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Opening Statements

By Jeff Koch on April 16, 2017.

2017 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 111, Memphis 82
Spurs lead series 1-0

That was a bad start to the game but a wonderful start to the series.

After that first quarter in which Memphis barely missed a shot and San Antonio looked like they were warming up for a rec league game, the Spurs took complete control of the game. The Grizzlies had played well enough in the opening frame to make the game seem closer than it was for much longer, but make no mistake: this was an epic blowout.

To wit: After scoring 30 points in the first quarter, Memphis scored 52 points the rest of the game, or about 17 per quarter. And this number was helped by a 12-point “flurry” in the extreme depths of garbage time as the game neared completion. They had 70 points with about 4 minutes left.

On the other side of the ledger, the Spurs took a 13-point deficit and turned it into a 36-point lead at one point. That’s almost a 50-point swing in about 30 minutes of game time. For the first time facing these Grizzlies this season, the Spurs offense looked unstuck.

The defense was more impressive, though. After that first quarter, they just put the clamps on. Gasol scored a bunch and had a great game, but it wasn’t easy scoring. Gasol’s nature is to be a playmaker first, so it’s not in his nature to be such a dominant scorer. The Spurs seem content to guard him one-on-one, make life difficult, but let him get what he wants and shut everything else down.

Conley is the other primary threat, and the Spurs were amazing corralling and pestering him all night. Parker did great work, but it was really Green and Leonard who frustrated him the most (particularly Green, who continues to be a defensive star). Conley finished with only 13 points on 14 shots. He did notch 7 assists, but for the Grizzlies to have a chance in this series, Conley needs to be an aggressive scorer.

The rest of the Memphis roster (outside of Z-Bo, perhaps) really depends on the play of Conley and Gasol to make everything else hum. By boxing in and isolating their two stars, the Spurs challenged the rest of the Grizzlies roster to beat them. They were not up to the task.

Looking at their roster, it has a bunch of good players, but nobody who you’d expect to go off and have a stellar individual playoff performance. They also have a lot of young players and players new to the playoffs who didn’t seem quite ready for what was going to happen in this game.

The other great revelation from this game was Kawhi Leonard. If this is the playoff Kawhi we can expect, the Spurs will be just fine in this series. He was aggressive on both ends of the court, finishing with a career post-season high of 32 points (on 14 shots). More impressively, though, he had 5 assists, and looked very comfortable taking on the double team and finding the open man. This was a big key coming into these playoffs, and it looks like Kawhi’s playmaking development is ahead of schedule. Adding “playmaking” to Kawhi’s arsenal (on this team, no less) seems almost unfair. I’ll take it.

Game 2 should be a real indicator of where this series is headed. Memphis will surely play better and with less nervousness. Will the Spurs be content getting the one game and let their edge down? Or will they come out even stronger and put the Grizzlies back on their heels, taking full command of the series?

We’ll find out Monday night.

Go Spurs Go.

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