In a dreadful start to the series for the Grizzlies, let me start by underscoring four points that I made in my series preview:
1. The key to defending the Spurs has less to do with containing stars than containing team three-point shooting, especially from role players. Tony Parker was splendid on Sunday afternoon, scoring 20 points on 9-14 shooting, with 9 assists. But Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili combined for only 14 points on 5-15 shooting. Instead, the Spurs killed the Grizzlies from outside, hitting a franchise playoff record 14 three-pointers on 29 attempts, the most made threes the Grizzlies have yielded all season. And the bulk of the damage came from secondary scorers Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Matt Bonner, who combined to shoot 11-17 from three.
2. The Grizzlies low turnovers and high rate of free-throw attempts in rounds one and two were not going to be sustainable in this series. The Grizzlies did a good job of taking care of the ball after a rough start, their 12 turnovers only slightly more than the 10.4 average in the first two rounds, but the team’s inflated 31.6 free-throw attempts came down to a more reasonable 20.
3. The Grizzlies’ propensity for funky lineups in Game 1 repeated itself. The Grizzlies were still theoretically in the hunt when the team put out a small-ball lineup of Jerryd Bayless-Tony Wroten-Quincy Pondexter-Tony Allen-Zach Randolphto start the fourth and brought in Austin Daye for Wroten soon after.
4. The biggest key of all for this game was going to be which team could better adjust to the stylistic whiplash from their previous series, and clearly that was the Spurs, in a big, big way. After chasing three-point shooters all over the floor against the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs seemed almost relieved to be in a halfcourt defense against the Grizzlies, crowding the paint and routinely ignoring Grizzlies’ wing players. The Grizzlies, on the other end, couldn’t adjust as quickly to the Spurs’ spread offense and quick, deft ball movement, which provides an extreme contrast to the over-reliance on stars Chris Paul and Kevin Durant that the Grizzlies were able to snuff out in the first and second rounds. As it turned out, playing against Vinny Del Negro and Scott Brooks was poor preparation for playing against Gregg Popovich.
Compounding all of these problems, of course, was a disastrous performance from Zach Randolph, who finished with 2 points on 1-8 shooting, a meek fourth-quarter tip-in providing his only score. Randolph also had only 7 rebounds in 28 minutes of play, during which the Grizzlies were outscored by 28 points. The Spurs put their best defender, Duncan, on Randolph from the outset, and crowded the paint with impunity. But even facing these obstacles, Randolph didn’t put up much of a fight.
Still, it was a six-point game late in the third, when reserves Quincy Pondexter (a game-high 17 points, including 5-9 from three-point range) and Jerryd Bayless lead a 10-0 spurt to get the Grizzlies back in the game. This was short-lived, however. Popovich called a timeout and, soon after, a Bayless three rimmed out and a Ginobili try found net and it was back to a nine-point Spurs lead with the Grizzlies’ momentum tapped down. The Spurs finished the quarter on an 11-1 run and the Grizzlies never threatened again.
Looking ahead to Game 2, was this defeat primarily about a slow adjustment to the Spurs’ style? Had the Grizzlies grown too complacent with their recent success and exposure? Was Randolph’s disappearance merely a fluke?
If you’re searching for positives, consider these: Marc Gasol and Mike Conley weren’t great, but were probably good enough, with Pondexter suggesting how important he can be in this series, where the Grizzlies could really use his combination of outside shooting and defensive discipline.
More importantly is that the Grizzlies demonstrated in the previous two rounds an ability to adjust and improve over the course of a series, particularly on the defensive end. But doing so against this multi-dimensional Spurs offense could be a considerably stiffer challenge than the Grizzlies have faced over the past few weeks.