Grizzlies vs. Spurs Western Conference Finals Is More Awesome Than You Think
As the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs are set to square off in the Western Conference Finals, there's a ton of different opinions on every aspect of the game.
Ask any basketball fan and they'll give you their opinion on who is going to win, who is the series X-factor, which team has the better frontcourt, which style of play will dominate the flow and whether or not the series is as interesting as it could have been.
Sure, it would have been neat to see the Los Angeles Lakers actually work out well together and play the completely healthy Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, but where's the fun in that?
While the Grizzlies-Spurs matchup is nowhere near surprising, given the way the postseason has unfolded, a similar prediction at the beginning of the season would have been a long shot.
Here we have the Grizzlies, playing a style of basketball that has yielded over 100 points just four times in 11 playoff games, taking on the Spurs, a mythically "boring" dynasty.
San Antonio has been to the Western Conference Finals eight times now in the past 15 seasons, winning the NBA Finals in four of those attempts and now going for their fifth.
The Grizzlies, in existence since 1995, will be playing in the first conference finals in team history.
If you can't get excited about these two teams playing each other, there are probably other sports for you to check out.
Gregg Popovich Is Silly
One of the best things about the age of information that we're living in is that we can see every single time Gregg Popovich cracks an old-man joke or completely belittles a reporter.
Not only is it gut-wrenchingly awkward at times, but it can also be completely hysterical.
Popovich has a tendency to be the most abrasive dude ever to involve himself with the NBA, but he earned that title by being a sarcastic interview who constantly points out stupid questions or just ignores them altogether.
Plus, when something good comes his way, Pop isn't afraid to crack a joke or two.
Having him around for another few weeks is definitely a positive.
Zach Randolph Is Angry
Speaking of guys who are just fun to watch—regardless of what they're doing—we get another few weeks of Zach Randolph as well.
If there ever were an unpredictable player in these playoffs, Metta World Peace was eliminated back in the first round, but Randolph takes a close second.
He was once an incredibly predictable player when it comes to his reaction when somebody gives him a bit of a hard foul, but now, there seems to be a bit of a voice in his ear constantly nagging him about the consequences.
The result is the new Randolph, ready to fight at the drop of a hat, but ready to pull on the reins just as quickly.
He's a bit like a thunderstorm. The initial flash of lightning has him hot and ready to fight, but the thunder that comes soon after acts as his voice of reason, slowing him down and forcing him to think.
Both Teams' Second-Round Series
Memphis played just five games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but every single one came down to the wire. Not only that, three out of five were decided on the very last shot of the game (or the fourth quarter as Game 4 is concerned).
Every game they played was within five points in the final five minutes, and they had one go into overtime.
As for San Antonio, all but one game against the Golden State Warriors was decided by at least eight points, but that didn't make them any less entertaining.
The Western Conference Semifinals were an absolute thrill ride compared to the Ferris wheel that has been the Eastern Conference Semifinals, even if we only saw one of the two series go past five games.
San Antonio's fast-paced system created a fun series against Golden State's NBA Jam crew (liable to catch fire at any moment), while the Grizzlies tested a grit-and-grind style against Oklahoma City's hero-ball.
Now we get to see the system take on grit-and-grind, with another exciting Western Conference series looming.
Tony Parker vs. Mike Conley
With Marc Gasol and Randolph getting a huge chunk of the attention when it comes to the personality of the Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley is often overlooked.
After being little more than the guy who brings the ball up the court and drops the ball down into the post (or previously, gives the ball to Rudy Gay to run the clock for 15 seconds), Conley has become a point guard who has to be mentioned with some of the best in the league.
While he's not on the same tier as guys like Chris Paul and Tony Parker, he seems to be right there below them.
Conley has become a reliable three-point shooter, a very smart passer, a guy who knows the pace of the game and an increasingly effective defender, even if people do forget about him.
Parker, on the other hand, is never forgotten about.
He's become one of the most consistent players in the NBA, and for two years now, he's been talked about as one of the top five players in the NBA when it comes to MVP consideration.
