Don't Count Out Memphis Grizzlies After Game 1 Flop

Grant HughesFeatured Columnist IVApril 5, 2017

The Memphis Grizzlies suffered a jaw-dropping 105-83 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Sunday afternoon, but Marc Gasol and Co. have absorbed a series-opening haymaker before. So there's no reason to panic just yet.

Don't be mistaken—a little healthy worry is probably appropriate. After the way the Spurs diced up Memphis' vaunted defense with slashing drives and a bevy of threes, Lionel Hollins will have his work cut out for him in advance of Game 2.

But the Grizzlies just finished up taking four straight from the Oklahoma City Thunder last round after falling in Game 1. And looking back to the opening round, Memphis actually dug itself a 0-2 hole against the Los Angeles Clippers. Memphis advanced rather convincingly in that series as well, with four straight victories over the stunned Clips.

Plus, thorough beatings and emotional lows are nothing new to this Grizzlies team.

Remember, Memphis dropped Game 1 to the Clippers by a final score of 112-91. And the Grizzlies suffered the heartbreak of a game-winning jumper from Kevin Durant in the series opener against the Thunder.

There's no getting around the fact that this latest loss to the Spurs was a brutal one. I mean, San Antonio absolutely dominated on both ends. Tony Parker's ability to penetrate caused the Grizzlies defense to fall like dominoes, one mistake inexorably leading to the next. The veteran point guard put up 20 points and nine assists, many of which led directly to easy looks from beyond the arc for Danny Green (3-of-6 from three) and Kawhi Leonard (4-of-5 from three).

With Memphis overextended and out of position in its effort to contain the Spurs point guard, wide-open shooters buried threes from all over the court. In fact, the Grizzlies reached a milestone that they probably aren't particularly happy about.

But the Grizzlies have made it this far largely because they've shown the ability to avoid the onset of panic. By keeping cool after defeats, they've managed to make adjustments in previous series that ultimately led to victorious turnarounds. In this instance, there are a couple of obvious tweaks that Hollins and his staff are probably preparing as we speak.

First, the Grizzlies will have to rely on their big men to handle the Spurs' penetration. This'll be difficult, as a swarming defense that collapsed on the ball was a hallmark of the team's success this past season. But that strategy really only works if those collapsing helpers can recover to their assignments in time to contest shots.

Because the Spurs (Parker and Manu Ginobili in particular) are so good at waiting until the very last moment to whip a pass to an open shooter, the Grizzlies can't count on their help-and-recover game to be as successful. But that's fine, as Memphis should be able to depend on Gasol and Zach Randolph to stand tall in the lane when San Antonio's guards gain entry on drives or via the pick-and-roll.

Hey, it works for Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers. Why shouldn't it work for Memphis, who boasts a center fresh off of a Defensive Player of the Year award?

If the Grizzlies can funnel action to Gasol and keep secondary defenders glued to their matchups around the arc, the Spurs won't have nearly as much luck from long range.

And then there's Randolph, who had a game he'd probably like to forget. The bruising power forward finished with just two points on 1-of-8 shooting in 28 total minutes. His improvement won't require much of an adjustment at all, as he's bound to convert on a handful of close-range looks and tip-ins that simply didn't fall in Game 1. Z-Bo is a gifted offensive player, and when he's missing gimmes at the rim, there's not really a lot to say.

Credit the Spurs for defending Randolph extremely well in isolation, but he left plenty of points out there by failing to convert shots he normally hits in his sleep.

Look, these teams split the season series at 2-2 this year. So we know the Spurs aren't actually this much better than the Grizzlies. San Antonio is a great team, and it won by coming in with great focus and an even better game plan. But the Grizzlies are very good in their own right.

Memphis has a tough task ahead, especially because the Spurs aren't a team that generally gives up the advantage once they've seized it. San Antonio is no joke, and it's more than capable of advancing past the Grizz to the 2013 Finals.

But we've seen far too much from the resilient Grizzlies in these playoffs to count them out after a single loss—no matter how bad it may have looked.