Did the San Antonio Spurs finally hit the proverbial playoff wall in Game 2, or did the Memphis Grizzlies finally rediscover their identity 84 minutes into the Western Conference Finals?
Clearly something took place in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night. After compiling a commanding 181-147 advantage over the first seven periods of the series, the Spurs could only scrounge together a mere nine points on 4-of-16 shooting over the final 12 minutes of regulation in Game 2.
That paltry performance forced an extra session to decide the outcome of a game in which San Antonio had led by as many as 18 points and carried a 12-point edge into the fourth quarter.
But Memphis' comeback bid, which ultimately fell short in a 93-89 San Antonio win, was likely thwarted by its own disastrous offensive showing earlier in the contest. The Grizzlies shot 24 percent from the field in the second quarter and closed out the first half by misfiring on 14 straight shots.
So it's back to the drawing board for Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, whose team failed to control the pace of Game 1, then set the tempo in Game 2 but still suffered the same fate.
Will the home cooking in the Grindhouse be the right recipe for the Grizzlies to finally taste the sweet flavor of success in this series, or are the Spurs too hungry and too focused to let this series lead slip away?
Time: Saturday, May 25, 9 p.m. ET
Where: FedExForum, Memphis
Series: Spurs lead 2-0
Game 3 Key Storyline: Grizzlies Getting Defensive
Game 2 was physical, gritty and often uncomfortable to watch. There were flashes of beautiful basketball, but for the large part the contest was nothing short of ugly.
In other words, it was Memphis Grizzlies basketball at its finest.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol clogged the interior and helped the Grizzlies to a dominant 60-46 advantage on the glass, including a 19-4 edge in offensive boards.
Memphis scorers were generous with the rock, as five different players finished with double-digit field-goal attempts and three others fired up at least five shots a piece. They fully grasped the value of each possession, turning the ball over just 10 times in 53 minutes.
The Grizzlies are who we thought they were and, more importantly, they looked like the team that had silenced a pair of offensive powerhouses (Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers) to make it this far.
But the Spurs put their chameleon-like talents on full display, proving that Gregg Popovich's offensive machine doesn't mind getting its hands dirty.
San Antonio has the firepower to overwhelm most defenses and flashed its arsenal with a pair of 30-plus-point efforts in the second and third quarters of Game 2. But when the wheels completely fell off over the final eight minutes of regulation, during which the Spurs scored just two points, Pop's club found its toughness and scrapped to salvage an overtime victory.
The Spurs are younger than you'd think, and even their grizzled veterans have far more in the reserve tank than they're given credit for. When the other nine players on the floor looked completely gassed in the extra session, 37-year-old Tim Duncan looked he was just getting started. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer scored six of San Antonio's eight points in the frame, attacking the basket or doing the dirty work on the offensive glass.
If it's grind time in Game 3, that doesn't guarantee a Memphis victory.
Series Star So Far: Tony Parker
It isn't often that a player can attempt 20 field goals in a game, miss 14 of them and still leap off the box score for a different category.
But that's exactly what Tony Parker did in Game 2, wreaking havoc on the Grizzlies defenders, not with his scoring (although he did manage 15 points), but with his superhuman vision and masterful handling of his supporting staff.
Parker couldn't take a lot of plays off. Not with Popovich feeding him a team-high 41 minutes, and certainly not with Hollins throwing a horde of defenders in his direction.
So Parker accepted the heavy workload, stepped up to the challenges that the Grizzlies presented and focused on making it an easier night for his teammates. He dropped a career playoff-high 18 dimes in the game (with only two turnovers) and is now averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 assists for the series.
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 Will Win If...
...They can strike the balance between offensive efficiency and defensive execution.
The Grizzlies did a better job of harassing Parker on his drives without sacrificing too much ground to recover to the Spurs' sharpshooters. San Antonio didn't ease up on its perimeter shots in Game 2. The squad attempted 25 but couldn't find the same success rate (36.0) that it did in Game 1 (48.3).
But too often Memphis' gains on the offensive end seemed to come up at the expense of its defensive performance, or vice versa. The Grizzlies held the Spurs to just 15 first-quarter points but only managed 13 themselves in the period. When the offensive arrived 12 minutes later in a 33-point third quarter, the defense loosened up, and the Spurs took advantage with a 30-point performance.
Even with the loss in Game 2, there were signs of improvement for Hollins' team. The Grizzlies fought harder on the glass, swarmed Parker when he looked for his own offense and stopped relying on Randolph and Gasol to try to bail them out offensively.
Now it's just a matter of putting it together for the full 48 minutes.
Memphis must charge stronger out of the gate and avoid putting itself in a comeback situation. It has to find a way to get Randolph back in rhythm (he's shooting 7-of-26 from the field in the series), which helps open up space for Mike Conley to find his offense (16.0 points on 42.3 percent shooting through two games).
The Grindhouse faithful should give them an early boost, but the Grizzlies have to make sure to hold on to that momentum and keep the crowd's energy level high throughout the game.
Spurs Will Win If...
...They keep the offense running full throttle.
San Antonio has the defensive chops to sneak out a victory in a low-scoring affair but knows it's walking a fine line by trying to beat Memphis at its own game.
The Spurs have been in this position before. They had a 2-0 lead in the 2012 Western Conference Finals before the Thunder rolled off four straight wins. They understand the dangers of complacency this late in the year.
The Spurs need to stick to Popovich's plan. Parker and Manu Ginobili have to continue to attack off screens and do so without any premature ideas of scoring or distributing.
Even a defensive club as supremely talented as the Grizzlies will have difficulty accounting for all of the strikes and counterstrikes built into the Spurs system. Parker and Ginobili are both smart and talented enough to keep a live dribble as long as possible, forcing the defense's hand and identifying its subsequent point of vulnerability.
If the pace slows down or the Grizzlies grab an early lead, that's OK. It's all about staying disciplined, particularly in the face of adversity.
History suggests Randolph will find his way out of this slump. It's been nearly two months since he's produced a lower two-game point total (17) and almost four months since he's had consecutive games with a sub-.350 field-goal percentage.
Will the Spurs continue their winning ways in Memphis on Saturday?
But just how important would a more characteristic performance from Z-Bo be in terms of producing a victory? He hasn't averaged more than 16 points in either of the last two seasons, and I'm not convinced that would be enough for the offensively challenged Grizzlies to keep pace with the Spurs' deep, potent attack.
Now, if we're talking about the Randolph who poured in 51 points over the final two games of the Grizzlies' second-round series, or the one who averaged 24.8 points in the four Memphis wins in the first round, that might be a different story.
But unless the Grizzlies can find any consistency from their perimeter shooters, which has largely eluded them throughout the season, the Spurs have no reason to stop collapsing their defenders and removing the threat of any interior scoring.
The Grizzlies will grind out a victory on their home floor, but I don't see it happening before Game 4.
The Spurs know they only have so many years left out of Duncan and Ginobili, and they will do everything in their power to capitalize on their championship chances in this postseason.
Spurs 86, Grizzlies 83