Home » 2013 Playoff Coverage » Blowouts Happen -- The Grizzlies Bite Back

Blowouts Happen -- The Grizzlies Bite Back

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Blowouts happen. It's a mathematical fact that if you have a normal distribution with a long ta--... Look, I'm too lazy to finish this sentence. Everyone blows teams out and everyone gets blown out. Maybe it's 15 points because of garbage time, or maybe it's just a really convincing 15 point defeat that genuinely has you asking questions. Sometimes it's because of an amusing match-up advantage that never gets addressed; sometimes it's bad coaching; sometimes they're the Spurs and you're the Bobcats. Whatever the case, it's hard to put too much stock into blowouts if they don't repeat several times.  It's the left side of the convolution of two normal distributions with similar variances. Improbable, but possible. Don't panic, guys.

In this context I'd like to talk about Game 1 of Spurs-Grizzlies, and what it bodes for the series.

There's an old, tested coaching technique with blowouts: Throw everything out. Forget whatever you wanted to learn; just throw every record of that game out. Why? Well, because the amount you'll gain by having your team see the systematic flaws that may have caused it and the amount your team will gain in motivation is dwarfed what your team will lose by by dwelling on the game. Suddenly Tony Parker isn't just a good match-up for Mike Conley; he's the guy that went past Conley and 4 other Grizzlies consistently, that whirling dervish who sliced up your defense and found open players virtually everywhere on the floor. Suddenly Boris Diaw isn't just a nebulous blob of passing and angles with lacking focus; now he's a force to be reckoned with and the big that arguably outplayed Z-Bo as a defender in the battle of the round and rooted.

There's another reason to throw the film out: It's mostly noise. Systematic errors suddenly look defining, and they're not in actuality. An error on over-helping and letting guys open on 3s might cost you 20 points in a game (more attempts and higher efficiency on those attempts quickly adds up). Now, 20 points is the difference between the Heat and Bobcats if it's every game. But it's not. I mean, obviously not. There's a reason the Grizzlies are in the Western Conference Finals, more than anything on the strength of their defense. It's because they don't do this every game. They might be fatigued, or banged up (they obviously play a very physical style, and are prone to heavy starters' minutes), or unmotivated. But everything about this game suggests to me that this is just the Spurs having a clearer game-plan and more energy, and using every drop of their advantage (as is their wont).

Coaches throw film out, or, better yet, throw it out and reduce the learning process to a simple maxim, a single thing to focus on as a limiting factor. It's pretty clear that Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins is going to stress not over-helping, and letting Marc Gasol and the bigs handle Tony Parker at the rim with a much more reasonable (that is, a not-collapsing) defense that does its work early and has faith in the work it does. Marc Gasol is a heck of a defender, and so are Mike Conley and Tony Allen. Add Tayshaun Prince in for good measure, and you have a heck of a defensive squad. But they basically spent their last 5 games watching Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson and Kevin Martin have middling-at-best series. The Grizzlies came out of a series in which they needed to be mediocre to win, and needed to be effortful and thrive. I'm guessing that played a role.

What's more, I tend to think defensive adjustments tend to take a couple games to take root, and it's defensive adjustments (especially by Memphis) that will have the most leverage in this series. The Thunder famously put Thabo Sefolosha on Tony Parker last year, to great effect (though ultimately it was the Thunder's blitzing offense exposing the Spurs' middling defense that won the series). The Grizzlies shut Tony down a couple years ago, though it was a bit obscured by Tim Duncan's apparent (and shocking) physical decline in Games 3 and 4. I'm sure the Grizzlies, when they're putting in a real (and clearly-followed) gameplan for Tony Parker, will have a much more coherent and effective series. This is a Grizzlies team that has found an answer for Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. The Spurs are better than the Clippers or Thunder right now, but there are better and worse ways for the Spurs offense to beat you. And the Grizzlies, of all team, know this.

So throw it out. It's one bad game.

If it keeps up, we'll see the Spurs reach the first Finals in six years. And, if it doesn't... we're going to get a heck of a series. Given what we've seen from Memphis the last few years, I'm hoping for the former, and betting on the latter. Grind never stops.

