To be clear, this is a retrospective piece, not a prediction. I’m suggesting we look back at the last 8 games between the Grizzlies and Spurs to consider (a) whether the series is as unbalanced as the 0-8 record suggests, and (b) what can be learned from these games. If the Grizzlies lose tonight’s game with Dallas and draw a first round match-up with the Spurs, there will be plenty of time in the coming days to talk about game-plans and predictions.
The Spurs have beaten the Grizzlies in each of the last 8 games between the two teams, including 4 in the 2013 Western Conference Finals and 4 in the 2013-2014 regular season. Yeah, 0-8. On the surface, it feels like the Spurs have our number, and it makes the prospects of a playoff series rather drab. However, a closer look at these last 8 games suggests that the series is far more competitive than the W/L may suggest.
This is probably a good time to point out that the Spurs are an excellent (understatement of the year) basketball team . They are ruthlessly efficient, perfectly balanced and terrifyingly deep. They will rightfully be favored not only to win a first round series with Memphis (or Dallas), but likely to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Before anyone goes off about me being certifiably insane for even writing this, please know that it is not because I take the Spurs lightly.
As we look at these 8 games, there are two themes that you should consider. First, 6 of these 8 losses featured a single quarter which could best be described as a Grizzaster, but were otherwise fairly evenly matched. Second, 3 of the 8 losses were OT losses, which by their nature could very well have gone the other way.
2013 Western Conference Finals:
Game 1 (105-83) – Two things cost the Grizzlies a chance to be competitive in this game: (a) the Grizzlies opened the series with a 14-31 first quarter, and (b) the Spurs hit FOURTEEN (!!) 3-pointers. If you look at the score from the last three quarters, the Grizzlies faced a six point deficit. No matter how you look at it, this was a sound beating by the Spurs, and not one of the 8 that can be explained away. Note: Spurs won 3/4 quarters in this game.
Game 2 (93-89 OT) – Once again, the Grizzlies were put behind the 8-ball by a terrible quarter, but this time it was the second (18-31). Nonetheless, the Grizzlies fought back and forced OT in San Antonio and were in a position to tie the series at 1-1 heading back to Memphis. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies shot 1/7 the final 2:06 of the OT period, after having the ball down 89-87. It doesn’t take fan-colored-glasses to recognize this game could easily have gone the Grizzlies way, changing the complexion of the WCF entirely. Note: Spurs and Grizzlies split the quarters 2/2, and SAS won the OT period, obviously.
Game 3 (104-93 OT) – Stop me if you’ve heard this one: The Grizzlies were outscored 27-15 in the second quarter, putting them in a very difficult situation. This time, the pain was offset by the fact that they had jumped out to a 29-13 lead after the first quarter. The teams played nearly even the final two quarters forcing another OT game. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies hit a wall and were blown out 18-7 in the OT period. Still, my position is that any game that goes to OT is a toss-up and the Grizzlies could have been in a position to take a 2-1 series lead had things gone just a little differently. Note: Spurs won 3 of the quarters and the OT period.
Game 4 (93-86) – This time, the bad quarter came first, with the Grizzlies being outscored 24-14 in the opening period. It was too much to overcome, despite the Grizzlies outscoring the Spurs 72-69 the rest of the way. There are arguments to be made about the difficulty of getting up off the mat down 0-3 and after an awful (-10) first quarter, but lets just call this a sound win for the Spurs. Note: Spurs won 2 quarters, Memphis won 1 and they tied in 1 quarter.
For the series (excluding OT), the Spurs won 10 quarters, Grizzlies won 5 quarters and they pushed 1 quarter. When you consider the 2 OT games could have gone the other way, the series was far more competitive than the 0-4 sweep suggests. More than anything, you see a huge key for the Grizzlies is to avoid that “one awful quarter” against this team.
