2017 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 108, Memphis 110 (OT)
Series tied 2-2
I’m of two minds about this game.
On the one hand, it was a fantastic basketball game, everything we love about playoff basketball.
On the other hand, the Spurs lost.
But then again, it was likely Kawhi Leonard’s best playoff game (in a lead performance) and arguably the best 10 minute stretch of playoff basketball by any Spurs player ever.
And yet, the Spurs lost.
It’s actually pretty easy to figure out my feelings on that game. Despite the gloriousness that was Kawhi Leonard, that game hurt. Now we have a series. While I still favor the Spurs, the Grizzlies winning would not shock me.
Let’s talk about Kawhi first. Man, oh man. The thing I was most curious to see in this postseason was Kawhi. Did his game have another gear? Could he show up in the playoffs? Through 4 games, I think we have our answer, and I think we have our player moving forward for another generation.
His fourth quarter (and OT) Saturday night was something else. He just took that game over on both ends of the court. I feel more confident with the ball in his hands that I have since early-aughts Tim Duncan in the post. His ability to get a clean look at the basket from any position on the court is remarkable. And his court vision is improving by the game. (I think he’ll average a career-high in assists next season.)
But that brings us to the rub: the rest of the team needs to do something. Anything. (By that I mean hit a wide open shot when it’s presented to you). Fun fact: the Spurs are now 0-4 on the season in Memphis. In those 4 games, they’ve shot 32-for-101 on 3s, for a whopping 31.7%. Take away Kawhi’s crazy 7-for-10 in Game 4, and that drops to an abysmal 27%.
The Spurs total FG% from the floor in those 4 games in Memphis is 42.3%, 41.9% if we remove Kawhi’s game 4.
This is not good. But it also hints at an easy solution: make your shots, especially the wide open ones.
Despite their reputation, Memphis is allowing the Spurs wide open looks. They just can’t make them in Memphis. Green was 0-for-10 from 3 in the last two games; Manu was 0-for-5; Parker was 0-for-2; Gasol was 0-for-3; Mills was really the only player to hit anything, going 4-for-9 in the two games.
The Spurs need to hit open shots. Memphis is too good at grinding out wins to get into trenches with them. The Spurs need to win this series with offense, shot-making, pace, and space. Right now, they are 0-fer on those things away from the AT&T Center. When the game slows down, gets really physical, and becomes a nip and tuck affair, the advantage is squarely with Memphis.
This points to another disturbing trend in these last two games: the Spurs inability to dictate the terms of the fight. Yes, they played it tough in Game 4 and had multiple chances to win. But it never felt like the Spurs controlled that game. Memphis controlled that game (and likely deserved the win because of it). The Spurs aren’t really taking anything away from them, or making them uncomfortable anywhere. Conley is abusing us, Gasol is abusing us, Randolph is bullying us, and the Memphis role players are playing great (while the Spurs’ are shrinking).
The good news? All of these things could be said about Memphis after the first two games. Heading back to San Antonio, the friendly confines of the AT&T Center should do wonders for the team. You know who is 0-4 in San Antonio this year? Memphis. If this turns into a home court series, then the advantage clearly lies with the team who has home court advantage (and is the reason the regular season matters).
But we can’t rely solely on returning home. Memphis is confident and feels like they’ve found something against this Spurs team. San Antonio needs to disabuse them of this notion quickly and emphatically in Game 5.
And they need to get Kawhi some help.
Green’s defense has been wonderful, but he needs to hit open shots.
LaMarcus has had stretches of brilliance, but he plays passive for long stretches and usually needs some inciting incident to wake up. It’s Game 5; come ready, LA.
Parker has played well, but you can only expect so much from him. He is no longer what he used to be (and what Mike Conley currently is). We need to make up for the difference somewhere else.
Lee has been unable to find any of that regular season magic, and seems overmatched by the playoff (and Memphis) intensity.
Mills hasn’t had a breakout moment yet, which he is usually good for every few games.
Anderson and Simmons have played solid in moments, but one of them will likely need a burst somewhere along the way.
Gasol has been solid, as well, but will likely need to provide even more scoring punch off the bench.
Dedmon (who was out sick for this game) is playing with his usual energy, but the team seems to have forgotten (or other teams have figured it out) how to get 3-4 cheap buckets with him at the rim every game (read: alley oops!). His defense will be needed, though, as the Spurs really need to hold Memphis in the low-to-mid 90s to win these games.
Bertans showed me something in Game 4, and the floor is just spaced so much better when he is on the court. I expect a few more minutes for him in Game 5.
Manu… I’m not ready to talk about Manu just yet. Whatever magic he and Vince have had to play so well at this age, it looks like Manu’s has run out. If Manu gives us anything (playmaking, 3-point shooting, pesky defense, ferocious energy and competitive fire), our bench can come alive and provide a comfortable margin for victory.
I said that Game 4 was really going to show us what kind of team we had. Despite the loss (and the many worrying trends), I liked the heart the team showed. They had that game to win, and they couldn’t. But that game could have also been an overwhelming loss, and they didn’t let that happen.
They’re coming home, where so often the little things tend to turn in your favor.
Game 5 is Tuesday night. Let’s get it.
Go Spurs Go.