The San Antonio Spurs (0-0) will open up the 2011 NBA playoffs in San Antonio as they take on the Memphis Grizzlies (0-0) in the first round as they look to take their first steps towards title number five.
The number one ranked Spurs split the season series with the eighth seeded Grizzlies this past season and Memphis gave San Antonio fits the last two meetings of the regular season. There was also some chatter Memphis "tanked" the season in order to play San Antonio.
"They played us well the last couple of games," Duncan said Friday. "They feel they match up well against us. They chose to play us, they got us, and we'll see what happens."
Though Grizzlies' head coach Lionel Hollins says otherwise and hopes not to upset Duncan.
"I just want to say this for Tim Duncan," Hollins began.
"We did not tank the season so we can get the San Antonio Spurs," he said.
Heading into the series, all eyes are on Spurs' Manu Ginobili as he is recovering from a hyperextended right elbow he suffered in the last game of the Spurs' regular season but Spurs' Tony Parker feels Ginobili will be back in action today.
"For me, it's almost impossible he's not going to play," guard Tony Parker said.
To talk about game one of the series, I turn to Chip Crain of ESPN's 3 Shades of Blue, one of the best sites on the Internet for all things Grizzlies. Chip has also graciously agreed to be Project Spurs' go-to Grizzlies site during this first round series.
In this Q&A, Chip gives his take on the series, if Memphis did "tank" the season to play the Spurs, and more.
Jeff: I have to ask, is it true Memphis "tanked" a bit in order to face San Antonio?
Chip: Yes and No.
If you are suggesting the Grizzlies preferred to play San Antonio to Los Angeles then yes that would be true but that isn't the only or even the main reason why the Grizzlies chose to rest Zach Randolph and Tony Allen against Portland. The Grizzlies felt that the team had to be 100% rested and ready to defeat any of the main competitors in the West (San Antonio, Los Angeles, Dallas or Oklahoma City). If they fought at Portland (and the next night against the Clippers) they may have finished as high as 6th place but they would not have been rested for the 1st round games.
The Grizzlies did lose both games and insured that they would play the Spurs but that wasn't the main objective. Mostly the Grizzlies wanted to be 100% ready for whoever they played in the playoffs and if that happened to not be the Lakers so much the better.
Many feel the Spurs weakness is the lack of quality big men, especially versus the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Is this where the Grizzlies will strike at the Spurs or is it at another position?
I wouldn't say the Spurs are without quality bigs but it is safe to say that the Grizzlies need to make a major impact in the paint if they want to win a single game much less advance out of the series. Memphis has led the league in scoring in the paint for two straight seasons. In this season they outscored the second place team by over 4 pts a night. This is the Grizzlies advantage and their weakness.
Teams haven't been able to adequately prepare during the regular season for the Grizzlies inside game. Since no teams play like the Grizzlies most defenses simply don't realize how important the paint scoring is to the Grizzlies. However San Antonio, who also didn't put out a supreme effort to win some games late in the season, do have time to prepare. I suspect the Spurs will double down low on both big men and dare the team to win the game from the outside. How successful the Spurs are at this could make a big difference in how the series goes.
Tony Allen plays great defense on Manu Ginobili. He pesters and gets Manu off his sweet-spots. Is he your x-factor or is it another Memphis player?
Any time a team has an elite level defender who must guard an elite level opponent their matchup becomes an x-factor. Tony Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and has shown the ability to stop the best players in the league in last season's playoffs when he shut down LeBron James, Vince Carter and nearly Kobe Bryant. Manu Ginobili is a player that deserves to be mentioned in that level of talent. How successful Manu is recovering from his elbow incident and outplaying Tony Allen will be huge for the Spurs.
Manu has a strength to his offensive game that gives him an advantage over LeBron, VC and Kobe. Manu knows how to create contact. If he can get Tony Allen to over-commit, which is something he is prone to do, then he can get Allen in foul trouble and get easy points from the line. Tony will need to play aggressive but controlled because his backup (O J Mayo) while improving is no where near as good a defender.
What is it about San Antonio that troubles Memphis? In other words, what makes Grizzlies fans nervous about the squad facing the Spurs?
San Antonio has something the Grizzlies don't and won't be able to create in one series of games. They have experience playing in the playoffs. Memphs' starting five have fewer than 20 playoff starts between them. Tony Allen has won a ring but as a bench player not a starter. Mike Conley, Sam Young and Marc Gasol have no playoff experience at all. San Antonio is loaded with playoff experience between Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson the Spurs starting lineup has more NBA finals experience than the entire Memphis team has playoff experience.
The Spurs perimeter shooting, Tim Duncan and excellent coaching are all troublesome parts of this matchup but the experience is the main tipping point. Memphis will try to use their youth and power to overcome that confidence that comes from veteran leadership but I have to say I believe in the saying that "Old age and treachery will defeat youth and talent every time.
How much of a difference would Rudy Gay make if he was playing in this series?
How much of a difference would not having Manu make for San Antonio?
In Rudy Gay you are talking about a player capable of scoring 20 points every night and defending the best offensive player on the opposing team. He is a clutch scorer (just ask that Toronto fan or LeBron James for confirmation) who isn't afraid of taking the big shots and usually hits them. Who will Memphis turn to now in the closing minutes of a tight game? Mike Conley has been prone to mistakes at the end of games. O J Mayo can be a defensive liability and he doesn't get to the line enough. Zach Randolph can't create his own shot. Tony Allen has a shaky outside shot. The Grizzlies don't really have that one guy who you get the ball to at the end of games and be confident he will produce on most nights without Rudy.
The Grizzlies instead of having that one guy have gone to a more democratic style at the end of close games running their offense and letting the shots come where they may. That has been successful down the stretch as teams can't concentrate on any one player but in the playoffs knowing you have that type of player who can dribble, pass, shoot and get to the line every time down the court is a major strength. The Spurs have two such players in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Will Memphis get their first ever win in the playoffs in this series and what is your outlook for game one?
God I hope so! I think the Grizzlies can win the series honestly so a sweep would be disappointing. I know the Grizzlies have to step up their perimeter defense, pound the paint and exhibit poise in the clutch, all weaknesses of this team during the season, but I believe the Grizzlies have advantages in speed, strength and excitement. Will that overcome the Spurs confidence and poise that comes from having three elite players who know each other so well? It will be tough but it is possible.
Game One should be a huge game in that regard. Coming out tense and getting blown out would severely dampen any hope of an upset. If Manu plays, and I fully expect him to start considering he was lifting weights Friday, then the Spurs have a big advantage. If he doesn't then things get more interesting.