Well, the Grizzlies got the match-up they wanted in the San Antonio Spurs. When all is said and done and this series concludes the lesson will be one of two things: be careful what you wish for or tank and ye shall prosper.
Grizzlies fans have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about a possible upset in this series. The Manu Ginobili injury helps our case, especially if he were to miss Game One and we can pick off that game in San Antonio. On the season we split the 4-game series with the Spurs, with each team winning on its home court. We know how good we are at home, and recognize how great the Spurs have been this season in their home gym. But if we are able to pick off a game in San Antonio, Game One might be our best shot. Without Ginobili, the Spurs are beatable. But that's not to say we're a lock to win Game One. It's only that we have a legitimate shot. I don't mean to pile on the Indiana Pacers, but who's giving them a shot to topple the Bulls? At the very least we're being deemed dangerous. I can dig "dangerous."
After the jump, Griffin Gotta and I give you a breakdown of match-ups in this series. Come join us! Griffin kicks things off with breaking down the starting fives.
The Starting Lineups
The Point Guards
Mike Conley vs. Tony Parker.
This is a match-up either one of these guys probably doesn't hate, because they believe it could work in their respective favor. Parker is quick, as is Conley, and both will probably be trying to tempt one another into as many outside jumpers as possible while doing their best to keep the other out of the lane. This will not be an easy task, as both teams look to find ways for these guys to probe and slash a defense's interior. If you're the Grizzlies, this is not the worst pairing for Conley by any means, but he can't take his foot off the gas. Parker is relentlessly trying to find that one crease; Conley must match him. Whomever heats up from the outside will be giving his team a huge offensive boost. Defensively, Conley's main task, as noted, should be in keeping Parker out of the paint, but aside from that he needs to continue in playing a major role in the Grizzlies' turnover-and-transition game.
Edge: Has to go to Parker, who is one of the game's best and knows exactly how to maneuver through San Antonio's offense with the speed and precision of laser eye surgery. Of the Memphis starting five however, Conley could stand to gain to the most for himself -- and ultimately, the Grizz -- if his play controls the flow of this series. (Griffin Gotta)
The Shooting Guards
Sam Young vs. Manu Ginobili
To begin: Ginobili is playing on Sunday, don't let that "doubtful" status fool you; he's playing. Ginobili was arguably the Spurs' best player during the regular season. We've all seen him, seen what he can do on not only a nightly basis, but on the playoff stage. Capable of taking over a game at any time, he's an absolute game-changer. You want to slow things down for players like Manu, to make everything as difficult as possible for the guy. Sam Young is long and strong and mostly looks to fill in the gaps where he's needed in the Memphis starting lineup. Young is athletic, an asset to the Grizz running game, and, for whoever he guards, a challenging presence. He is the Grizzlies glue guy, and is very protective of that role ever since Shane Battier came back.
Edge: For all the good Young does that goes unnoticed, Ginobili is just freaking filthy, and should be the number one concern for Memphis if he has anywhere from 0-2 working elbows. The Grizzlies need to make him struggle for everything he gets. In the meantime, Young should shoot for a quiet 8-12 points every night as the Spurs' focus will be elsewhere. (Griffin Gotta)
The Small Forwards
Tony Allen vs. Richard Jefferson
When Rudy Gay was officially shelved for the year, everyone knew Zach Randolph and a few others would have to take on an increased workload, and no one has better taken the reigns on this necessity than Tony Allen. He's arguably been the Grizzlies' most valuable player aside from Randolph. His consistency was incredible as the season went along; consistent energy and defense, consistent scoring and slashing and aggressiveness. Allen gave the Grizzlies everything they needed, and you get the feeling that his passion made it so no one could slow down enough to question what it was they were doing. Offensively, Allen will need to continue attacking his way to the rim, but it will be on the other end that Allen's worth to this team will separate itself; Allen's likely assignment will be to annoy the shit out of the aforementioned Manu Ginobili; honestly, I don't know who else you'd rather have. Allen's imprints could be huge in this series.
As for Jefferson, he has better assimilated into the Spurs' more up-tempo offensive stylings this season. He can't be forgotten about as a viable option in San Antonio's offense should the Grizz focus too heavily on Parker, Ginobili, and Tim Duncan. He essentially just flows within the Spurs' system; Sam Young will probably remind him of himself should they end up guarding each other.
