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MVP: Tony Parker. The Spurs' offensive catalyst repeatedly got in the lane and found shooters lined up on the perimeter. Parker finished with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting and nine assists as the Spurs hit a franchise playoff record 14 3-pointers.
LVP: Zach Randolph. Z-Bo shot 1-for-8 from the floor for just two points and never made his presence felt in this game. Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw battled Randolph for position all game long and usually won.
X factor: Tony Allen's erratic defense. Allen finished fifth in defensive player of the year award voting but continually lost shooters on the perimeter in Game 1, often leading to open 3s. He was also unable to lock down Parker when he was matched up on him.
Beauty Of Grizzlies-Spurs In Eye Of Beholder
Here are a couple of phrases you won't be hearing in the Western Conference finals: "Stretch 4," "small ball" or anything else that hints at the evolution of the NBA.
On the other hand, the hyphen keys will be put to the test this series from repeated uses of the terms "low-scoring" and "defense-oriented." There will be loads of low-post play, a dearth of dunks. This promises to be a series of games that will be, shall we say, aesthetically challenged.
"They'll be ugly, I'm sure," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
That's not to say they won't have their moments of beauty. Look for the occasional Tony Parker flash through the lane for a teardrop shot, Tony Allen leaking out for a transition layup, Manu Ginobili contorting himself for a basket or Marc Gasol dropping a perfectly placed bounce pass from the high post.
It's just that the Grizzlies under Lionel Hollins have always defined themselves at the defensive end and have a way of diminishing the artistic quality of the game. They eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder by turning Kevin Durant, fresh off one of the most efficient seasons in NBA history, into a 5-for-21 shooter in the deciding Game 5. In the final game of the first round, the Lob City Clippers didn't get a dunk.
The Grizzlies have the best defense in the West, the more potent conference in these playoffs, allowing 92.4 points per game. The Spurs are next, at 93.0 points.
But the Spurs have also scored more points in the playoffs. While the Grizzlies topped 100 points once in the last series against Oklahoma City (in overtime), the Spurs scored 109 and 102 in regulation and 129 in double overtime as they beat the Golden State Warriors.
That's one reason I like the Spurs to win this series. Their scoring average will drop, but their ceiling is higher than the Grizzlies'.
Another factor in the Spurs' favor is their experience. The core of Tim Duncan, Parker and Ginobili has reached the conference finals five times before. The rest of the team went there last year. This is the first time that six of the Grizzlies' top eight players have gone this deep into the playoffs. When a team reaches a new stage against a team that's been there before, it's usually worth a game on its own merit. Each step of the playoffs brings more urgency and intensity as well as more scouting information.
I keep thinking back to what Durant said after he reached the conference finals for the first time in 2011 (and was promptly eliminated by the more experienced Dallas Mavericks): "It changes a lot. Teams have been watching on TV the first two rounds, knowing what you do, and knowing they might have a chance to play you, and they switch everything up as the series goes along."
The Spurs and Grizzlies played each other only once after Memphis traded Rudy Gay in late January; the Grizzlies won, but it doesn't hold much relevance for this series because Duncan, Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard didn't play in that game. The most notable thing to take away is that Parker averaged 25.5 points in four games against Memphis this season, his third-highest against any opponent.
This series will be a showcase for two of the lesser-heralded point guards in the league: Parker and Memphis' Mike Conley. With Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook injured and Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Stephen Curry eliminated, it's an opportune time for Parker to be appreciated and Conley to be noticed.
Conley might not be able to score 20 every night, but he can do it every other night; he has scored at least 20 points five times in 11 playoff games, and has maintained an average of 8.3 assists. He'll keep Parker occupied ... and Parker also needs to be on the lookout for Marc Gasol screens.
So watch the point guard battle. Keep an eye on Leonard and Danny Green, who have been more and more productive for the Spurs. See whether Quincy Pondexter can keep making timely shots as the stakes raise. Enjoy a throwback big man battle between Randolph and Duncan. Don't be surprised if Gasol versus Tiago Splitter is closer than you'd expect.
But if the series isn't easy on the eyes, don't say you weren't warned.
"It's going to be two teams that are going to try to impose their wills on each other," Duncan said. "Two very well-coached, good-executing, tough-minded, defensive teams."
There go the hyphens again. You'll probably see more of them than dunks.
Western Conference Finals Preview
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Predicting Griz-Spurs West finals
The Western Conference finals are woefully mismatched in terms of history. The San Antonio Spurs are playing in the conference finals for the eighth time in Tim Duncan's 16-year NBA career. The Memphis Grizzlies have gotten here for the first time in the franchise's 18 years of existence. But it's the Grizzlies who come into this series with momentum after becoming the first team since the 1999 New York Knicks to reach the conference finals by winning a pair of series on the road.
Let's take a look at whether Memphis can continue its run by beating another higher-seeded team.
When San Antonio has the ball
This series will mark a major stylistic change for the Grizzlies from an Oklahoma City Thunder offense dominated by Kevin Durant to a much more balanced San Antonio attack that will test Memphis with its ball movement. Stats from SportVU's player-tracking data bear out this difference. The Spurs made three or more passes on 59 percent of their possessions during the regular season (56 percent so far during the playoffs), as compared to just 45 percent for the Thunder (47 percent in the playoffs).
Scouting Report: Grizzlies-Spurs
It's a rematch of the 2011 first-round matchup, and although many of the faces have changed, the principals remain the same.
The Memphis Grizzlies are the NBA's new-age darlings playing an old-school style with bigs who actually play in the paint. And they are on a playoff "revenge" tour, having defeated the two teams that knocked them out of the postseason the previous two seasons (Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder).
Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs are the "old reliables" who successfully married today's pace-and-space offensive principles with execution and defensive tenacity. San Antonio easily dispatched the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round but was tested by the upstart Golden State Warriors.