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WCF Game 2: Tired Legs, Big Hearts

By Jeff Koch on May 22, 2013.

San Antonio 93, Memphis 89 (OT)
San Antonio leads series 2-0

What does “Grit ‘n’ Grind” do when it collides head first into “Pounding the rock”? (And really, what is “Grit ‘n’ Grind” but a clever, perhaps less sophisticated retread of “Pounding the rock”?)

At least for one night, the Spurs were finally able to crack that rock, the grit was ground down just a bit short, and San Antonio secured yet another 2-0 lead in a Western Conference Finals, probably leaving every fan absolutely terrified.

There are so many directions to go after such a wild game, but three things really stand out to me moving forward in the series.

1. The Spurs’ “collapse” (or the Grizzlies’ comeback) is a bit overstated. The Grizzlies did figure some things out on offense, but their defense isn’t what limited the Spurs to just 9 points in the 4th quarter: it was fatigue. The Spurs just ran out of gas. The wide-open 3s were still there, they were just rimming out or coming up short; the forays into the paint were still there, Parker was just missing lay-ups he almost always makes. The execution remained, and still led to great looks. They were just missed. As will happen in competitive games. Credit the Grizzlies for hanging in and punching their way back into the game, but the Spurs let them back in.

I think the most important thing we did learn about the Grizzlies was that they can play offense, they can play defense, but they’re going to have a hard time playing both. And it all goes back to the 2 and 3 position. They start Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince there, who, along with the other starters, form a pretty formidable defensive unit. (A defensive unit that San Antonio still can shred when necessary, but I digress). However, Allen and Prince are not shooting threats, so the Spurs defense can sink in, clog the paint, and just grind the Memphis O to a complete hault.

To counter, they play Bayless and Pondexter, which gives them shooting, opening up the outside and the inside, and sparking their offense. However, it leaves them weak on defense, particularly against Parker, Ginobili, and our shooters. Pick your poison, Memphis.

The truth after two games is plainly this: the Spurs have enough offense to score enough points against Memphis, while Memphis, even with their best offensive units, will still have trouble cracking 90 in regulation.

So while the almost loss was scary, I’m not disheartened  by what I saw. I still think San Antonio controls the pace, feel, and terms of this series.

2. Tim Duncan is our defense. Everything we do start and ends with him, and he more or less alone takes us from good to great defensively. While his offense has been just average in this round, his defense is exceptional, and it’s no coincidence that the Grizzlies run was made after he got into foul trouble, and that we finally put them away when he was able to return. (6 clutch points in OT doesn’t hurt, either.)

3. Tony Parker is our offense. Our offense goes to complete turd (by our own lofty standards) when he sits, and it’s a thing to behold when he is on the court. The first 3 quarters might have been his most spectacular game ever, despite average shooting. He just completely owned the Grizzlies’ defense, and got anything and everything he wanted. Again, Memphis started making their move when Parker went to the bench late in the 3rd; when he returned in the 4th, he was clearly tired, and just couldn’t push the offense enough to outpace the comeback. But, again, don’t be fooled: Memphis has no answer for Parker at this point, and he is making a superb defense look foolish.

So yeah, Game 2 had the distinct feel of Game 1 against the Warriors, with the Spurs playing the role of the Warriors. But I’m actually more encouraged after Game 2. The Spurs were exhausted, the Grizzlies finally started clicking, everything was going in their favor, and they still couldn’t get over the hump to steal the game. Despite going to OT, they never once took a lead in the second half. And the near-comeback only served to highlight just how thoroughly the Spurs have been outplaying the Grizzlies for about 7 of the 8 quarters.

Of course, now the venue shifts, and Memphis heads home where they haven’t lost yet in the playoffs. But the Spurs have been great on the road this year. And, due to a scheduling quirk, there are 3 full days off before Game 3. If ever a team needed a long rest before a tough playoff road game, here it is, gift-wrapped for us. The situation is ripe for the Spurs to go in and steal Game 3.

If they do, they’ll almost certainly be headed back to the Finals. Either way, Game 3 is going to be as competitive a game as you’ll ever hope to watch.

Go Spurs go.

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