After beginning the series with two outstanding offensive and defensive performances, the San Antonio Spurs are back at square one against the Memphis Grizzlies, who tied the series at two games apiece Saturday night.
The offensive prowess San Antonio illustrated in games 1 and 2 was quickly erased in games 3 and 4, especially from three-point range. The Spurs, who were shooting 52.6% from beyond the arc in the first two games of the series, averaged only 35.8% in the last two matches. Perhaps the Grizzlies’ defense has played a role in such a significant drop in long-range proficiency, or maybe the inconsistency the Spurs experienced in the regular season is catching up to them at the worst possible time.
Not only has San Antonio’s offense played a major role in the last two losses, but for the best defensive team of the regular season, their defense wasn’t up to par in the last two games. During the regular season, the Spurs had a defensive efficiency rating of 100.9, yet they allowed the Grizzlies to score 105 and 110 respectively in games 3 and 4. In games 1 and 2 the Spurs only allowed 82 points from the Memphis squad.
After Memphis Head Coach David Fizdale made heated comments on what he thought to be unfair officiating, the Grizzlies upped their intensity outscoring the Spurs 105-94 in game three. The Spurs, on the other hand, were unable to match the Grizzlies’ intensity and after being down by only four at halftime, ended the third trailing by 18.
The Spurs’ bench got more playing time than usual as Gregg Popovich benched his entire starting lineup early in the third quarter. Led by Kawhi Leonard who had 18 points, the silver and black shot 47.2% from the field but missed almost half of their free-throws.
In a nail-biter 110-108 Memphis win in game four, the Spurs struggled to make shots throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters. In the second quarter only four players were able to score: Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Kawhi Leonard, and Davis Bertans. Parker made the Spurs’ first 12 points of the quarter and was the only scorer until Gasol made a tip-in with 3 minutes to go in the quarter.
After contributing for most of the game, Leonard went to another level with just under 4 minutes left in regulation when he scored the last 16 points to end the 4th. He had the chance to win the game but he was unable to make the mid-range shot forcing the Spurs to go to overtime.
Though the Spurs came back from behind, tied, led for a while, and then forced overtime, they wound up making a few careless mistakes in the extra period which cost them the game. With 43 points, Leonard surpassed his playoff career high of 37 points he set in game 2.
In order to reclaim their authority in this series, the Spurs need to step up on both ends of the court. Leonard cannot be the only player with a high score at the end of the game. While he’s amazing in his own right, it isn’t Parker’s job to be the second highest scorer for San Antonio as he stepped up to be when a struggling Spurs team failed to score for almost the entire second quarter of game 4.
Additionally, the Spurs absolutely need more than the 15 PPG LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging this post season. The team needs Aldridge, who was brought on to be a powerhouse sidekick superstar to Leonard.
Furthermore, on the defensive end of things, San Antonio cannot allow the Grizzlies to shoot 46.7% from the field as they have in the last two games. The Spurs have gotten to this point based on their defensive capabilities. The 26 points in transition for the Grizzlies might be a point of emphasis for San Antonio heading into Game 5.
The 7th seed Grizzlies have managed to tie the series and force San Antonio into an uncomfortable position going into game 5. Hoping to regain control of the series , the Spurs will face the Grizzlies at home for game 5 on Tuesday.