Alex Dewey
The co-founder of the blog, Alex is an unemployed jack of all trades, if you redefine "all trades" to mean "computer science, not owning a car, and mathematics." Writes ace book reviews as well as disturbing Lovecraftian horrors. Has a strange sense of humor that's part Posnanski, part coyote, and part Butta. "See you space cowboy."

4 thoughts on “Blowouts Happen -- The Grizzlies Bite Back

  1. I'm not so sure about the reason the Grizzlies are in the WCF.

    The Thunder were obviously busted when Westbrook went down (half-squeaking out the Houston series), but the Grizz, while they won 4 straight, played a lot of close-fought games against them.

    The Clippers series, while impressive, basically looks like the Thunder series; one star and a bunch of shut-down roleplayers, no inside presence (once Blake was hurt), relatively poor interior defense, awful coaching.

    I don't think the Spurs will take it in four or anything, but I don't think the Grizzlies would've made the WCF against a healthy or properly coached Clippers and Thunder, not that the Spurs' previous games were real proving grounds.

    1. I think the Thunder were obviously the best team in the West until the Westbrook injury, at least to the point where someone would have to have an improbable series to beat them. That said, I also think the Grizzlies were playing at 75% and still easily won that, unless Z-Bo from Game 1 was just a photo-negative time-bomb of injury waiting to be exposed and blow up the last straw in the Grizzlies' faces and break their backs. Heh.

      Moving on, I agree that Memphis isn't the best WCF contenders I've ever seen, but they're also a really versatile team on defense, which is an underrated part of playoff success, and an underrated part of all the great players and teams; to elevate one's self and to lower one's self depending on what is required over a series. The Spurs have been beaten the last few years when someone finds a hole in their defense; this year, their chances might be said to be better solely because they have more parts that can lockdown different areas of the court. That versatility is the essence of competing over a series as opposed to over a game. And the Grizzlies have it in spades, arguably more than any other contender. The only dependable counter to the Grizzlies' versatility on defense is to have an offense so potent or so adaptable that you can't serve anything they can't serve right back. Which the Heat have, and I guess we'll see if the Spurs have.

      Look, you have to shut me up because I could go on for 100,000 words just on this matchup, not kidding. Heh.

      1. The one wrinkle from the 4th quarter (which doesn't seem to be getting any mention) is that most of the Spurs' offensive pratfall happened while Pondexter and Bayless were on the floor in place of Allen and Prince. Allen only comes back in around the 2 minute mark, and Prince is off the whole 4th, I think.

        The only takeaway I have is that Pondexter ought to be playing 30+ minutes, because the defensive falloff from Prince/Allen to Q-Pon is more than made up for by the offensive boost they'll get.

        Is Memphis that versatile? They're almost always tight, and they're long, but (through 2 games) they haven't looked adaptable on defense. I didn't watch enough regular season Grizzlyball to notice if anything's been significantly different, but it looks to me like the tactics they tend to employ are better suited for teams that don't specialize in passing (like the Thunder and the Clippers). The Spurs 4-8 guys are all proficient passers, their offensive sets require that everyone be ready to receive and pass, and when they run plays to completion almost everyone touches the ball.

        The Grizzlies' style looks like it's built to prey upon the poor passing abilities of a team's role players; cover the first options tight, force them to give up the ball, and then harass whoever caught it into a poor shot or a turnover. And that's effective if Ibaka, Perk, and Sefolosha are your role-guys, because they've spent a whole season as spot-up shooters/pass-back guys, they don't really want to take two dribbles and then pass while they're under pressure.

        Basically, I love the Spurs and I know that it's clouding my judgment, but I can't stand for a repeat of last year's WCF with the stupid Ibaka 11-11 game, and James Harden just hitting from anywhere. The Grizzlies look so delicious and meaty because they don't have superpowers, and their one supreme talent might not hold up against a team that's as unorthodox as the Spurs and oh god I'm already having nightmares about how Lebron is going to eat the Spurs alive so I can't go back to worrying about some stupid Grizzlies team with a fairly ugly offense for which the Spurs were almost perfectly prepared because Pop finally decided to play twin towers again and I just want one more game where Manu makes it rain.

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