Series Preview: Spurs vs. Grizzlies

The (1) San Antonio Spurs (60-22) open the NBA playoffs on Sunday April 17 by hosting the (8) Memphis Grizzlies (46-36). The two teams split their season series 2-2 although neither has faced each other’s current lineups at full strength.

Last night, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili suffered an injury to his right elbow in the game against the Phoenix Suns. The extent to the injury is unknown, therefore this preview is written with the idea that Ginobili will be present.

grizzpreviewSeason Splits

  • December 18, 2010-The Spurs won the first game 112 to 106 in overtime. George Hill did
    not play due to a toe injury and Tony Parker led the Spurs with 37 points and nine assists. Memphis was led by Zach Randolph who had 24 points and 21 rebounds.
  • February 27, 2011-The Spurs won the second meeting by defeating the Grizzlies 95 to 88. Tony Parker was injured in the game. Ginobili led the Spurs with 35 points and eight assists. Memphis was led by Randolph who had 24 points and 17 rebounds.
  • March 01, 2011-The Grizzlies won the third game 109 to 93. Tony Parker did not play in this game and Marc Gasol was ejected early. Gary Neal led the Spurs with 14 points. Randolph led the Grizzlies with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
  • March 27, 2011-Memphis won the last meeting 111 to 104. Tim Duncan did not play in the game and Manu Ginobili was hurt during the game. George Hill led the Spurs with 30 points and Randolph led the Grizzlies with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Where does each team rank?

Scoring: The Spurs are ranked at six (103.7 ppg) and the Grizzlies are ranked at 13 (99.9 ppg).

Rebounding: The Spurs are ranked at 13 (41.8 rbd) and the Grizzlies are ranked at 16 (41 rbd).

Passing: The Spurs are ranked at seven (22.4 assists) and the Grizzlies are ranked at 22 (20.6 assists).

Defense: The Spurs are ranked at 14 (97.9 ppg) and the Grizzlies are ranked at 12 (97.4 ppg).

Who are the Grizzlies today?

On the NBA trade deadline the Grizzlies acquired forward Shane Battier from the Houston Rockets. Looking at a span from February 26 to April 10 (21 games) I calculated some numbers on how the Grizzlies are currently playing since the Battier trade. I did not include the last two games of the season because rumors were they were both “tank” games.

In the 21-game span the Grizzlies are 14-7. They are scoring 100.81 points per game and are holding teams to 94.9 points per game.

I went a little further to see how they are doing against ONLY playoff teams, during this span; against 14 playoff teams they are 7-7, they score 98.07 points per game and their opponents are outscoring them with 98.57 points per game.

In this 21 game span, Zach Randolph has led the team nine times, Marc Gasol has led the team five times, Mike Conley has led the team three times, Tony Allen has led the team three times and O.J. Mayo has led the team once.

When you look at this span you notice that the Grizzlies blew out a lot of bad teams but struggled against the good teams. Randolph, Gasol and Conley look to be their three most reliable players but they can get big contributions from Allen and Mayo on any occasion.

Who are the Spurs today?

The Spurs recently got out of a six game losing streak and went onto win four games in a row before dropping their final two games in an attempt to rest players and the unfortunate event in which Ginobili hyper-extended his elbow.

I’ve looked at the Spurs through seven games in particular to see when they are playing with their entire lineup. The span begins with Dallas on March 18, then reverts to Boston on March 31-April 09 against Utah.

Through this seven game span the Spurs are 5-2.  They are scoring 107.7 points per game and holding their opponents to 99.7 points per game. The defense has improved in this stretch as their opponents’ scoring has dipped.

If George Hill continues to stay aggressive as he’s done during this stretch, defeating the Spurs in a seven game series will be very difficult.

Who Plays Well and Who Decreases?

Memphis: The Grizzlies can look for Zach Randolph (23ppg, 14.75rbd), Tony Allen (17ppg), Mike Conley (15.5ppg, 5.5ast), O.J. Mayo (13.25ppg) and Darrell Arthur (10.75ppg, 6.5rbd) to play well against the Spurs as each of these players’ season averages versus the Spurs have produced very well in the games they had the opportunity to play in.

Marc Gasol (9.3ppg, 8.67rbd) seems to be the only Grizzly player to struggle when facing the Spurs.

San Antonio: Tony Parker (28.5ppg, 7.5ast), Manu Ginobili (if he plays) (19.67ppg, 8ast), George Hill (16.67ppg), and Gary Neal (12ppg) play well as their averages against the Grizzlies have been impressive.

Tim Duncan (11.33ppg, 8.67rbd) and Richard Jefferson (9.25ppg) seem to barely miss their season marks when playing against the Grizzlies.

Key for the Grizzlies

Defend the Guards: Assuming Ginobili plays, the Grizzlies will need to limit the Spurs’ trio of Parker, Ginobili and Hill. The three guards play well against Memphis and although Memphis has increased their wing defense with Allen and Battier, the Spurs guards will not only hurt them by scoring but their penetration and ball movement opens up outside shots. If the Spurs are able to hit their outside shots at a high percentage, this series will be ending quickly as the Spurs are nearly unstoppable when their three pointers are going in.

Slow down the machine: The Grizzlies must be able to stop the Spurs’ run-n-gun spread offense. Memphis has the perimeter athletes to limit the Spurs’ offense but I’m not so sure Randolph and Gasol can keep up with full blitzing through four quarters. 

Key For the Spurs

Protect the basketball: In one of the Spurs’ losses to Memphis turnovers were a critical error that led to the loss. The Grizzlies have nearly eight players who almost average one steal per game. The Spurs will need to take care of the basketball or else this could become a very long series.

Play within the System: The Spurs offensive system is at it’s peak when the ball is being moved around three to four times per possession. The result is usually a wide-open shot or an easy cut when the players play within the system. If the team can make the right passes and stay patient in ball movement, the scoring will come to them.

Make the Open Shots: Of the Spurs’ 20 losses this season, there were numerous games were shots just didn’t not go in. These are the playoffs, every shot counts even more and to be missing wide open jumpers is something the Spurs must be able to avoid.

Limit offensive rebounds: Zach Randolph averages more than four offensive rebounds per game and the Grizzlies bigs’ are a group that is physical and relentless when it comes to crashing the boards after their team shoots a missed shot. 

Continued defensive progression: The Spurs have shown strong signs of defensive life recently before the two game rest skid. They need to focus in on limiting opponents from scoring over 25 points in a quarter. The Grizzlies are not a power offensive team as they average less than 100 points per game but the Spurs must remember to rotate positions whenever they throw a double team at Randolph.


In retrospect, assuming Ginobili is healthy and ready to go, Sunday will be the first time both teams see each other fully in tact (aside from Rudy Gay). The Spurs have lost to the Grizzlies without Ginobili, Parker, and Duncan; while the Grizzlies have lost to the Spurs without Shane Battier.

Seeing as how this Memphis team is .500 recently against playoff bound teams, and the fact that the Spurs actually grab more rebounds then them I’d say the Spurs beat them in six games. If Memphis is somehow able to steal a game in San Antonio I wouldn’t be shocked, but the furthest the series would go in my opinion is six games. Expect Randolph to have a monster series, but expect the Spurs’ team to be waiting on Denver or Oklahoma City in round two.

What are your predictions Spurs fans? Tell us who wins the series and in how many games?

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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.