With the Memphis Grizzlies' twin towers reduced to a one-man show, the San Antonio Spurs cruised to a 105-83 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday.
Despite an uncharacteristically quiet offensive performance from Tim Duncan (six points, 3-of-9 from the field), the Spurs set the tempo and sprinted out to a 17-point edge after the first quarter. Memphis eventually whittled that lead to as few as six points late in the third quarter, but San Antonio closed the period on an 11-2 run and never looked back.
The methodical inside-out attack of the Grizzlies could not find contributions from both sides of that equation, but the missing half was hardly the one Lionel Hollins expected to be without. Reserve wing Quincy Pondexter (17 points, 5-of-9 from three) provided the perimeter scoring, but All-Star forward Zach Randolph struggled mightily to the tune of a season-low two points (1-of-8 from the field).
San Antonio looked like the team that closed out the upstart Golden State Warriors with three double-digit wins over the last four games of its second-round series, holding decisive advantages on both ends of the floor.
Still, the significance of a single victory won't be taken out of context by either club.
San Antonio had a 2-0 lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, only to watch the series waste away behind four straight OKC victories. Memphis lost Game 1 of both of its previous series (and Game 2 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the opening round) before closing each matchup with four consecutive wins.
Time: Tuesday, May 21, 9 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio
Series: Spurs lead 1-0
Game 2 Key Storyline: Accountability
It's too late in the year for any dramatic adjustments to be made, and these teams wouldn't be standing today if they were needed. Coaching a seven-game series often tests each side's ability to fine-tune its game plan, relying on maximizing the effectiveness of the style that brought each club to this position.
For San Antonio, a resounding 22-point victory certainly suggests that Gregg Popovich is ahead in this coaching chess match. But he still has work to do before moving into checkmate position.
Another 14-points-on-15-field-goal-attempts game out of Duncan and Manu Ginobili combined could push the Spurs into the loss column. San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford has built a talented roster capable of withstanding these kind of nights, but clearly this is a pattern that the Spurs would like to avoid going forward.
As for Memphis, accountability means playing the exact role that the team expects from each player.
It means providing enough help to alter Parker's penetrations without exposing the Grizzlies to an open shooter on the perimeter. It means Randolph and Marc Gasol have to set the tone on the offensive interior, demanding defensive attention and still finding gaps within that coverage to create looks for themselves or for their teammates.
The Grizzlies forgot who they were on Sunday. Their stifling defense was lost amid a flurry of ball-chasing help, a far cry from the disciplined attack they used to frustrate opponents up until now.
Series Star So Far: Tony Parker
Pop's time-tested system often masks the tremendous accomplishments of individual players (perhaps another reason why this team is so often overlooked), but Parker's Game 1 effort was badly needed with his two tenured teammates hurting for offensive rhythm.
Parker's stat line was noteworthy (20 points, 9-of-14 from the field, nine assists), but it doesn't jump off the page the way he did in the eye test.
He decisively raced around screens, constantly found his way into the paint, then either finished the drive himself or found an open shooter on the perimeter.
Feels like a broken record at this point, doesn't it? But hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Coach Lionel Hollins prepared his team for San Antonio's pick-and-fill-in-the-blank (roll, pop, slip) looks, but Memphis overcommitted to deny Parker and his screener from getting open looks.
The results were late rotations, missed assignments and a dazzling aerial performance by the Spurs. San Antonio shot 14-of-29 from the outside, with Kawhi Leonard (4-of-5), Danny Green (3-of-6) and Matt Bonner (4-of-6) doing the heaviest lifting.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Memphis: Mike Conley, PG; Tony Allen, SG; Tayshaun Prince, SF; Zach Randolph, PF; Marc Gasol, C
San Antonio: Tony Parker, PG; Danny Green, SG; Kawhi Leonard, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Tiago Splitter, C
Grizzlies Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Spurs Injury Report
Grizzlies Will Win If...
...They get back to playing Grizzlies basketball.
Memphis had a rare showing of hero ball creep into its offensive system on Monday, a complete reversal of the ball-movement-oriented system that capitalizes on the team's biggest strengths.
There are no prima donnas on the roster, no stat-crazed players putting individual achievements over team success. But there is plenty of star power, even if the accolades don't always match the talent level.
In other words, there's no real excuse for the ball-stopping, momentum-killing possessions that showed up in Game 1. The ball is going to find its way into the most capable hands more often than not, but setting up those chances with multiple passes will test the Spurs' defensive discipline and the legs of their shooters.
The Grizzlies have the talented individual defenders to keep help responsibilities to a minimum. Memphis needs to play the role of aggressor on San Antonio's screens, forcing Parker's reads rather than reacting to them.
Easier said then done, but remember this team has an All-Defensive first-teamer on the roster (Tony Allen) along with the Defensive Player of the Year (Gasol).
If Mike Conley can dictate the pace on both ends of the floor, this series could easily be tied when it shifts over to the Grind House.
Spurs Will Win If...
...Tony Parker continues making the right decisions with the basketball.
Whether or not he's better supported by Duncan and Ginobili in Game 2 (history suggests he should be), Parker's still the key to San Antonio holding serve on its home floor.
His matchup with Conley was widely considered to be the most important position battle in the series (and one of the most entertaining to watch), and the wide margin between the two players mirrored the enormous gap left on the scoreboard.
There have been some slight variations, but in large part the Spurs have gone as far as Parker's been able to guide them in this postseason.
Their opening-round series sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers aside, his performance has typically dictated the outcome of the game. Including Sunday's Game 1 win, he's averaged 23.6 points on 47.4 percent shooting and 8.0 assists in Spurs' victories compared to just 18.5 points on 38.2 percent shooting and 3.0 assists in their losses.
Analysts have grossly underestimated what remains in San Antonio's aging back of tricks, but Parker has left little doubt about which member of the Big Three means the most to this team.
Hollins isn't going to let his defense lose sight of its identity again. Randolph's volume (in terms of both offensive chances and points) is sure to increase in Game 2. San Antonio won't convert nearly half of its three-point attempts again.
But the eventual outcome of Game 2 will be no different than Game 1; it should simply have a more dramatic beginning and ending.
In the battle of adjustments, Popovich has the history and experience to hold a commanding edge.
The pace may well slow down, the play may be a lot more physical. But the Spurs are built to adapt, formed to throw a variety of puzzles at their opposition on either end of the floor.
Too much Parker, more Duncan and Ginobili and another strong performance by the supporting cast will give San Antonio a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals for the second time in as many years.
Spurs 93, Grizzlies 88