Game Predictions for Grizzlies vs. Spurs in Western Conference Finals

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIMay 19, 2013

Game Predictions for Grizzlies vs. Spurs in Western Conference Finals

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    As the Memphis Grizzlies make not only their fans, but many other NBA fans believe this team can shake their sad past and reach the NBA Finals, they meet a San Antonio Spurs team determined to defy its core's age. While this Western Conference finals series is a rematch of a first-rounder from 2011, the Grizz and Spurs are situated quite differently now.

    The Grizzlies' complexion is a bit different. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph share the frontcourt more evenly than they did then. Since the Rudy Gay trade, Mike Conley has started to play more like a lead guard than a caretaker.

    The Spurs have shifted to deal with their age. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are settling into their scoring roles. 

    Two years ago, the Grizz shook aside the absence of Gay and took advantage of an injury to Manu Ginobili as they upended the top-seeded Spurs in six games. Randolph had three 25-10 games. Tim Duncan struggled mightily, averaging 12.7 points per game while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and turning it over 3.1 times per game.

    Duncan is looking like his younger self in this postseason, averaging 18.7 points per game while holding a 27 percent usage rate and allowing 97 points per 100 possessions. 

    The two teams appear to be moving in opposite directions. Memphis is playing in their first conference finals in franchise history, with Conley and Gasol each arriving in his brilliant prime. The Spurs are transitioning from one dynasty's core to a future core. Their present outlook isn't pretty, considering how they haven't made the finals since 2007.

    Here's a game-by-game look at whether the Grizz will grind forward to another first or the Spurs will step closer to reclaiming their old glory.

    Advanced metrics come from

Game 1

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    3:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, May 19 (ABC)

    AT&T Center, San Antonio

    Tony Parker has been up and down this postseason. While he's scored at least 20 points in seven of 10 games, he has hit half his shots in consecutive games just once. In Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors, he shot 3-of-16 from the field.

    Meanwhile, Mike Conley didn't have a legitimate point guard to defend in the conference semifinals. Reggie Jackson had a few impressive stretches on his way to 13.8 points per game on 50 percent shooting, but his game is far from refined. He was more susceptible to taking bad shots than Parker is.

    For Game 1, Parker will shock Conley by making him play at someone else's tempo for the first time in the playoffs. The elder floor general will speed things up and open up opportunities for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green on the perimeter. Conley will use his speed to stay close with Parker, but Parker's passes will keep the Spurs' offense running quickly.

    Holding control of the pace of the game, San Antonio will be able to inundate the Grizzlies with their scoring.

    The Grizz don't have a problem shooting, but they often struggle to match high-scoring teams. In the regular season, they lost seven of 10 games in which they allowed 100 points. 

    This will be another moment in that struggle.

    Score Prediction: Spurs 109, Grizzlies 98

Game 2

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    9 p.m. ET, Tuesday, May 21 (ESPN)

    AT&T Center, San Antonio

    The recent history of the Spurs-Grizz rivalry is defined by home-court advantage.

    In the last three seasons, the Spurs hold a 10-8 edge, including the 2011 first-round series. San Antonio won two games in Memphis during that time, both in 2012. Memphis' sole win at the AT&T Center occurred in their opening round triumph two years ago.

    Thus, a single road win can be the ticket to winning the series.

    The Grizz will put themselves in position to do that by taking the second game in San Antonio. 

    Mike Conley will respond to the Spurs' opening-game onslaught by grinding the action down. He'll resist Tony Parker's desire to push the pace by minimizing turnovers. 

    On the other end, Conley and Tony Allen will force Parker to slow down by turning up the pressure on him and other perimeter players and cutting off passing lanes. 

    Marc Gasol will assist by reducing opportunities for entry passes to Tim Duncan.

    With the Grizzlies shifting the tempo in their favor on the road, observers will wonder if it will ever swing back in this series.