Conley by no means got the better of Paul in the first round of the playoffs, and Parker didn't get the better of Stephen Curry in the second round of the playoffs, but either player did what it took within their team to advance.
Grit and Grind
I talked about Memphis' grit-and-grind style of play a bit earlier, and at this point, I'm sure it's starting to sound a bit like a buzzword to make their slow-paced style seem more exciting than it actually is.
Well, in a way that's true, but to call their slow style boring is completely missing the point. In a league where the norm is gravitating more toward teams trying to speed up the game and get as many possessions as possible, Memphis is a relic of the past.
Instead of becoming one with the trend, they're breaking out and playing their own style of basketball.
If you are one of those people who don't find lockdown defense to be all that entertaining, watch Memphis play and re-evaluate your stance.
They're not completely intent on forcing teams to take boring long-range jumpers like the Indiana Pacers, but they also don't come straight forward and try to punch their way to a win like the Chicago Bulls.
They are a group of angry young men looking to shake up the system with a few specks of blood spattered on their jerseys.
If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say that this is the team that David Stern doesn't want in the NBA Finals, and you should root for them to make an old man angry.
San Antonio's "Dynasty"
Generally, when we're talking about a dynasty, it's a team that has strung together titles in consecutive seasons, something comparable to the Los Angeles Lakers at the beginning of the 2000s or the New York Yankees right around that same time.
However, San Antonio is a bit of an outlier. They haven't missed the playoffs since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997, they have won four NBA championships since 1999, but never any consecutively.
The Spurs did win three in five years from 2003 to 2007, but they haven't made it past the conference finals since then.
It seems best to call them the most consistent (and probably best) team of the past 15 years and leave it at that.
As for their relationship to the Grizzlies, if Memphis is punk rock, then San Antonio is the embodiment of traditional rock-and-roll. They're the perfect combination of offense, defense and individually great players. San Antonio is Led Zeppelin.
Now I've just got to figure out who Parker and Duncan are in this situation; who is Jimmy Page, and who is Robert Plant?
The most well-rounded, low-post player of the 2000s will be taking on the player who is shaping up to be the most well-rounded player of the 2010s, and I'm as giddy as a little school girl just thinking about it.
Marc Gasol took home this season's Defensive Player of the Year Award (an award that Duncan never won, as it so happens) and has looked like the best passing big man to go along with his ever-expanding arsenal of moves in the post on offense.
He'll be staring across the court at Duncan, a man whose athleticism is long gone, but his ability is still top-notch.
Duncan is a living, breathing, basketball-playing legend who should be cherished every time he steps out on the court.
We saw what his downfall is going to look like when he struggled through much of last season (and he was still decent), so watching this master of the paint should be like enjoying the final beer out of a six-pack.
Prop your feet up and take long, enjoyable sips.
Spurs fans are trying to forget, and Grizzlies fans will champion it as the point they became a force in the NBA. Memphis, if you recall, took down the Spurs as the No. 8 seed matched up against No. 1 San Antonio back in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.
To compare either of these teams to what they were in 2011 would be a drastic mistake.
San Antonio has Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard playing huge roles this season. Back in 2011, Splitter played just three of their six games in the playoffs, and Leonard was still a sophomore at San Diego State.
Memphis, meanwhile, had yet to jettison Rudy Gay, they were still relying on O.J. Mayo to score on a day-to-day basis, and they had not yet found their defensive identity.
While the Spurs' biggest change since 2011 is their personnel, Memphis has put all of its energy into becoming the most fearsome defensive team in the NBA.
Already in the playoffs, we've seen Memphis confront teams from playoffs past. The Los Angeles Clippers beat them in the first round of 2012, while Oklahoma City knocked them out in the semifinals back in 2011.
San Antonio is the last ghost from Memphis' past left to send back to the grave, only they actually came away with a win in that 2011 series.
Will the result be the same, giving the Grizzlies the first NBA Finals berth in franchise history, or is San Antonio on its way to another trip to the NBA Finals?