Grizzlies will be much tougher test for Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs just shut that “Splash Brothers” stuff all the way down. They got hit with a couple buckets of confetti early in the series and that was plenty. They’d had their fill of splash, which is a good thing for the Spurs, because now they’re playing the Grizzlies, and the last splashy thing to come out of Memphis was one of Elvis’ jumpsuits.  

San Antonio made the Golden State Warriors look cute in Games 5 and 6, wrapping up the series with a 94-82 win Thursday in Oakland, Calif. The Spurs made Golden State’s entire identity look a little gimmicky, and ran away with a series that once looked headed the other direction. And that’s all great, but it’s over now. Memphis doesn’t do cute and gimmicky. Memphis plows its fields with a pair of oxen, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, who will challenge the Spurs in all the ways Golden State could not. And who have beaten the Spurs in the playoffs before.

But first, the Warriors.

The Spurs won the series the way the Spurs always win series: They take their chances with you making difficult shots, and they spend their time making sure they get easy ones. It’s awfully annoying, because it can look like luck or bad defense. You hear people talk about the Spurs’ execution and you think, “Yeah, whatever, but look what Steph Curry just did. Do they have anybody who can do that?”

And the answer is: No, not quite, but it doesn’t usually matter.

It’s never an emergency with the Spurs. That’s the whole point. The Spurs don’t often get caught stuck in their offense. They don’t often get to the end of the shot clock with nowhere to go, they don’t get too far down. They keep themselves out of desperate situations. That’s most of the time. But then on those unusual occasions when things do get desperate, Manu Ginobili will go and make a shot that maybe 50 people in the whole world would make, and everything turns out fine because there is margin for error.

The Spurs played such good defense in Games 5 and 6 that halfway through the third quarter of Game 6, the Warriors already looked defeated. Every shot they took was a difficult one, and they made a few, but it was just a trickle. The water was still on, but the Spurs had kinked the hose.

And then Stephen Curry’s shoulders started drooping and it was over. The Warriors are not capable of beating the Spurs with a frustrated Curry bumming around.

Let’s get it on the record that the Warriors missed David Lee in this series. Maybe with him, their 18-and-11 guy, their All-Star, that hose isn’t so easy to kink. Maybe it’s a different series. It seems likely, anyway. In the few minutes Lee played, he was effective, and not a lot of teams that have an All-Star forward can lose him without suffering some fairly destructive consequences to their offense. The Warriors just could not really pressure the Spurs’ defense without a scoring threat inside. Their offense was no longer inside-outside and side-to-side, it was only side-to-side. It was 2D.

And let’s get it on the record that the Warriors played some doggone good defense in Game 6. They held the Spurs to 66 points through three quarters, and ordinarily a team like the Warriors would feel pretty good about that.

That’s the kind of thing Memphis does, not Golden State.

But the scoring wasn’t there, and San Antonio knew it. Once the Spurs figured out the Warriors’ offense had gone 2D, the Spurs played without anxiety. They only had to do one thing – make Curry and Thompson take difficult shots – and the series was theirs.

It won’t be so easy against Memphis, which is not a jump-shooting team. The Grizzlies are going to play through the oxen, and the oxen have a soft touch and a jab step. Memphis can’t make hard jump shots like Golden State can, but Memphis doesn’t need to.

The Grizzlies are like the Spurs in that way. Except there is an irony here. The Spurs knew all they had to do was keep the Warriors’ guards from getting hot, and now you wonder if Memphis is cooking up the same gameplan.