The Spurs had their worst offensive performance in a month, their stars struggled, they blew a 20 point lead… and still won. In Los Angeles, the Grizzlies leave me dumbfounded. [Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images]
Spurs play poorly, still sweep Jazz
Prior to Monday night’s Game 4 series-clinching victory, the San Antonio Spurs had won 13 straight games dating back to April 12th. In each of those 13 victories, the Spurs scored at least 102 points and won every game by double digits except two (the final games of the regular season in which the big three sat). San Antonio has been an offensive machine. It was only a matter of time before the machine took a night off. Monday was that night.
The Spurs shot a lousy 38% from the field and struggled from the free throw line until late in the 4th quarter. Overall, the Spurs were outrebounded by 14 and surrendered 16 offensive rebounds to the aggressive Jazz, more than doubling San Antonio’s seven. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker combined to go 8/24 for 22 points with Duncan missing his last six shots after starting 4/4. Duncan and Parker both finished with a +/- rating of -13. It was an all-around brutal night for San Antonio’s starting unit, especially Parker and Duncan.
Amazingly, despite the starting unit’s struggles, the Spurs, thanks mostly to their deep bench, still managed to grind their way to a 21 point lead with six minutes left in the 4th quarter. Though the lead would eventually be cut all the way down to four, it says something about your team when your two best players have an awful night in the playoffs and you’re still sitting on a 20 point lead in the 4th quarter. I’m not sure the Spurs could have played much worse and it still would have taken an epic collapse for them to lose that game. Obviously, Utah won’t be confused with the Lakers, Thunder, or even the upstart Clippers, but they’re still a decent team.
Monday’s ugly win was also an encouraging win to Spurs fans for two reasons. First, the Jazz exploited the Spurs greatest weakness (interior size) and pummeled San Antonio all game long. Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson combined for 52 points, 39 rebounds, and 5 blocks. That three headed monster threw the Spurs around like rag dolls. And still, the Spurs prevailed.
Second, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs bench proved they’re essentially a second starting unit. Utah had no answers for Ginobili’s unique cuts to the basket or his inexplicable ability to always find the open shooter camped out behind the three point line. Ginobili, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson, Tiago Splitter, and even DeJuan Blair for a short stretch carried the Spurs to a series sweep. They played so well I thought Gregg Popovich made a mistake when he inserted Duncan and Parker back into the game as the Jazz cut into the Spurs 4th quarter lead.
The bench was San Antonio’s superior unit Monday night and Ginobili was the team’s best player. There are so many ways this team can win. That’s good news for the Spurs and bad news for their opponent in the conference semifinals.
Grizzlies pushed to brink by Clippers
I’m not sure what’s going on in this series, and it’s not because I’m not watching. It’s because I literally can’t figure out what the heck the Grizzlies are doing.
Marc Gasol was an all-star center this year. He took just four shots in Game 4. In fact, he’s been underused all series, taking 10 attempts in Game 1, 9 in Game 2, and only 5 in Game 3. I know Gasol hasn’t been playing at the same level he was for most of the season, but geez, he’s not Josh McRoberts. Give the guy the ball and let him pound on the Clippers. Of course, it doesn’t help that Zach Randolph is playing on a bum knee and is only about 60% of what he was last postseason. Regardless, Memphis’ size and brute strength is their greatest asset and somehow they’re letting the Clippers bully them out of this series.
Here’s what Memphis needs to do to turn this series around. First, they need to stop falling in love with jump shots. Between Gasol, Rudy Gay, Tony Allen, Maurice Speights, and even a hobbled Randolph, the Grizzlies have the size and strength to finish at the basket. While the Clippers also have decent size in the frontcourt, they’re not especially great defensively. DeAndre Jordan’s basketball IQ would equate to single digits on the NFL’s Wonderlic Test, Blake Griffin is a foul machine, Kenyon Martin is block happy, and Reggie Evans is just a brute. All Evans does is get under the skin of the opponent and rebound (both valuable in the postseason), so he can be exploited defensively. Memphis needs to attack LA over and over and over again. Get Evans and Griffin in foul trouble and force the Clippers to scramble. Early in Game 4, Tony Allen had success posting up Chris Paul and finishing at the rim, and then, just like that, he stopped going into the paint. If you could have seen my face during Game 4, it would have looked like George W Bush’s when he was informed he couldn’t run for a third term as President.
Second, Memphis must force Blake Griffin to go left. Griffin’s up-and-under move to the right beat Randolph so many times I stopped counting. Do the Grizzlies study tape? Do they scheme during off days? Aside from jumping over fools, Griffin has only one move; the up-and-under. His baby hook is lousy, so there’s no need to try and block it. Stay on your feet, body him up, and force him to dish or put up a contested shot. Griffin is a very good player, but he’s still so raw. You can force him into tough situations and benefit from his mistakes.
Third, the Grizzlies need more from Gay and O.J. Mayo. Much more. Gay has no equal on the Clippers. He should be able to penetrate and dish at will. If Gay gets aggressive, he can create easy baskets for his bigs and get the Clippers frontcourt into foul trouble at the same time. As for Mayo, he looks like he hates Lionel Collins right now. On at least two occasions in Game 4 Hollins gave Mayo the stink eye after calling a timeout and once he even yelled something that sounded like “beezus feist” in Mayo’s direction as Mayo walked up. The Grizzlies need Mayo to wake up from the three point line (he’s 3/14 over the last three games) and get stingy defensively. Chris Paul has been annihilating the Grizzlies. Mayo and Tony Allen need to get more physical with the smaller Paul.
Fourth, double-team someone for goodness sake! This just in: The Clippers are a two man show. Outside of Paul and Griffin, the Clippers don’t have anyone else that can beat you on a nightly basis. The Clips have no bench. Their third best scorer is playing with one hand. Double team Griffin and force DeAndre Jordan or Kenyon Martin to do something. With Paul, like I just said, get physical and keep him from penetrating at all costs. Force the Clippers mediocre role players to beat you. Don’t go down taking haymakers from their two best players. It’s simply not a good idea.
Overall, it’s pretty clear Memphis hasn’t recovered from their collapse in Game 1. Their swagger is gone. The have no identity. They’re even being outworked and bullied in the paint, something no one could have imagined.