by Kevin Lipe
The home team hasn’t lost a game in this series yet. On Tuesday night the role players for the Spurs who didn’t play well in Memphis finally snapped out of it, and the Grizzlies got nothing from players not names Mike Conley or Marc Gasol (and even the latter had another tough outing).
Simply put, given how poorly the Grizzlies guarded the perimeter, and how well the Spurs shot even when they defended flawlessly, the Griz should’ve gone down 20 in the third quarter and stayed that way. That they didn’t is a signal of just how close this series really is, and just how much success or failure for either team will depend on whose role players are able to show up in a road game. So far, it hasn’t happened either way.
As discussed after games 3 and 4, this has been Mike Conley’s series, and that continued in Game 5 even though the results didn’t go Memphis’ way. Conley was 10/17 for 26 points, including 2/4 from 3-point range, and he made things happen with his passing and rebounding, just as he has all series (and all season) long. The problem for the Griz in Game 5 was that nobody else did much of anything, while Spurs reserves who had been having a quietly bad series all sprung back to life. Zach Randolph didn’t get much going. Gasol was pestered by double teams and not moving quickly enough to get his best shot. Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden shot well but mostly played like rookies in a road playoff game (imagine that). Vince Carter still didn’t contribute much. Ultimately, the things said after Game 2 still stand in some ways: the Grizzlies don’t have the roster to beat anybody in the playoffs if they don’t get bench production.
Coming back home for Game 6, that will be the primary determining factor in whether the Griz can force a Game 7. Can the reserves step up? Will the Spurs—like Manu Ginobili, who had 10 points after having not made a shot the entire series yet, or like Patty Mills, who hit some devastating threes and got to the rim at the worst possible times, or like Davis Bertans, who hit some big shots from long-range that he hadn’t been able to make yet.
Listen: this is a game that is very easy to over-analyze. “What if Troy Daniels had played more?” (Patty Mills would’ve had 30 instead of 20, probably.) “What if Zach Randolph had played more?” (He probably would’ve been 5/14 instead of 4/10.) I’m a big fan of Occam’s Razor in basketball analysis: the Spurs shot better and their role players finally showed up. Usually the dumbest explanation is the correct one.
Games 3 and 4 allowed Grizzlies fans (and to a large extent the Grizzlies Internet Commentariat) to forget and/or ignore some of the larger issues that loomed behind the first two games—issues that made the Grizzlies the underdogs in the series in the first place. Andrew Harrison is not a battle-tested backup point guard (and last year’s Chalmers injury still haunts this team). The wing rotation is ostensibly missing its two best players in Chandler Parsons and Tony Allen. Marc Gasol is not consistent. JaMychal Green is an excellent player but not quite big enough to defend well against this San Antonio team. The Spurs defend Zach Randolph well by the way they send the double team. None of those factors have gone away; at home, the Griz got an unexpected boost from their role players and showed the Spurs to be more vulnerable than they seemed. That’s still true. Game 5 was close for much longer than it was a fait accompli. Game 6 is still very winnable for the Grizzlies, and maybe even Game 7 should they force one. But Game 5 showed why that was unlikely in the first place, and why Grizzlies fans should treat every minute of Game 6 like the miracle that it is, because it wasn’t “supposed” to happen.
Last night was a rough one out here on the Griz Twitter streets, but it wasn’t without its moments:
David Lee on that last basket from Conley pic.twitter.com/ASwjnzPGH0— Leigh Ellis (@LeighEllis) April 26, 2017