Do you like good, fundamental NBA basketball, played with strong, smart screens, correct defensive rotations, and clever exploitation of weak spots on offense? Then today was a bad day to be a Memphis fan, but you may have loved watching the Spurs. The Grizzlies were completely outplayed today by a team who used every opportunity to put on a masterclass of fundamentals. On the one hand, the Grizz performed poorly at the things they’re normally good at and then on the other let the Spurs hurt them in ways the Spurs might not normally. It was a game of brilliantly executed basketball…but for only one team.
The game got out of hand quickly. At the end of the first quarter, Memphis trailed 31-14, and the lead mostly just fluctuated around that 17 point margin until garbage time.
Memphis did not come out playing the grind-it-out defense they’re known for. Instead of moving along the perimeter and packing the paint like usual, the Grizzlies were trapping at the high elbow or the corner 3 with double teams, leading to early wide open looks from Danny Green (who had one early three), Kawhi Leonard (who also had one early), and Matt Bonner (who had two).
Similarly, the attempt to trap on the high pick and roll led to plenty of easy rolls or Give and Go baskets: Parker had 8 on 60% shooting — hitting open midrange jumpers from rolls off the trap — and Duncan hit two of his first three shots.
After losing players on the traps, the Grizzlies were not as fast or brutal as normal recovering on the rotations. Most players were sticking to the pack-the-paint rotation philosophy instead of sending wings or even the bigs to the perimeter to fill the space left open by the beaten guard. As a result, the 3′s rained down.
By comparison, the Grizzlies did not start off so hot. Gasol started well, hitting 3 of his first 5 shots, but the rest of the team struggled. Z-Bo was 0-3 and wouldn’t get his first points until the 4th quarter. Conley was 1-3. Bayless only got off two shots in his seven minutes of usually energetic, heroics-filled time. Memphis turned the ball over 4 times and were out-rebounded by an astounding 4-12 margin.
For the rest of the game, the Grizzlies played much more like themselves (to an extent) and the score showed it. The Grizz actually outscored the Spurs in the second quarter, 23-20, and were close in the third, scoring 20 to the Spurs’ 22. The margin was wider in the 4th, but the 4th was mostly garbage time anyway; after all, T-Mac logged almost a full 7 minutes. The Grizz just never mounted a comeback.
Of course, even Memphis’ “return to form” after the first quarter wasn’t really a return to playing like they did in the last two series. Z-Bo scored 2 points and grabbed 7 boards. Conley only scored 14, Bayless only scored 8. Quincy Pondexter was the one to pick up the slack, putting in 6 bucks — five of them 3′s — for a team-high 17 points. Gasol’s picks were lazy and sloppy, his rolls just as lackluster.
The defense stopped trapping unnecessarily in the second, but wasn’t really itself until after halftime, by which time the Spurs were in such a rhythm that they were finding ways to exploit even the best rotations.
The Spurs just have too many weapons to be careless with, and Memphis learned this the hard way. They gave it up early and never found a way to recover.