The Memphis Grizzlies finished 8th in the Western Conference claiming a first round match-up vs the San Antonio Spurs who finished 1st with the NBA’s second best regular season record of 61-21.
During the regular season, the Spurs and Grizz split their four game series 2-2 with San Antonio beating Memphis in the first two games and the Grizzlies taking the final two.
So how do the Grizzlies match up against the Spurs?
Here’s a break down of the probable starters:
Mike Conley Jr. vs Tony Parker
Conley is coming off his best season with the Grizzlies. The former Buckeye averaged just over 35 minutes per game where he grew into a comfortable role as the Grizzlies’ play caller. The point guard averaged just under 14 points per game but where Mike has excelled is in his distribution. Conley averaged 6.5 assists per game while also shooting 45 percent from the field. The 4 year member of Memphis has improved his statistics in each season, but as he approaches his first playoff run, can he continue to lead the Blue Bears on the court?
Parker led the Spurs in the points per game category averaging 17.5 points per contest, which helped him edge out Manu Ginobili. In the third meeting between the two teams earlier this Spring, Parker sat out due to a sprained ankle. In the regular season finale vs Phoenix, Parker saw limited minutes as he continued to battle a chest cold but he says for the series opener “I’ll be fine.”
Will experience over come youth? Or will Conley be able to use his athleticism to get by the veteran?
Tony Allen vs Manu Ginobili
What more can be said about Tony Allen’s contribution to the team this year? Apart from his towel waving, high-five giving, and college like pride he takes on the court, Allen also gained the love from the fans with his on the court contributions. He averaged nearly 9 points per game but more importantly, he put up an average of 17 vs the Spurs this season.
Manu Ginobili was an pivotal piece of the Spurs injury ridden season that saw Parker and Duncan miss some time due to injury. After spraining his elbow vs Phoenix Wednesday, Ginobili is listed as doubtful to play in game 1 but fellow Spur Tony Parker says he cannot see how Manu would miss the game. But the question remains, can the player who has proven to be the x-factor on many occasions for SA play in his normal routine of driving to the basket or pulling up from long range to cause Memphis problems? He averaged 15 points against the Grizzlies in each of the 4 meetings this year.
Sam Young vs Richard Jefferson
Young will have his hands full in this match-up of rookie vs veteran. In his first year out of Pittsburgh, Young contributed 7 points a night for the Grizz. But during the last ten games for Memphis, he averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds per game. He is one of those players for the Grizzlies who would chip in routinely with double digit figures down the final stretch of games, but averages less than 6 points per game vs the Spurs.
Jefferson is what has become known as a journeyman in the NBA. The 30-year-old is now playing for his third team and looking to get back to the NBA Finals. He averaged nearly a double-double vs Memphis this year and has fit the role of replacing former Spur role player, Bruce Bowen. Whether he matches up vs Young or Mayo, this match-up could help determine the series.
Zach Randolph vs Tim Duncan
Zach had another what many would call an All-Star caliber season. Averaging 20.1 points, 12.2 rebounds each night out, the big man has become the image of what are the Memphis Grizzlies. At 29, he is considered one of the veterans on the squad and will look to win a very big battle in the paint this series. By the way, he averages more points and nearly 15 rebounds per game vs the number one seed in the West.
Duncan has been battling another Grizz in the media in recent days, after saying the Grizzlies chose to play the Spurs, Coach Hollins fired back by saying “We did not tank the season so we can get the San Antonio Spurs.” The two-time MVP has certainly lost a step or two as the season progressed, but that’s two be expected from the big man who’s 35th birthday will come and go during the next week. He leads his team with 8.9 rebounds per game.
Marc Gasol vs Antonio McDyess/DeJuan Blair
After a second full season paired alongside Randolph, Gasol has found himself playing some of the best basketball of his career. Although he averages around 8 points, 7 rebounds vs the Spurs, the second year man has played well during the second half of the season. In fact, during the Grizzlies’ last 10 games, Gasol shot 57 percent from the floor. Whether he chooses to battle down low on the block or pop up to the high post to shoot jump-shots, Marc will be much needed on the defensive end where he averages over 2 blocks per game.
What you see is what you get with Antonio McDyess. The 36-year-old is listed at 6’9″ but plays larger than listed. The big man is simply there to be a big man. He finished the season in favor of DeJuan Blair and helped pull the Spurs out of their end of season slump to remain the number one seed ahead of Los Angeles.
The Grizzlies score more points in the paint than any other team in the NBA. DeJuan Blair who plays as a big ball of energy and size could be called on by Coach Popovich to mark Gasol down low in the paint. One could argue Blair is the best defensive big man now for the Spurs. He doesn’t find himself on the score sheet as much as he’d like, but opponents sure know when he’s there.
Whether it’s McDyess or Blair coming off the bench, the 5-spot could set the tone for what many people consider to be one of the more intriguing series out West.
What’s at stake?
The 8th seed has always struggled in the playoffs; they are 3-51 vs the top seeds in NBA history. But this year’s Western Conference 1/8 match-up is one of the better is recent memory. But the Grizzlies are still in search of their first playoff win in franchise history. Memphis is 0-12 in the playoffs and are back playing more than 82 games for the first time since 2006. For the Spurs, much like LA and Boston, they view this as perhaps the last rodeo for the team from Texas. Although they have upcoming youth in Blair and George Hill… Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan know that time is limited in the Wild West.
Brennan Somers is a regular contributor to Memphisport. You can follow him on Twitter @brennansomers. For more live tweets during Grizzlies games follow @memphisport, @douggillon, @cerrito, and @chasingphoto.
Story photo by Chase Gustafson.