No amount of days off or adjustments can fix the amount of sleep and sanity loss at the hands of Game 4’s defeat.
Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 43 points as the San Antonio Spurs lost in overtime to the Memphis Grizzlies, evening the series at two games each. The game was oddly reminiscent of the Spurs’ loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals last season, when LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 41 points in a losing effort.
Before pulling the band-aid off the emotional scar that was Game 4, let’s look back at what adjustments did and didn’t work for San Antonio.
1) Verdict: Success – Patty Mills and Tony Parker combined for 28 points in Game 4, besting their combined 27 points in Game 1’s blowout victory. The issue with that is both combined to go 1-for-8 for a grand total of four points in the fourth quarter when the Spurs needed it most. But strong point guard play is in dire need if Mike Conley is going to be putting up near triple-doubles. The question is, who else is going to step up for San Antonio?
2) Verdict: Success – After recording only one steal as a team in Game 3, Kawhi Leonard alone tallied six rips in Game 4. The Grizzlies turned the ball over 22 times, which is more than any game this series and more than games two and three combined. This loss is getting harder and harder to swallow with every correct adjustment.
3) Verdict: Success – The Spurs shot a putrid 57 percent from the free throw line in Game 3, right on par with Dwight Howard’s career percentage from the charity stripe. Game 4 saw San Antonio go a perfect 17-for-17 from the line with six different players attempting free throws.
Let’s move on to Game 5.
The most obvious points in regards to Game 5 adjustments would be to force feed LaMarcus Aldridge and stick Kawhi Leonard on Mike Conley. But as our very own Paul Garcia pointed out, two of the Spurs’ worst offensive droughts came during Leonard’s usual resting periods.
There are two simple adjustments for Game 5 that we’re going to combine into one, and it involves creating some kind of offense to either help Leonard or survive with him sitting on the bench to catch a breather.
SMALL BALL JUICE UNIT LINEUP
San Antonio’s bench continues to be a thorn in Gregg Popovich’s side.
With Dewayne Dedmon out during Game 4 due to illness, Popovich relied on an unhealthy amount of David Lee who finished the game -15 in 33 minutes.
Though he played nearly the entire overtime, Pop threw out an interesting fourth quarter lineup of Tony Parker, Jonathon Simmons, Kawhi Leonard, Davis Bertans and LaMarcus Aldridge that seemed to fare well against the Grizzlies. Though they only played three minutes together, that five-man lineup managed a Net Rating of +74.9, which is only sustainable in movies.
It’s an adjustment that even Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale is prepared for:
David Fizdale was coy when I asked him whether he expected to see Kawhi at the 4 or a similarly smaller Spurs lineup in Game 5… pic.twitter.com/NdTQ3N0EI2
— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) April 24, 2017
The crucial factor here is that Bertans and Simmons logged a similar amount of minutes in the second half as Lee and Ginobili. It’s a rotation change that won’t be permanent in the scenario that the Spurs advance, but that is currently necessary to match the length and athleticism Memphis possesses.
A small ball Spurs lineup with Bertans allows them to stretch the floor and get the Grizzlies big bodies out of the paint, where they held a +14 rebounding advantage in Game 4. In addition to the strategy, a home game is the perfect chance to capitalize on the comfort level role players have in their own gym.
As we’ve said before, Popovich won’t play players he can’t trust until he has no choice. With Lee getting abused on defense and Ginobili’s inability to put the ball in a basket, it’s time to unleash the wild cards. Or in San Antonio’s case, the future.