Grizzlies’ Duo Leaves Spurs’ Frontline In A Bind


Through the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs biggest question mark was whether or not they could win in the post season with a six man-frontline that wasn’t even taller than 7’0.D. Clarke Evans

One game into the post season the question mark continues to grow as the Memphis Grizzlies’ two premiere big men combined for 49-points against a four-man Spurs frontline-rotation in Memphis’ 101 to 98 Game One win on Sunday afternoon.

Zach Randolph is 6’9 and weighs 260 pounds. Marc Gasol is 7’1 and weighs 265 pounds.

The closest Spur to come close in weight? 6’9 center DeJuan Blair who weighs in at 270 pounds. Tim Duncan is the second closest at 6’11 and 255 pounds.

It’s no wonder Blair and Duncan looked like the most compatible defensive frontline that could bother the Grizzlies on Sunday. Size is a big part of defending the Memphis duo in the paint.

Duncan and Blair were also key in making the Grizzlies duo rack up fouls. Of Randolph’s four fouls, one was on Blair. Gasol ended with five fouls, two were because of Duncan and one because of Blair. 

So it’s no coincidence Antonio McDyess (6’10, 245 lbs) and Matt Bonner (6’10, 235 lbs) struggled on defense against the Memphis duo. Randolph and Gasol each outweigh them by almost 30 lbs. 

Of Matt Bonner’s three fouls, all three were on Gasol. Three of McDyess’ five fouls were on Randolph.

The numbers tell the story from the game in the frontcourt.

Randolph and Gasol combined: 19-25 FG (76%), 11-18 FT, 23 rebounds, 49 points, four blocks and nine fouls.

Duncan, McDyess, Bonner and Blair combined: 14-31 FG (45%), 10-14 FT, 23 rebounds, 40 points, two blocks and 16 fouls.

To add to the statistics, the Grizzlies won the points in the paint battle with a 40 to 32 edge and shot 55% from the field.

The question now becomes, do the Spurs stick with their game plan in Game Two or give the Brazilian rookie a chance to play?

Game plan A: Stay the Course

The Spurs defensive game plan on Sunday was to allow Duncan and Bonner to play Gasol one-on-one and have McDyess and Blair share time defending Zach Randolph. At the end of the game both Blair and McDyess had five fouls each.

If the Spurs stick with their game plan, then Gasol may not have such an efficient night as he did Sunday (9-10 FG). Duncan commentated post game why Game Two will be different.

“We need to play a little bit more attention on defense, especially myself with Marc,” Duncan continued. “I gave him a bit of an easy time there trying to keep half an eye on Zach instead of focusing on Marc.”

The Spurs can stick with this strategy in game two, but in reality, Bonner and McDyess can’t gain 30 lbs by tomorrow.

The next option may be to mix the rotation with a fresh Brazilian spice. 

Game plan B: Unleash Tiago Splitter?

After the loss on Sunday, I asked coach Pop if there was a chance Splitter would play in game two. He responded.

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.”

Splitter is a rookie and maybe he’s not ready for the playoffs; but his 6’11/240 lbs. frame would be a nice asset to help on the defensive end.

I went back and looked at the last two regular season games between the Spurs and Grizzlies. On March 01, Splitter received 15 minutes of playing time and finished with seven points, six rebounds, and one foul.

In the last game that the Spurs played the Grizzlies in the regular season, Splitter played 20 minutes and scored seven points; five rebounds, and committed three fouls.

If Splitter were to get some minutes in game two, it’s no guarantee that he’d do well; on the offensive end it seems he still misses a few assignments, but on the defensive and rebounding edge I feel he could make an instant impact.

The decision is Pop’s, and Pop’s alone. Will he roll the dice to play the preseason coveted rookie?

Understanding the Memphis Duo

Randolph and Gasol didn’t just have a lucky game by scoring a combined 49-points. They are a tandem that has chemistry as Randolph revealed after the game.

“Me and Marc, we made adjustments. He told me to step up and I told him to stay down on the pump fake,” Explained Randolph. “We talk to each other, sometimes we yell at each other, but we are together. That’s the main thing going into this kind of basketball, playoff basketball, just to be together.”

The Spurs will need to bring their “A-plus” game in Game Two with or without Manu Ginobili. The Grizzlies are a very determined and focused team as Randolph commented after the game.

“We believe we can play with anybody. The next game is going to be a whole new game. We just have to come out, play hard and stick to our game plan-play defense.”

What do you think Spurs fans? Should the Spurs keep their same game plan in the front line or give Splitter a chance to see how he fares against the Grizzlies duo?

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Paul is an editor, writer and content manager for (@ProjectSpurs) and (@ATLeague_NBA). Paul is also the host of the Spurscast (@TheSpurscast). Paul has been a credentialed media member covering the San Antonio Spurs and NBA since 2011. Paul has been featured on numerous radio, tv, online and podcast shows.