MEMPHIS — The best season in franchise history ended with a resounding thud for the Grizzlies. Led by a relentless Tony Parker, San Antonio answered every question Memphis posed in the Western Conference finals and finished the sweep with a 93-86 victory. Here are three observations on how the Spurs solved the Grizzlies and rode their point guard to the NBA Finals.
1. San Antonio owned the paint against a team that makes its living there
Memphis had figured out a way to win without a premier scorer (Rudy Gay), pounding it out since February with an inside-out mindset that started with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol down low. The Spurs shut that down. San Antonio outscored Memphis 52-32 in the paint Monday to complete rare back-to-back wins here. Plenty of those were easy layups.
Tony Parker, who poured in 37 points, attributed a lot of that to the first two games of the series, a 3-point barrage in Game 1 and his 18 assists in Game 2.
“They were not committing as much on me when I was penetrating because they were scared that I would hit the shooters,” Parker said. “So I think Game 1 and Game 2 definitely opened it for everything else.”
Gasol finished with 14 points and five rebounds. His frustration was clear as he slammed both hands on the scorer’s table during a timeout and nearly sat on the floor on a foul call late in the second half. To this point, that had been hard to do to the Grizzlies.
Randolph had to feel even more frustrated. The power forward had an awful series, unable to find position against the fronting Spurs, unable to make free throws and unable to get the offensive rebounds and putbacks that helped Memphis reach its first conference final. Randolph closed the season with a 4-for-13 performance, 13 points and eight rebounds.
2. Tony Parker took a poke in the eye … and still put the final daggers in
The Grizzlies never found a way to contain Parker. Even poking him in the eye had little effect. After Gasol accidentally jabbed him in the face in the fourth quarter, Parker went to the locker room and came back out in plenty of time to end Memphis’ season.
It has been the Parker show and he closed it with style — 37 points on 15 of 21 from the floor with six assists. At one point, Parker had scored or assisted on 20 of 37 of the Spurs’ baskets.
He buried a 3-pointer after Memphis pulled within three in the fourth quarter, scored two more baskets with the lead cut to six and nailed a pair of free throws once the lead was cut to three with less than a minute to go.
“He was outstanding the whole series,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “And he controlled the series with his penetration. He was huge.”
When Parker gets the ball, opposing fans hold their breath. The Grizzlies don’t have that guy, especially if the down-low duo is held in check.
3. It took a while, but Memphis’ lack of a scorer and a finisher was exposed
It sometimes looks like point guard Mike Conley is emerging as the Grizzlies’ go-to shooter. He did make the tying bucket that sent Game 2 to overtime, but he clanked a shot that could have won Game 3 in regulation.
His seven assists are nothing to scoff at in Game 4, but his nine points leaves plenty of room for scoffing.
Gay could have been that guy but wasn’t producing at the rate of his paycheck. Now Memphis can look to the offseason to either find that guy or hope Conley continues his transformation into that guy. Conley was asked after the game if he’d like to see his game transform into something similar to Parker’s.
“I feel like we have similar games,” Conley said. “Tony started hitting his stride around the same time and I’m following that same path and I feel like one day I’ll be able to do the same things he’s doing.”
Quincy Pondexter is unexpectedly making a case, too. Memphis came into Game 4 desperate. But the Grizzlies stuck with their regular lineup. It would have been a great time to see what Pondexter could do as a starter. His series had earned him the right.
Tayshaun Prince stayed in there and scored six early points but finished with only eight. As he has done all series, Pondexter came in and made an impact, another game-high 22 points. Pondexter has given Hollins something to think about, but Hollins — if he returns — and the front office will be faced with the task of trying to build a team that can score and play its grit-and-grind style of defense without sacrificing one for the other. That’s what happened Monday, a Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless lineup that made it a bit easier for Tony Parker, who by no means needed any help.
A defense that stayed at the top of the league stats this season was porous at times this series. Memphis had made a habit of winning games when it won the rebounding battle. But losing games when winning that stat magnifies the Grizzlies’ biggest problem — scoring.
The Grizzlies were literally a play here and there from a pair of wins — at least enough to extend the series another game or two. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said as much after the game.
Finding — or developing — that guy is now the focus.