Three-Pointers: Spurs go off from deep, erase Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph to take Game 1
The Spurs defeated the Grizzlies 105-83 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.
• Momentum halted. Game 1 had a brick wall feel to it for the Grizzlies, who entered the conference finals having won eight of their last nine games only to immediately fall by 22 points, their worst defeat since January and their third-worst of the season.
Many playoff games require complex, nuanced, detailed analysis. Game 1 of the Western Conference finals can be summed up in a simple formula…
[Season-high three-pointers by a Grizzlies opponent + season-low points from Zach Randolph = blowout loss]
That impenetrable Memphis defense? Picked and apart and exposed by the Spurs, who connected on 14 three-pointers, the most by any Memphis opponent this season and five more than any Memphis opponent during the playoffs. The Grizzlies’ reliable low-post offense? Non-existent, with Randolph, he of the monster double-doubles in Games 4 and 5 against the Thunder in the conference semifinals, held to a season-low two points on one-for-eight shooting.
It’s too much to expect Memphis to remain competitive at this stage without its defense clicking and Randolph producing. Perhaps they can sneak out a win with one of those factors misfiring, but not both.
“They played better than us in every area,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said.
Memphis made life difficult for itself by committing 12 turnovers — which led to some easy buckets in transition they aren’t used to giving up — and by failing to keep containment on Tony Parker, who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. Parker’s drives collapsed an eager Grizzlies defense, and the subsequent passing sequences led to wide open looks for Kawhi Leonard (four threes), Danny Green (three threes) and Matt Bonner (four threes)
“Just one of those games, it happens sometimes,” Parker said. “Our ball movement was great tonight. We shot the ball very well. … When we shoot the ball like that, we’re pretty hard to stop.”
Parker’s man, Mike Conley, looked a touch rattled to start, and he finished with a game-high four turnovers. Perhaps more importantly, he never found a way to get Randolph established inside. San Antonio used at least four players — Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Bonner — on Randolph at various points and yet the Grizzlies struggled to even enter the ball to Randolph, who was regularly fronted. Once he did receive the ball, Randolph fumbled catches and missed a few close-range shots in the paint.
“We worked hard,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Zach and Marc [Gasol] are a heck of a combination, probably the best high-low combination in the league…Everything they do is really difficult to stick with and you have to have a mindset to do it on every down…I thought the effort was there for 48 minutes.”
Randolph saved his best against both the Clippers and Thunder for later in the series; his Game 1 performance set the bar so low that there’s nowhere for him to go but up against the Spurs.
• All those threes. The three-point shot is often referred to as the “great equalizer” for its ability to help lesser teams keep pace with more talented squads. Sunday was a good reminder that the three can also be the “great distorter,” as nothing makes a very good or great team look totally unbeatable quite like a shooting spree. San Antonio entered the series with the second-best three-point percentage in the playoffs and fourth-best on the regular season but going 14-for-29 (48.3 percent) from deep was a lights out performance, even for them.
“I’m not sure we’re going to shoot like that for the rest of the series,” Parker said. “Against Golden State we couldn’t make a shot.”
The Spurs’ 14 three-pointers marked a franchise playoff-record and, as noted above, was unlike anything the Grizzlies have seen so far during the postseason. Here’s a pair of charts to underscore the impact the threes made in Game 1 compared to previous playoff games for both teams.
Note: San Antonio’s other big three-point shooting night, Game 1 against the Warriors, came with the benefit of two overtime periods.
Hollins ascribed some of the blame for this outlier performance to his team “over-helping” and playing “hyper” on defense. There’s a fine line between aggressive, pressuring on-ball defense and ball-chasing and the Grizzlies seemed to zoom past that line, falling victim to ball reversals and kick-out passes to open shooters.
“We had four guys in the paint and nobody was out guarding anybody,” Hollins said, calling his team’s overall defense performance “really awful.”
Gasol added: “We didn’t communicate like we were supposed to against a good team like San Antonio and they made us pay every time. … We were scrambling. When you’re scrambling against a good team like that they’re going to find the open because they have a lot of patience.”
Ignoring Bonner, a three-point shooting specialist with a 41.7 percent percentage for his career, was met with predictable results. He finished with 12 points (on four-for-six from deep).
“Matt did a fine job making shots and spacing tonight,” Popovich said, before indicating that he expected adjustments to come in Game 2. “It’s a basketball game, it’s not linear all the time. The next game, maybe the bench plays terrible. Who knows? But tonight our bench was very good, and they’ve been pretty darned good throughout the year.”
• Flummoxed Grizzlies. Running into a brick wall can leave you disoriented. Memphis’s post-game press conferences were fairly jovial as the series against the Thunder unfolded, with Hollins regularly breaking into wide smiles and various Grizzlies players needling each other after wins.
On Sunday, Gasol struggled for words when asked whether the impact of the loss was mitigated by the fact that Memphis also lost Game 1 against the Clippers and Thunder. Eventually, Gasol said that he couldn’t recall the specifics of those games and the Grizzlies’ bounce-backs because, “My brain has a lot of information.”
Hollins, meanwhile, completely blanked on remembering the name of one of his players during his post-game session, eventually resorting to checking the box score for help.
“Mike [Conley] and, uh, uh, gosh I can’t even remember his name right now… Jerryd Bayless, didn’t shoot the ball as well as they normally shot the ball.”
The Grizzlies reserve guard finished with eight points (on three-for-seven shooting) and five assists in 21 minutes.