After the Memphis Grizzlies’ defense disrupted the San Antonio Spurs’ offense in games 3 and 4, the Spurs needed to have an answer in game 5. Too many times throughout the regular season the Spurs had large leads turn into close games after the Spurs would start the second quarter or second half in an offensive rut. If the Spurs had another flat offensive game in game 5, the Grizzlies could have easily taken a 3-2 series lead back to Memphis. While the Spurs preach defense first, they needed an offensive showcase in game 5 to maintain control of the series. They had to attack any opening the Grizzlies’ defense gave them for 48 minutes.
The immediate results were not promising, as the Spurs only scored 6 points in the first 6 minutes. After Mike Conley had two quick steals and the Spurs missed their first two threes, it appeared as if the Grizzlies’ defense picked up right where it left off in Memphis. That changed when Manu Ginobili checked in. A major talking point throughout the series had been Ginobili’s four straight scoreless games. Ginobili quickly put an end to that streak in game 5. After just over two minutes of game time, Ginobili had 8 points on 3 shots. The Spurs’ offense had scored just 7 points against the Grizzlies’ defense before Ginobili checked in, but then scored 16 points in the final five and a half minutes of the first quarter.
Seven of the Spurs’ eight made baskets in the first quarter came from inside the paint. For much of the series so far, the Grizzlies had been deterring the Spurs away from scoring in the paint. In the regular season, 37.6% of the Spurs’ points came from scoring in the paint. The Grizzlies had limited that to 33.7% in the first four games. In the first quarter, however, just over 60% of the Spurs’ points came from the paint.
The Spurs got crafty when attacking the Grizzlies’ defense in the paint. Ginobili pushed the pace and attacked the rim before the defense was set. Kawhi Leonard drew double teams and found bigs in the paint for easy baskets. Despite their effectiveness in the paint, however, they still missed several good looks from 3-point range.
This changed in the second quarter. After going 1 of 6 from beyond the arc in the first quarter, the Spurs hit 6 of 9 in the second. As a result of the Spurs’ aggressiveness in attacking the basket in the first quarter, the Grizzlies’ defense packed the paint and clung to every player who dribbled towards the basket, including Davis Bertans, leaving a handful of openings from outside. All six of the Spurs’ three point makes came from assists in the second quarter. This is not entirely unusual for the Spurs, but in a series that has been shaped by the Grizzlies ability to deny the Spurs’ passing and limit their assists, the Spurs were suddenly making the right passes. In the second half, the Spurs continued to attack from outside, making 7 of 13 long range attempts.
The Grizzlies had a particularly tough time defending Leonard and Patty Mills in the second half, who scored a combined 31 points, hitting 11 of 18 shots. The Grizzlies also had trouble containing Tony Parker, who did a great job distributing the ball in the second half. Each of Mills’ second half 3-pointers were scored off of assists from Parker.
The Grizzlies’ defense is revered around the league. They slow the game down and make scoring a challenge. When the Spurs are passing and shooting the way they were in game 5 on Tuesday, however, it is difficult for many NBA defenses to defend them. While ‘live by the 3, die by the 3′ is a common cliche often attached to the jump-shot-heavy style of the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, it’s true of practically every NBA team at this point, especially when facing a team that is as skilled at defending the paint as the Grizzlies are. LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and David Lee are all skilled at scoring in the paint and from mid-range, and these skills become so much more effective against a team like the Grizzlies when the Spurs’ outside threats are making 3’s.
Game 6 shifts back to Memphis, and the Spurs have not won a game in the FedEx Forum all season. The Spurs will need another all-hands-on-deck type of offensive performance if they want to overcome the Grizzlies in Memphis, where, in front of their passionate home crowd, their defense thrives the most.
All stats from nba.com/stats.