend, San Antonio should have a much easier time slowing the Grizzlies than the other way around, and it might result in this matchup not being as close as many foresee.

PREDICTION

Spurs in 6.

  1. logisticalvoices - May 19, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    As much as the Grizzlies were exposed last round, I think the Spurs were too. The young legs of Golden State gave the older Spurs fits. Steph Curry’s ankles made him much less of a factor at the end of the series as well.

    This series goes 7. I can see either team win, but I give the edge to the Spurs because of superior coaching with Pop.

    • casualcommenter - May 19, 2013 at 11:38 AM

      I’m more down on the Spurs than the Grizzlies after last round, simply because even without Westbrook, the Thunder are still a good defensive team and still have one transcendent player (Kevin Durant).

      The Warriors fully healthy aren’t a very good defensive team, and this series, they were without Brandon Rush (one of their best wing defenders), David Lee had one good leg (and couldn’t jump), and Steph Curry had a gimpy ankle for half the series, and yet the Spurs struggled with the Warriors the entire series. Tim Duncan was benched for the final 4 minutes of their close-out game because the Warriors exposed him as a liability on high pick-and rolls, and Manu shot 35% from the field that series. I don’t know how confident you can be in the Spurs after that showing.

      If the Warriors were able to slow down the Spurs defensively, I think the Grizzlies should be able to suffocate them. The Grizzlies will have trouble scoring since they don’t have the outside shooting that the Warriors do, but I think Conley, Gasol, and Z-Bo will be able to provide enough for them to win. I think Grizzlies in 6.

  2. carolinabluesince95 - May 19, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    I think with all the match-ups accounted for. This series will come down to coaching and who makes the best adjustments. Spurs in 6 or 7

  3. moseskkim - May 19, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    Memphis gonna win. San Antonio doesn’t have enough offense to combat memphis’ great D. Tony Allen/marc gasol will make it hard for TP and if they stay home on 3 pt shooters, what is San Antonio gonna do to score? Danny green/Leonard are up and coming but are really too young to be counted on as main contributors. Memphis looks real good and 4-2 sounds bout right

  4. bleedburgandyandgold - May 19, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    Should be a entertaining series. I got the Grizz in 7.

  5. bucrightoff - May 19, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    Popovich makes it tough to pick against the Spurs. You know he’ll make the adjustments, like he did last round. Sure giving Jarret Jack and Harrison Barnes mismatches means they scored more, but their ceilings are 25 points whereas Curry and Thompson are in the 45-50 range if you let them get going. I’d like to see Pop versus LeBron, best player of the era versus best coach of the era.

  6. Miami305 - May 19, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    Let’s not forget that that Grizzlies exacted revenge for their loss against the Clippers from the last playoffs. Do not forget, as well, that they have already proven that they can beat the Spurs in the playoffs. Add to that that the Grizzlies are a much hungrier team than the Spurs. The Spurs already have a bunch of rings and and have played in the Finals, the Grizzlies have not and will do everything in their power to get there. Watch for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to dominate on the inside and for Conley to run circles around Frenchy.

    It will be Grizzlies vs. the Heat in the Finals with the Heat beating them in 5 games.

    • apmn - May 19, 2013 at 2:57 PM

      If the Grizzlies are so hungry, then why are they only the fifth seed? Were they not hungry in the regular season?

      • jimeejohnson - May 19, 2013 at 4:37 PM

        They changed caterers and now they’re even hungrier, as the new guy’s a Memphis BBQ dude.

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