Tony Allen’s Defensive Responsibility Against Kawhi Leonard
By Ian Smith
In game 2 of the series, a key matchup to look at will be Tony Allen trying his best to guard Kawhi Leonard.
Allen has been suffering through a lingering hamstring injury, but managed to play in game 1 after missing the Memphis Grizzlies’ last 3 games of the regular season. He logged 21 minutes and contributed 7 points to the Grizzlies’ losing effort against the San Antonio Spurs.
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With their offensive deficiencies on full display in game 1, the easiest way for the Grizzlies to win a game in this series may be to focus on holding the Spurs to below 85 points and hoping that they can somehow win a close, low scoring game in the 85-80 vicinity.
That strategy can only be viable if Leonard is shut down by the Grizzlies’ defense. Allen is the most capable perimeter defender the Grizzlies have, and would be up to the challenge of containing Leonard to a manageable scoring and facilitating output.
Allen impressed onlookers in the Grizzlies’ semi-finals series against the Golden State Warriors, giving both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson their most difficult matchup of their entire championship run.
Allen is a 3-time NBA-All Defensive First Team member, and also has a Second Team nod to his credit. He’s been one of the elite defenders in the NBA for a decade, and helped make the Grizzlies a dreaded opponent for teams wary of their hard-nosed style of defensive resolve.
Although this season was Allen’s least impressive defensive performance since being a member of the Grizzlies, the team’s chaotic lineup fluctuations due to both trades and injuries made developing rapports with teammates especially challenging, so the inclination is to take Allen’s decline with a grain of salt.
If Dave Joerger draws up a defensive strategy premised by Allen focusing on shutting down Leonard to the best of his ability, the Spurs will likely have to lean on guys such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker to carry the scoring load, which shouldn’t be a problem.
The series remains lopsided in favor of the Spurs in large part because of their versatility of options to counter what the Grizzlies throw at them. Assuming Allen contains Leonard sufficiently and Matt Barnes can step in to give Allen a breather periodically in that taxing assignment, can Zach Randolph impede Aldridge for an entire game in the paint? Can Jordan Farmar keep Parker from blowing by him on drives to the basket? Both scenarios appear unlikely.
Leonard doesn’t have to be the main supply of offensive production for the Spurs, so even if Allen limits him, the Spurs aren’t going to be too worried about their ability to score points from other sources. Even if it ends up being a lower scoring game than usual if Leonard is taken out of his rhythm, the Spurs still have a litany of options to grind out enough points to edge the Grizzlies.
Next: San Antonio Spurs Look to Clamp Down Grizzlies in Game 2
While it still remains a long shot, the Grizzlies need Allen to put on a masterful display of defensive tenacity directed at Leonard to not only limit the Spurs’ offense, but energize his own team into believing that they can scrape out a win.