See ya later, Memphis Grizzlies. We'll see you again next postseason.
The momentous journey of the No. 5 seed is one Western Conference Finals loss away from ending. The Grizzlies trail three games to none to a San Antonio Spurs team that routinely extinguishes magical runs.
That’s no knock on the Grizzlies—it’s not that they’ve been dominated this series. Yes, they had it handed to them in Game 1 after the Spurs drilled 14 three-pointers, but the Grizzlies lost both Games 2 and 3 in overtime.
Losing in heart-tugging fashion means it could have gone either way, but that’s also how Memphis got to this point. Live by the tight score, die by the tight score.
The Grizzlies still have some juice, but it’s like walking out the door with 10 percent battery life on your cellphone—this thing is about dead.
Ultimately, Memphis simply hasn’t had enough. What’s worked for the Grizzlies through the conference semifinals has been taken away by Gregg Popovich’s Spurs in their quest for a fifth title in 15 seasons.
There have been plenty of if-only moments for Memphis, but the difference in this series has been clear: The greatest roadblock to a first-ever NBA Finals appearance ultimately came down to the Grizzlies' lack of a consistent perimeter threat.
Shooting range may be the only missing piece to a Grizzlies team that has been one of the most complete teams in the playoffs. The revelation that Quincy Pondexter wouldn’t be enough as a team’s best perimeter option comes as no surprise.
San Antonio has collapsed on the interior strength of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Randolph averaged 20.8 points per game in the Grizzlies' six-game series win against the Los Angeles Clippers and averaged 18.4 points in passing through the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. Against the Spurs, Randolph is averaging just 10.3 points on just 30 percent shooting.
It isn’t an intricate defensive scheme, either. The Spurs are swarming the post as soon as Randolph enters the lane, with a "go ahead, take that" approach in allowing the Memphis perimeter to fire away.
The glaring weakness was on display in an early moment of Game 3, when San Antonio's Danny Green exaggerated help by fronting Marc Gasol and then shifting against an attacking Randolph. He left Tony Allen wide open, but his clear look fell a foot short:
The Grizzlies have shot 34.1 percent from mid-range this postseason. The three-point shot has been equally as poor, as Memphis has been the second-worst three-point shooting team (34.5 percent) in the postseason behind only the Denver Nuggets (34.3 percent).
Memphis has shot just 34.6 percent from three in the conference finals and it's been the clear difference in close losses.
|Game 1||5-of-12 (41.7%)|
|Game 2||5-of-17 (29.4%)|
|Game 3||7-of-20 (35%)|
The Jan. 31 trade of Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors won’t be used as a scapegoat here.
It’s natural to assume the influence of the team’s leading scorer through 45 games would have helped the Grizzlies against San Antonio, but the reality is that Gay became a volume shooter whose absence only helped Memphis’ shooting efficiency.
Gay averaged 17.2 points per game on 6.7-of-16.4 (40.8 percent) shooting, and he shot 31 percent from three-point range in the regular season before being traded.
|Record||Team FG%||Team 3FG%||Opponent points|
|Memphis prior to trading Gay||29-16||43.5%||34%||89.0|
|Memphis after trading Gay||27-10||45.5%||35.2%||88.3|
The Grizzlies shot at a higher rate, and they also continued to derail opponents' scoring.
The team that allowed the fewest points per game this season, led by Gasol's Defensive Player of the Year award, won because of its lane clogging and feisty perimeter defense through Mike Conley and Allen.
The offense, led by consistency in the paint and bolstered scoring from Mike Conley (17.6 points and 7.1 assists per postseason game), was just enough. But the team's scoring that showed up for the latter part of the Clippers series and wasn't needed against the Thunder has gone missing against the Spurs.
And now the hole is too great.
The Grizzlies’ special postseason was bolstered by comebacks. Memphis was down 2-0 to the Clippers and 1-0 to the Thunder before winning out and moving on.
However, being down 3-0 to a much more experienced Spurs team is a different challenge. That always-telling “no team has ever come back from 3-0” statistic remains true. If you have lost three in a row, winning four in a row isn’t likely.
The excellent season won’t be lost, as the franchise’s first conference finals was a result of a thick and talented interior that led one of the league’s top defenses. Even after the inevitable fall to the Spurs, Memphis looks to be one of the top contenders in the West moving forward.
Thanks to the Gay trade, the Grizzlies have flexibility underneath next season's expected luxury tax line of roughly $70 million.
The Grizzlies' salary situation, according to HoopsHype:
The core of Randolph, Gasol and Conley is under contract through next season. Tony Allen becomes an unrestricted free agent, and Memphis would be wise to sacrifice his defense in favor of a consistent perimeter scorer.
There's still a piece missing, a reality that's been overcome through the first two rounds of the playoffs. But the Grizzlies' ideology has proven to be successful.
The Grizzlies should not tinker too much this offseason. The foundation clearly works and only slight tinkering of the perimeter offense is necessary to contend for a title. That's been evident this postseason.
This team is closer than its current 3-0 deficit indicates, but ultimately it will be too much to overcome. The good news for Grizzlies fans: Next year should bring another run.