Forget about pint-sized point guards going crazy for 22 points in a quarter. Spurs-Grizzlies is going to be ugly. Meat-grinder ugly.
“It’s not going to be pretty,” Tim Duncan said after San Antonio dispatched Golden State to return to the Western Conference finals.
“Sorry, it’s just not gonna to be. It’s going to be two teams (that) are going to try to impose their wills on each other.”
That’s what we have in store starting Sunday afternoon in San Antonio. Seven potential knockdown, drag-out rounds (not games) to determine who represents the West in the NBA Finals.
The Spurs have been here a lot, most recently last year squandering a 2-0 series lead before falling to Oklahoma City in six. That loss continues to sting the main players of a proud franchise trying to add one for the thumb.
“We were disappointed last year being up 2-0, having home court, not being able to go to the Finals,” Tony Parker said. “It gives us a lot of fuel for this year.
“I think everybody on the team; we all want to go one more time. It’s been a long time since 2007. I think everybody understands that opportunities don’t come very often. Last year we missed one, a close one. We were two games away from the Finals. This year we have another opportunity to go to the Finals.”
The West finals are virgin territory for Memphis. Only once before had the Grizzlies, which were born in Vancouver in 1995, even gotten out of the first round. That happened two years ago in a series the Spurs remember all too well.
Memphis may seem to some as crashing the party, at least on a national stage. But this Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph-Mike Conley incarnation of the Grizzlies has made three straight playoff trips, won 56 games this year (two less than San Antonio) and split four games against the Spurs.
“I’ve seen them as a major threat for years now,” Duncan said. “Obviously, they beat us in the first round when we were the No. 1 seed a couple of years back. They’ve been very good ever since then.
“They’ve been a very solid team, a very good team and have always played us really tough. We respect their capabilities and we’re not surprised they’re here.”
San Antonio beat Golden State with defense, holding Steph Curry and the Warriors to 82 points in Saturday’s series finale. Keeping the Grizzlies in the 80s shouldn’t be a problem in this series. The Spurs getting into the 80s might be.
Memphis allowed the fewest points per game in the regular season (89.3) and opponents shot just 43.5 percent, third-lowest in the league. There’s a case to be made that the Grizzlies are the best defensive team around.
“I do know they’ve had a heck of a year, along with Indiana and Miami, you can argue who is the best defensive team,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They’re gritty, talented. Be a heck of a challenge, I know that.”
Gasol was the Defensive Player of the Year. Paired with rebounding machine Randolph, they’re arguably the NBA’s most intimidating frontcourt. But the Spurs aren’t often intimidated. And they’re bigger than two years ago when the eight-seeded Grizzlies stunned No. 1 San Antonio.
Most remember the key to that series being an injured Manu Ginobili. And, yes, his elbow did derail the Spurs, but as Duncan pointed out, San Antonio didn’t have the heft inside back then to battle Gasol and Randolph.
“We’re a different team than we were back then,” Duncan said.
What’s changed is the emergence of starting center Tiago Splitter, who goes 6-11 and 240. More important than just his size, which the Spurs do need, is the complete confidence Duncan now has in Splitter.
“Their bread and butter is inside with Marc and Zach,” Duncan said. “And they’re going to throw it in there and those guys are going to bang that board, and that’s going to be the key for us if we wanna win this series is try to control the inside.”
Duncan succinctly added: “It’s going to be a big man’s series.”