Sunday, 19 May 2013

San Antonio strikes first and strikes soundly, destroying the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1

The San Antonio Spurs won their second round series with the Golden State Warriors last Tuesday, and the team learned it would be playing the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals the following night. By the looks of San Antonio’s 105-83 Game 1 win on Sunday, though, it appears as if the Spurs have been preparing for this matchup for over two years.

It was over two years ago that the Grizzlies shocked the Spurs by topping the longtime contender in their opening round series. And though both rosters have changed somewhat in the years since, the core of both teams’ value system (talking and movement for San Antonio, rugged low post and defensive play for Memphis) remains the same. Because the Spurs pulled out early against Golden State, though, and the Oklahoma City Thunder never really looked like a contender against Memphis in the second round, you get the feeling that the Spurs coaching staff was multitasking throughout last week, mindful of its eventual showdown with Memphis.

It showed throughout Game 1, as there was no letup from San Antonio. The Spurs absolutely refused to let the Grizzlies make a sound entry pass, taking away the most productive part of a Memphis offense that sometimes struggles to score even with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol going all out. On the other end, San Antonio made the West’s best defense look undisciplined and downright amateurish at times, flooding the lane with drives and taking advantage of a Grizzlies team that for some reason kept leaving shooters open in the corner. The Spurs capitalized by hitting 14-29 three-pointers on the afternoon.

It was somewhat shocking. The Spurs are to be respected, but for the entire season the Grizzlies have done well to communicate defensively and stay on the same page. And yet throughout Game 1 Memphis’ defensive spacing was way off; even when the team connected on shots, allowing it to steady its half-court D.

Memphis just had no answers for Tony Parker who not only was able to spearhead that drive and dish game, but he routinely embarrassed both Grizzlies guards and big men with his step-back jumpers on the left side. Parker finished with 20 points and nine assists in just under 33 minutes, needing only 14 shots to do his damage. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Matt Bonner had far too easy a time setting up for three-pointers in both the corner and up top. Tim Duncan missed six of nine shots, but his defense was superb, and the Spurs offense produced 28 points on 40 field goal makes. It was a clinic, done in the face of the best of the West.

The Grizzlies, on the other hand, just could not adapt.

Unable to get good position or even the ball at times, Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph missed seven of eight shots and didn’t attempt a free throw, failing to score until the 9:29 mark of the fourth quarter. Center Marc Gasol was able to get more shots off, but he was reduced to improvisational forays around the hoop, and missed nine of 16 in Game 1.

Mike Conley paired his bad defense with four of the team’s 12 turnovers, Tony Allen was caught ball watching and gambling defensively a few times, and the Grizzlies only made their run (working the deficit down to six midway through the third quarter) based on the hot touch of Quincy Pondexter (17 points off the bench), and Jerryd Bayless. Not exactly the duo you’d trust to lead you to the NBA Finals.

The execution was just too much for Memphis. The Spurs clearly had the right amount of rest, rhythm, and (especially) preparation in place to be ready for whatever the Grizzlies threw at Gregg Popovich’s team, and Memphis just could not adapt. They’ll have time to counter that punch, in the hours before Tuesday’s Game 2, but what happens when the Spurs anticipate those counters ahead of time? Does Memphis hit the mat, again?

This series was always going to be a struggle. It’s surprising that its first outing was only a struggle for one side, though. San Antonio sure did its homework.

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