In getting to the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies played two teams that couldn’t put together solid execution on the offensive end of the floor anywhere near consistently over the course of those playoff series.
A lot of the credit for that goes to the Memphis defense, of course. But in the first round, the Clippers relied too heavily on Chris Paul creating, and in the second round, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook, and their offense was extremely one-dimensional with Kevin Durant being the only player that the Grizzlies needed to focus their efforts on stopping.
In this series against the Spurs, Memphis is facing a much more formidable opponent on the offensive end of the floor than they have to this point in these playoffs. And the results, at least during a 105-83 Game 1 shellacking, were cause for legitimate concern even after just one contest.
San Antonio has a roster loaded with players who understand how to run the team’s system to perfection, and they cycle through options effortlessly if the first one is stopped by the defense. There was a play very early in the game that illustrated this.
Tony Parker brought the ball up and tried the right side of the floor to begin his team’s possession. Danny Green popped out to the corner and received the pass, but with Tony Allen closely defending, he flipped it immediately back to Parker. Green doesn’t stand, however, he keeps moving, and cuts to the top of the arc to receive the pass so the Spurs can get into another one of their sets.
Parker then curls baseline all the way under the basket and around to the other side of the floor behind three staggered screens to attempt to free him from his defender. He receives the pass at the left elbow and initiates his dribble, before Tiago Splitter steps out to run a screen and roll. As both defenders stay with Parker, Splitter rolls and receives a perfect bounce pass from his point guard. Marc Gasol had to collapse to prevent the layup, which left Tim Duncan wide open from about eighteen feet out. Splitter makes the pass, and Duncan calmly drains the shot just as the shot clock expires.
That’s a lot to deal with defensively, and it’s much more than the Grizzlies have had to worry about recently.
It takes plenty of discipline to be perfect in your rotations, and the Grizzlies were without it for large stretches during their Game 1 loss. It’s one of the reason the Spurs were able to get loose for so many open looks from three-point distance, where they were able to shoot 14-of-29 for the game from downtown.
But make no mistake, that was by no means a fluky shooting performance or a random occurrence — the Spurs finished fourth in the league during the regular season in three-point shooting percentage, tied with the New York Knicks. We know they can knock down those shots at an above-average rate; the way the Grizzlies defended just gave them more opportunities than the Spurs are used to, and they were able to take advantage.
Memphis is typically a strong defensive team that can do a much better job in limiting its opponents. If there’s a bright side moving forward in this series, it’s that Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins believed a lot of what he saw was correctable.
“Tony Parker came out really aggressive, and then in pick and rolls we weren’t up where we were supposed to be,” Hollins said. “And he just beat us sometimes. And when Matt Bonner came in the game, he would set a screen and drag somebody away and we never got back.
“The main thing, we just over-helped. We were so hyper just running all over the place on defense. We’d have four guys in the paint, and then nobody would be out on the perimeter guarding anybody. And that’s not how we play defense.”
It’s true the Grizzlies defended much better in each of the first two rounds of the playoffs, but they weren’t faced with a team like the Spurs that executes to perfection for extended stretches, either. Memphis will make adjustments, and can be confident in remembering how they turned out to be just fine after dropping Game 1 in each of their two previous series victories. It will be much tougher this time to come back, however, given the precision with which the Spurs run their offense.