Tonight is the night, Grizzlies fans. The night we’ve been waiting for for four years. Tonight, postseason basketball returns to Memphis.
Not necessarily playoff basketball just yet. But this is indeed postseason play, and the Memphis Grizzlies are ready to do battle once again as a repeat play-in squad. Win tonight against the San Antonio Spurs? Advance to the #8 seed game on Friday. Lose? You go home. Or to “Cabo”, as Dillon Brooks put it yesterday.
This is a big evening in the brief history of the Next Gen Grizzlies. To break down the Spurs perspective of the showdown, I spoke with Noah Magaro-George of Pounding The Rock, SB Nation’s San Antonio Spurs blog. Check it out!
The San Antonio Spurs have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Why have Gregg Popovich and company struggled so much of late?
There’s no mistaking how poorly the Spurs have played over their last 12 games. San Antonio ranks in the bottom ten in the league in assists and rebounding, second-to-last in three-point percentage and attempts, and allowed 121.2 points per game over that stretch. That said, losing Derrick White to a season-ending ankle sprain against the Wizards is where most of their troubles began. The fourth-year combo guard was one of the only reliable high-volume three-point shooters on the roster, and that, in combination with his All-NBA caliber defense, left a void Gregg Popovich hasn’t been able to fill.
Only the Spurs and Grizzlies have had to deal with the 40 game in 68 day post All-Star insanity due to earlier COVID-19 issues for the teams. How much has that impacted the San Antonio season?
I hate to make excuses for the Spurs since everyone was affected by the insane scheduling this season, but it’s clear 40 games in 68 days was just more than they were capable of handling. All it takes is one look at their injury history since the All-Star Break to see how much the wear and tear have taken a toll. And the veterans have been hit hardest. Patty Mills has looked gassed for nearly two months now, and San Antonio’s sixth man is shooting 34.5% from the field since the beginning of April. It’s one of the main reasons they’re sputtering into the play-in instead of possibly sitting comfortably at the sixth seed.
San Antonio has a nice mix of veterans and young players, especially when compared to Memphis. How valuable have old friends Rudy Gay and Gorgui Dieng been to the Spurs?
Although Rudy Gay saw most of his numbers dip across the board, the veteran went through a three-point and defensive renaissance that kept him on the court for San Antonio. He played well within his new role as a big wing stopper and was the most accurate long-distance shooter on the Spurs roster. Rudy was a bit of a ball stopper at times, and smaller guards and wings ate him up on the perimeter. The advanced analytics say he was spectacular early on and tapered off down the stretch, but that mostly had to do with the fantastic second unit he played alongside at the beginning of the season.
Gorgui Dieng, on the other hand, was largely irrelevant for the Silver and Black. A shoulder injury moments into his debut made it an uphill battle for minutes, and Drew Eubanks took full advantage of his second shot at backup duties.
The Spurs have one of the more underrated young cores in the NBA. Which of San Antonio’s youthful pieces (3 or less pro seasons) should Grizzlies fans be most worried about in this game?
That’s a difficult question to answer. It would probably be a tie between Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson. Lonnie is an explosive athlete with a solid stroke who can get hot in a hurry once he sees a few shots go through the net. He’s also incredibly streaky and disappears for long stretches, even games at a time when he can’t get going. Keldon is a fierce competitor, relentless slasher, and fearless rebounder who makes every extra effort play within arm’s reach. Neither youngster has entirely figured out how to maximize their skill set to benefit their teammates consistently, but a few great performances could push San Antonio into the playoffs.
The Grizzlies are favored entering the 9-10 play-in. What has to happen for San Antonio to knock off Memphis?
The Spurs must find a way to contain Ja Morant in the pick-and-roll. He dominated San Antonio out of that set in their three meetings this season, but LaMarcus Aldridge also started in all of those contests. Jakob Poeltl, a center with superior mobility and rim-protecting abilities, has since replaced LMA in the starting five. Winning the battle on the boards and defending the perimeter will also be integral. Teams that outscored their opponents from long-distance won nearly 68% of the time this season. And while the Grizzlies aren’t exactly sharpshooters, a ton of seemingly innocuous opponents detonated from beyond the arc against the Spurs.