NBA Playoffs 2013: Western Conference Finals Preview – San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

The Western Conference Finals featuring the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies begins later today at 3:30 EST. on ABC.

Here at STS, we previewed the series in a roundtable format.

San Antonio Spurs:

Most Important Player:

Jack Maloney (@jmaloney9) – Manu Ginobili. He still found a way to make an impact despite the fact he didn’t score well in their series against the Warriors. And as important as his playmaking is, the Spurs need him to score if they want to beat the defensive minded Grizzlies.

May 16, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (left) instructs point guard Tony Parker (9) against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in game six of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Spurs defeated the Warriors 94-82. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Sonny Guiliano (@SonnyCG) - For quite some time I’ve maintained the belief that in order for the Spurs to win an NBA title, Tim Duncan needs to resemble Tim Duncan from somewhere between 2003 and 2007. Maybe not for every single game, but Duncan needs to turn back the hands of time and deliver a few 25 point and 13 rebound games against the Grizzlies frontline for the Spurs to advance to the Finals.

Quentin Haynes (@Haynesenburg) – Kawhi Leonard. I think Leonard will be needed as a two-way player in this series. If I’m San Antonio, I’m throwing Leonard on Mike Conley in the fourth quarter to disrupt their offense. On the offensive side, I think Leonard needs to put pressure on Prince and Memphis’ other wings by hitting corner threes.

Vijay Shravah – Manu Ginobili. We know what Duncan is going to bring. We know what Tony Parker is going to bring. But Ginobili is the single biggest wildcard the Spurs have. After taking it relatively easy since returning from injury, he is going to have to play great to overcome Memphis’ other advantages.

Biggest Strength

JM – Their foundation. Coach Popovich, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker lead the way, and in their footsteps everyone follows.

SG – The Spurs have the playoff chops that the Grizzlies in large part don’t. They’ve been in this position before. This is the 8th time in the Duncan/Popovich era that the Spurs have been to the Western Conference Finals. This is the 1st appearance in the Conference Finals for Memphis in their franchise’s history, and only Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen and Keyon Dooling have been there before. It’s much more likely that the Grizzlies get swallowed up by the pressure of the big stage than the Spurs.

QH – Guard play. Memphis has wings, but the Spurs have Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, and Leonard; all three should be able to change at least one or two games in this series.

VS – Coaching. Gregg Popovich is the best in the business when it comes to analyzing matchups and making adjustments on the fly.  Lionel Hollins has never coached a Conference Finals, while Pop has done it a billion times.

Biggest Weakness

JM – Frontcourt. After Duncan, the Spurs are thin up front. Getting Tiago Splitter back is big, but the Spurs will still have a tough time dealing with both Gasol and Randolph. Splitter’s defense will be an x-factor in this series. If he can contain one of the Grizzlies’ big men, it will go a long way in deciding this series.

SG – This series ultimately boils down to three key matchups- Who wins the coaching matchup (Popovich vs. Hollins), which “Big Three” produces the most (Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili vs. Gasol, Randolph, and Conley), and what team gets the most from everyone else? There lies the “weakness” of both teams. Is there any guarantee that Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen, Jerryd Bayless, or Quincy Pondexter can produce offensively on a nightly basis? Absolutely not.

QH – Honestly? No clue. I don’t like their bench much, but guys like Diaw, Manu, and Mills/Joseph do the best they can in their roles.

VS – Depth. The Spurs role players and bench have not been giving them much this postseason, hence the struggles against a young and athletic Warriors team in their last series. Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, and Boris Diaw must make significant contributions to match the bigger and deeper Grizzlies.

Memphis Grizzlies:

Most Important Player

JM – Mike Conley. He was amazing in the series against the Thunder, averaging 18 points, 6.8 assists, and 6.4 rebounds a game. Whether or not he can keep this up while also trying to shut down Parker on the defensive end will be a big key for Memphis if they want to win this series.

SG – It’s a dead heat between Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. You can’t force me to choose just one because essentially, the Grizzlies need only one of their two front court stars to match or surpass the play of Tim Duncan for Memphis to have a very good chance of beating San Antonio. And as you’ll see with my pick, I don’t see this being too big of a task.

QH – Mike Conley. Conley needs to put the team on his back during this series and play Tony Parker to a draw. His ability to run this offense will be key to keep Memphis in this game offensively.

VS – Zarc Ransol. I think the play of the team’s two-headed monster down low is going to decide the series. Duncan is going to match up with one of them, but can’t stop both. Whoever Duncan is not guarding will have to impose his will in the paint.

Biggest Strength

JM – Defense. They have the Defensive Player of the Year in Marc Gasol (who somehow found himself on the 2nd Team All-Defense), Tony Allen (1st Team All-Defense) and Mike Conley (2nd Team All-Defense) all in their starting lineup. San Antonio is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league, but the Grizzlies have the ability to disrupt them.

SG – The Spurs waltzed through the 1st two rounds without Parker and Ginobili having to deal with defenders that could give them a headache. That won’t be the case against the Grizzlies. Tony Allen (1st Team All-Defense) and Mike Conley (2nd Team All-Defense) will be hounding Parker and Ginobili all game long, which will put the pressure on Duncan (dealing with Gasol and Randolph) and an unproven supporting cast to be able to create their own shots.

May 15, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) warms up before game five of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

QH – The big man combination of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

VS – Defense. With the two All-NBA defenders in their starting five, it is going to be very tough for perimeter creators Parker and Ginobili to get anything going. Tony Allen will probably be assigned to Parker through some spurts throughout the series. And there is little doubt who the Defensive Player of the Year will be guarding.

Biggest Weakness

JM – Three-point shooting. Over the course of the playoffs, the Grizzlies have shot just 31% from downtown. So far, however, it hasn’t slowed them down. But if Conley, Prince, and Pondexter can knock down some threes, it will be a huge boost to their offense.

SG – This series ultimately boils down to three key matchups- Who wins the coaching matchup (Popovich vs. Hollins), which “Big Three” produces the most (Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili vs. Gasol, Randolph, and Conley), and what team gets the most from everyone else? There lies the “weakness” of both teams. Is there any guarantee that Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen, Jerryd Bayless, or Quincy Pondexter can produce offensively on a nightly basis? Absolutely not.

QH – Offense, especially in the final five minutes. Memphis needs to have a lead, or be down as little as one to really win games. I’m just not a fan of that, and San Antonio has two wing players that could defend Mike Conley, and that could spell out trouble.

VS – Perimeter half-court offense. I’ve maintained for months that trading Rudy Gay was a bad idea, and the Grizz have sure made me look bad in that regard. But against a gritty Spurs team looking to clog the interior against the Gasol-Randolph tandem, they may have to rely on outside scoring from Conley and Jerryd Bayless. Without a guy like Gay, that may be tough. But they’ve gotten this far without him, so maybe it’s not a glaring weakness.

Series Prediction:

JM – I think this will be a great series, and I can see it going either way. I’m going with Memphis in 6, but not with a ton of confidence.

SG – Memphis in 6

QH – I have San Antonio in 6. I REALLY want to go in five, but I respect Memphis. I think the Spurs have everything needed to stop (contain) the wings and bigs of Memphis. If Splitter can give the Spurs 20 minutes, I think San Antonio is going to the finals.

VS – Memphis in 6. I picked against them every round so far, and I’m not foolish enough to do it again. This is a tough bunch that truly embraces the pound-and-grind style that seems to always win in the postseason.

Topics: Memphis Grizzlies, Nba Playoffs, San Antonio Spurs

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