2011 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 4: San Antonio 86, Memphis 104 / Memphis leads 3-1
Now I know how the Phoenix Suns must have felt all those years.
Stop me if this story sounds familiar: a regular season 60-win team that runs a smooth, highly-efficient offense predicated on spacing, ball movement and 3-point shooting runs into a grind it out, inside-out, defensive-minded muck it up team in the postseason and is completely taken out of their game and forced to play the other team’s game, a slow-it-down, ugly, bruising battle. The offensive team suddenly can’t run their offense with any sort of efficiency, losing the ball and player movement. The 3-point shots are no longer there. The jump shots stop falling. The lane and the rim are shut down. They are forced to play more one-on-one basketball with only one truly effective one-on-one player. Their role players, so effective in the regular season, can no longer be relied upon. The bench and the rotation shortens. They hang around games, but never seem to be able to close them out.
Meanwhile, the defensive team is able to impose their will and their tempo on the games. Their defense completely locks in, 5 players playing as one destructive unit, creating TOs, bad passes, blocked shots, errant jumpers, drives that lead nowhere. On offense, they pound the ball inside and completely control the paint. They get surprising contributions from unheralded role players, who always seem to make the right play or the 15-foot jumper when necessary. They hit clutch 3s. They get to every loose ball and make every 50-50 play. Despite the score, they always seem to be in control.
Kind of spooky and sad, isn’t it?
The parallels aren’t perfect, but it’s plain to see that whatever brand of basketball the Spurs’ played during the regular season to achieve their 61 wins, it will not work in the playoffs, especially against these Grizzlies. It’s depressing to watch 82 games of superb team ball get washed down the drain with 4 ugly, bruising games. Is this what Suns fans used to say?
I’m not criticizing the Grizzlies. Any other team, any other series, I would root for them. They remind me of what I used to love about watching those Spurs teams who always seemed to beat up on the Suns and the Mavs of the world and bring the game down to their level. Watching Tony Allen and Shane Battier completely frustrate Ginobili and Parker reminds me of the joy Bruce Bowen used to bring Spurs fans (and only Spurs fans).
Make no mistake: the Grizzlies are beating us, and they are winning this series. That second half was an anarchistic work of defensive beauty, holding the Spurs to a mere 36 points, several of which were accumulated in garbage time (I believe we only had 27 by the time Pop waved the white flag). In the first 2:45 of that 3rd quarter, the Spurs shot 0-3, committed 2 TOs, had 5 fouls, scored 0 points, and gave up a 9-0 run before you could even blink. And just like that, the game was lost. Watching the remaining 21:15 was like a root canal with easy listening jazz muzak playing in the background.
Now, the perfunctory paragraph of hope: we’ve been here before. Down 3-1, heading home, after losing two tough road games. 2006, second round, Dallas Mavericks. We won game 5 at home, went on the road, won game 6, and had a game 7, at home, which is all you can ask for (let’s not remember how that ended, m’kay?). So the cliches begin. All we can do is win Game 5, and go from there. All we have to do is hold home court and win 1 measly game on the road. If we do that, and get to a Game 7, well, anything can happen. Right? Sure, the way we’re playing would dictate that we won’t even make it out of our own building Wednesday night. But if we can? Then all the pressure supposedly falls onto the shoulders of the young, untested, Memphis Grizzlies.
That’s how the story goes, at least. But the Grizzlies have shown that they are uninterested in the conventional narrative, the same re-telling of the same tired story. The Spurs better start writing a new story of their own.