There have been seven quarters — 84 minutes — of the Western Conference Finals where the Spurs have looked much the better team.
But the last 17 minutes — the fourth quarter and overtime, Memphis erased a 16-point deficit, pushed the game into overtime and made this start to look like the close series we expected going in. San Antonio still won and leads the series 2-0, but things felt different.
So which is it Saturday night in Memphis?
Have the Grizzlies figured it out or are the rested Spurs going to benefit from the Johnny Carson vacation schedule of this series and dominate again?
There are two key things to watch for with this.
1) Can the Grizzlies score when Tim Duncan is on the court? Here’s the reason the Memphis comeback in Game 2 may have been a mirage: It pretty much all happened when Duncan was on the bench. To be fair, he was on the bench because of foul trouble that was the result of having to battle Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph inside, but still he is generally not going to get into this kind of trouble again.
Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw give a good effort, but the fact is Bonner just can’t keep Gasol off the glass. Without Duncan, Memphis was able to get better position for their bigs and play more of their game. But when Duncan has been on the court Memphis has struggled through two games — an offensive rating in the 60s in points per 100 possessions — and they have to solve that puzzle fast or they will be down 3-0.
Memphis has found some success Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter — San Antonio has made it tougher on Memphis inside by essentially ignoring the “threat” of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince as shooters and zoning off, adding a lot of support inside. Pondexter is 6-of-13 from deep this series and the Spurs have to respect him in the corner, so expect a lot more of him. He’s as good a floor-spacing shooter as the Grizzlies have and they need to create more room for Gasol and Randolph to operate.
2) Can the Grizzlies slow Tony Parker at the point of attack? This is bigger than item No. 1 — Memphis is not going to get back in this series if they don’t find a way to slow down Parker getting into the paint. When that happens and the Spurs are spacing the floor with shooters there is nothing any good defense can do.
During Memphis’ fourth-quarter comeback they didn’t solve the Spurs pick-and-roll at all, San Antonio just missed shots it normally makes. That includes Parker who was 2-of-8 shooting.
They had better solve it now. Parker cannot be allowed to turn the corner and do as he pleases. San Antonio is pretty much running the pick-and-roll with whichever guy Randolph is guarding setting the pick (they don’t want Gasol around the play) and that is allowing Parker to get inside and then kick the ball out — San Antonio is 23-of-54 from beyond the arc this series (42.6 percent).
If San Antonio is allowed to get in the paint, work inside out, and not get run off the three-point line the Spurs are going to get a lot more rest waiting for the NBA Finals to start June 6.