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Winning Game One Is For Suckers

By Jeff Koch on April 18, 2011.

2011 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 1: Memphis 101, San Antonio 98 / Memphis leads 1-0

That was an ugly game.

And I’m not just saying that because the Spurs lost. It was just a plain old ugly game. The teams combined for 60 fouls and 80 free throws. That’s about a foul every 48 seconds of game time. This obviously creates a very choppy, slow game. It felt like the game never achieved any sort of rhythm or flow.

Speaking of rhythm and flow, you know what else had none of it? The Spurs’ offense. Anyone who watched the team with any regularity during the season might have wondered if they were even watching the same team. Gone was the crisp ball and player movement that led to numerous defensive breakdowns. Gone were the drives to the lane that led to wide open 3s. Instead we relied too heavily on mid-range jump shots and free throws. There’s nothing wrong with using free throws in this way, but we also left 11 points on the table that way.

Credit must go to Memphis’ team defense, as they clearly had a plan and stuck to it. They harassed Parker and Hill into pretty subpar games, and really shut down both the driving and passing lanes, allowing nothing easy. By doing this they gummed up the gears of our offense and killed our efficiency. Every pass seemed like a chore, and we had players literally driving into their own teammates. At times, it looked like five players who had just met for a pick-up game. They were also able to close out on our 3-point shooters (something they were horrible at in the regular season), preventing us from getting any easy points out there, save for Bonner’s two clutch shots late in the game.

I also think the Spurs were just as guilty of slowing themselves down, though. For much of the first quarter, we were initiating the offense through Hill rather than Parker. (At one point I had to look and make sure that Tony was still on the court). I don’t really understand this. Hill was being guarded by Tony Allen, the Grizzlies’ best perimeter defensive player. Parker was being guarded by Mike Conley, Jr., a fine player, but not much of a match for Parker. Plus, Parker is just plain better than Hill, especially at starting the offense, something Parker does about 80 percent of the time he is on the court. The only thing I can think of is that they wanted to try and get early fouls on Allen (which they did), negate Allen’s presence in the passing lanes (where he’s probably most dangerous), or get Parker posted on Conley, Jr. on the block. All fine ideas, but to me, this smacks of out thinking yourself.

Speaking of Hill, I thought he played badly all around. He was passive and ineffective, taking no chances and settling for the safe play almost every time. He did not seem at all like the player we’ve seen in the last few playoffs, unafraid of the big moment and unafraid to take chances. We need a strong showing from Hill to win this series.

I also felt like the rotations and player combinations were out of whack. Much of this has to do with Ginobili’s absence and the foul trouble. But, much like the offense felt out of rhythm, the whole team just sort of felt out of rhythm.

Defensively, the Spurs did not play too poorly. The real standout issue here is that both Randolph and Gasol had superb games. I think the team is prepared for Randolph to play well and put a lot of points on us, but not Gasol. A big issue here is that both Blair and McDyess were saddled with foul trouble most of the second half, leaving Bonner as the big paired with Duncan defensively. This seems like the perfect time to see some Tiago Splitter as he is exactly what we need to guard one of these two bigs. My hunch is that if Pop doesn’t play him in a situation where two of his three bigs are down with foul trouble and the third is Matt Bonner, we probably won’t see him at all in this series. Pity.

It wasn’t all bad. Duncan played like a monster, especially in the first half, when he carried our offense. We obviously made a concerted effort to initiate more offense through him, and it mostly paid off. The nice thing about Duncan on the block is that he is not only a threat to score, but also a threat to make a killer pass that can totally set the offense in motion. His play on the defensive end was solid, also, but he can’t guard both Gasol and Randolph.

Jefferson had a solid game, working well on offense and grabbing some huge rebounds. Gary Neal picked up right where he left off in the regular season, taking (and mostly hitting) big shots (as Bill Simmons says, every team needs an “irrational confidence guy”). We outrebounded them, something we failed to do in all of the regular season games.

Basically, we lost by three, playing mostly mediocre basketball without our best player (and closer) to a team that played about as good as they can play (as a team, they shot 55 percent; Randolph and Gasol combined to shoot 76 percent). Jefferson had a wide open look at a 3 to tie the game that didn’t go down; OJ Mayo hit a buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the first quarter that proved to be the margin of defeat. With just marginal improvement in a few key areas (“improvement” reverting back to our team norm), the return of a certain lefty, and Memphis’ probable slide back to their shooting norms, we should be able to win several games in this series.

Hopefully four.

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