If the Memphis Grizzlies were healthy — meaning if they had Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and a host of others currently sidelined — this series would have some intriguing angles.
But that’s not the series we’re getting. On paper, this is the most lopsided first-round series in either conference, with the 67-win Spurs taking on a Grizzlies team that lost 10 of their last 11. Can Memphis make this at all interesting?
Here are three questions that will decide the series.
Where will Memphis get points from? San Antonio had the best defense in the NBA this past season — by a mile. San Antonio allowed just 96.6 points per 100 possessions (according to NBA.com), and that was two more than the second-place team (Atlanta) and nearly four better than third. San Antonio shuts everyone down. They have elite perimeter defenders in Kawhi Leonard (the likely Defensive Player of the Year again) and Danny Green, plus Tim Duncan quarterbacks the entire operation in the paint.
Memphis now starts Jordan Farmar at the point — he wasn’t even in the NBA most of the season. Zach Randolph is the most reliable scorer on the Grizzlies, with his old-man-at-the-Y game inside that never ages, however, he scored just nine points the last time these teams met. Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge can keep him in check. Memphis did get 24 points from Matt Barnes a couple of times late in the season (including against Golden State), he can score a little. Lance Stephenson will get some inefficient buckets. Tony Allen had a couple decent shooting nights lately. But we’re grasping at straws; the Grizzlies do not have good shot creators and they are going against an elite defense.
Is there anything the Grizzlies can do about the Spurs’ depth? San Antonio’s second unit has Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, David West, Kyle Anderson, and a host of other guys who can contribute — they pull away from teams with the execution of their reserves. Who is coming off the bench for Memphis? P.J. Hairston, Stephenson, what’s left of Vince Carter, and JaMychal Green. San Antonio has an advantage when the starters are in, but it’s a gulf once the benches come into play.
The grit and grind Grizzlies are not just going to roll over — they will defend hard, they will try to muck he game up, they will be physical. But once the benches get involved, look for he Spurs to pull away.
Can the Spurs stay focused in the moment and not look ahead? The only team that can beat the Spurs in this series is the Spurs. Everyone is looking forward to the Spurs and the Thunder (almost certainly) next round, and that’s a fantastic matchup. If the Spurs get caught looking ahead, skipping steps, and not being focused the Grizzlies will grind this into a series. Don’t bet on it though.
Prediction: Spurs in four. Memphis will make it close in a game or two, they are a prideful team, and Dave Joerger can coach, but the Grizzlies are outmatched this time around. There will be no stunning upset.