If you had told me that Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter would have combined for 7 points and 10 rebounds in Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies, I would have assumed a blowout had occurred. I just wouldn’t have assumed that it was the Spurs on the winning side.
So many aspects of the game went in San Antonio’s favor that they are almost too numerous to recount. Tony Parker was unstoppable getting into the lane, Zach Randolph was wildly ineffective on both ends, and over-rotation left Spurs open on the perimeter all day. Given all of the problems that occurred, Memphis will need to make a number of adjustments to try to stay in the series.
The first adjustment will need to be to the starting lineup, a unit which, aside from the switch of Tayshaun Prince for Rudy Gay, has largely been intact since the Grizzlies upset the Spurs two years ago. Starting Tony Allen has occasionally cramped the spacing of the offense for the starters, and Gregg Popovich is a master at exploiting such issues with his opponents. In order to open up the floor, Memphis should promote sharpshooter Quincy Pondexter to the starting lineup.
Removing Allen for Pondexter should do wonders for Randolph in the post, as the Spurs sent help off Allen and Prince to the paint repeatedly to attack Randolph and Marc Gasol. It will also align Allen’s minutes with Manu Ginobili’s, which is a better use of his talent than guarding Danny Green. With either shooting guard on the floor it may be worth having them try their hand at containing Parker. Mike Conley is a solid defender, but too often Parker got past him (and Jerryd Bayless) on pick and rolls.
Parker consistently got into the paint and created holes in the Memphis D, partially thanks to the floor spacing provided by Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Matt Bonner, but also due to the Spurs’ pulling both Duncan and Splitter out to mid-range at the same time to set screens. This left the middle of the floor completely open for Parker, resulting in the low point totals for the starting bigs in exchange for endless open 3’s. The Grizzlies will need to stay strong on the perimeter when Parker runs the pick and roll, realizing that open corner 3’s are much worse than pull up mid-range jumpers. This is all easier said than done of course, but leaving San Antonio space in the corner will never be a winning strategy.
With that in mind, the Grizzlies need to focus on eliminating Bonner, who somehow managed to stay on the court and feast on Darrell Arthur, and also played improbably good ball denial defense on Randolph. Pop went to Bonner as soon as Arthur checked in, knowing that Arthur isn’t a threat in the post. Arthur also proved incapable of tracking Bonner on the perimeter, and that led to numerous open 3’s. Even when both Gasol and Randolph were in the game, ostensibly giving Bonner no place to hide, the Spurs began fronting the post, and Bonner managed to completely keep the ball out of Randolph’s hands and keep himself on the floor.
Memphis needs to change its strategy somewhat to take Bonner out of the game, because his floor spacing takes a good San Antonio offense to ridiculous levels. First, Arthur needs to see a little less time (possibly none, depending on how things go), and Ed Davis, the only Memphis player with a positive plus-minus in the game, needs to see more. Lionel Hollins’ reluctance to play Davis has been baffling ever since he came to Memphis in the Rudy Gay trade. Davis plays tough, and though he may not solve the Bonner problem, he does move better than the current incarnation of Arthur.
The Grizzlies should also consider going small in these situations, with one of Prince, Austin Daye, or Pondexter guarding Bonner, since he will want to hang out on the perimeter rather than using his size advantage down low. This arrangement could open the floor for either Randolph or Gasol to operate in the post when only one of them is on the floor.
The final adjustment to take out Bonner is also relevant to larger stretches of the game. Randolph struggled with constant hands in his face and not getting the ball in good situations all game, prompting him at one point to shove Duncan with both hands in an act of frustration (which went uncalled). The problem was that the defense had no reason not to collapse on the post, and the straight post-ups Randolph was the focus of did not have any misdirection to help him out.
During the part of the game when San Antonio fronted, there were multiple sequences in which a guard picked up the ball and held it while trying to find an angle for an entry pass. This is disruptive to the offense and the Spurs are too good to allow a positive play to come from something like that.
Even though he is not a fan of these actions, Randolph needs to catch the ball on the move more in game 2. By having him catch off a cross screen or even just as he switches sides of the lane, Randolph will have a second or two to work against a defense that is not completely set and geared up for him. With his skill, that may be all he needs to get rolling.
All of these adjustments would serve to make the game closer, but San Antonio will certainly have more cards to play after the Grizzlies make their adjustments. If Memphis can at least make Tuesday’s game competitive, this could still be a very interesting series when it heads to their home court.