The 2013 Western Conference Finals are a rematch of one of the rarest occurrences in playoff history, an 8 seed beating a 1 seed.
Both coaches remember it like it was yesterday. It was the first round of the 2011 Playoffs when Memphis made history. It was the moment that this Grizzlies group put itself on the map. They stole Game 1 in San Antonio, then completely destroyed the Spurs on the interior back home, leading to a 4-2 series win.
So, what's different this time around?
Well, obviously, the Grizzlies are much better and more experienced. They no longer have the volume-shooting Rudy Gay at small forward, replaced by the defensive Tayshaun Prince. He's a better fit with this group and has made some huge plays on both ends during this playoff run.
The Spurs also feature an improvement at SF.....Richard Jefferson is gone. Truly, addition by subtraction. Seriously, Gregg Popovich now has the young and athletic Kawhi Leonard. Much like with Memphis, he's also a better defender and fit at the 3-spot. Danny Green is still starting for the Spurs at SG, but he's a much better player than two years ago. His three-point shot, which disappeared vs Memphis in 2011, is much more consistent. However, when San Antonio fell behind against OKC last year, Pop didn't hesitate to bench the young swingman...just some food for thought.
The core of the Spurs remains the same: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, have their own 'Big Three': Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. The point guard out of Ohio State has been a revelation this playoff-run, outplaying Chris Paul in Round 1 and killing the Thunder during 'crunch time' in round 2.
The Parker-Conley matchup is the one to watch here. Mike has been the clutch-killer for Lionel Hollins the past few weeks. Parker, meanwhile, showed in Game 6 at Golden State that he can make clutch three-pointers as well as score in the paint. Get your popcorn ready for these two. I, personally, thing Conley will outplay Parker. He is younger, healthier (see Tony's calf), and more versatile. When Mike attacks the paint he uses both hands effectively. This will drive Duncan and Splitter nuts.
San Antonio's defense is admittedly much better than that of the 2011 upset loss, but so is Memphis's. The difference? The Grizzly offense and overall makeup 1-8 is stronger. Unless Manu Ginobili goes off for 30 a night, I think the Memphis bench (Bayless, Pondexter, Arthur) handles SAS.
Prediction? This series will be won with defense. Tony Allen will guard Parker, while Kawhi Leonard will be forced to check Conley. Eventually, the two point guards will be matched up on each other. Whomever wins that down the stretch will likely win the game. These cross-matches will also create opportunities for the likes of Green and Allen. Danny likes to stay out on the perimeter, while Tony relishes the opportunity to abuse teams on the glass...advantage Grizz. I also see Prince getting a blow early in games so that he can come back in to guard sixth man Manu. Quincy has shown he can handle Ginobili, too. Inside, Gasol will outplay Duncan, while Z-Bo will turn Tiago into a fouling machine.
I see the same outcome as 2011, despite San Antonio's "revenge" factor.
Memphis will win this one in Game 6, giving the Spurs a nauseous case of deja vu.