After watching his top-rated defense continue to be shredded for four straight games against San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker, Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins had a clear statement regarding Parker.
“He was outstanding the whole series.”
Overtime wasn’t needed Monday, but the Spurs and Grizzlies again delivered blows to each other as they battled in a tight contest. However, Parker was just too much for the Grizzlies with his 37 points on 15-of-21 shooting, making all of his free throws, and passing for six assists.
“They deserve to move on and I wish them the best of luck,” continued Hollins after the game of the Spurs.
For a team that was inhaling its last breath, the Grizzlies sure didn’t look like the aggressor early on as the Spurs jumped out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter. Through the rest of the game San Antonio would hold a comfortable lead and the Grizzlies would claw back into the game, but they never got any closer than three points in the fourth quarter.
Whether it was Parker scoring with jump shots or layups, or Tim Duncan finishing on the fast break and putting through some hook shots, the Spurs continued to show that while they played consistent defense throughout the night, they had so many weapons to use on offense that Memphis just couldn’t match for 48 minutes.
“We’ve got to trust each other,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after the game of his squad. “We’re not a one-on-one team.”
The Spurs passed for 23 assists and though they struggled from the 3-point line (3-of-13), they still shot 51% on the road and every player who played in the game except one scored two or more points.
The Spurs’ youthful backcourt of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green also made their presence known throughout the night as Leonard finished the game with 11 points, delivering a crucial 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, six rebounds, and five steals that stopped many of the Grizzlies’ strides at momentum.
Though Green didn’t have a strong shooting night, he continued to play solid defense on Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (4-of-13 shooting for 9 points) and coach Popovich spoke of the strides Green’s made in his second year going deep into the playoffs.
“You can see the confidence and improvement in his mental game,” said Popovich of Green.
One of the biggest threats the Spurs thought they were going to have to deal with for the entire series was the Grizzlies tandem of big men, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
After limiting the duo through three games, the Spurs again did their best to hold the Grizzlies big men from being efficient. Gasol and Randolph combined for 27 points, but needed 25 shot attempts, numbers credited to the Spurs’ front line of Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, and Matt Bonner.
“I think it’s just effort,” said Popovich of the Spurs’ defense in holding Gasol and Randolph to such low numbers for four games. “There’s not magic.”
Duncan followed Parker in scoring with 15 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks, which meant the Grizzlies big men had to play defense. Splitter too chipped in nine points as he continued to be a staple in the Spurs’ pick-and-roll game.
With the sweep of the Grizzlies, the Spurs are on their way back to their 5th NBA Finals, it’s been six years since they were last there. During the six year span of missed Finals appearances, the Spurs had shifted to a more offensive oriented approach to suit Parker and Manu Ginobili.
The offense had been falling apart in the last few playoff runs and Popovich wanted the Spurs to once again become an elite defensive team. 14 games into the playoffs, and four wins away from their 5th championship, the Spurs are once again showing to be not just an offense loaded with numerous weapons, but also one that can clamp down consistently on the defense end.
The Spurs used game four as evidence of this as they held Memphis to just 86 points in the game and 37% shooting on the Grizzlies own home floor.
The Spurs now await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, but two sweeps, a six-game series that really tested them, and more than a week off to rest, San Antonio is in prime position to compete for its 5th title.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals will begin Thursday June 6th either in San Antonio or South Beach.
(Tim Duncan graphic by Jerrod Kingery News 4 San Antonio)