The past two rounds I
blatantly copied borrowed the structure of the 1st round roundtable here on the site to give some thoughts on the upcoming series. I was right on some things (X-Factor Tony Allen, Grizzlies in Six vs. the Clippers) and wrong on some (Ed Davis...) The Beale Street Bears won both series, however, and a couple days before the beginning of the biggest couple weeks in Memphis Grizzlies history I thought I would carry on the tradition, this time in FanPost form.
1. In Order For the Grizzlies to Win- They will need Mike Conley to play another elite PG to a near draw. Tony Parker is a bit fatigued/banged up, but he can still crush you with his ability to drive the lane and play off of pick and rolls. Plus, in the final minutes of the closeout game against the Warriors he hit two dagger threes, showing he still has the capability to crush your heart when the game is on the line. Mike did a wonderful job in the last four games of the Clippers series in playing up to and in some cases outplaying CP3, and we will need that Mike Conley to be a consistent member of the WCF wrestling match, as Tony Allen put it on Twitter recently. Mike in the Thunder series had some struggles with his shot at times, but he facilitated the offense, dished out more assists than in the past and was a more complete player through his defensive and rebounding contributions. Parker has had Conley's number in the past, but that was a different Mike Conley; this Mike Conley is a Sports Illustrated cover boy and a legit top 10 PG in the NBA. If we hope to get to the NBA Finals, our floor general will need to lead the way, as usual.
2. The Match-up I am Looking Forward to- Tayshaun Prince vs. Kawhi Leonard. I think this is an underrated pairing in this series but it will be crucial toward the outcome. Leonard has become a more vital piece of the Spurs puzzle as the longest reigning Big Three in the NBA (Duncan, Parker, Ginobili) has aged, and in these playoffs he has really grown in his role. In the playoffs Leonard has been shooting a staggering 56% from the field and while his 3-point shot has fallen off a bit this postseason he is much like our very own Q-Pon in that he can hurt you from the corner in particular. He is also averaging a staggering 8.4 rebounds a game in the postseason. Duncan will play whichever of our bigs he is focused on (likely Gasol, see number 3) to a near draw, so rebounding from other positions is going to be a determining factor in the series. Tayshaun has to continue to be a steadying and guiding force, using his length defensively and on rebounds to keep Leonard off balance while being a consistent passer and a more efficient scorer on the offensive end. A tall task, considering his struggles with his shot, but the better Tay performs, the better off the Grizzlies will be.
3. I would really like to see Marc Gasol officially take the torch from Tim Duncan as the best all-around big in the NBA by soundly defeating him in their head to head battle. Marc has been a revelation in this playoff run, but it hasn't been because his numbers are up across the board; all of his percentages and averages are actually down compared to the regular season. The difference is that he is taking more attempts, hence being more aggressive in increased minutes ofensively and being even more of a force defensively; his blocks per game is the one number that has have gone up and anyone who watches the games can see the impact the Defensive Player of the Year's presence in the paint has (see Kevin Durant's last shot of Game Five.) Someone took the All-First Team NBA Defense snub personally. Gasol has become a national star in this postseason and in this series he can prove he is ready to take on Duncan for his spot atop the all-around mountain top. Timmy won't let it go without a fight, and I expect this to be a classic series between these two.
4. The X Factor- Quincy Pondexter. He is going to be asked to guard multiple types in this series; Leonard, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal, perhaps even Cory Joseph and Tony Parker for spurts. Different strengths, different weaknesses, multiple opportunities for Quincy to showcase that versatility that he is known for and was worth trading away Grevis Vasquez for. The three ball is a key to the Spurs success, and Quincy's defense on the perimeter will be huge. Offensively, he will need to continue to step up and offset the offensive struggles of Prince. Quincy is shooting 43% from three point land this postseason and will have to offset some of the Spurs fire power from behind the arc, as will Mike and Jerryd Bayless. I think you can make an argument for Zach Randolph as the X-Factor (he has to dominate Splittler/Diaw) and Tony Allen may be on the "All-Time X-Factor" team, but Quincy's all-around game and his ability to defend multiple players makes him the X-Factor in my opinion.
5. Who wins? I am extremely excited about this series. The Spurs are the epitome of small market success; to quote Ric Flair, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man" and the Grizzlies have a chance to complete their remarkable run at redemption by defeating their division rivals and reaching the NBA Finals. The Western Conference will only continue to get tougher, and the aging Spurs will be desperate to get one last crack at a title. This realistically could be the Grizzlies best shot with this core (including Z-Bo and TA) at getting to the Championship, and I am sure the Grizz are approaching it with the sense of urgency that thought process deserves. Getting one of these first two in San Antonio will be key, as another long layoff is on the horizon and that Saturday Game Three after a Tuesday Game Two will result in a toss up game. I feel that much like last season fatigue and injury will be the downfall of the older Spurs, Marc and Zach will control the paint, our defense will rotate on their shooters effectively and the Memphis Grizzlies will win in 6 games, catapulting them into the NBA Finals.