As the series moves on to game 3, the San Antonio Spurs have handled the Memphis Grizzlies so thoroughly that the question arises as to whether Gregg Popovich should even play his starters for these next couple games or choose to get them some extra rest going forward.
Clearly the Spurs are the superior team to this shorthanded Grizzlies squad, and both of their wins have come in blowout fashion.
The Spurs went 40-1 at home in the regular season, and only the most hardcore of Grizzlies fans could have possibly convinced themselves that a lineup minus Marc Gasol and Mike Conley was going to win either game 1 or game 2 in San Antonio.
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What spectators weren’t sure of was the margin of victory the Spurs were going to take both those games. So far in this series, the Spurs have a point differential of plus 58 in just two games.
The production isn’t significantly lower from the second unit. The only Spurs reserve who has a negative plus/minus for this series is Jonathon Simmons, who registered a minus 1 in a game-low 8 minutes in game 1 and was inactive for game 2. The other bench players have all looked dominant against their opposing Grizzlies lineup.
A starting lineup consisting of Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, David West, and Boris Diaw still looks better as a collective unit than the starting lineup Memphis has been putting out on the court. The Spurs appear to have an upper hand at most positions even if their normal starters rest.
Mills is better than Jordan Farmar at point guard. The aging Ginobili has the advantage over the also long-in-the-tooth Vince Carter at shooting guard, especially after Carter’s disappointing game 2. After what seemed like a resurgent game 1, expectations were tempered about what Carter can provide for the duration of this series.
Anderson appears to be a better all-around player than Matt Barnes at small forward, who has shot just 4-18 this series and is only providing meaningful presence on defense.
Despite his struggles, Zach Randolph would relish an opportunity to get a break from LaMarcus Aldridge, and though West is just a few years removed from being one of the league’s dominant power forwards, this position would be a clear edge for the Grizzlies if it’s Randolph vs. West. At center, Diaw possesses playmaking skills that Chris Andersen can only dream of.
4 out of 5 positions still look like advantages for the Spurs even if they rest their starters. Fatigue is the main enemy of contending teams in the playoffs, and after sizable victories in games 1 and 2, Gregg Popovich must consider severely limiting his starters’ minutes, if not entirely keeping them out of the game.
The most judicious approach would probably be to make a conscious effort to decrease the amount of minutes the starters play in game 3 but still have them suit up. In the first two games, each starter played at least 20 minutes and no starter played more than 29 minutes. For game 3, have no starter play less than 15 minutes but no more than 25 minutes.
A lead can be established as the bench unit is slowly brought into the game. They are at least capable of treading water against this Grizzlies lineup, and the evidence of games 1 and 2 strongly hints at their ability to further extend a moderate lead.
If the Spurs win game 3 by another large margin, then it’s definitely time to hold out the starters until the next round. Give the second unit a chance to close out the series by themselves. Not only does it give the primary starters a chance to heal up and catch their breath, but it would also do wonders for raising the confidence of the second unit guys to know that they can beat a playoff team without help from the normal starters.
Their opponents will get more challenging as the playoffs continue, and the Spurs have the privilege of not needing all hands on deck to beat the team currently in front of them. They’ve looked completely in command, and a series victory appears inevitable. The next step is to further take advantage of this favorable situation and benefit the team in the long run by giving starters extra rest.