One year ago, the San Antonio Spurs were in this exact same position, as they took the first two games of the Western Conference Finals at home. However, this time around, the opposition has transitioned from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Memphis Grizzlies.
After those two wins, the tables started turning rapidly. The Thunder won the next four straight, earning a spot in the finals. The Spurs were left scratching their heads, trying to figure out what went wrong.
This year, the Grizzlies will be trying to befuddle those same Spurs. After falling down 0-2 in the series, Memphis returns home to FedExForum, where it is 5-0 this postseason.
San Antonio simply torched the Grizzlies in Game 1. Memphis clearly wasn't prepared for the level of competition, and fell, 105-83. Zach Randolph stood out in a bad way, going just 1-of-8 for two points. Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard had their way on offense, shooting a combined 16-of-24 for 38 points.
Game 2 saw the Grizzlies look more like a team deserving of a spot in the conference finals. Though they lost, 93-89, Memphis' bigs showed up, with both Marc Gasol and Randolph posting double-doubles. Unfortunately for the visitors, Parker went off for 15 points and 18 assists, helping the Spurs on their way to the overtime victory.
With a return trip to home, the Grizzlies will be looking to match what Oklahoma City did a year ago and get right back into this series.
Time: Saturday, May 25, 9 p.m. ET
Where: FedExForum, Memphis
Series: San Antonio, 2-0
Key Storyline: Defensive Savvy vs. Home Cooking
A common misconception is that to be a great defender in the NBA, one has to be athletically superior. While that helps and makes for great highlights, it is only part of the equation.
Seldom do Randolph and Gasol run into defenses that are as sophisticated and stout as their own. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are high-flyers and incredible athletes, Serge Ibaka is as talented a shot-blocker as you'll find, and Kendrick Perkins is a massive body.
So, why is it that Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw are giving the Grizzlies the most trouble? Randolph has shot 7-of-26 through two games, while Gasol is 11-of-28. As a team, Memphis is at just 38 percent in the series.
The Spurs bring the other half of the defensive equation—intelligence and communication. Facing facts, Vinny Del Negro and Scott Brooks are not Gregg Popovich, and the defenses Memphis has played have not been as difficult to counter.
Until the Memphis frontcourt figures out a way to match San Antonio's offensive production, they'll be down and looking up.
The change in venue, however, could make all the difference.
While the Spurs are 4-1 on the road this postseason, they were a rather average 23-18 during the regular season. In comparison to their 35-6 home record, there is a definitive difference.
In the first round, the Grizzlies were in the exact same position they are in now, down 0-2 to the Los Angeles Clippers. And in the second round, Memphis dropped Game 1 on the road against the Thunder. After those three road losses, Memphis didn't lose another game. That should be of some concern for the Spurs.
Series Star So Far: Tony Parker
Running through a series against the Thunder without Russell Westbrook must have left the Grizzlies lost on how to defend the point guard position. Tony Parker has been relatively unimpeded in his dominance thus far.
Memphis was able to force Chris Paul out of his comfort zone in the first round, getting him to look for his shot more than he wanted. Though Paul was scoring 22.8 points per game, his assist numbers were way down at just 6.3 per game.
Through two games, Parker has been able to do whatever he wants, and more importantly, whatever the Spurs need him to do. In Game 1, he went 9-of-14 for 20 points and nine assists. Though his shot wasn't falling in Game 2 (6-of-20), Parker posted 18 assists, five rebounds and three steals.
In the overtime period, he assisted on two of the team's three baskets, got to the free-throw line, and grabbed a steal.
With both Duncan and Manu Ginobili's minutes being limited at this stage, Parker has to be at the top of his game for the Spurs to advance. Right now, he is unstoppable because of his versatility at the position.
Projected Starting Lineups:
San Antonio: Tony Parker, PG; Danny Green, SG; Kawhi Leonard, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Tiago Splitter, C
Memphis: Mike Conley, PG; Tony Allen, SG; Tayshaun Prince, SF; Zach Randolph, PF; Marc Gasol, C
Grizzlies Injury Report:
Spurs Will Win If...
Their interior defense continues to stymie the Grizzlies.
Memphis bases their entire attack around the post play of their starting frontcourt. Whatever Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless can get going on the perimeter is all a credit to the space and attention Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol demand in the interior.
The Grizzlies, however, simply aren't talented enough on offense to keep up. If the Spurs can clear up all those missed shots, Memphis won't have a chance.
San Antonio has also gotten some nice perimeter help from smaller places. Both Danny Green and Matt Bonner have come up big from beyond the arc. Typically, the road is where such types of players shrink from the pressure. If they can continue giving a boost in Memphis, the Spurs are in good shape.
Right now, Memphis is still a little lost offensively. San Antonio must stop them from finding a groove at all costs.
Grizzlies Will Win If...
They figure out Tony Parker and crash the offensive glass.
In their 33-point third quarter in Game 2, Memphis racked up a bunch of offensive rebounds and easy buckets. Since the Grizzlies can struggle to get offense elsewhere, their second-chance points are incredibly important. The work inside frees up their perimeter scorers for open threes on kick-outs as well.
In Round 1, Mike Conley was able to play Chris Paul pretty evenly. While Conley hasn't been bad through two games, we have yet to seem his raise his play. A great gage this postseason has been his free-throw shooting. When Conley is aggressive and senses something, he gets to the line a lot.
In the clinching game of the first round, Conley got to the line 17 times, scoring 23 points. In Game 1 of this series, he also didn't attempt a single three.
In each of the first two games, the Grizzlies received outlier performances from different bench players. In the return home, Memphis will hope to catch both Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter at their best in the same game.
The Grizzlies defense will fix itself in their home gym, but they'll still have to score enough points to win.
The Grizzlies have yet to lose at home this postseason, and it is hard to believe they will start making a habit of it now.
Though their dominating series win over the Thunder seems so long ago, all the Grizzlies needed to take control of that series was a trip home. Same went for the first-round matchup with the Clippers.
These are two teams that split the regular-season series, with two of the games going into overtime. The Grizzlies will win Game 3 and bring this matchup back into balance.
As poor of an offensive team as Memphis was overall this season, Gasol and Randolph are not as inefficient as they are showing right now. The Spurs should also have more trouble guarding Conley with the confidence of a home crowd behind him.
If those three guys figure out an offense, the rest will take care of itself.
Grizzlies 92, Spurs 86