Game Four Preview: Spurs vs. Grizzlies

The San Antonio Spurs will attempt to even the series tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies as the Grizzlies currently hold a 2-1 series lead.Joe Murphy

The series has been a “grind it out” series thus far as the most a team has won by is six points. The average margin of victory is four points.

This preview will guide you through the problems the Spurs are facing and strategies in which they could solve their issues.

What do The Numbers Reveal?

  • This series is the definition of close as both teams are evenly scoring 93.0 points per game.
  • The Grizzlies are narrowly out-shooting the Spurs at 45% to 42% from the field.
  • One key that helped the Spurs reach 60 wins this season was their three-point shooting. The three-point ball has essentially been non-existent as they’ve only attempted 15-47 (32%) shots from three-point land. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are shooting 13-35 (37%) from distance.
  • For all the issues about the Spurs lack of height, it’s not actually an issue thus far in terms of rebounding; the Spurs are outrebounding the Grizzlies 45.3 to 40.7 rebounds per game. The height issue is still a main concern as we’ll see further ahead in the preview.
  • The Grizzlies are moving the ball at a rate of 21 assists per game to the Spurs 17.7 assists per game.
  • Both teams are almost even in steals as the Spurs hold a 6.7 to 6 steals per game edge.
  • The Spurs (7 blocks) lead the Grizzlies (5.3 blocks) in blocked shots.
  • Both teams are essentially even in turn over’s as the Spurs slightly turn the ball over 14.3 to 14 turn over’s per game.
  • The Grizzlies (27.3 fouls) lead the Spurs (23 fouls) in fouling.
  • The Spurs bench is slightly leading the Grizzlies bench with a 32.4 to 31.9 points per game.
  • No Spurs fans should be complaining about the referees in this series as the Spurs (111 FTA) have shot almost 30 more free throws than the Grizzlies (82 FTA) thus far.

Who is playing well for San Antonio?

SG Manu Ginobili: After missing game one, Ginobili returned with a heroic effort with an injured elbow to lead the Spurs with 17 points in their only win of the series. Ginobili is averaging 20ppg, 5rbd, 4.5ast, 1.5blk, 40% FG, 20% 3PT, 70% FT, 4TO in two games against Memphis.

Keep in mind, late in game three,Ginobili admitted that the elbow brace does affect him. This was evident in game three as he began shooting free throws with one hand late in the game. When your best player has to carry your team with only one healthy arm, it’s best that other players help him in picking up the scoring load.

PG George Hill: In only 30 minutes per game, Hill is averaging 14ppg, 5.7rbd, 2stl, 39% FG, 33% 3PT, 86%FT. With Ginobili shooting 70% from the free throw line, Hill is now the teams’ most reliable free throw shooter. This was evident as he sunk big free throws late in game two.

SF Richard Jefferson: Jefferson is quietly one of the most consistent Spurs as he is averaging 11ppg, 5rbd, 56% FG, 46% 3PT, 80% FT. In the playoffs, Jefferson has now become the Spurs’ most reliable three-point shooter.

Who do the Spurs need to Limit from Memphis?

Zach Randolph will get his usual numbers as he’s averaging a normal 20.3ppg and 8rbd. The Spurs must make every shot as tough as possible when defending him, they mustn’t allow him to catch the ball within five feet of the basket as that area is where he is most dangerous.

C Marc Gasol: Gasol is having an impressive opening round as he is averaging 17.7ppg, 11.7rbd, 1.3blk, 56% FG, 8.3 FTA. Keep in mind that Gasol is doing the majority of his work against Duncan and Bonner. Duncan tends to slow him down but when Gasol knows Bonner is defending him, the Grizzlies make it a point to exploit the mismatch as much as possible.

PG Mike Conley: Conley is outperforming Tony Parker thus far in the series as he is averaging 14ppg, 7.2ast, 5.7rbd, 1stl. Conley tends to do most of his damage in the first half and as I paraphrase Tony Allen after game three, he orchestrates the offense very well.

