AT&T Center – Four weeks ago, Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol was named the 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Gasol and the Grizzlies were defensive juggernauts in the regular season as they won games with their style of play, “grit and grind.”
Today, with Gasol’s Grizzlies down 0-2 to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, something was visible Tuesday that didn’t catch a lot of the spotlight. Game 2 was all about Tim Duncan’s offense in the headlines, but not much was mentioned in regards to his defense.
Going back to four weeks ago, Gasol won the DPOY award with a total of 212 points. His teammate Tony Allen even finished fifth in the voting with 102 total points. However, even after Duncan and the Spurs began to insert themselves in top defensive categories this season as they did in their prime defensive years, Duncan only received 94 total votes and finished 6th in voting.
“It was huge,” said Tony Parker Tuesday of Duncan’s scoring plays in overtime. “He made some big baskets for us. A big rebound and it was a great boost for us.”
Duncan finished Tuesday with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 fouls, 2 steals, and 4 blocks. Gasol finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds, 5 fouls, and 2 blocks.
Duncan was in foul trouble early and often as Zach Randolph made sure he drew contact by taking 18 shots compared to game 1 where he took 8 shots, and got himself to the free throw line where he shot 8 free throws.
With 7:51 remaining in the third quarter, the Spurs led 56-40. Duncan drew his 4th foul of the night and had to go to the bench for the remainder of the quarter. From that point on, the Spurs were outscored 30-22 with Duncan on the bench. Keep in mind, the Grizzlies scored 33 points overall in the third quarter.
Just exactly how important is Duncan for the Spurs’ defense? They allowed a team who isn’t known for their scoring to put up 30 points in roughly eight minutes. It gets more interesting.
In the fourth quarter, with four fouls on his belt, Duncan was put back into the game at the 9:40 mark and the Spurs’ lead was already cut to eight points, 78-70. Duncan would play two minutes and then he was called for his 5th foul with 7:36 remaining in the game, and the Spurs leading 83-70.
Duncan would have to go back to the bench for five minutes and in those five minutes the Grizzlies immediately went on an 8-2 run. When he returned to finish the game and overtime at the 2:31 mark, it was once again an 8-point game, 85-78.
As for Gasol and Allen, two players who finished ahead of Duncan in the voting, what can be said about their defense two games into the Western Conference Finals?
Their defense has looked solid for just three of the eight quarters in this series. Once in Game 1, the Grizzlies held the Spurs to 20 points. Then, in game 2, the Grizzlies held the Spurs to 15 points in the first quarter and 9 points in the fourth quarter.
Here’s the biggest stat: In four games against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Lakers only allowed the Spurs to score 30 or more points in three quarters throughout the entire series.
In six games against the Golden State Warriors, the Warriors only allowed the Spurs to score 30 or more points in three quarters as well.
In two games against the Grizzlies, who have two top-5 defensive player of the year candidates on their roster, have already allowed the Spurs to score 30 or more points in FOUR quarters.
“It was big,” said Cory Joseph of losing Duncan for stretches in game 2 due to foul trouble. “They made a good run like a good team will do.”
“It was big to have Timmy not there to alter shots but we hounded and the game of basketball is a game of runs,” continued Joseph, “and we’re happy we won the game.”
Even Gasol failed to mention how much easier offense becomes when Duncan isn’t on the floor.
“But the second half I think we played more of our basketball,” said Gasol after Game 2. “We shared the ball better, we moved the ball, we attacked, and of course everything works better when you make shots.”
Duncan was named to the NBA’s 2nd All-Defensive team, as was Gasol. Three players who have already been eliminated from the playoffs, Chicago’s Joakihm Noah, New York’s Tyson Chandler, and Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka were all put on the first team.
Duncan may not have won the defensive player of the year, and with his career coming closer to an end in the next few years, it’s possible he may never earn the award he’s so rightly deserved several times.
But this day, if there were to be a Defensive Player of the Playoffs, in the voting ballot, Duncan’s name might be leading the race, only no one would ever know.