NBA Playoffs 2017: Grizzlies in deep trouble if Spurs bench keeps dominating

The Memphis Grizzlies got awful news before their first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs started: guard Tony Allen strained his calf and will be out indefinitely. This was particularly painful because Chandler Parsons, the Grizzlies' major free agent acquisition last summer, had already been ruled out indefinitely with a meniscus tear in his left knee. Memphis isn't exactly the deepest team in the league to begin with, but it had survived stretches where it was shorthanded in the regular season. Doing so against a team with the depth of Spurs, however, is different.

The Grizzlies lost Game 1 to San Antonio 111-82, and the way it went down revealed how little margin for error they have in this matchup. Their starting lineup built an early 22-9 lead with stars Mike Conley and Marc Gasol playing almost perfectly, but as soon as they started making substitutions things started to fall apart. The Spurs cut that lead down to three points before the end of the first quarter, and they dominated after that. Memphis scored just 33 points after halftime, and Conley finished with 13 after scoring 10 in the opening frame.
Memphis coach David Fizdale said that this will be a short series if Conley doesn't come up big, and that's true. Even if he and Gasol are firing on all cylinders, though, they will need more help. San Antonio outscored Memphis 39-25 in bench points, but that doesn't even paint the whole picture. Big men Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph play similar roles for these teams, and their plus-minuses tell the story: Pau was plus-22;  Randolph was minus-40.
"They chip at you," Fizdale said. "That's what they do. They chip at you and they wait for you to break on little areas and they take full advantage of it. They kept chipping, kept chipping and eventually it broke open."

The Grizzlies didn't fully break until late in the third quarter. It was 74-64 with less than two minutes to go in the third when Kawhi Leonard hit a hook shot on a broken play. Then Manu Ginobili stole the ball from Gasol on a drive and Patty Mills hit an open 3-pointer. Memphis called timeout to try to stop the bleeding, but Randolph had his shot blocked on the next possession and Leonard finished a 3-point play off a pick-and-roll. Conley then turned the ball over, Leonard did a stutter step into a jumper and all of a sudden it was a 20-point game.

Randolph, who anchored the Grizzlies' second unit all season on offense, scored six points on 3-for-13 shooting. Vince Carter, Wayne Selden and JayMychal Green, the three players who started next to Conley and Gasol, combined for 12 points and shot 5-for-17. Troy Daniels played 16 minutes off the bench and missed three 3-pointers, finishing scoreless. 

"We gotta find a third scorer, whether it's Z-Bo, who struggled tonight, Troy Daniels or Vince," Fizdale said. "Or maybe a little bit of all three."

The special thing about the Spurs is that it almost doesn't matter who's on the court throughout a game. Gregg Popovich makes sure everyone in his rotation has chances to play major roles throughout the regular season, and the statistics show that they don't depend on one star in particular. Leonard, who scored 32 points on 11 for 14 from the field and looked like the MVP candidate he is, is clearly their best player. San Antonio, however, still outscored opponents by 6.6 points per 100 possessions this season when he was on the bench. It also outscored opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions when LaMarcus Aldridge was on the bench. Unsurprisingly, its bench comfortably led the league in net rating, per NBA.com.

All of that is to say that Memphis has an extremely difficult challenge ahead of itself. If it doesn't figure out how to get more contributions up and down the roster, it will be in deep trouble.

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Vintage Tony Parker shows up for Spurs' Game 1 rout

SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs showcased a couple of key elements that eluded them in their Western Conference semifinal loss last season, opening up the playoffs Saturday with a 111-82 thumping of the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.

Kawhi Leonard matched a career postseason high with 32 points, while LaMarcus Aldridge contributed 20. Point guard Tony Parker had 18 points in somewhat of a resurgent outing, as a trio of Spurs defenders stifled leading Grizzlies scorer Mike Conley so significantly, the point guard knocked down his final shot with 8:40 left in the opening half, despite playing a hefty 30 minutes.

