Moving On, How the Grizzlies Have to Play to Win

Today the Grizzlies had a long film session.  I don’t even know if they even practiced really, but they definitely watched a LOT of film. And that’s to be expected.  They were genuinely bad yesterday.  And no one knows it, or is as frustrated by it, as the Grizzlies themselves.

It’s easy to get swept up in the mood of the moment.  Who didn’t freak out every time Steph Curry put up a crazy three in the first two rounds, and who wasn’t thinking — or even claiming — that Houston or Boston might be the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit?  It’s easy to ride the momentum of the time.  So it’s easy to think that with the Spurs’ total domination of the first game they’re the heavy favorites in the series; that they have Memphis’ number, tactically speaking.

But remember, Memphis hasn’t won a single game 1 all playoffs so far.

So what is it gonna take for Memphis to come back against San Antonio?

Consistency

This is a weird thing for me to talk about as a major factor: I’m a big fan of statistic analysis, and consistency is (kind of) a myth, mathematically speaking.  Generally, over the long run, players will go on hot streaks, cold streaks, and in between, but their performance will always end up averaging out somewhere in between.

The problem is that now we’re talking about a series in the playoffs, which does not constitute a “long run.”

In many ways, the Spurs are one of the most “consistent” teams in the NBA.  I can’t think of another team other than the Heat or maybe the Nuggets who run the offense so that someone will always be able to score, independent of who is hot or cold.  Yesterday, Tony Parker and Danny Green both scored 20.  Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter combined for only 7 points.

The thing is, none of the individual Spurs themselves are particularly consistent, even if the whole team is.  On any given night, Parker, Ginobli, Duncan, Leonard, or Danny Green could get 15+.  But very rarely will more than two of them at a time do so.

It’s going to be crucial for the Grizzlies going forward that they maintain at least the same consistency as the Spurs from game to game.  Defensively, we saw the difference between the usually consistent grit-and-grind defense and the slacked-off version of the Grizz D when the Grizz picked up their defense in the second half of Game one.  Predictably, they played the second halfmuch more closely than the first.

Offensively, Z-Bo is going to need to put up at least his previous averages of 19 and 9 — same goes for Gasol (though he actually played pretty well in Game 1).  Conley is going to need to remain the focal point of the backcourt, there shouldn’t be any shift to QPon or Bayless. Bayless will need to remain the high energy bench scorer, though his calling card has never included the word “consistent.”

The problem is that these are all offensive demands that the Grizzlies just may not be able to play up to.  It’s easy to say “Randolph needs to score more,” but the questions that matter are “why” and “how?”

The Spurs were smart enough to recognize that there is no need to really devote defensive assets to either Tony Allen or Tayshaun Prince.  Instead of playing the pseudo zones that other teams have used to double up on Z-Bo or Marc in the post, Allen or Prince’s defender has consistently just dropped down to help, leaving the original man wide open.  Neither Tayshaun nor Allen really have the offensive weapons to make the Spurs pay for this, so it’s not necessarily easy to demand that Randolph or Gasol just beat the aggressive double team and score.  Which brings me to my next point:

Adjustments

The Spurs are such a consistent team because they can adjust whenever they’re in trouble.  As I said, any of the starting five are capable of putting up almost twenty on any game, depending on who is needed to exploit the defense.

The Grizzlies have the talent to beat the Spurs handily, but they’ll need to make the same kind of adjustments that Popovich knows how to make.  SA-GSW was so fun to watch in part because it was like watching Pop and Mark Jackson play chess against each other.  Lionel Hollins really needs to play chess to win.

So, when the Grizz go to iso in the post, either to Randolph or Gasol, they need to really iso, and send the whole team other than Mike Conley, Bayless, or QPon, to the weak side. That way, for the Spurs to double so aggressively, they’ll have to take a man off of either a deadly three point shooter or someone too far away to recover to. Prince has not been a prolific three point shooter this year, but he has shot consistently well from the corner, especially the left corner.

Tayshaun Shot Chart

Tayshaun Shot Chart

Given that Randolph also likes the ball on the right block, this will usually qualify as the “weak side.”

Prince hasn’t taken so many of those corner threes in part because he knows that his shot takes so long to get off, but if he could get the ball while his man was tied up on the other side, he might end up getting that shot off after all.  And if he ended up getting rotated to from someone else on his side of the court, it’d probably be either QPon or Conley who ends up open with the ball.

Same with Allen.  Allen isn’t a shooting threat really, but he is a cutting threat.  Sticking him farther on the weak side would force the double to leave him open for cuts.  In all fairness, TA got a few buckets this way in game 1 from Gasol, but it’s something that the Grizzlies are going to have to exploit nearly every time to punish the Spurs for helping off so blatantly.

On defense, the Grizzlies have to neutralize should be non-threats like Bonner.  Having a three point shooting Center opens up the floor unbelievably for the Spurs, and that just can’t happen.  Already, the Grizz play the kind of defense where they try force as many low percentage shots as possible.  Unfortunately, the Spurs are the best team in the NBA at hitting those long twos.  Tony Parker in particular shot almost 50% from the midrange.

Tony Parker Shot Chart

Parker Shot Chart

So if the Grizzlies are going to really neutralize the Spurs’ offense that thrives on the shots the Grizzlies want them to take, Memphis is going to need to make sure that they don’t allow the Spurs to make shots that they wouldn’t normally make: like 50% on 13+ three pointers.  For the most part, that starts with stopping Bonner, and stopping the kind of traps that were leading to wide open roll men.  While I’m at it, it’s probably in the Grizzlies best interest to exploit Bonner’s poor post defense while he’s on the floor without Tim Duncan to help for him.

The Grizzlies definitely have the resources necessary to beat the Spurs, but they need to make sure that they’re playing at their best all the time, and playing to and for the Spurs.  We’ll see if that happens.

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