One never knows what might happen in an NBA playoff series, as injuries and prolonged stretches of unexpected ineffectiveness can turn a matchup 180 degrees. But if it were ever easy to predict the results of a first-round battle, the clash between the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies would serve as your shining example.
On Sunday afternoon, the Spurs completed their beatdown of the injury-riddled No. 7 seed, winning 116-95 to finish the sweep. The series was never in doubt, with the only nail-biting moments coming during the second half of Game 3 before San Antonio eventually pulled ahead for good. The Spurs won each contest by an average margin of 22 points, and they now have the luxury of looking ahead while everyone else continues their first-round matchups.
As LaMarcus Aldridge made clear, per Spurs beat writer Tom Orsborn, one of his teammates in particular could use some time off:
Tim Duncan gets to hop in an ice bath and start feeling like he's much younger while he waits for San Antonio's next outing. Ditto for Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and all of the other long-in-the-tooth veterans on this always-competitive roster.
The Spurs are awaiting the winner of the Oklahoma City Thunder-Dallas Mavericks series. And while the heavily favored Thunder likely will emerge and face them in the second round, there's no telling when that will happen. OKC has shown signs of weakness, inexplicably dropping Game 2 on its home court after blowing yet another fourth-quarter lead.
Despite showing some resiliency with back-to-back road victories that pushed the series to 3-1, Oklahoma City could very well drop a second contest Monday night while Duncan watches from home and sips some tea to celebrate his 40th birthday. If that's the case, the Thunder must travel back to Dallas, hoping to close out the series in six before hopping over to San Antonio for Game 1 of the subsequent round.
But even if the Thunder do shut the door on the Mavs' Cinderella hopes Monday, the Spurs will still have the luxury of an entire week of rest. The two powerhouses won't begin their duel until next weekend.
It's no secret San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich prioritizes rest. He routinely sits key players during the regular season, trying to keep them fresh as possible for the games that truly matter. He's probably reveling over this break in the action, thanking his lucky stars that all of his veterans get so much crucial time off before the playoffs truly begin for San Antonio.
However, that's not where the positives end.
Memphis didn't make for much of a fearsome foe, largely because Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and so many other crucial pieces couldn't suit up during the postseason. And the Spurs took advantage of that weakness by thoroughly destroying the Grizzlies with both their starters and the bench.
Take a gander at how many fewer minutes per game the typical starting five logged against Memphis than it did during this year's 82-game campaign:
Even Manu Ginobili is playing less. The dynamic sixth man logged just 19.6 minutes per game throughout the regular season, but that average dropped to a flat 19 against Memphis.
Normally, playoff teams compress their rotations, leaving key players on the floor for extra minutes. They want to force the weakest links from the chains while getting the biggest and best contributors the most high-leverage opportunities.
On the flip side, look at what Oklahoma City has done through four games against Dallas:
The Spurs didn't just earn themselves a week of rest by getting out the broom on Beale Street. They also completed the sweep without taxing the players who are most crucial to a deep postseason run—something OKC can't claim even if it finishes off the Mavericks in five games.
Plus, those minutes must go somewhere. And in typical Popovich fashion, he allocated the excess perfectly.
Kevin Martin logged 14.5 minutes per game during the first two contests before the flu forced him into street clothes, gaining comfort in the Spurs' playoff system in case they need his shooting ability in a later round. Youngsters Kyle Anderson and Jonathan Simmons received more opportunities to play postseason basketball, even if they came against a weaker opponent.
There's only one potential concern about the ease of the Spurs' first-round blowout.
The playoffs are often about rounding into peak form at the perfect time, and the Grizzlies didn't allow San Antonio an opportunity to recalibrate against a dangerous outfit. Plus, time off could be problematic if it forces the Spurs out of proper rhythm, allowing rust to set in before everything kicks into a high gear against their second-round opponent—again, presumably the Thunder.
But as ESPN.com's Michael C. Wright explained, the man in charge still believes in the progress he's seeing despite some of the recent struggles:
San Antonio hasn’t put together a dominant performance since a March 23 win over the Miami Heat. Two days after that game, San Antonio clinched the second seed and immediately started to rest key players down the stretch. Just before the regular season ended, the Spurs started to try to play some of the regulars to get the group operating at peak efficiency to start the postseason. But injuries to LaMarcus Aldridge and Boris Diaw affected the team’s efforts, as did the rest. Offensively, the Spurs are a little out of sync.
But Popovich did say on Sunday that the team’s progression into the rhythm he seeks has gone 'so far, so good.'
During Game 4, that rhythm was there.
The Spurs rebounded from a slow start and finished 40-of-80 from the field and 10-of-22 from beyond the arc. They recorded 21 assists to only 11 turnovers and managed to run complicated offensive schemes with starters and bench players alike.
Rust may be a legitimate factor, but this is still a disciplined team coached by one of the greatest who's ever paced the sidelines. If any squad can fight off the ill effects of a week's rest and turn the hiatus into an unmitigated positive, it's this veteran-laden unit.
Could the Spurs have blown out the Grizzlies by even wider margins? Sure, but it wasn't necessary to do so. Instead, they kept their key players fresh and still put on a show while earning more rest than any other Western Conference juggernaut will enjoy.
A sweep in the playoffs is always special. But the Spurs are after far more than four consecutive victories against the overmatched Grizz.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @fromal09.
Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's databases.