2017 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 94, Memphis 105
Spurs lead series 2-1
The Grizzlies did what we thought they would do, what they had to do.
The lower-seeded team winning Game 3 at home after going down 0-2 to start the series is one of the safest bets in sports, particularly when the disparity between the two teams isn’t enormous (sorry, Pacers). The energy of the home crowd mixed with the desperation of going down 0-3 (and essentially ending your season) is a potent cocktail.
And let’s face it: the Spurs, perhaps despite their reputation, aren’t the kind of team to put the clamps down in a Game 3 scenario like this. If you’re not predicting a sweep, then you’re predicting the Grizzlies will win at least one game: Game 3 was the most likely candidate.
That said, we can’t just dismiss the Spurs’ performance. They played well in the first half, fighting off the first rush of energy from the Grizzlies and keeping the game close, only down 4 at intermission.
The second half was a different story. Pop did a wholesale line change only a few minutes in, hopefully sending a message to the starters. You might argue that subbing the bench in so quickly might have cost the Spurs a chance in this game. You might also argue it could be what wins them the series. (We’ll see in Game 4.)
The biggest disappointment in the 2nd half was Kawhi. After another monstrous first half, he was unusually quiet in the second half. He had one big dunk and that’s about it. This isn’t the 2014 Spurs; they aren’t good enough to survive down performances from their star. As Kawhi goes, so do the Spurs. They might not always win when he plays well, but they will surely lose when he doesn’t.
There’s plenty more blame to go around. After a good opening to the series, Parker was terrible in Game 3. Zero points, zero assists, zero steals, 19 minutes. It’s like he was a ghost out there. When Conley is the counterpart, that won’t play well.
While Patty had a bit of a bounce back game (though we’ll need at least one hot shooting game from him this series), Manu and Lee continue to really struggle. Manu has yet to score in this series, and it looks like his age caught up to him right around April 14th. We can handle low-scoring performances from Manu, but he’s really not doing anything else, either.
After a great regular season, Lee is struggling to find his playoff mode. His defense was surprisingly good in the regular season, and it’s been surprisingly (or perhaps not) bad in the post-season. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but at one point in the 3rd quarter he gave up 7 straight and-1 baskets. On offense, it looks like he hasn’t caught up to the speed of the playoffs, with his cutting and passing just a bit off rhythm.
With such little production from the bench and some glaring holes in the starting line-up, the Spurs are ripe for a loss or two. Let’s hope it’s not more than that.
On the plus side, Kyle is playing very well in his role and minutes. He’s not a series-swinger, but he can be a difference-maker and X-factor. His length is important on defense, and his patience and slithery-ness on offense work in the postseason.
Gasol is also playing well in his minutes and his role. Again, a series can’t hinge on his play, but it can be lost on it.
Simmons showed good energy and reliability off the bench. While he can’t cannibalize Anderson’s minutes, perhaps he might be inserted in instead of Manu or even Parker at times.
Aldridge also had a solid game on both ends. Still, as the clear #2 player on the team, we need more from him.
Game 4 now becomes the swing game of the series. A Memphis win and we’re in for a long one. A Spurs win and it will just about seal it. Memphis has clearly found some things they like, and if they continue to get 2011 Z-Bo, they will be a tough out. If 2017 Z-Bo returns, the Spurs should win Game 4.
I’m excited to see how the team responds after the Game 3 shellacking. Despite it looking like the Spurs we’ve known for so many years, we actually don’t know a whole lot about this squad and how they’ll respond to their first playoff adversity. Game 4 will tell us a lot about the character of this team, win or lose.
Game 4 is Saturday night.
Go Spurs Go.