Edge: Tony Allen's play is going to be one of the biggest factors in how this series plays out. For the Grizzlies, if his response to Gay's injury is any indication, this is something to look forward to in this series. Allen has made himself indispensable to this team. (Griffin Gotta)
The Power Forwards
Zach Randolph vs. DeJuan Blair
Blair is an always-bounding constant force of energy, a good pairing with Duncan's steady, controlled demeanor, but he's certainly going to be spending most of his fuel on his position-mate, Zach Randolph. Randolph makes everything goes offensively in the half-court for the Grizzlies; ball screens double teams, post ups, it all runs through or around him in some way. You know he'll hit his double-double numbers, but how he gets there -- whether he goes to work on the undersized Blair, builds San Antonio's foul count and gets to the line, or over-relies on his jumper -- will be key. Regardless, Randolph will be the Spurs', who usually try and take away one part of the opposing team's gameplan, main focus; it will be interesting to see how they try and attack him in Game One. Randolph has probably seen and is ready for any number of strategies. so it will come down to execution. That, or simply bruising his way to dominance on the inside. He could do that too.
Edge: Zach Randolph carried the Grizzlies into the playoffs. It was his punishing, relentless game that became the identity of this Memphis team, and it goes without saying that he will have to be huge in this series for the Grizzlies to make some real noise. DeJuan Blair will likely take a lot away in the form of learning experiences, but hopefully he doesn't apply anything until at least next season. (Griffin Gotta)
Marc Gasol vs. Tim Duncan
Even as his career is down to a finite number of years, Duncan can still impact the game in a great many ways for the Spurs. Still a strong paint defender, Duncan will probably pick his spots offensively and let the younger fellas get out and run. Gasol is kind of the same player; he's not always the most aggressive player on either end, but he also does a lot of positive things for the Grizzlies, especially with in the passing and ball movement departments. This is a pretty intriguing match-up as well; Gasol could make a case for the dying-out center position, while Duncan, who many have always thought of as a forward, still wants to be known as a center, dammit.
Edge: Duncan is Duncan, and you just never know if he's going to pull one more 20-10 series out of the hat. Short of those numbers, his contributions to the Spurs are still important, especially defensively. Gasol can possibly step onto his own -- not Pau Gasol's brother or Zach Randolph's running mate -- stage here with a bit more assertiveness and scoring. Either way, his passing will be valuable in the more-often-played half-court sets of the NBA playoffs.
So overall, the Spurs have the "edge," 3-2 when it comes to the starting lineups, but I think these ten guys are much closer than some people think. The Grizzlies match-up well with San Antonio when it comes to starting lineups, if you saw the regular season meetings, you know this. The defensive pairings and options both teams have will make Game One a science experiment of trail-and-error, and from there, proper adjustments will be made as needed. But as the starters are concerned, when Sunday afternoon rolls around, Memphis should be confident it's putting its best foot, er, feet, forward. (Griffin Gotta)
Us vs. Them
The Grizzlies bench play has been one of its biggest strengths in the second half of the season. The addition of Shane Battier added depth to a squad with little defensive presence off the bench -- once Tony Allen was moved to the starting lineup. O.J. Mayo has struggled this year, but he can still come off the bench and provide a bit of an offensive spark, along with Darrell Arthur who is one of the most improved players this season. Grievis Vasquez, Hamed Haddadi and Leon Powe offer up a brief spell for the starters, but each is limited in what they can do.
The Spurs boast one of the best sixth men in the league in George Hill. Grizzlies' fans are prety familiar with Hill, after all, he dropped 30 points on us in 32 minutes off the bench back on March 27. Offensively he'll make up for what the Spurs could miss without Ginobili. The problem is, he's not the defender that Ginobili is nor does he have that finisher gene Manu possesses -- especially in the playoffs. The rest of the Spurs bench provides little shake, but they do have some assets. Tiago Splitter provides extra size off the bench. He's a skilled big who will make his presence known in the paint. Same too can be said for the elder Antonio McDyess. The Spurs also have a trio of deadly 3-point shooters who can come off the bench and simply wreak havoc on our defense. Matt Bonner, Steve Novak and Gary Neal all have unlimited range.
Edge: I'd like to think that the Grizz have a slight edge off the bench, but something about those 3-point shooters against our defense scares me. As we known, defending the 3-point line is a bit of a struggle for this Grizz team. Mayo, Arthur and Battier add enough of a boost for the Grizz to feel comfortable in giving their starters a brief spell. Just watch those sharp-shooters coming off the bench for the Spurs.
Check out our friends over at Pounding The Rock for more on the Spurs.