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Talking with the enemy: Joshua Red Coleman, 3 Shades of Blue

Between Games 1 and 2 I had a chance to catch up with Joshua Red Coleman from the fantastic Memphis Grizzlies Blog, 3 Shades of Blue for a little back and forth talk reflecting on Game 1 and expectations moving forward.

Project Spurs: So, Game 1 seemed to be full of outliers both in terms of the San Antonio Spurs accuracy from deep and the Grizzlies allowing so many open looks from the corners. Both teams seemed quick to write the blowout off as an outlier, but was there anything you saw from Game 1 that might apply for the rest of the series?

3SOB: I think the biggest thing you can take away from Game 1 as a potential foreshadowing is that, when the Spurs are allowed to run their sets, they are a dominant offensive team. Also, over helping on defense in the paint is a very bad idea against them, as they have the shooters to make an opponent pay for that.

Project Spurs: Watching the game it crossed my mind that the Grizzlies could be suffering a shock to the system of sorts. In the previous series they turned almost the entirety of their defensive focus on one player (Durant); and to go from that to the Spurs, a team that wants you to do that, might take a bit to adjust defensive principles set over the previous six games. My thought was that this wasn't dissimilar to the struggles the Spurs had going from the Lakers to the Warriors in Games 1 and 2. Might this explain some of the hyperactivity and over-helping from Memphis in Game 1?

3SOB: I definitely think that was part of it. In reality, it was two straight series of that type of attention being paid to a singular player since they had the same approach to CP3 in Round 1. One of the better comments I saw about Game Ones in general is that it is a great barometer for advance scouting — to see which team is able to apply their game plan first. Memphis has a reputation for being a counter-puncher so far in the postseason. They play a game (or two), make adjustments, and then wait for the opponent to adjust to that before changing again. It has been rare for Lionel Hollins and his staff to be proactive in that regard, although he has shown the ability to make solid halftime adjustments as well.

The Spurs have also had a reputation for being somewhat reactionary in their changes. They appeared to stick to their game plan — and with great results. Obviously, things went almost perfectly for them in Game One, so should there be any changes expected in Game Two?

Project Spurs: The Spurs perfectly executed their game plan on both sides of the floor. I'm sure they will adjust their expectations to account for better games from Randolph and Gasol and worse shooting percentages from their end, but unless Memphis makes a particularly devastating adjustment, I think this is what they want to do (obviously) throughout.

Part of their game plan was fronting Randolph on entry passes from the wings while preventing Gasol from making simple high-low passes. Neither Ginobili nor Leonard respected the weak side corner shooter, ignoring that spot to pounce on any lobs thrown over the top of their front. Is the adjustment simply stationing Pondexter in that corner, or is there something else they employ against this strategy?
 
3SOB: As you and I have discussed on Twitter in previous games, the Spurs are better at denying entry passes than any other team in the league. The adjustment should be to have Pondexter — or Bayless or even Daye, if he's in the game again for some unforeseen reason — in the corner waiting for a spot-up three. However, an alternative is to have Conley employ more drive-and-kick plays to find those same players in the corner or back out to Gasol at the elbow, where his set shot has been particularly effective. Either of those options should provide for some shots to go in, which will force the defense to make adjustments that could open things up for Randolph in the post. Earlier in the season, the Grizzlies used a three-man game with Conley, Gasol, and Randolph that saw all three get open shots, as well as allowing each of them to hit cutters for easy baskets. It would not surprise me to see a return of that.

Kawhi Leonard did not have to play a ton of minutes yesterday, but what were your thoughts on how he looked while on the floor, given the concerns about his knee?
 
Project Spurs: The knee has been a year long thing, so I'm not sure it's a concern. It's managed. He looked like himself other than a lack of rebounds. One thing I continue to wonder is why teams every try to throw entry passes with the man Leonard is guarding. He's great at using his length to pressure the pass, and digging into the post and recovering to the shooter from that point is mere child's play for him. Really, any action that brings the ball in his vicinity when he's not occupied by a dangerous threat is asking for a deflection at any moment. He's good as a stopper, but dangerous when allowed to roam.

 
Which brings me to another thought–why is Tony Allen on the floor if not to guard Tony Parker? His on-ball excellence seems wasted on Danny Green.
 
