The Western Conference finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies ended with two overtime thrillers and three games that went down to the wire. Yet, we saw a 4-0 series sweep from Tim Duncan and Co.
Despite the Spurs coming in with the same core of stars that dominated in the early 2000's, the Grizzlies came in as a formidable opponent that few expected to get bounced without at least two wins, if not more.
Say what you will about the role players–I'm not discounting that they're crucial in any playoff game–but it ultimately comes down to the stars at this level.
Now it's time to see how they grade up against one another as the Spurs look toward the NBA Finals and the grit-and-grind Grizz head for the beaches.
Let's take a look at how each star player graded after the Western Conference final showdown.
Tony Parker: A
I'm not sure if I can count on one hand how many players can take over a conference final series like Tony Parker did against the Grizzlies.
The star point guard broke his career record in assists with 18 in Game 2, but his passing wasn't what did in the grit-and-grind Grizzlies. It was when Parker threw down 26 points the next game and took over the series-clinching Game 4 with 37 points and six dimes, including clutch basket after clutch basket in the second half to put Memphis away.
It was stats like this that showed you the way Parker was able to put the team on his back through crucial parts of games, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Tony Parker is shooting 7-for-10 from 15+ feet tonight. The rest of the Spurs are 4-for-20 from 15+ feet.5/28/2013, 3:29:09 AM
Parker will be a huge impact player heading into the NBA Finals, no matter who they face. The Miami Heat have Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, both undoubtedly dangerous but not elite, and the Indiana Pacers are in the same boat with George Hill and D.J. Augustin.
The 31-year-old dominated despite Mike Conley's best efforts, and that was the main reason why the Grizzlies couldn't extend this series to five or six games at the very least.
San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan: B+
It's not the same Tim Duncan that we saw in the mid-2000's, but the 2013 version is fully capable of winning a championship.
The worriers were plenty after Duncan was benched in crunch-time moments of their series with the Golden State Warriors, and a poor Game 1 didn't help when he finished with six points. But he rebounded in the way that we've grown accustomed to seeing.
"The Big Fundamental" showed us why he earned such a nickname with his modestly-paced skills set, and it paid off in the Spurs' overtime thrillers when he took over the five-minute final quarter and put things away on his own.
If he can figure out how to have a big game at the same time as his point guard, the Spurs might become unbeatable in their current system.
Manu Ginobili: B-
Ginobili contributed all that he ever was expected to in this series. He had one big game, hit a big shot in each win and served as a versatile sixth man.
He was one of the only Spurs players not to play well in their Game 1 rout, finishing with eight points on 2-of-6 shooting. Ginobili improved to .500 in Game 2, but notched just seven points.
However, it was his 19-point outburst in Game 3 that proved to be crucial, as the Spurs were turning the ball over all over the place and proving unable at times to stop Memphis' offense.
The 35-year-old is starting to show signs that he's growing out of the age where he could compete near the level that Duncan and Parker are consistently able to. That's not a knock on Ginobili, because he's had his moments and was a huge reason for each of their rings.
But Ginobili's impact on the game goes further than the stat sheet, as his experience and dead-aim shooting in clutch moments never gets represented in the numbers.
Marc Gasol: B-
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year was able to do some great things in this series, but he just didn't do nearly enough to live up to the type of year he was having.
After putting up 20 points in four of five games against Oklahoma City in the previous round, he never finished with more than 16 in this series.
Add that up with a five-rebound performance in the decisive Game 4, and there's suddenly much less to be impressed with. Still, he was huge on the boards in Games 2 and 3, pulling down 14 rebounds in each game.
Gasol had his characteristic impact on the defensive side, picking up about two blocks per contest. But it wasn't enough overall to live up to what he did against the Thunder with his deep shooting stroke and dominating post moves.
Zach Randolph: C-
Hardly anyone expected the Spurs to shut down Memphis' low-post game like they did in the series sweep, and it all started with Zach Randolph's disappearing act from this series.
Rightfully so, Randolph had the finger pointed at him after his Grizzlies were clobbered in Game 1, as he finished with two points and seven rebounds just after a series where he finished averaging 18 and 10.
He was able to up his performance immensely from that low point, but it wasn't nearly enough to give his team an advantage in the post.
It all starts with Marc Gasol, but the Grizzlies need Randolph to have his impact on the game for them to reap the rewards of giving the ball to the post on most of their possessions. He didn't do that in this series as he was constantly swarmed by Tim Duncan and Thiago Splitter.
Mike Conley: B
There's no doubt that Mike Conley played up to the moment in this series and proved that he's worthy of being called a budding NBA star, but he was flat-out schooled by Tony Parker.
Conley performed in the clutch as he usually does, and was a big reason why the Grizz were able to get to overtime in Games 2 and 3. But in the end, Parker outplayed the 25-year-old and gave San Antonio a huge advantage at the point.
It'll likely just be growing pains for Conley, who is gaining experience as he inches toward the prime of his career. It's perfectly acceptable and respectable that he was one-upped by Parker, who is one of the game's best point guards.
If the Grizzlies can keep the right pieces around him, this will only be the first of many deep playoff runs for Conley.
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