The celebration amongst Grizz fans when they clinched the postseason for the 7th season in a row was short lived once reality set in that it also meant a first round matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. Ever since the series was set in stone, many fans began expressing their doubts about the Grizzlies’ ability to defeat the Spurs. These doubts are warranted considering the Grizzlies are 6-26 (0-8 in playoffs) against the Spurs ever since they upset the Spurs in the 2010-2011 playoffs.
The Spurs are a great team, and have been for as long as I can remember, but this team is unlike the many Spurs teams in the past. This iteration has more weaknesses than your typical Spurs team, but the key to a Grizzlies series victory has more to do with the Grizzlies than it does the Spurs. There are a few key factors that make this series different from any other against the Spurs that could potentially result in the Grizzlies advancing onto the second round.
Ever since head coach David Fizdale came to town and moved Zach Randolph to the Grizzlies bench, it has helped space the floor for the Grizzlies starters. The inclusion of JaMychal Green into the starting lineup has allowed for more lanes for Mike Conley to attack. Marc Gasol adding a reliable 3-point shot to his arsenal has allowed the Grizzlies to add more pick-and-pop to their pick-and-roll. The spacing has even allowed for Tony Allen to maneuver his way down low for offensive putbacks or easy layups off cuts to the basket.
The Spurs can no longer pack the paint to shut down Gasol and Z-Bo. The Grizzlies are not flamethrowers from deep, but they are at least good enough from deep where the Spurs will have to respect the Grizzlies shooters. The threat of the 3 point shot will open up so much more than ever before for this Grizzlies offense against the Spurs.
Health has always been a major issue for the Grizzlies, and this year has been no different. The Grizzlies fought through the Chandler Parsons experiment before eventually shutting him down mid-March. Even without Parsons, the Grizzlies haven’t truly been able to get into a rhythm with all their key players healthy. Conley missed time early in the season with a broken back and took some time to regain his form, and Gasol has missed time recently with an injured foot.
The Grizzlies have shown glimpses throughout the season of how dangerous they can be with both Conley and Gasol clicking and everyone healthy. Gasol was slumping, and I assume fighting through his foot injury, the first two games against the Spurs (not including the Kawhi-less game). The final matchup against the Spurs was Gasol’s first game back from the foot injury, so it’s a fair assumption that the Spurs have not seen a truly healthy Gasol this season. That could be a major factor in this series.
The Grizzlies actually match up relatively well with the Spurs in a playoff series. With how well Conley has played lately, it’s likely the Spurs will have both Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard guard Conley to slow him down. This may hurt Conley’s offensive abilities, but it will also force the Spurs to put Tony Parker on either Vince Carter or Tony Allen. Vince should be able to bully Parker down low, and TA should be able to abuse Parker on the glass and get some easy putbacks. The spacing caused by JaM and Gasol will also force both Aldridge and Dedmon to defend further away from the paint than they’d like, thus resulting in the spacing mentioned above.
Defensively, the Grizzlies will likely stick a combination of TA, Wayne Selden, and James Ennis (if Fizdale allows him to play) on Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi’s stats against the Grizzlies this season look pretty good, but the trio of Grizzlies wings mentioned above have actually done pretty well at defending Leonard. In the last matchup, Selden single-handedly slowed Kawhi down during the Grizzlies comeback attempt. It will be huge for the Grizzlies if they can somewhat contain Kawhi. Tony Parker shouldn’t be able to get much off against Mike Conley unless he can get free in transition or while the Grizzlies are trying to switch. Down low, both Gasol and JaM should be able to contain Aldridge and Dedmon. (Personally, I think the JaM vs. LaMarcus matchup is the X-factor for the series). The matchups get a little trickier when the bench units are in, but assuming the starters will play most of the minutes, the Grizzlies have mismatches they can take advantage of.
One Last Rodeo for the “Core 4”
Underneath all the Chandler Parsons drama and hiding behind the backup point guard arguments, the overlooked story for the season has been the fact that this may very well be the last season of the Grizzlies “Core 4”. I can’t say for certain whether or not the team has talked about this amongst each other or not, but I would be surprised if it hasn’t at least come across their minds in recent weeks. The motivations may be different, but I expect the Core 4 of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Zach Randolph to play with an extra chip on their shoulder this series. TA and Z-Bo might be playing to prove the Grizzlies should retain them this offseason. Maybe Conley and Gasol play to gracefully carry the core to one last playoff upset, the same way Z-Bo and TA did earlier in Conley and Gasol’s careers.
Maybe they will all play for each other, knowing this may very well be the last handful of games they get to play together. Either way, I expect these four players to step up to the plate and do their best to lead this team to victory, even if it’s the last time they do it together.
This factor relates more to us as fans than it does the Grizzlies as a team. The “Believe Memphis” slogan has been around for some time, but the 2010-2011 upset of the Spurs is what made the slogan truly special to Memphis. Other than last season’s injury riddled season, the Grizzlies have always gone into the playoffs with high hopes, no matter the matchup. During that span, the Grizzlies have lost in the first round and also made it as far as the Western Conference Finals. Most likely, the team believes in itself no matter what the fans or media say. This team is known for it’s fight and I don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.
Although it’s not pretty, predicting the Grizzlies to fall to the Spurs in 4 or 5 games isn’t wrong. That is a scenario that could likely happen. But what fun is it to go ahead and write this off as a first round loss for the Grizzlies? What fun is it to blame this season on Chandler Parsons knees or Andrew Harrison being a rookie? We have all off-season for that, especially considering the Grizzlies have no draft picks and not much money to spend in free agency.
Basketball is a game, created for entertainment purposes. Since the 2010-2011 playoffs, the game of basketball has brought the city of Memphis and it’s fans together. In my nearly 23 years of living, some of the most fun I have ever had has been in the FedExForum high-fiving complete strangers after a big play, or hearing 18,119 people chanting “Whoop That Trick” coming out of a timeout. The Grizzlies, every season, fight as hard as they can until the very second they are eliminated. The least we could do as fans is believe in this team until the very end. Believe in this core until it is no more.
Predict a Spurs win all you want, they are a very good team, but don’t count out this Grizzlies team. Even if it lasts only 2 weeks, it’s time to come together again and Believe Memphis.