    Score Prediction: Grizzlies 87, Spurs 81

Game 3

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    9 p.m. ET, Saturday, May 25 (ESPN)

    FedEx Forum, Memphis

    Zach Randolph will have methodically nudged the Grizzlies along with his rebounding prowess and scoring. In the first two games, he'll share touches with Marc Gasol and use his dominance on the offensive glass to support his teammates.

    Game 3 will see Randolph go wild to propel Memphis to a series lead. A 30-point, 15-rebound performance will be in line for the veteran who led the Grizz in scoring and rebounding in that 2011 series and is doing the same in these playoffs.

    He'll find enough spacing to drill a dozen short jumpers over DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter.

    The 31-year-old has been more active on offense in the playoffs, posting a 25.3 percent usage rate, 2.2 percent higher than in the regular season.

    Once again, he'll command a great amount of attention on the inside.

    Conley will continue to roll the offense at a slow pace, directing efficient action in the half court. Gasol will help him in facilitating as he funnels the ball to his interior buddy.

    Score Prediction: Grizzlies 92, Spurs 85 

Game 4

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    9 p.m. ET, Monday, May 27 (ESPN)

    FedEx Forum, Memphis

    As Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair attempt to contain Randolph, the two-time All-Star will confound them and Tim Duncan by calling Marc Gasol to his aid.

    The league's scariest frontcourt duo, which is combining for 38 points and 18.2 rebounds per game in these playoffs, will show why they torment foes together, though they may not always do it on their own.

    Twice Gasol and Randolph have had 20-10 performances in the same game. They'll put forth another such showcase, while also dishing out a few assists to help each other. The pair will blister the Spurs' interior players with mirrored looks.

    On defense, these super bigs will play off each other to seal off the inside. Gasol will grab a couple steals and grind Duncan down. Randolph will follow by out-muscling attackers to keep them out.

    Lionel Hollins, who has given Gasol and Randolph 40.3 and 36.4 minutes per game, respectively, won't mind giving them long playing time to keep the Spurs working.

    Score Prediction: Grizzlies 97, Spurs 84

Game 5

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    9 p.m. ET, Wednesday, May 29 (ESPN)

    AT&T Center, San Antonio

    Tim Duncan won't let these playoffs fade to black before he finds a way to squeeze out a proud scoring performance against the "grit 'n' grind" defense.

    While Mike Conley continues to ensure that the pace plods along, Duncan will work this to his advantage by bringing his old bones around Gasol to get Tony Parker to swing several passes his way.

    Duncan isn't always up for big scoring performances. He has five games of at least 23 points in the last two postseasons.

    But the 37-year-old will take the onus upon himself to push the scoring to prolong San Antonio's fight for their first finals appearance in six years. He'll muscle his way to the rim to drop buckets.

    On the other end, the 16-year veteran will keep up his energy to contain Gasol and provide a little help in defending Zach Randolph.

    Score Prediction: Spurs 97, Grizzlies 92 

Game 6

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    9 p.m. ET, Friday, May 31 (ESPN)

    FedEx Forum, Memphis

    Mike Conley has had a spectacular run through the first two rounds, averaging 17.6 points and 7.6 assists per game while posting a 35.1 percent assist rate. He'll cap the series on Beale Street with another impressive showing, igniting his own engine to blow by Tony Parker for some of the inside drives he's had thus far in the playoffs.

    While drilling a number of shots, the 25-year-old will also pound the rock in to Zach Randolph to allow him to join him on the north side of 20 points.

    When the men in black and white hold the ball, Conley and Tony Allen will lead a grinding effort that produces double-digit steals. In the process, Parker becomes frustrated by an inability to give Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard shot opportunities.

    The second unit will give the Spurs hope of forcing a seventh game. Matt Bonner, who is shooting 44.2 percent from long range, will hit two three-pointers in the fourth quarter while the Grizzlies' reserves fail to apply the same heat as the primary grinders.

    While Allen is still waving his towel on the sidelines, Quincy Pondexter will grab a steal to prevent San Antonio from evening the score with a few minutes left.

    A significant turnover advantage will help the Grizz as they clinch their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.

    Score Prediction: Grizzlies 93, Spurs 88