Finally. It's over.
After a fun, emotional and memorable regular season, the Memphis Grizzlies have gotten past their first game of the post-season and after a 16 year wait, the Grizzlies franchise gotten it's first playoff victory. If the Grizzlies were full of anxiety or were experiencing any post-season jitters yesterday against the number one seeded Spurs, they sure did a good hiding it. In the end, Memphis actually looked like the more polished and comfortable team.
Memphis got down and dirty on the defensive end and was able to make San Antonio play a completely different ball game than they have all season long. The Grizzlies slowed down the pace, they rotated hard defensively and they made the Spurs work for everything they got. That grit that got the Grizzlies into the post-season got them their first post-season victory.
The Spurs were primarily a three-point shooting team during the regular season but the Grizzlies used their fierce rotations to discourage the Spurs from shooting contested three's. Many pundits believed that Memphis' frequently gambling defense would be burned by the Spurs' outside shooting but the Grizzlies worked extremely hard to recover on Matt Bonner, George Hill and Gary Neal. The Spurs did miss Manu Ginobili but his three-point accuracy isn't any better than those three and the Grizzlies did an excellent job of preventing them from getting good looks at the rim from beyond the arc.
On offense the Grizzlies took advantage of their biggest mismatch by going inside early and often. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are way too powerful and skilled for a Tim Duncan led fronltine at this point in his career and both guys put in work against the four-time champion.
Randolph had himself a 25 point performance on 10-of-15 shooting while pulling down 15 rebounds. Randolph was making his usual amount of extremely difficult post-up shots while also mixing in the occasional mid-range jumper. What's surprising about Randolph's performance in this game is that, though he pulled down 15 rebounds, he had no offensive putbacks or "Z-bounds." Randolph wasn't dominating the glass like the 15 rebounds suggest, which is something to look forward to in game two.
Gasol had nine rebounds himself and his moves on the block were spot on the entire game. Gasol made nine of his 10 shots, mixing in post-ups, hook shots and even a nice 20 foot jumpshot. Gasol was locked in during this game and was able to get to his spots easily whether he had Duncan on him or one of San Antonio's other ineffective power forwards. 90% shooting isn't something you can reasonably expect for Gasol to keep up in this series but game one showed us that the Spurs are going to be at a major disadvantage any time the Grizzlies have Gasol and Randolph on the floor together. Duncan can only guard one of them at a time and it's not as if Duncan is going to stop either from scoring, his length would just make it tougher.
Memphis was able to overcome a 40-38 rebounding deficit and a 47-33 free throw disparity to win game one in San Antonio, which makes it even more impressive. O.J. Mayo fouled out of the game in 30 minutes, Marc Gasol and Darrel Arthur finished the game with five fouls and Z-Bo, Sam Young and Mike Conley all had four personal fouls. Tony Parker and George Hill both combined to shoot 29 free throws and though I thought the refs had a quick whistle every time Parker put the ball on the floor, the Grizzlies will have to be more careful when reaching in.
Other than the fact that Ginobili is likely to return for game two, it seems like Memphis has a lot of positive takeaways from this game that will give the advantage going forward. In game one we learned that Memphis' defense is good enough to stop San Antonio from raining in three-pointers, we learned that the Spurs do not have an answer for the Grizzlies paint attack and we learned that the Grizzlies are capable of winning close games and that this group isn't afraid of a challenge.
Despite the supposed inexperience of this bunch, as soon as Mike Conley put that pretty little bounce pass on the floor, I knew the Grizzlies would be headed back to Memphis with at least one victory. Because Conley found an open Shane Battier and of all of the scenarios that would have Memphis winning the game I was thinking up in my head when the Grizzlies were down four with a minute to go (these scenarios included a Zach Randolph, an O.J. Mayo corner three or a few quick two's collectively while the Spurs missed free throws), the one I trusted most was the ball finding Battier's hands with the game on the line. Battier has played in big games before, has no fear of the big moment and did not hesitate to hit what proved to be the game winning three.
That big game experience should feed off on the rest of the Grizzlies, which gives the team a swagger that they didn't have before. O.J. Mayo was an abysmal 1-of-7 from the field in the first half of this game but in the second half he made four of his six shots and after the game TNT's cameras caught Mayo visibly excited about the win. Not that that's out of the ordinary or anything but the way he clapped his hands together made it seem like "Hey, we can win this series" just popped into his head.
If Memphis can start to belief in themselves and their ability to pull off the upset, the Grizzlies will be in good shape going forward. Memphis proved in game one that they can hang with San Antonio over the course of a series and unless Ginobili goes bonkers when he returns - which is unlikely if he's not 100% -I think my prediction of Memphis winning in six games is well on it's way to coming true.