As the Memphis Grizzlies begin their summer – picking themselves up out of the dustpan that the San Antonio Spurs have just swiftly swept them into – much can be said about the season they just put forth; one that despite not being an outright success or failure will go down as the best so far in franchise history.??
There are two sides to this season’s disappointing ousting: one is that the Spurs are simply a better team who played their A-game consistently; the other being that Memphis obviously didn’t play theirs at anywhere close to a necessary level. The series was an utter disaster for the Grizzlies, with the two opponents lying at opposite ends of the execution spectrum.
Credit San Antonio for doing an excellent job of controlling the game’s tempo and making Memphis uncomfortable, but the lack of fortitude they showed throughout most of this series was bereft of the Grit N Grind they’d become famous for.??The entire team looked gassed at times; deflated, defeated, and unable to execute with the energy and pressure that would’ve made them competitive in this series. It highlights the Grizzlies’ lack of quality depth – something that will surely be a priority in the coming months – as was exposed by a lineup that was able to go several men deeper and still out-play them.
Zach Randolph was the chief perpetrator; his play showing signs of his years catching up with him, which has to bring his future with Memphis’ new frugal front office into question. Z-Bo fell victim to a memorable performance from Tim Duncan, but his lack of ability to develop any kind of offensive rhythm forced Memphis into Plan B on so many possessions, when they were already struggling to keep up on D and establish a comfortable pace on the scoreboard.
It didn’t help matters that Tony Parker was beating Mike Conley – a 2nd Team All-NBA Defender – like he was the 1st level in a 1980’s video game and accelerating the game’s tempo at will. Or that the need to keep Tony Allen on the floor allowed a team who rotates as well the Spurs to sag off his suspect jumper, clog the paint against the Grizzlies’ feared front line and disrupt their attack. Parker’s abuse of Conley forced adjustments to a sudden leak in their Grind, but for massive stretches of this series, Memphis was a few steps too slow as a team on D.
The Spurs were just getting it from everyone though, in any way they wanted, far too often. Their baskets needed a Rucker Park commentator lacing them with exclamations (“that was TOO EASYYY!!”). Duncan and Parker put on a clinic, but Ginobili was a Game 3 difference-maker, Matt Bonner and Kawhi Leonard were icing key 3 pointers, Tiago Splitter was butchering the Grizzlies down low whenever Gasol sat. There was no Grit left to speak of; the Spurs made Memphis forget what their game was.
When a team as talented, well-coached, versatile and cohesive as the Spurs is clicking on all cylinders, it’s unimaginably tough for a worse team to beat them, but Memphis showed itself to be better than the sum of its parts all year through rabid energy and sense of unity. Instead of responding with the same intensity, they not-so-slowly withered away, relatively listlessly, worn down by the war of attrition they’d won thus far. The Grizzlies looked ready for hibernation.
Then again, any lesser team might’ve rolled over when new ownership brought their payroll to the slaughterhouse mid-season, refusing to re-up with the coach who’d improved them every season of his tenure, and having a relative yard-sale to get the roster under the luxury tax. Granted they did it efficiently – and ultimately effectively, but in the process, carved a large chunk out of this team’s chemistry and depth on the court, two things that were missing very glaringly over the past four games. ?
While the West Finals were a disappointing way for the season to end, they could hardly be described as a disappointing destination for this team. They came out of the gates well above expectations, were derailed by mass uncertainty midseason, even further by a huge trade, and despite minor doubts lingering, battled to the franchise’s best Playoff finish in its hardly illustrious history. With a new front office’s eyes fixed mostly on the future, it was fitting that this Grizzlies team gave us some extra time to appreciate the present.