A thesaurus only holds so many words for demolished
In college, while still chasing journalistic dreams, one of the first things I learned to write was obituaries. Everyone has to start somewhere and for burgeoning young reporters the obits are as good a place as any.
One of the tricks of the trade for writing obituaries, when the cause of death was too complicated to decipher or just flat out unknown, is to classify such cases as heart failure. You see, technically everyone dies when their heart stops beating so for all intents and purposes it’s a completely accurate description.
Last night the San Antonio Spurs died of heart failure.
That’s not to say they quit, well, at least not until halfway through the fourth quarter when Battier found himself so open for a 3-pointer he had time to dust the ball off before letting his shot fly. And it’s not to say the Spurs had no emotion or heart. As Graydon pointed out in his recap, the Spurs tried. Hard. But when push came to shove they simply tried to do the wrong things even harder instead of smarter. A forced pass here, a quick shot there. Corporate knowledge be damned because quite frankly it does not exist in this roster anymore. It was like panicking in quicksand.
Before the game I wrote that one of these two coaches was propping his team up with smoke and mirrors. It’s easy to read that, or either of my recaps for that matter, and assume each were disrespectful or dismissive of the Grizzlies as 48MoH’s good friend Matt Moore did. But the underlying themes to each have been don’t panic.
Because Marc Gasol had a hell of a Game 1 and is having a hell of a series, but he hasn’t shot 9-10 again. Writing that was correct and hardly dismissive because while he is a good player, and a reason for the Grizzlies success, Gasol is not THE reason. Respectful as I am of Randolph, and it has been pointed out here that he was doing these things since back when Tim Duncan was still the best defensive player in the NBA, he was not raining 3-pointers.
But as well as the Memphis Grizzlies had played up until Game 4, and as poorly as the San Antonio Spurs had played, the Grizzlies won Games 1 and 3 by a combined six points while the Spurs took Game 2 by six.
The easy and somewhat lazy narrative through three games was that the Spurs were getting destroyed inside, and it was written even as the Spurs defense held up and the team outrebounded Memphis. The notion stuck because at the beginning of the series if Memphis was going to win the assumed blueprint is that is how they were going to do it.
That the Spurs were holding up well in these areas, and that the Grizzlies extremely narrow wins had deviated so much from such a blueprint was reason enough to believe that head coach Gregg Popovich and company would eventually figure out how to get past what has ended up being Lionel Hollins’ true ace in the deck. Stay the course and eventually the percentages will swing back in your favor, right? Tony Parker can’t miss all his shots, can he?
Memphis has exploited advantages inside, but if last night showed anything it’s that those two aren’t necessarily the reason for the Spurs demise. Perhaps now all the smoke and mirrors can be put aside and we can address the true story behind this series: The hyperactive Memphis wings are destroying the Spurs pick and roll attack.
Lionel Hollins gambit is that he has removed the Big Three from their teammates, chasing shooters off the line, denying the passing lanes and ball movement that had made the Spurs a model of offensive efficiency. The only option left to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili by Mike Conley, Tony Allen, and Shane Battier has been to take the ball to the rim themselves, with Marc Gasol providing just enough resistance that neither can score efficiently enough to force Memphis to change tactics.
Just two years ago the simple solution against such a strategy would be to isolate Duncan in the post and let him either go 13-17 on his way to 35+ points or let him pick apart double teams with passes to open shooters. Even a year ago Duncan might have been able to provide enough one-on-one scoring in spurts.
The last time Manu Ginobili made it through a playoff run unscathed he was still explosive enough to finish at the rim or draw fouls at an insane rate against the likes of this Memphis defense.
And Tony Parker has always depended on his teammates 3-point shooting and clean lanes to provide his best work.
The smoke and mirrors of this series was never about a head coach hiding a terrible team, but a flawed one. The quicker tempo, the pick and roll attack, the three-point shooting. These were all illusions to mask the real fact that age has taken away the two Spurs players capable of looking this ferocious brand of defense in the eye and destroying it.
If not for a botched draft the Memphis Grizzlies could easily be regarded in the same light as the Oklahoma City team they appear poised to face. By the time their playoff run is over, they might be.
As for the Spurs, if and when the team eventually falls there will be plenty of time to analyze where everything broke down. For now, we’ll just go with heart failure.