Could this be the last edition of Grizzly Thoughts for the 2017 NBA Playoffs? It’s certainly possible, as Memphis returns home for a do-or-die Game Six against the San Antonio Spurs. As was the case in Games Three and Four, Memphis needs all hands on deck to find a way to extend this series to seven games.
So what went wrong, and how can they get right? To figure all that out, I enlisted the help of GBB Game Coverage Editor Grace Baker, who will be in attendance tonight at FedExForum covering the game for Grizzly Bear Blues.
JOE MULLINAX (@JoeMullinax) - Grace, Game 5 was a relatively competitive game bookended by two Spurs runs. Memphis couldn’t mount two comebacks and compete with the San Antonio offensive machine. The Spurs bench outplayed the Grizzlies reserves, and Mike Conley was the lone consistent bright spot yet again for Memphis...the series returns to the Bluff City tonight for Game 6 which you’ll be covering for us at GBB, and shockingly, despite the fact that the Grizzlies have been outplayed for a majority of the series, I am optimistic the Grizzlies can compete.
But they need guys to step up, and two in particular - Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Let's start with Zach - he was pretty much a non-factor in the second half of Game Five, and didn't play much in the second half. Was that a one game thing, or do you expect more of that in Game Six?
GRACE BAKER (@GraceBaker901) - I feel like Zach Randolph has to perform at a high level for the Grizzlies to stand a chance in Game Six. One of the keys to Memphis winning Games Three and Four was that Zach Randolph contributed. I don't think the Spurs have figured Randolph out; there were multiple factors in that last game that made everything go downhill. The Grizzlies will definitely have some adjustments to make offensively to ensure Randolph gets to his spots and has success. I believe Randolph can bounce back in Game 6.
MULLINAX - David Lee outperforming him in Game 5 has me shook - it’s possible both he and Vince Carter are simply out of gas after a physically demanding season at their advanced NBA ages. But the energy of the Grindhouse should motivate and hopefully will lead to one (potentially) last memorable win.
Marc Gasol is fascinating to me, Grace. I didn’t think he played as poorly as others think he did in Game 5, but some were calling for his head. Considering I’ve done that more than anyone this season at times, I was surprised I was more lenient on him than those folks. He surely could do more, especially as a scorer, but to me the more glaring issue is the lack of a third option than Gasol scoring 17 instead of 22 or 23 points.
How much do you attribute the loss in San Antonio to Gasol? What must he do in Game 6 for Memphis to win? Because what I said in Game 1 remains true now - Conley, Gasol, and Randolph must combine for 70 or so points if they hope to win games at this point.
BAKER - I completely agree that Randolph, Gasol, and Conley have to combine for about 70 points to win games in this series. I did find it pretty surprising how quick fans were to blame everything on Marc Gasol. I for one didn’t react in that way as much. He had 17 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds...those don't sound like terrible numbers. I think fans wanted to see him go off offensively to give Conley a helping hand. I always go back to the fact that people just like to point fingers sometimes when things go bad. That game was the epitome of what Memphis fans had feared would happen after the high of Games Three and Four.
Mike Conley has been consistently amazing. For Memphis to win Thursday, they'll need another big time performance from Conley and for Gasol to go off for 25+ points. The problem is, Marc can't just have good numbers. He's got to have great numbers.
MULLINAX - And he’s paid to have great numbers, so I get the criticism to that extent. But I feel like that ignores just how much has to go right for Memphis to beat the Spurs, which is why the fact that we’re even in a Game 6 is impressive to me. No Chandler Parsons, no Tony Allen, and yet the Spurs have to play all three games in Memphis in this series. I had the Spurs in 5, GBB overall had Spurs in 6. I am pleasantly surprised we’re here to begin with.
So the fact that I’m searching for reasons they’ll win this game is all the more impressive. I would say after "Take That for Data" and the Game Four classic, the fact this series is at this point with the injuries Memphis has is darn impressive. I would love a Game 6 win, and it’s possible considering the recent history of home teams winning this season between these two squads. But while I would be disappointed with a loss, I am still cool with the Grizzlies challenging the Spurs this much. I am content.
Do you agree with that, or does more need to be done?
BAKER - I definitely wasn’t expecting this series to be very memorable. Honestly, especially after Games 1 and 2, I expected Memphis to go down in five games without theatrics. The whole "Take That For Data" thing and Game 4 made me really appreciate what Memphis has, because after this season we could see a total shake up (Zach Randolph and/or Tony Allen could be gone soon). But the fan in me, at this point, will only be content if they win Game 6 and force a Game 7.
Do I think they can win a Game 7 in San Antonio? Not really, but I'd hate to see Memphis get shut down at home after everything that has happened. Something special happened this past weekend, and I'm not ready for it all to die down just yet. Tuesday night was extremely discouraging, but so were Games 1 and 2.
I mean, no one gave them a chance at the beginning of this. And as you mentioned, without Tony Allen and Chandler Parsons, they've completed an impressive feat. It’s kind of crazy that we're sitting here discussing a Game 6 and that Memphis does have a chance of winning it. If they can just protect home court and force a Game 7, I'll be content.
MULLINAX - From David Fizdale’s willingness to adapt and change, to Mike Conley’s continued evolution, this series has been much more positive than I thought it would be for Memphis. The Spurs have one playoff rookie playing meaningful minutes; the Grizzlies have three. The Spurs are completely healthy; the Grizzlies are not. The Spurs have the best player in the series, and the best coach in the series, and yet Memphis is here at a Game 6 with a shot at forcing a Game 7.
They’ve competed and given the city memories that would be a fitting end to this era, if this actually is the end.