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Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs San Antonio Spurs
When: Monday, May 27, 8:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Series Standing: Memphis trails 0-3
Media: ESPN, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of BlueGrizzlies Message Board
Opposing Views: 48 Minutes of Hell

Grizzlies LogoMemphis “ain’t dead yet,” but to say that there is a giant wall to climb is to grossly understate the weight of the task ahead of the Grizzlies if they hope to stay alive in the 2013 season for much longer. Taking things one step at a time, the Grizzlies head into this one simply looking to avoid being swept out of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs for the second time in franchise history. What stings the most for Grizz fans, and even more so for the players, is just how winnable Games Two and Three were. As Royce Young of fellow TrueHoop-affiliate Daily Thunder pointed out on Twitter, with the last two games ending in overtime defeats, “a point here and a point there and it’s 2-1 the other way.” A little bit of poise in crucial moments could have turned this series in an alternate direction, but hindsight is 20/20, and here we stand today with the good guys on the brink of elimination. That begrudged ‘L’ word pervades the thought process at this moment, as the possibility that this may be the ‘L’ast time we see Lionel Hollins or Dave Joerger on the sidelines — or Jerryd Bayless, or even *gulp* Tony Allen in a Grizzly uniform — begins to really hit home. It’s time for Grizz Nation to stand up cheer its collective heart out for this remarkably captivating and resiliently successful incarnation of the team. One more ‘W’ at the Grindhouse is not too much to ask, is it? We know one thing is for sure, the Grizz will scratch and claw until the bitter end.

Spurs LogoSan Antonio may not have played the perfect series either, but when push came to shove, the Spurs kicked it into gear as the stakes got continuously higher. In the overtime periods of Games Two and Three, the Spurs have managed to outscore the Grizzlies by differentials of 8-4 and 18-9, respectively. They changed venues in the process, but as we see in the outcomes, the result was unchanged. Thanks to the genius emanating from Gregg Popovich in conjunction with his team’s ability to execute the gameplan, the Spurs have now positioned themselves to be booking arrangements for the 2013 NBA finals as soon as Tuesday morning. In Game Three,  the poise of this Spurs team shone through, as they staved off the re-invigorated Grizzlies by slowly and methodically chipping away at the home team’s early lead, forcing them to defeat in their own building for the first time in the postseason.

For individual matchup analyses, check out the Series Post

Analysis:

- When the Grizzlies’ defense is creating havoc for the opposition, it can be a dangerous match for anybody. We saw this well at work in the first quarter Saturday night, as a myriad of steals, leading to a myriad of fastbreak opportunities, permeated the first quarter of the game. With a number of easy looks available to them on the break, the hoop was looking wide and the ball was finding its way into the basket. Even Tayshaun Prince got a couple of jumpers to fall early. When approached with the question of what went wrong for his team in the first quarter, as the Grizzlies jumped out to a 29-13 lead, Popovich in characteristically stoic and frank “Pop” fashion responded, “Turnovers.” He then responded to the following question with another abrupt, “Turnovers.” You bet he cleaned that mess up quickly, yanking his starters at the end of the first in a line change of sorts, signifying to them to settle the heck down. And settle down they did. His ability to get his team to adjust and respond is unparalleled in the league today.

- Taking a look at some old sports adages, we stumble upon the old, “defense wins championships,” declaration, and juxtapose it with the classic “good offense is the best defense” line of thought, as we try to make sense of what is unfolding before us in these Western Conference Finals. Of course neither quote encompasses the totality of the truth of the matter, which — as it does in most cases — falls somewhere in between. In other words, this is just a long winded way of saying that you need to play it two ways in a two way game. Playing both ways is exactly what San Antonio does. That is how they can go straight from winning a series against the “shoot ‘em up” Warriors to storming through the first three against the “in the mud” Grizzlies. A few years ago the Spurs were known as a lock down defensive team that would rather slow it up and play the half court than get up and down the floor. Nowadays, they excel running Tony Parker off a gazillion screens and moving like like madmen without the ball. All this being told, the very same players that made them an elite half court team are still in the picture. Moral of the story, they can do it all. The Grizzlies on the other hand need to become more efficient on the offensive end to get to the point where they’re in the conversation at this time of year every year.

- Falling in line with the theme of sports cliches and convention, one tidbit of basketball wisdom suggests that in the postseason, rotations tighten up, as the deep bench is to be called upon less. Well, I do not think that the principle was meant to sink to as low as or lower than the number of players on the court at a time. The wavering contributions from basically anybody not named Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and arguably Quincy Pondexter, have been unspeakably detrimental to the Grizzlies’ chances of winning. Zach Randolph might have some degree of excuse, as the Spurs have clearly thrown all resources and the kitchen sink at him to slow him down, but as for the rest, they “got some ‘splainin’ to do. Jerryd Bayless has fluctuated between excellent and a mini-Rudy Gay depending on the game, Tayshaun Prince has been hobbled, but has gone from 10.4 ppg on 43.8% shooting in the regular season to 6.9 on 35.4, and Darrell Arthur seems to commit a foul on his way from the scorers table to the court. Yes, I left Tony Allen out of this discussion, because as waxing and waning as his offensive game has been, you can’t say he hasn’t been himself. When push came to shove, the guys producing on a given night have nothing left in the tank for overtime; they’re exhausted and need some serious help. It will be interesting to see this offseason how the front office deals with the depth issue.

- A few ‘P’s come to mind here — poise, presence, and preparation. First up — poise. As our own Chip Crain has pointed out on a grand number of occasions now, it has become increasingly apparent since early on in the Thunder series that “free throws have a cost.” This cost has manifest in application to far too many pieces of the Grizzlies’ roster, as free throw after free throw clanked its way off the rim. Looking at Zbos free throw numbers alone is the most disturbing, as Randolph, a career 76.5% shooter from the charity stripe has gone an unnerving 7-16 so far this series. In terms of presence and preparation, the Spurs have clearly owned the series in this regard, as everything they do is sold with definitive purpose. Whether it is Parker’s juke coming off a screen, a double team, or the way they swing the ball on the perimeter such that it automatically finds its way to the open gunner, the Spurs do everything with a sense of direction. For the Grizzlies to win tonight’s game, and maybe more, they will have to avoid being tentative on either end of the floor — less thinking, less probing, more aggression.

Some Final Musings:

- Personally, I love Jon Leuer and see him as an eventually reliable end-of-rotation type guy. However, the time to experiment and toy with the idea of giving him some minutes came and went long ago. The Western Conference Finals generally shouldn’t serve as an audition stage. Guys may step up late in the playoffs and prove themselves more worthy than you may have thought, ala Pondexter, but it’s not really when you want to be giving a player a first look in meaningful minutes. I guess the adage “desperate times call for desperate measures” comes into play in this case.

- Ed Davis missed his only shot in his five minutes of play on Saturday; a dunk attempt. The prize of the Rudy Gay trade has played an entirety of 48 minutes in the 2013 postseason, after starting 28 games combined between Toronto and Memphis in the regular season.

- If you needed any validation of this series just is not going the Grizzlies’ way, maybe this tweet from Peter Edmiston of the Commercial Appeal will do the trick:

peter ed

- Lastly, let’s end this on a positive note in hopes of some good vibes heading into Game Four at the Forum, with Mike Conley’s quote courtesy of the Associated Press: “There’s no group of guys I’d rather be with down 3-0 to try to fight back in it.” And there’s no group of guys I’d rather be watching put up the fight. Grind on, ladies and gents.

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