This is the 4th and final preview of the Southwest Division rivals. Previously 3 Shades of Blue covered Dallas, Houston and New Orleans. Next week the guys at 3 Shades of Blue will start breaking down the teams in the remaining divisions.
Enemy: San Antonio Spurs
Coach: Greg Popovich
Potential Starting 5: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw
Other Key Players: Stephen Jackson, Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter
Threats: Matchups, Cohesiveness, Excellent preparation, Deceptive ability to adapt to pace
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 0-4
After the out of nowhere “awakening”, let’s call it, that we dished out to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2011 playoffs, they stormed us with a vengeance last year. From opening day to the final month of the 2011-12 NBA season, the Spurs had our number. In four meetings, the Spurs dusted us in each, winning all but one of the contests by double digits. In fact, the Spurs had much of the league’s number. For much of the season they looked like they were the team to beat. They rode that momentum as far uphill as they could into the playoffs, and cruised on through the first two rounds. I carefully chose the word “uphill” not because they lacked the personnel or preparation to get to where they ended up, but rather because of the absolute free-fall that they found themselves trapped in once their collective foot slipped off the gas. After going up 2-0 on the Thunder in the Conference Finals, and looking like the sure-fire favorite to take it all, the OKC snagged game 3 in convincing fashion. In the process, they sent the Spurs plummeting backwards, taking the rest of the series without looking back. So one may ask, what of significance do the Spurs do in the wake of this? The answer to this question is: sign Nando de Colo. Admittedly, I don’t know too much about this guy outside of the fact that he is a guard with pretty good size and a nice professional resume overseas, with supposedly limited athletic ability. This acquisition is nothing Earth-shattering, but if any team can lay claim to being the authority on translating international players to the NBA, it is San Antonio. What I’m saying is that I will waive the right to pass judgment on the fact that this was their only significant move this offseason until we see how it pans out.
If the Spurs have shown us anything, it is a commitment to what is in place there… namely, the core triumvirate of Timmy D, Manu, and Tony Parker. In return for their unwavering loyalty to their cornerstones, the Spurs have enjoyed admirable consistency for as long as each of these guys has been a mainstay on the roster. In fact, they have been over a .600 team in terms of win percentage in the regular season since drafting Tim Duncan. They have managed to muster such consistency by being adaptable. Despite maintaining a genetic team makeup that is largely the same, resulting from the static core, they have adapted their supporting cast accordingly, to fit the mold of what they need to be successful against the rest of the league. Combine this with the coaching mastery of Greg Popovich, the sacrifice of individual accolade, and the uncanny ability to find gold where the world sees dust, and you have the cementing of the Spurs legacy. However, all good things must come to an end, and we enter each year wondering whether or not this group has finally peeked… and every year, they seem to answer us with a resounding “no”. That is, they do so until some team finally finds a way to expose them in the playoffs. It has been five full seasons since the Spurs have been in the finals. Now I know, that is nothing to discredit a team given the difficulty of said task, but when you’re that good for that long, you are in the legacy business; the dynasty business; the “empire” business (for you Breaking Bad fans out there), and the metric by which you define success is consequentially stiffened. These emphatic playoff exits have to have Spurs fans worried about whether or not this team is done with true championship contention. That being said, I’m sure that they are simply tired of hearing this talk year after year, and will bounce back yet again with another solid campaign. To be fair, it is not like they stood pat altogether. The Spurs have a full training camp to incorporate the returning Stephen Jackson, the versatile Boris Diaw, and the seasoned Patty Mills. Additionally, they have every reason to believe Kawhi Leonard can build on his rookie campaign to become a spectacular asset going forward.
Simply put, the Spurs wanted redemption for the way we did them dirty in the 2011 playoffs. They got it. We looked plain silly against them, for a variety of reasons. Matchup-wise, they stack up pretty well against us. Their core consists of a quick point guard who can get to the basket at will, for Conley to chase around, a 7 foot tactician to tangle in a chess match with Marc, and a wing scorer that will keep Tony Allen busy, and if he has his way, on the bench battling foul trouble all night. In addition, the young, gritty, and explosive Kawhi Leonard is really coming into his own, which could spell big trouble for us, especially considering the way he made Rudy look like a joker last year. With his sound defense and persistent attacking on offense, he completely took Rudy out of his element, and as he matures in the league, I can only see him becoming more of a headache for his opponents. Also take into account the fact that the Spurs have at least three guys that can play effective stretches at each position, and you’ve got depth on top of your depth. The worst part about them, however, is their sneaky versatility. You would think that with the team being Tim Duncan-centric, you could run them off the floor. In years past that was starting to seem like the case, but think again. In fact, the Spurs dare you to try. Tony Parker has always had the quickness to get out in open court, and with weapons like Leonard and Stephen Jackson, and 3 point gunners like Matt Bonner and Gary Neal to spread the floor, he’s got plenty of help in the running game. To be successful against the Spurs, we are going to have to be able to establish the tone early, force them to make mistakes, and do what we do best: Grit n’ Grind. The second we cave and let the Spurs take control, we are done for. It will be imperative (and not just in these games) that the bench players provide a sense of stability when they take the court against these guys. The Spurs are not unbeatable, but it will take nothing short of our ‘A’ game to seal victory against them. They will in fact be a formidable threat to us this coming season, and going forward, until Tim Duncan can no longer walk and Greg Popovich can no longer speak.