The Grizzlies Bench: The bench for the Grizzlies is playing very efficiently as O.J. Mayo (9.3ppg), Sam Young (8ppg), Shane Battier (7.3ppg) and Darrell Arthur (7.3ppg) are giving quality AP/Daylifeproduction to the Grizzlies. The Spurs bench will need to strike back against their counterparts as they are struggling thus far.

Which Spur Needs to Produce More?

PG Tony Parker: Parker is having a tough series as he is averaging 16ppg, 5.7ast, 2stl, 3.3TO, 34% FG, 75% FT. Conley is outperforming Parker in almost every category. In fewer minutes, George Hill is playing more effective than Parker as well.

What is the reason for Parker’s struggles?

The Grizzlies defense is not allowing him to get his routine shots in the paint. Conley is playing three to five feet off of him behind the free throw line and daring Parker to take an outside jump shot. I looked at Parker’s shot selection combined through the first three games, here are his numbers:

Shots inside three feet: 11/18 (61%)

Shots outside three feet: 4/26 (15%)

Now do you blame Conley for daring Parker to shoot the outside jumper?

No one in his or her right mind would if that person is only going to hit it 15% of the time. The Grizzlies are playing what I call the “Rajon Rondo defense” on Parker. Many teams feel the best way to hurt the Celtics is to leave Rondo open for jump shots. Rondo is a bad jump shooter, and teams know this.

This method of defense is hurting the Spurs’ overall play in two ways.

A. It takes the paint away from Parker. With Parker not able to drive in and create open shots, Grizzlies defenders are able to stay with the Spurs three point shooters (the reason for the low three point shot attempts).

B. It allows Conley to now be a “safety” defender. Conley is able to float around in the paint and in the passing lanes and help out defensively. Essentially, the Grizzlies have a six man defense within 15-feet as the Spurs only have a four man offense with Parker’s ineffectiveness.

So what can Parker do to counter this “Rajon Rondo defense”?

Well, he can do what Rondo does. Rondo has two choices: he can take the open jump shots teams give him or he can use the extra space to read the defense and set up his players offense at an even higher rate.

Parker has never been known as an “assists” type of point guard, he doesn’t have the floor vision that players like Rondo and Chris Paul have. Parker is a scoring point guard; the only option for him to get back on track is to hit the outside shots. If he can hit them at a high percentage, Conley will be forced to play him closer and thus the penetrating Tony Parker will be back.

PF’s Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair: Combined they are averaging 11.7ppg, 8rbd, 3PF, 41% FG, 33% 3PT. Though there is no statistic for it, the major concern is on the defensive end. Randolph exploits Blair’s 6’8 frame quickly as does Gasol to Bonner. It’s evident when either player is put into the ball game, the Grizzlies offense shifts to feeding the paint immediately when Bonner or Blair are on the floor. Tiago Splitter may be the answer to solve this problem, but through three games he hasn’t even taken off his warm up suit.

SG Gary Neal: It’s not necessarily Neal’s fault that he’s not producing as well as he did in the season as he’s only being given 19.7 minutes per game. But in the minutes he does play he’s averaging 6.7ppg, 35% FG, 30% 3PT. Though there aren’t many opportunities to shoot threes in this series, the rookie is having trouble knocking down the shot when it’s available.

The minute’s shortage for Neal has more to do with his defense than his offense. On defense, the Grizzlies quickly try to find the offensive player that Neal is guarding and allow that player to try and attack Neal. Pop may not want to rest Neal, but he may be aware of the mismatch Neal becomes on the defensive end.

The Keys For The Spurs to win Game Four

Going through all the material that was presented above, on offense the Spurs need to find a way to get Parker to produce more efficiently. He was the leading scorer for the season and having a struggling Parker doesn’t bode well for the Spurs’ chances of getting back into this series. The bench must also help by hitting the limited shots that are being presented.

On defense, the Spurs’ front line must do their best to disallow Randolph and Gasol from catching the ball within five feet of the basket. The Spurs must also work on pressuring Conley, as he is the one who sets the Grizzlies offense in gear.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @24writer | Email Paul at: paul@projectspurs.com 

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.

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