San Antonio dominated Memphis in every way possible Sunday in a 105-83 rout to open the Western Conference finals. Here are three thoughts from the unexpected beatdown:
1. Bench again becomes a factor. Advantage, Spurs.
Nobody mentioned Matt Bonner as the difference-maker in this series. But the backup center hit four of San Antonio’s 14 3-pointers, tying the most Memphis has given up this season and a franchise-playoff record for the Spurs.
Bench play was a huge topic during the Grizzlies’ opening playoff series against the Clippers, and that storyline has re-emerged in the Western Conference finals. Quincy Pondexter provided a spark off the bench for the Grizzlies with eight straight points in the third quarter to cut what was a 20-point lead to six. But that rally was short-lived.
Memphis starters Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen combined to score 16 points. Bonner nearly outscored them from the bench, and San Antonio starter Danny Green had 16 himself. Pondexter had a team-high 17 and the Grizzlies’ bench was only outscored by six points, but they can’t survive if Pondexter is their leading scorer.
Memphis is not built to rain 3-pointers. Not one starter even had an attempt.
Marc Gasol had 15 points and Mike Conley added 14, but as Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins pointed out after the game, neither played as well as they have been.
2. Parker stood out, while Randolph struggled
If Randolph’s first field goal comes with 9:28 remaining in the fourth quarter of the next three games, his teammates can make summer vacation plans.
Memphis’ leading scorer, Z-Bo finished with two points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Same goes if the Grizzlies are relying on reserve Ed Davis to get their first offensive rebound.
A big question for San Antonio coming in was how it would handle Memphis bigs Randolph and Gasol. The Spurs did it and did it surprisingly effectively with different looks. Memphis has to take advantage of matchups like the one the Spurs handed them in the second quarter, Boris Diaw on Gasol and Bonner on Randolph. The Memphis big men have to score in that scenario. Memphis couldn’t even get them the ball.
“They played better than us in every area. That included fronting the post and keeping us from going inside as much as we wanted to,” Hollins said.
San Antonio point guard Tony Parker, on the other hand, did what he wanted when he wanted, so much that his services were no longer needed in the fourth quarter. He finished with 20 points and nine assists, kicking out passes on pick-and-rolls or taking it for himself. His stat line isn’t that much more impressive than Memphis point guard Conley’s, but his teammates’ numbers were clearly superior to Conley’s mates.
Parker’s driving requires a defense to collapse, the second piece of the puzzle completed by teammates knocking down shots. Parker and Green were obviously the better backcourt.
Randolph had a dream game to clinch the series at Oklahoma City on Wednesday. He lived through a nightmare Sunday.
“We tried to make it hard on him. He’s a beast. We know he’s not going to play like that every game,” Parker said.
Tim Duncan had only six points, but he also contributed 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Memphis played him well, but then again, San Antonio didn’t need him to produce as much as he can.
3. Memphis played a little too much defense
The Grizzlies have maybe the NBA’s most heralded defense. They over-did themselves Sunday, over-helping when it wasn’t necessary and leaving Spurs open behind the arc.
The Spurs spaced things out and found plenty of open shots, at times from multiple open guys at a time.
“Our defense was really awful,” Hollins said. “We were just so hyper, just running all over the place on defense. We’d have four guys in the paint and nobody would be out on the perimeter guarding anybody. That’s not how we play defense.”
Hollins had trouble thinking of guard Jerryd Bayless’ name in the post-game press conference, flustered at the performance of his team. It wasn’t just Bayless he couldn’t recognize. Perhaps more concerning for Memphis than the 23-point loss is the fact he didn’t recognize any of the team that took the floor in Game 1.
Memphis lost the first game of each of its playoff series, but to continue the trend of getting back on track, Memphis has to get back to the grit-and-grind style it does best.