The San Antonio Spurs were able to keep their season alive with an unforgettable game five victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Tonight, they enter a city in which they've yet to win a game this season.
“It’s going to be so hard. They are a team that usually plays with edge and fire. And then imagine how that arena is going to be, having the opportunity to eliminate the #1 seed in the West.” said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili after game five, “It’s going to be wild, it’s going to be rough.”
When asked what it will take to win in Memphis? “We’ve got to be smart; don’t just give them the ball and let them run.” Ginobili continued, “We can’t make silly mistakes. We just have to use our experience; that age that everyone is talking about, we have to use it.”
The message tonight is simple, win or go home. That simple.
I’m here to look at some the keys that the Spurs will need to focus on to win game six and keep their season alive.
Execute and Avoid Turnovers at All Costs
Turnovers and poor execution are what put the Spurs in this 3-2 hole in the first place. Beginning with game one, the Spurs failed to execute by holding a four point lead with 1:06 remaining in the game. Memphis rallied to win with a 7-0 run.
In game three, we all remember the circus play as Manu Ginobili drove the ball out of the shot clock with seven seconds remaining. The entire team and staff looked like they each had a playbook in different languages.
In game four, the Spurs led by two at halftime but then turnovers in the second half sparked a Grizzlies blowout as the Spurs turned the ball over 17 times to the Grizzlies nine.
Even in game five, the Spurs held a 16-point lead but saw it crumble as Memphis led with 1.7 seconds remaining. The Spurs’ 15-turnovers were a key in helping the Grizzlies make a comeback.
As Ginobili said, “We can’t make silly mistakes.” The Spurs need to execute and protect the ball if they wish to stay alive.
Make Randolph and Gasol Earn Their Points
The key to making the Grizzlies frontline duo earn their points is to keep them out of the paint (less than five feet exactly) when they catch the basketball. Here’s a play from game one to illustrate what I’m referring to.
Memphis players are in green, Spurs player are in black. Conley (top of the key) simply passed (blue) the ball to Gasol three feet in the paint; the result was an easy two point shot over Duncan.
The Spurs' best defense to limit Gasol and Randolph is to play their little big men (Bonner and Blair) as minimal as possible. Duncan, Antonio McDyess and Tiago Splitter have the height and tenacity to keep the Grizzlies from catching the ball within five feet of the paint. It is their responsibility to hustle back on defense and prevent Memphis’ frontline from getting to their comfortable spots first.
Keep Splitter on the Floor
Splitters stat line may not “wow” you but the one thing that is evident is he is tenacious in rebounding and attacking the rim on offense and he is NOT a liability on defense.
Look at his stat line in game four and five:
Game four: 5-9 FG, 10 points, 9 rebounds (6 offensive), 1 turnover, 2 fouls. Blair and Bonner combined for just 6 points in this game.
Game five: 3-3 FG, 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, 0 turnovers, 0 fouls. Bonner had 5 points.
As you can see, Splitter is already out producing Bonner and Blair in less minutes. Here’s a play from the second quarter of game five in which Splitter helped the Spurs on the offensive end.
The two black X’s on the far left side of the court are Splitter and Parker. Conley is defending Parker and Randolph is defending Splitter.
Splitter sets a pick (blue) for Parker to the left, instead of using the screen Parker crosses further (blue) to the left side. However, this gets Randolph to move (red) onto Parker and Conley to switch (red) onto Splitter.
With the switch, Splitter now has the advantage as he cuts (red) to the rim and Parker finds (blue) him for the easy layup.
Splitter is very good at rolling to the basket after setting a pick, this is evident as he has already had and-1 opportunities in each game.
Guard Penetration and Knocking Down Open Shots
Parker, Ginobili, Hill and Neal are the catalysts for the Spurs’ offense. This team was built for 82 games as a guard first team. Tim Duncan is no longer the focal point, at times he can be, but has yet to have a dominant game in this series.
If the guards can penetrate and knock down the open jump shots presented, they have a chance to crack the Grizzlies’ lockdown defense. The Spurs can create these opportunities by running their offensive plays without error and running the fast break correctly. Here are two sequences to illustrate from the second quarter of game five.
Here’s a play from the second quarter in game five in which Ginobili made a an open three point shot off offensive execution. The Spurs players are in black, Grizzlies players are in red. The black X on the bottom right is Bonner. The middle X (Ginobili) sets a screen (blue) for Bonner to run (blue) to the opposite three point line.
After Bonner runs past Ginobili, the top X (Splitter) sets a pick (blue) down the middle for Ginobili to get to (green) the top of the key for a wide open three. The X (Parker) on the far left passes (blue) to Ginobili as he sunk the three point shot.
This next play is from the second quarter of game five as it illustrates a successful Spurs fast break. Tim Duncan blocked Tony Allen to ignite the break.
Spurs players are in black, Grizzlies players are in green. On the bottom right of the play is Gary Neal, on the opposite side is Manu Ginobili. The X just inside the middle and near the three-point line is Tony Parker.
The two Grizzlies defenders immediately go (blue) to the paint as Neal runs (blue) to the corner three, Ginobili flanks (blue) to the left sided three as Parker looks to attack (blue) the middle.
When all ten players arrive on the opposite side of the court, Parker has successfully drawn all five Grizzlies players in and he successfully kicks (red) out to an open Ginobili for a three-point fast break.
Avoid Third Quarter Lapses
In the third quarter of game four, the Spurs played poorly as they turned over the ball and were outscored 30 to 15 as the Grizzlies blew them out from that point on.
In the third quarter of game five, the Spurs were outscored once again 26 to 15. The Grizzlies were able to comeback from a one-time Spurs 16-point lead.
If the Spurs continue these third quarter lapses in Memphis then there’s a good chance their season will be over tonight. The Spurs must figure a way to put together a solid third quarter if they are to have the best chance at staying alive.
Hold Your Composure
The Spurs realize they are on the ropes and know one play can end their season in a matter of 48-minutes. Even though the Grizzlies lost a heart breaker in game four, their fans will have them ready tonight.
“They’re a confident team. They didn’t come into this situation and put us to the brink of elimination by being a weak-minded team.” Said Jefferson after the heart breaking loss for the Grizzlies after game five, “They’re going to be ready to go in Memphis. They’re town is going to be ready to go. It’s going to be fun and we’re looking forward to that. Our job is going to be to come back here and force a game seven.”
As quoted from the movie ‘Independence Day’, “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight!”
Only the Spurs players can play the game to keep them alive into the night, and only the Spurs have control of whether they’ll bring the series back to San Antonio after putting up a fight.