"They got after us. They upped their pressure," Memphis coach David Fizdale said. "They forced other guys to handle the ball. We went over it. We expected it. But we just didn't respond well to it. I thought Mike [Conley] missed some chippies in the paint. But give them credit. They really turned the game around defensively against us."

At times during their 4-2 series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, the Spurs couldn't get a bucket if it didn't come from Leonard. The bench, which often carried the club through its historic 67-win campaign, flat-lined at inopportune times, while Parker played up and down and left pundits wondering whether it was time for the Spurs to go in another direction at the position.

The Spurs showcased the opposite of all that against the Grizzlies, leading to Parker, 34, having to answer questions about whether he'd turned back the hands of time. Parker nailed both of his corner 3-pointers, hitting 8 of 13 shots from the field for his 18 points -- the majority coming on aggressive drives to the basket.

San Antonio's bench, meanwhile, outscored Memphis' reserves 39-25, as Pau Gasol, Patty Mills and Davis Bertans connected on six of their combined seven attempts from deep.

Parker also defended Conley for portions of the game, along with Leonard and Danny Green, who finished with four blocks and a steal.

"Just had some opportunities, just being aggressive," Parker said. "It was one of those games. It happens sometimes."

Similar to some of the nagging injuries Parker has sustained this season. The Spurs held him out to rest for only two games, and he missed another 14 because of injuries that included right knee soreness, a left quadriceps contusion, a left knee contusion and pain in his left foot to go with some back stiffness.

The time in and out of the lineup left Parker somewhat rusty and prone to an inconsistency that led to questions about whether the point guard could still get the job done.

"I don't know about that. I don't really read to be honest," Parker said when asked whether he was aware of that perception. "I've got two kids, a lot of work. I don't have time. The only reason I know is because of you guys, because you bring it up. If not, I would have no idea because I'm home. I'm up at 6, get the kids, bring them to school, bring them back. I don't have time for that."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Parker has worked diligently to get back into proper cardiovascular conditioning, and it's showing on the court. Parker flashed a couple of vintage moments against the Grizzlies, and he hopes he can continue to contribute at the level needed to keep advancing in the postseason.

"He's gotten back in shape as we said over the last couple of weeks," Popovich said. "He's done a great job in the weight room and on the court just trying to get his wind back. I thought he felt pretty confident tonight, and we love when he starts out defensively and taking pride in that. I thought he did a good job."

Leonard said that when Parker starts fast, "it makes it very easy" for the Spurs to excel.

"Him being aggressive and knocking down shots and just penetrating, and getting the defense to get an extra guy to go to him is big for us," Leonard said. "Not just me, but everybody. He gets us open shots."

Memphis opened on fire, taking a 28-15 lead at the 2:29 mark, but San Antonio reeled that in like a prized catch. The Grizzlies scored 30 points in the opening quarter, but it would take them almost 20 minutes to score an additional 30. San Antonio, meanwhile, outscored the Grizzlies by 42 points over the next two quarters, including a 19-0 run between the third and the fourth.

The Spurs made 8 of 10 shots during that stretch, as Leonard hit 3-of-3 for seven points and Parker added four more points. San Antonio also forced three turnovers during that span resulting in five points as Memphis went 0 of 7.

Conley started the game hitting 5 of 6 shots but missed his final eight.

"I started to get a rhythm, tried to pressure Conley in the first half and tried to make it hard on him, tried to stay in front of him," Parker said. "So it definitely got my legs going. Offensively, I was aggressive."

Marc Gasol, who led Memphis with 32 points, seemed to be the only Grizzly capable of knocking down the difficult shots. Gasol connected on 10 of 17 contested shots for 22 points, and the rest of his teammates finished 10-of-47 for 22 points.

Popovich now owns 15 career 25-point wins in the postseason, which falls one short of Phil Jackson for the most in NBA history.

The Spurs are now 29-5 under Popovich in playoff series when they take a 1-0 series lead.

"I thought we did a good job defensively," Popovich said. "I thought they made a couple of tough shots. We made a couple mistakes. They took advantage of it. The best part was the team keeping their composure, not going off in different directions, and just trying to do what we planned to do execution-wise at both ends. I thought we got better as the game went on."

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