Blueprint for Memphis Grizzlies to Get Back into Series vs. San Antonio Spurs
Don't weep for the Memphis Grizzlies. They may be down two games to none against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 Western Conference Finals but that should hardly preclude them from making this series a competitive one.
After all, the Grizzlies dug themselves an 0-2 hole in the first round, only to roar back with four straight wins over the crumbling Los Angeles Clippers. Memphis also squandered Game 1 of its tilt with the Oklahoma City Thunder, only to put together yet another four-game streak to close that one out.
There's also the not-so-small matter of the Spurs trying to exercise the lingering demons from last year's Conference Finals. Remember they went up 2-0 on the Thunder, only to squander that prime positioning over the next four games. History, then, hasn't abandoned Memphis by any stretch.
But if the Grizzlies are going to keep history on their side, they'll need to at least consider a handful of adjustments prior to Game 3 at the FedEx Forum.
More Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless
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The Memphis Grizzlies were able to skirt through the first two rounds without their opponents noticing that Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen needn't be accounted for as offensive "weapons."
They haven't been so lucky to this point against the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich recognized Memphis' perimeter deficiencies from the get-go and, in turn, has instructed defenders who'd otherwise be assigned to Prince and Allen to cheat into the middle of the floor whenever the Grizzlies' one-way wonders are in the game.
That's made life rather difficult for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. With Tayshaun and Tony around, Memphis' twin towers are left to battle through double and triple teams in a lane clogged by Spurs of all shapes and sizes.
But replace Prince and Allen with Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless and the Grizzlies' offensive competency skyrockets. With their respective abilities to shoot from long range, Pondexter and Bayless force opposing defenses (like that of the Spurs) to stretch out beyond the arc. That, in turn, opens up more room in the middle of the floor in which Memphis' bigs can operate.
According to NBA.com, the five-man lineup of Pondexter, Bayless, Gasol, Randolph, and Mike Conley has outscored the opposition by 15 points in 21 minutes during these playoffs. Compare that to the normal starting five which owns a plus-33 edge, but over the course of 201 minutes.
Whittle the sample down to these last two games in San Antonio, and the contrast is even clearer. The Grizzlies' starting five is minus-16 in 23 minutes so far in this series, while the five-man group including Pondexter and Bayless is plus-5 in just 10 minutes.
This isn't to suggest that Memphis should make drastic changes to its starting unit. Rather, it's to say that Lionel Hollins should consider giving more run to the best (and only) three-point shooters at his disposal.
Get Z-Bo Going
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More playing time for Pondexter and Bayless should open up more scoring opportunities for Zach Randolph. He piled up eight points (and probably should've had more) in the fourth quarter of Game 2 while playing with Memphis' most offensively oriented group.
This, after managing a mere four points (on 2-of-18 shooting from the floor) through the first six quarters of this series. The Grizzlies would be hard-pressed to beat anybody—much less the Spurs—with Z-Bo struggling to that extent. He's been their leading scorer throughout these playoffs and, as such, plays a huge part in an offense that doesn't exactly rank among the NBA's most prolific, to say the least.
Improved spacing for Memphis should help Randolph to get back on the scoring track, although he'll have to do a much better job of finishing on his own. According to NBA.com, Z-Bo has converted 7-of-21 attempts (33.3 percent) in the paint against San Antonio and has thrice been blocked so far.
Some of Randolph's struggles in this regard can be attributed to his near-strict adherence to the laws of gravity. But that was also the case against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder—both of whom sport long, athletic shot-blockers—and Z-Bo was still able to score by way of crafty flip shots and layups.
He'd do well to employ those same tricks against San Antonio, lest he see more of his shots swatted away.
And Memphis' hopes for victory along with them.
Finish at the Rim
Zach Randolph isn't the only Grizzly who's had difficulty scoring close to the basket. According to NBA.com, Memphis has shot a subpar 35-of-82 (42.7 percent) in the paint. The Grizzlies have also settled for 60 mid-range jumpers, of which they've hit just 20.
Again, this hearkens back to the Grizzlies' inability to spread the floor with Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince and, on the flip side, their improved spacing with Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter in the mix.
But even that can't explain the trouble Memphis has had with turning offensive rebounds into second-chance points. Per ESPN's Marc Stein, the Grizzlies cobbled together a mere eight points on 2-of-16 shooting after rebounding their own misses in Game 2. Four of those misses came on one possession late in the first half, when Randolph and Allen each had a shot of theirs blocked.
Realistically, there's not much the Grizzlies can do about the Spurs' interior defense, even with Bayless and Pondexter to draw their foes farther out from the basket.
Unless, of course, Memphis can find a way to get Tim Duncan off the floor. The Big Fundamental has done a masterful job of protecting the rim thus far, with six blocks in two games.
But Timmy can't challenge shots if he's not on the floor, can he? The Grizzlies certainly know as much. Per Marc Stein, they hit just 4-of-24 attempts from within five feet when Duncan played, as opposed to 9-of-14 when he sat in Game 2.
The Grizzlies were aided in this regard by three quick Duncan fouls in a 31-second span in the third quarter. Even if Memphis can't get Timmy in trouble that way, the Grizz can still try to tire out the 37-year-old future Hall-of-Famer by forcing him to defend brutes like Randolph and Gasol every time down the floor.
The less Duncan plays, the easier it will be for Memphis to convert its inside looks.
Keep Mike Conley out of Foul Trouble
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While the Grizzlies are busy trying to get Tim Duncan into foul trouble, they should do everything in their power to keep Mike Conley out of it.
Memphis might not have had to fight all the way back from a double-digit deficit if not for Conley's untimely absence. He picked up his third foul of the game at the 4:56 mark of the second quarter and sat until halftime. That Conley-less span saw the Spurs rip off a 15-3 run to expand their lead to 15 points while the Grizzlies missed their final 14 shots of the frame.
Clearly, Memphis needs Conley on the floor as much as possible to compete in this series. He's one of just two Grizzlies (along with Jerryd Bayless) who can create from the perimeter, be it for himself or for his teammates, with any consistency. Conley's not a great shooter by any stretch but he's competent enough to draw defensive attention out to that distance.
And when the Grizzlies need a bucket, Conley delivers more often than not.
All of which is to say, Memphis needs Mike to stay out of foul trouble in order to avoid falling into holes, much less to build big leads.
Make the Spurs "Sing for Their Supper"
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Whatever the Grizzlies do differently on the offensive end from here on out, they'd do well to continue to butter their proverbial bread on the defensive end. Memphis sported the NBA's second-stingiest defense during the regular season, and had done well to wreak havoc on opposing attacks until Game 1 in San Antonio, wherein the Spurs scored 105 points on 52.6 percent shooting.
The Grizzlies righted the ship somewhat in Game 2, though they still yielded a pair of 30-point quarters to the Spurs in between the 15 they surrendered in the first and the nine that slipped by in the fourth. Those stronger stanzas saw the Grizzlies force the Spurs to work hard for the few buckets they were able to conjure.
That's about all anyone can ask of a defense going up against San Antonio's well-oiled-machine-of-an-offense. There's no stopping the Spurs outright but if you can make them strain to get good looks and challenge those looks once they come, you'll find yourself in solid position to steal a win on the other end.
Especially if you can wear down the Spurs' principles along the way, as the Grizzlies did in Game 2. Tim Duncan spoke candidly of how exhausted he, Tony Parker and the rest of the Spurs were after pulling out the victory in overtime according to ESPN's Marc Stein.
If the Grizzlies can continue to bludgeon San Antonio as they did down the stretch in Game 2, they may have a puncher's chance of luring history back to their side before the end of this series.