The Grizzlies beat the San Antonio Spurs 105-94 at home Thursday night in Memphis. It was Game Three of the Western Conference first round, the seventh seeded Grizz against the second seeded Spurs. The series is now 2-1 in favor of San Antonio.
To put it lightly, the Spurs have absolutely dominated the Grizzlies for much of this series; that all changed Thursday night. After a very articulate rant by Grizzly Head Coach David Fizdale, the city and the team were inspired to play Grit and Grind basketball. Aside from providing the new motivation to beat the Spurs and the officials, Coach Fizdale changed the starting lineup: the city of Memphis and the Grizzlies were determined to do whatever it took to beat the Spurs in Game Three.
Starting for the Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Vince Carter, James Ennis III, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. The two new additions were Z-Bo and Ennis- both spent much of the season the bench, Randolph with just five starts on the year. Moved to the bench were JaMychal Green and Wayne Selden. Green started 75 of the 77 games he played this season, Selden is a newly signed rookie that was thrown into the starting lineup in the absence of Tony Allen.
This starting lineup was generated by strong play in Game Two, during stretches of the second and third quarters. The lineup including Z-Bo and Ennis seem to disrupt the Spurs offense the most. The size of both players matched up well with the Spurs forwards, and also created some different scoring options.
So how exactly did they do it? What worked for the Grizzlies in Game Three, what they did well, and essentially how they were able to beat the Spurs. The problem is, there wasn’t one specific secret weapon that the Grizzlies displayed in the win. Sure, the lineups changed just a little bit, but there is no overwhelming evidence that the Spurs were affected by that. What stands out the most is the leadership and elevated play of two Grizzly rookies, and Zach Randolph.
Because of the change in the starting lineup, there were also fewer rotations for the Memphis offense to adjust to and size was never an issue on defense.
First, the two rookies. I have been critical of Harrison and optimistic about Selden. (Selden made me look like a genius in this game.) But they both surprised me - they combined for 15 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds. Those aren’t outstanding numbers, but when you consider how ineffective both have been on the offensive end, those numbers are huge. Selden also finally hit some threes (2-4 from 3-pt range), a couple of momentum shifters that need to happen every game. Most of all, they weren’t a liability on defense.
Harrison’s biggest issue this season has been his inability to be a consistent defender, but Thursday night he held his own. Tony Parker of the Spurs was super terrible, zero points or assists. I can’t give full credit to Harrison on that, but he did have something to do with it. Patty Mills played point guard for the majority of the minutes that the Spurs actually played well, and he was held to 11 points with a -15 plus/minus.
Secondly, Zach Randolph had a classic Zach Randolph game. For the second game in a row, he has had his way down low. David Lee and Pau Gasol simply can’t stop him. If you ask me, he is taking too many 15-footers, but they at least keep his defender honest. Other than that, he has provided a spark for the Grizzly offense that relieves pressure off of Marc and Mike. In the past two games, Z-Bo is shooting 53% and averaging 19.5 points a game.
It’s not Randolph’s role to carry this team, that’s what all $47.6 million of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol this season is for. But having him as an efficient scorer and bully on defense cannot be understated for this Grizzlies team. The 3-pack punch of Marc, Mike, and Zach has been the foundation for the Grizzlies success in past years, and that rings true in this series. Without those three playing well, the Grizzlies don’t stand a chance.
A big factor in defending the Spurs Thursday was the rotations that were created by the Grizzlies new starting lineup. Starting Randolph and Ennis created size issues for the Spurs offense from the tip, but also allowed the Grizzly bench to maintain that size when starters sat. Coming off the bench was 6’9 JaMychal Green and 6’5 Wayne Selden. The three bench players that Fizdale stuck with were: Green, Selden, and Harrison. All three played at least 24 minutes, all three had positive plus/minus ratings. Using the new starting lineup worked in favor of the Grizzly because it kept consistent size and athleticism on the floor at all times.
A few minutes in the second half Fizdale used Conley off the ball, a strategy that has worked well recently. Harrison handled the ball, taking pressure off Conley and spreading the floor even more for Gasol and Z-Bo. I like the idea of Green coming off the bench, he is better when he can play without worrying about giving touches to other players (Conley, Gasol). He was able to get some easy looks around the rim and cleaned up the boards against the slower Lee and Pau Gasol.
Overall, the lineup proved to be the most effective way to fluster the Spurs. Also, because we have grown numb to third quarters as Grizzly fans I’ll mention this, having an explosive third quarter can literally win a game. The Grizzlies outscored the Spurs by 14 in the third quarter. With a halftime lead and a solid third quarter, the Grizzlies can beat this Spurs team. Two games in row the third quarter has been the best time to exploit the Spurs defense. I like that trend.
Other factors contributed to this win, but were more unexplainable. For example, Tony Parker forgot how to play basketball. Kawhi Leonard decided to just sit the second half out (I’m still trying to figure that one out). Danny Green and Pau Gasol were combined 0-6 from the 3-pt line - for those that don’t know, that is as common as winning the lottery. Manu Ginobili still has yet to score in the whole series. The Spurs missed 12 free throws, 16-28 on the game.
David Fizdale’s rant inspired Memphis, the results showed in Game Three. As the Grizzlies official twitter account said, Thursday was about “Believing.” Saturday night is about “Representing.”
You believed, Grizz Nation. The time is now to represent.— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) April 21, 2017
Game 4. Tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/GvuBgxukI4
The Grizzlies will play the Spurs in Game Four at FedExForum in Memphis. Game time is set for 7:00 PM CT, airing nationally on ESPN and locally on Fox Sports Southeast.