Playoff Preview and Prediction: Memphis Grizzlies vs San Antonio Spurs.

Apr 4, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley (front) lay on the floor after colliding during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley (front) lay on the floor after colliding during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
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The regular season has officially come to an end, setting up a physical first round matchup between the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs.

The NBA Playoffs are officially upon us.

Per usual, the Spurs have made the playoffs, as they’ve done for a record 20 consecutive seasons. This season, the Spurs finished with a record of 61-21, their seventh 60th win season in franchise history, including the first in back-to-back seasons.

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The Spurs are one of two teams to finish with over 60 wins, the other being the Golden State Warriors, who finished the season 67-15, matching their record from the 2014-2015 season.

The Spurs finished 31-10 at home, and 30-11 on the road, becoming one of two teams to win 30 or more games at home and on the road. The other team? The Warriors.

Despite all the regular season accolades, the Spurs season will mean nothing in the end if they cannot sustain some type of playoff success.

Spurs now start the Playoffs for the 20th straight season, the longest active streak in the NBA:1. SPURS- 202. Hawks- 103. Grizzlies- 7

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 13, 2017

Their first round opponent this year? The Memphis Grizzlies, one of four teams to beat the Spurs more than once this season. The others? The Los Angeles Clippers, the Utah Jazz, and the Portland TrailBlazers, all of which are playoff teams.

The Spurs and the Grizzlies split the season series 2-2, and if the Spurs want to win this series and advance to the second round, they’ll want to emulate their execution during the two wins.

Previous Matchups

The Grizzlies won the first matchup against the Spurs in Memphis, although it is worth mentioning, Kawhi Leonard was unavailable during that game.

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  • Without Leonard, the Grizzlies didn’t need much production, as their leading scorers were Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, who had just 15 points each. Mike Conley chipped in 12 points. For the Spurs, they were led by role player David Lee, who contributed 14 points.

    The second matchup was a better representation of how this series will play out, as the Grizzlies won at home, 104-96. Leonard led the way with 22 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. The only other Spur in double figures was Jonathan Simmons with 14 points. The Grizzlies were led by Conley, who had 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Randolph had 18 points, and Gasol chipped in 16 of his own.

    Both teams shot evenly, rebounded evenly, and assisted evenly. At the end of the third quarter, the score was 75-73, advantage Grizzlies. It came down to fourth execution, and the Grizzlies outscored the Spurs, 29-23, earning their second straight victory against the Spurs.

    Game number three came a few days later, and the Spurs finally got their revenge, winning 97-90 in San Antonio. The Spurs were led by Aldridge, who scored 23 points, along with seven rebounds and three assists. Leonard had 17 points, including seven rebounds and four assists. Patty Mills had 15 points off the bench. The Grizzlies were carried by Conley, who had 22 points and six assists. Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and no other Grizzlies scored in double figures.

    This game came down to defensive pressure, and the Spurs held the Grizzlies to just 90 points, forcing them to commit 14 turnovers, while the Spurs had just six. Offensively, the Spurs moved the ball and got good shots, creating 26 assists on offense, compared to the Grizzlies’ 18.

    The fourth game was in San Antonio, and took over time to decide a winner, as the Spurs edged out the Grizzlies, 95-89. Leonard finally had a vintage game, scoring 32 points, to along with 12 rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Aldridge contributed 15 points, six rebounds, and three blocks. The Grizzlies leading scorer was again Conley, who poured in 19 points and six assists. Randolph dominated the boards, bringing down 16 rebounds, along with 18 points.

    The Spurs were out-rebounded by 13, and out-assisted by four, but were able to make key stops down the stretch in over time to come out victorious.

    Key Stats

    This is going to be the proto-typical grind-it-out type of playoff matchup. The Spurs averaged 90.5 points per game during the series, while the Grizzlies averaged 93.0 points per game.

    As meh as Memphis has been on D since the break, held Spurs to 90.5 ppg, 43% this season. Three of four meetings were post All-Star.

    — Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 13, 2017

    According to TeamRankings, the Spurs were number one in terms of defensive efficiency, while the Grizzlies ranked sixth. In terms of points per game, the Spurs were second in the league, allowing 98.1 points per game, while the Grizzlies ranked third at 100.0 points per game.

    The Grizzlies bread and butter? Protecting the paint. The Grizzlies allowed just 37.8 points in the paint per game (defensively), ranking first in the NBA. Luckily for the Spurs, the majority of their points don’t come in the paint anyway, ranking 28th in points in the paint per game (offensively).