2013-2014 regular season match-ups:
Game 1 (94-101) – Opening night in San Antonio, October 30, 2013. Nothing fancy here. The Grizzlies got beat 7-30 (!!) in the second quarter, sealing their fate despite the fact that Memphis won the other 3 quarters. Despite that big deficit, the Grizzlies got within 6 (82-88) with 5:00 to play, before running out of steam. Opening night has a dynamic unlike most of the regular season as it relates to the energy and enthusiasm of teams and fans, and opening on the road didn’t help Memphis. This was a sound win for San Antonio, but if the Grizzlies could have avoided that “one awful quarter” it could have been a toss-up down the stretch. Note: Memphis won 3 of the quarters.
Game 2 (102-86) – November 22, 2013. More than anything, this has to be defined as “the Marc Gasol game” as he went down with a Grade II MCL sprain in the second quarter. At the time Marc got hurt, the Grizzlies trailed 30-23 and were outscored 21-14 in the remainder of the half as the team dealt with the shell-shock of Marc’s injury. It is hard to say how this game would have gone had Marc stayed healthy, and so while the loss can’t be simply explained away, it also deserves an (*) if you’re in the “make me feel better about this matchup” camp. Note: Spurs won 3 of the quarters.
Game 3 (110-108 OT) – January 7, 2014. Another very odd game. Not only was Marc Gasol still out with a knee injury, but this was Courtney Lee’s first game in Memphis and the team’s first game without Jerryd Bayless. On top of that, Tony Allen missed his second game with a (then undisclosed) wrist injury. The Grizzlies suffered another bad quarter (28-19) but made a frantic comeback in the final 1:35 to erase a 12-point deficit and force OT. The Grizzlies played the Spurs nearly even in OT, losing on a Ginobili layup with 0.1 left on the clock. It goes without saying that this game was there for the Grizzlies to win, and that is particularly true when you consider the absence of Gasol and TA and the on-the-fly transition from Bayless to Lee. Note: The teams split the quarters 2-2, before the Spurs won the OT period.
Game 4 (112-92) – April 6, 2014. Another terrible quarter doomed the Grizzlies, as they were beat 26-10 in the first quarter. Some may point to the fact that this game came in the midst of the Grizzlies late-March/early-April slump, but that’s no excuse. The Grizzlies were beat soundly in San Antonio and the only comfort to be taken from this game is that if you could have avoided the “one awful quarter”, it would have been (more) competitive. Note: Spurs won 2 quarters, Memphis won 1 and the teams tied in one.
Once again these losses are largely characterized by either a missed OT opportunity or a fate sealed by a single bad quarter. I don’t think it is a stretch to argue that the season series could easily be 1-3, considering the OT buzzer-beater in the January game. If you subscribe to the idea that a healthy Marc Gasol would have made a difference in the November game in Memphis, you can argue that it should be 2-2. For the season (in regulation), the Spurs have won 8 quarters, the Grizzlies 7 and the teams have tied in one.
What does it all mean:
Lets recap. If the Grizzlies win OT games, the series is 3-5, not 0-8. If the Grizzlies could have avoided their “one awful quarter” in even half (3/6) of the games, its not hard to imagine how this series could have been 4-4, rather than 0-8.
All of this is fiction, of course. Not the summaries or statistics, but the notion that the series is anything other than 0-8. In the end, circumstances be damned, the only thing that matters is winning the game. If the Grizzlies want to have any chance of competing with the Spurs in a playoff series, they’re going to have to actually do that.
TL/DR - The point of this exercise is to look beyond the W/L record and to evaluate whether the Grizzlies can make this a competitive series. If they can avoid “one awful quarter” and take advantages of close-game/OT opportunities, the Grizzlies can absolutely make the Spurs work for their trip to the Western Conference Semi Finals, and maybe even cancel it altogether.
Remember, all you have to do is defend the Grindhouse and steal one on the road, no matter the opponent. If there is one theme that is synonymous with springtime in Memphis, it is “BELIEVE”. You should try it!
Grind on, Memphis!