What We Learned About the Memphis Grizzlies During Western Conference Finals

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIJune 3, 2013

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 25:  Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies goes up for a shot between Tim Duncan #21 and Tiago Splitter #22 of the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter during Game Three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the FedExForum on May 25, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies are beginning to pick themselves up after being floored by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. After winning eight of nine against the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, the Spurs zapped any of the Grizzlies' perceived momentum.

San Antonio outdid Memphis in every facet. Conley couldn't step up to Tony Parker's style of play. The Spurs' big men neutralized Zach Randolph. 

While it doesn't mean this incarnation of the Grizz won't make the conference finals again, they have some items to ponder.

The Grizzlies aren't precise on offense

The Grizzlies didn't have a ton of horrible shooting games after the Rudy Gay trade, as they did beforehand. They shot below 43 percent in 24 of 44 games before the deal, and 11 of 38 afterwards.

But the Grizz failed to string together fruitful shooting performances. They shot 38.1 percent from the field across the four games, with the 43.2 percent clip in Game 1 as their high mark.

While every Memphis player except Quincy Pondexter who took at least five shots per game hit less than 41 percent, they failed in more ways than simply hitting shots.

Their offense wasn't as sophisticated as that of San Antonio. Whereas Parker works a quick offense with a wide array of players making passes and taking shots, Conley runs a slow scheme in which opponents know which players will facilitate and which will put the ball up.

The Grizz had the slowest pace in the regular season (88.4 possessions per 48 minutes), and Conley couldn't be expected to turn on his motor to match Parker.

SI.com's Rob Mahoney noted how Marc Gasol gave Tim Duncan an easy time defending him by easing into position and not attacking the 37-year-old.

Another post-Gay trend that was reversed was three-point shooting. After the trade, Memphis shot 35.4 percent from beyond the arc. It shot 34.9 percent against the Spurs, including 33.3 percent after Game 1.

Pondexter hit 48 percent from long range. Memphis shooters aside from Pondexter shot 26.3 percent from downtown.

A perimeter shooter will surely be on the Grizzlies' radar in free agency.

Amidst all this, their offense stands to become more efficient. Tayshaun Prince could take threes a little more often. Gasol could be more aggressive. Conley may hone his attacking skills after just half a season as a major scoring option.

Offensive inefficiencies can be ironed out in the first offseason with John Hollinger's analytics-oriented front office to create a clean, precise offense to complement a grinding defense.

Tony Allen's game was on full display for his suitors

Any team interested in signing Allen this offseason saw the full picture of this confounding player. He thrills people with his remarkable defense. On the other end, his game is offensive. 

Allen's poor offense held the Grizz back in the series, which hurt doubly considering that they mostly played from behind. He scored eight points per game on 37.5 percent shooting and eight shots per game. The 30-year-old went 2-of-11 in Game 2 and 2-of-9 in Game 4.

He had numerous poor finishes near the rim. In Game 4, he missed five of seven attempts inside three feet, including consecutive misses underneath with the Grizzlies trailing by six late in the third quarter.

Ron Higgins of The Commercial Appeal captured the essence early in the contest via Twitter.

Allen's saving grace on offense was his rebounding, as he pulled down 2.8 per game from the offensive glass.

Allen's brilliant defense was often on display, even though he averaged only 1.3 steals per game. The two-time All-Defensive First-Teamer grabbed steals on consecutive San Antonio overtime possessions in Game 2.

He showed how much he stands out on the defensive boards among guards, averaging 3.8 defensive rebounds per game.

After Game 1, his defensive metrics were fairly steady.

If the Grizz retain the leader of the "grit 'n' grind" defense, they'll be assured that it will remain steady. Still, next year's coach would need to find ways to keep the ball out of his hand.

Any other team that lands him will see an instant improvement on defense, as Memphis did. However, they might have to play him off the bench in order to keep enough shooters in the lineup and minimize his shooting weaknesses.

Memphis isn't an NBA Finals team with an ineffective frontcourt

NBA observers know the Grizzlies are nearly unstoppable when their frontcourt is firing on all cylinders. Randolph and Gasol averaged a combined 37.8 points and 18.8 rebounds per game as Memphis bowled over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Grizzlies have seen Gasol and Randolph struggle for stretches of the same series before. Randolph shot below 47 percent in three of the first four games of the first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers last year.

Meanwhile, Gasol averaged nine points per game on 7-of-18 shooting in Games 2 to 4 of that series. Gasol and Randolph didn't fare well on the boards in the first four games, pulling down 8.3 and 6.5 per game, respectively.

However, the Western Conference Finals represented the first series in which both were completely shut down. Randolph didn't have a game in which he shot 36 percent or better.

The pair combined for 61 boards in Games 2 and 3, but totaled only 27 rebounds between Games 1 and 4.

While it's overdoing it to say Randolph lost his game, he doesn't appear capable of being great on his own anymore. The Spurs limited him to 11 touches in Game 1, according to ESPN.

Randolph couldn't do what he wanted against any Spurs defender, as an ESPN chart showed.

San Antonio ball-handlers frequently blew past the soon-to-be 32-year-old on pick-and-roll plays where Gasol couldn't make up for him.

Having him play off Gasol even more than he does now will help. The Spaniard will dump passes to his frontcourt mate and use their mirrored looks to draw defenders away from him.

This is still the best frontcourt duo in the NBA. That Tim Duncan and company halted them for a series didn't change that. Gasol is the best and most creative center in the game, and Randolph remains a premier rebounder with decent shooting skills. Their relationship will continue to evolve.

Conclusion: The Grizzlies were a contender unprepared for their new stage

To say that the sweep stood as evidence of the idea that Memphis beat the Thunder because Russell Westbrook was out is a lazy generalization.

This small-market team traded its leading scorer and went on to win a franchise-record 56 games and reach the conference finals for the first time. The Grizz rolled past the Clippers and Thunder with trademark defense and inside play.

Confronted with the Spurs, the Grizzlies couldn't do anything that made them successful.

The unfamiliarity with this stage showed. In the series opener, none of them showed the signature grit on defense. According to CBSSports.com, they struggled with adjustments.

The Commercial Appeal's Geoff Calkins was among those who dove into talk of a championship parade. For storied franchises like the Spurs, who have played in eight conference finals since the Grizzlies entered the league, the parade is the last thing on their minds in this round.

Gasol summed it up after Game 4, saying

We fought, we just—they taught us a lesson about how to play at this stage, this far into the season, this far into the playoffs. They taught us a lesson in how to execute. ... They taught us a lesson all-around. 

By next year, this young team will have learned those lessons. Conley and Gasol will have played a full season as the top two scoring options. The Grizzlies have taken incremental steps towards becoming a complete contender, and that journey will be complete in 2014.


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