    Is this surprising?SA and MEM have had basically same offense since AS break (16th, 17th)SA has had much better D (ranked 2nd, MEM 20th)

    — Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 13, 2017

    The Spurs get a large majority of their points off ball movement, ranking seventh in the NBA in assists per game at 23.8. The Grizzlies rank 21st at 21.3 assists per game. However, the Grizzlies are effective at stalling ball movement, allowing just 20.1 assists per game, third in the NBA.

    Keys to Victory

    We can look at stats all day and analyze the data, but the premise is simple: Which team will be more effective and efficient on the offensive end?

    Both teams play incredible half-court defense. Both teams are disciplined defensively, and force the other team to either take a bad shot, or commit a turnover. The Grizzlies clog the pain with their bigs, and the Spurs limit the three point shot.

    Kawhi Leonard scored double figures in every game he played this season. First Spur to score 10+ every game since David Robinson in 1994-95.

    — Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 13, 2017

    As with most defensive teams, the offense sometimes struggles to get going, since they both rely on half-court offense to generate a large majority of their points. The key to this series is which team will be able to avoid offensive droughts and consistently generate good shots.

    My money is on the Spurs, who are the more talented offensive team.

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    The Spurs averaged 105.3 points per game, 14th in the NBA, while the Grizzlies averaged 100.5, 28th in the NBA. The Spurs rank seventh in terms of offensive efficiency, compared the Grizzlies, who rank 21st. The Spurs shot 46.9% from the field, seventh in the NBA, while the Grizzlies shot 43.5% from the field, dead-last in the NBA.

    The obvious advantage offensively is Leonard, who has proven time and time again to be lethal when he asserts himself on the offensive end. However, the less obvious advantage is the Spurs bench, who can help maintain or extend leads when they enter the game. The Spurs bench ranks third in offensive efficiency, while the Grizzlies bench ranks 13th.

    Mills, Manu Ginobli, Simmons, Lee, and Gasol will be key in this series, helping the starters when they are struggling to score, which hasn’t happened plenty this season. If they can sustain leads when entering the game, they will take immense pressure off the starters, which could spell the beginning of the end for the Grizzlies.

    X-Factor

    My X-Factor in this series is none other than Aldridge. Here’s why.

    Leonard is often viewed as the best individual defender in the NBA, and judging by his back-to-back defensive player of the year awards, that statement is likely true. However, the Grizzlies have this guy named Tony Allen, who too often gets lost in this conversation.

    Spurs finish with 30 road wins this year – equaling the most wins San Antonio has EVER had on the road in a single season.

    — Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 13, 2017

    Kobe Bryant, one of the best offensive talents the NBA has ever seen, has said that Allen is the toughest defender he has ever faced-off against. Bryant autographed a pair of shoes saying:

    “To Tony, the best defender i’ve ever faced.”

    Why is this relevant? Allen will likely see a lot of time on Leonard throughout this series, and a lot of times, it will force Leonard to make a pass instead of forcing up a shot.

    This brings me to Aldridge, who is the key player in this series.

    Kawhi Leonard will finish as a Top-10 scorer in the NBA, with 25.5 PPG this season.

    — Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 13, 2017

    Aldridge will draw JaMychal Green, the Grizzlies 6’9,” 227 pound power forward. Aldridge, on the other hand, is 6’11,” and weighs 260 pounds. That two inch, 30 pound weight advantage is something that Aldridge MUST take advantage of this series.

    Aldridge also must be a factor down-low, as the Grizzlies love to score in the paint, a lot of times as a result of their relentless offensive rebounding. Aldridge has to establish himself down-low, especially when he’s playing alongside Gasol, who isn’t the most deadly rebounder at his age.

    If Aldridge doesn’t play up to par, leaving the scoring load on Leonard, the Spurs would be in danger of losing this first round matchup. If Aldridge elevates his play, on both ends of the court, the Spurs will reign victorious.

    Final Prediction

    Both teams are healthy heading into this series, setting up a tightly contested matchup.

    If we disregard the first regular season game where Leonard missed action, the Spurs are 2-1 against the Grizzlies this season. The Spurs also have home-court advantage, and two of the Grizzlies losses came at the AT&T Center.

    Both defenses will play exceptional, and as i’ve mentioned above, this series will come down to the better offense, and the better offensive team is the Spurs.

    The starters will come out ready to rock, and the role players will benefit from the energy that will radiate the AT&T Center come Saturday night for game one.

    The Spurs will split the first two games in San Antonio, and the next two games in Memphis, before winning the last two games, finishing the series in six games in Memphis.

    Aldridge will lead the Spurs in scoring, followed by Leonard and Gasol.

    Parker finds his stroke from mid-range, helping to open things up for his teammates.

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    Spurs win in 6.

    Go Spurs Go!

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