On shocking the world vs. the comforts of history, outliers and omens
As much as Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins tried to downplay the significance of the Grizzlies first playoff win in franchise history, it is hard to escape historical questions when you carry into the playoffs a battle cry of “let’s make history.”
Still, Hollins gave it a good effort, claiming the only comfort he would take was in the solace that his team would no longer be bothered with questions about a playoff history only Shane Battier was around to see — and he was once removed.
“Well, the most gratifying thing is that we got a win and we’re in the playoffs. We would like to keep being ahead in the playoffs,” Hollins said. “The only thing that’s fitting about this is that Shane Battier hit the 3 to put us ahead and he was a part of the three teams that had gone 0-for-12.”
For Memphis and especially Shane Battier and Zach Randolph – one blessed with a child after the game, the other a fat contract – Sunday will forever be marked as a day of remembrance, regardless of the outcome. For the Spurs, unless the series eventually ends in catastrophe, it was just a Sunday.
Sunday’s performance is not one to dismiss outright as there are some significant steps to be undertaken if the Spurs don’t want to share the humiliation of their cross-state rival Dallas Mavericks as a top seed ousted by an eighth seed, but the Spurs are well practiced in the art of overcoming Game 1 losses. They are aware of their history.
“You try to prepare yourself,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said after the game. “You know our history that we haven’t played well in Game 1 and it happened again. So we just have to focus on Game 2.”
The last Game 1 the Spurs tasted victory in was through the grace of God and a Tim Duncan 3-pointer. Outside of that the Spurs have endured in each of the championship seasons featuring Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, an opening playoff loss.
Marbury banks a three in 2003 and the Nuggets steal a victory in the AT&T Center in both 2005 and 2007. While they won the opening salvo against the Minnesota Timberwolves in their 1999 title run, they also had to overcome Kevin Garnett’s infamous shock the world boasts and a Game 2 loss. A year ago the Spurs were dropped by a Dirk Nowitzki outlier, which given his everyday potent game was a pretty damn large outlier.
Promising as he is, Marc Gasol’s Game 1 reeked of Dirk Nowitzki’s “sky is falling, change your tactics” game of a year ago.
- A pick and roll layup and foul a half step away from being a charge.
- A pick and roll for a foul and two free throws.
- A pick and roll jumper in which Duncan sagged too far on the help, leaving Gasol an open jumper a step or two inside the three-point line.
- Another pick and roll jumper from the free throw line with Richard Jefferson rotating too late from the weak side corner.
- A high-arching turnaround jumper tightly contested in the post by Duncan a few steps out of deep position.
- The lone shot missed was a jab step, one-dribble fling over Duncan (to which the Express-News‘ Mike Monroe exclaimed “I told you!” after betting in the first half that Gasol would not make every shot. He was right, technically).
- An offensive rebound off of dribble penetration and a foul for free throws.
- Gasol’s slow-footed version of the dream shake over Duncan, which was more about the left arm used to clear Duncan out than the move itself.
- An isolation post on Duncan in which Gasol sealed him off and went baseline for a layup and a free throw attempt.
- A pick and roll, with a delayed roll, that ended in a questionable call on Blair and two free throws.
- An offensive rebound and put back.
- Gasol cutting off pick and roll action, in which his size presented a target and two free throws.
- A cut and layup off of dribble penetration.
Zach Randolph is simply a different natured beast from any other player in the NBA. An isolation scorer who befuddled Popovich and Duncan long before the Spurs big man hit any sort of decline; to the point where Popovich once threw Bruce Bowen on Randolph long ago out of exasperation.
It’s not that the Spurs defended poorly, it’s that Randolph is the rare player who needs almost no daylight to get off what is a quality shot for him, and generally only him. Randolph has such touch on his shots it would seem 70% of the shots he can get on the rim are falling in softly.
But Randolph is an expected beast, one the Spurs have accounted for in their game plan and can overcome. What will tilt this series are repeat 9-for-10 performances from any other Grizzlies player.
Yet for all the talk about the size of the Grizzlies that is not where the Spurs were beat last night. Of Marc Gasol’s nine field goals, only two were directly correlated to his size (the offensive rebound and the post up on Duncan). Instead another nemesis reared its ugly head: the pick and pop and pick and roll.
In this Duncan was correct, he kept too much of an eye on Randolph yesterday leaving far too much for Gasol. With Duncan shading towards Randolph, quick ball reversals left Duncan out of optimal position at the start of most pick and roll action with Gasol.
Defensive rotations can be tightened. Jumpers will be missed. That is not to say Gasol will not be a large impact on this series, but the Spurs are likely to curb the Game 1 impact he had. The Spurs took one hell of a shot Sunday, perhaps the Grizzlies best, but only gave a momentary stagger.
“We are going to have the same general game plan, it wasn’t like we got beat by 25,” Popovich said. “We played hard, we missed some free throws down the stretch, and had some good looks that just didn’t go in.
“Shane hit a big three, Mayo hit a big 3 from the corner, so shot have to go in for us down the stretch. It doesn’t mean that you change your philosophy.”
Wednesday the Spurs will pick up where they started with a few tweaks in place and hopefully their ace closer in uniform. As they look to the future, they remember their past. What good is experience if you do not lean on it?
The memories of previous championship opening losses do not mean the Spurs will win this series. For now they simply mean not to panic.