3SOB: Hollins' use of Tony Allen has annoyed and befuddled Grizzlies' fans for the last two years. However, one thing I have learned is that Hollins makes the right call and adjustment more often than not, so questioning him is usually an exercise in futility. My thinking is that he was going to allow Conley and Bayless to cover Parker for the bulk of the game, and then let TA loose on him in the same manner that he approached defending Durant in the last round. Allen's suffocating defense is very effective, but also lends itself to him getting into foul trouble. The game was too out of hand early on for it to really matter though. One of the bigger issues is that TA's off the ball defense can be suspect, as he tries to help too much or gets caught ball-watching. He needs to be engaged on a high-level scorer to get the full effect of his abilities. That is one of the reasons that I would like to see him come off of the bench in this series to match up with Manu Ginobili, allowing Quincy Pondexter's offense to join the starting lineup and likely provide better spacing.
 
Project Spurs: That might be beneficial for two reasons: 1.) Tony Parker is perhaps the best off the ball cutting point guard in the NBA, and 2.) the Spurs bench scoring relies heavily on Manu Ginobili's abilities to create plays and distort defenses.
 
While I do think the Grizzlies Game 1 defense was somewhat of a fluke, I did see an exploitable weakness in Zach Randolph. The Spurs kind of picked on Randolph, running Parker through screens set by Randolph's assignments while positioning Gasol's assignment in a place the Spurs could immediately exploit (Duncan on the elbows, Splitter lurking/diving near the rim, and Bonner at the three-point line) if the DPOY tried to bring too much help. Given the versatility of skill sets available to the Spurs front court, how does Memphis adjust?
 
3SOB: It is interesting that Randolph was the focus of so much attention on both sides of the court. However, other than Bonner's unexpected scoring output, none of the Spurs' big men really did anything of note — including Tim Duncan, surprisingly. While there was a lot of talk about ZBo's scoring issues, not much was said about Duncan's relatively poor offensive game — partially because he contributed in other areas, but mostly because when a team is up by 20 points, few are willing to quibble about such minor things.

The adjustment that could be made would be to hedge harder and/or go over the screens when Bonner is on the court, providing the screen, since he only does one thing on offense for the most part. With the other big men, I think you have to allow Splitter and Duncan to take that elbow jumper with a defender closing out on them, and hope that they don't hit enough of them to make a difference. It's not ideal, but is still better than giving up layups.

Project Spurs: I think the focus wasn't so much with what the Spurs big men did offensively (other than Bonner), and I do think Randolph is fine in individual matchups. But putting him on space with Parker is kind of what people were singling out.

Anyhow, key matchups/predictions for Game 2?

3SOB: Agreed. That's why I said that he should hedge harder on those screens — force Parker out wider, away from his preferred path.

One of the key adjustments to be made is making those entry passes. Use Conley on the wing, since he is a good enough shooter to make his defender pay for sagging off of him. If the Spurs continuing fronting Gasol and Randolph, then the Grizzlies should respond with some off-the-ball screens to free up Allen, Prince, Pondexter, and Bayless for layups and dunks, since the bigs can seal off the rim from that position.

The biggest problem the Grizzlies had (other than over helping on defense) was allowing Parker to do whatever he wanted to, despite the refs obvious willingness to let contact go. The Grizzlies have to make a more concerted effort to force the Spurs players into deviating from their preferred path on their cuts and curls. They made that adjustment temporarily in trimming the lead down to 6 points, but then promptly allowed two open threes, which ended any chance they had in winning Game One. They will have to remain committed to providing obstacles off the ball, while staying close to their man on the ball.

Outside of making a franchise record number of threes, is there anything else from Game One that the Spurs did which you see as being unsustainable?

Project Spurs: It's not just the accuracy I find unsustainable, but the volume of three-point looks. In 2011 the Grizzlies took away the corner three-pointer, and while the Spurs have found ways to adjust around that, those shouldn't be anywhere nearly as effective against the Grizzlies as they were in Game 1.

I think the Grizzlies will try to hedge Parker, but I'm not sure Randolph is up to that task. At the very least Memphis will turn some of those layups and three-pointers into midrange jumpers.
 
Zach Randolph won't be as bad, which should bring some order to the Grizzlies offense. Accounting for those two things, this series should come back down to what we all expected, a slugfest between two elite defenses.
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