Monday, April 25, 2011

Game 4 Preview: Looming Match-Up Questions

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2011 at 12:49 PM

A few notes in advance of tonight's Game 4 between the Grizzlies and Spurs. The game tips-off at 7 p.m., with a national broadcast on TNT. I'll be joining the Chris Vernon Show from 5-6 p.m. before heading back to the arena to get settled in. Follow night's action on Twitter with me at the FlyerGrizBlog feed. And check back here later tonight — much later, probably — for a full report from the game.


Atmosphere: As of this morning, Game 4 is a sellout, but there are a few questions: Even though this game is now even more important than Game 3, can the atmosphere possibly duplicate what we saw Saturday night? Even though tickets are sold, will today's stormy weather provoke some no-shows? How much will we miss The Giant Head of Eva Longoria — who I'm told will not be making an appearance tonight?

Randolph from Long-Range: Zach Randolph's three-pointer was the shot of the night Saturday, and I wrote about it plenty in my post-game report. But let's take a moment to put Randolph's penchant for long-range shooting into some context, lest celebration become encouragement.

Randolph is a career 28% three-point shooter on an outrageously over-sized 391 attempts. This season, Randolph hit 18% from three on 43 shots, which might not seem like many attempts, but for a frontcourt player who is not a good three-point shooter, it sort of is. The only player in the NBA this season who took as many three-point attempts while shooting a lower percentage was Toronto swingman DeMar DeRozan, who shot 10% on 52 attempts. And the other players with attempt/percentage numbers similar to Randolph's were guards — Andre Miller (37/11), Acie Law (36/17), Gerald Henderson (36/19).

Frontcourt players who don't shoot the three well simply don't shoot it as frequently as Randolph, and while he's done a good job reducing his attempts since joining the Grizzlies, he still launches them too frequently and still clings to that facet of his game too stubbornly. Late in the clock, desperation attempts are fine — and perhaps that game-sealer on Saturday night qualifies — but the Grizzlies need to make sure Randolph doesn't drift out toward the arc too often.

Avoiding Duncan's Defense: Randolph's generally poor three-point shooting wasn't the only troubling fact obscured by Saturday night's big shot. That high-arcing heave was the only attempt Randolph connected on in a rough fourth quarter.

After using Tim Duncan almost exclusively on Marc Gasol for the entire series, the Spurs switched their future Hall-of-Fame defender onto Randolph for most of the fourth quarter in Game 3, and Randolph — playing all 12 minutes — went 1-8 from the floor, clearly bothered by Duncan's length. (Randolph did get to the line in the quarter, shooting 4-6.) Meanwhile, Marc Gasol, playing nine minutes against usually lesser defenders — Matt Bonner and Antonio McDyess — went 2-2.

If the Spurs make Duncan the primary defender on Randolph for tonight's game — and based on Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich's post-game comments, I think they might — the Grizzlies can't have that kind of field-goal attempt disparity again.

I'm not saying the Grizzlies shouldn't get Randolph the ball if Duncan's on him, only that we knew going into the series that the Grizzlies' biggest advantage would be to have more good frontcourt scoring options than the Spurs have good frontcourt defenders — and that means not only Gasol (56% shooting on the series), but also Darrell Arthur (59% in more limited minutes).

Gasol is too big for all of the Spurs' secondary defenders — McDyess, Bonner, Dejuan Blair. Arthur is too quick. Randolph is both too strong and too quick. As a result, the Grizzlies game plan should be to feature whatever frontcourt player Tim Duncan isn't defending.

Potential wild card: Tiago Splitter, the 6'11" Spurs rookie who still hasn't taken the floor in this series. As the Spurs fall behind, you would assume Popovich will be looking for something new to try, and adding a second big defender seems like an unavoidable audible.

The Best Manu Match-Up: Tony Allen made some nice plays Saturday tonight, particularly with his underrated passing. But he struggled with Manu Ginobili. The dynamic Spurs guard notched 23 points and 5 assists in 35 minutes, while notching 14 free-throw attempts. Allen fouled out in 25 minutes.

Allen is one of the league's very best perimeter defenders, but his aggressive, gambling style has met a tough match in Ginobili's crafty, jerky, pump-fake-heavy approach.

Based on what I've watched these past two games, it's looked like Shane Battier's length and more conservative approach has been more effective on Ginobili. And the numbers suggest the same:

According to NBA.com's Stats Cube site, Ginobili has shot 31% in this series with Battier on the floor and 56% with Battier on the bench. Meanwhile, Ginobili's shooting numbers have gone the opposite way with regard to Allen: 46% with Allen on the floor and 33% with Allen on the bench.

Further, if the Grizzlies can get into a match-up where Ginobili has to guard Battier — and with the Spurs regularly sliding Ginobili to small forward when Richard Jefferson goes to the bench, that's not hard to get — then the Grizzlies have yet another post advantage to go to, as Battier proved to be very effective on the block against the smaller Ginobili in Game 3.

But Allen will get the call to start the game, and how the Grizzlies delegate minutes and match-ups will likely be influenced by this start. The Ginobili-Allen pairing was already getting a little chippy — Ginobili undercutting Allen in Game 2, Allen landing hard on Ginobili's injured arm in Game 3 — and now Allen has thrown a little gas on the fire. This game-within-the-game will bear close scrutiny in the opening minutes.

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