The Western Conference Finals between the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs gets underway Sunday, and we are giddy with excitement.
But we’re 5/6 picking Western Conference match-ups so far — only missing Golden State’s upset of Denver — so this is our specialty!
Let’s do it.
In the Western Conference Finals, we’re picking Memphis in six games.
In a playoffs depressed by injuries and the seeming inevitability of a Miami Heat title, the Memphis Grizzlies have been the one moderate surprise.
In short, they have been the best and most consistent team in the West for the last month.
They were the best defensive team in the conference during the regular season. That has continued in the playoffs. They’ve played the top two offenses in the West (OKC and the Clippers) and held them both to significantly fewer points per 100 possessions than they averaged during the year.
But defence was never an issue. They’ve always been able to stop people.
The thing that has taken Memphis from a fringe contender to a true title threat is their offensive improvement. At a stage where points are typically tougher to come by, they’ve raised their offensive efficiency from 101.7 in the regular season (18th in the league) to 104.4 (the 3rd-best of any remaining playoff team).
Mike Conley has emerged as a playmaker and a scoring threat, Zach Randolph has finally busted out of his late-season slump, and Marc Gasol is giving opponents fits from the high post.
They still aren’t an offensive juggernaut. But being merely above-average is enough considering how good their defence is.
So even before we look at the specific match-ups with San Antonio — we’re starting with the assumption that this is a very good Memphis team that does one thing (defence) better than anyone else does anything.
Memphis has two huge matchup advantages:
1. Andrew Bogut showed what a dominant defensive big man can do to San Antonio’s offence.
Before he wore down in Games 5 and 6, there were long stretches where Bogut was really, really good last series. He was able to play Tim Duncan one-on-one in the post — allowing Golden State to stay at home on San Antonio’s shooters. He also did a nice job disrupting that Duncan-Tony Parker pick ‘n’ roll that the Spurs deployed in spades.
Marc Gasol is a rich man’s Andrew Bogut. He is the Bogut who dominated Game 4 — except he’s not injured and he doesn’t foul as recklessly.
Gasol should be able to handle Duncan in the post, protect the rim, and contest the pick ‘n’ roll jumpers that Parker has been getting all day long.
2. Thiago Splitter will be huge in this series, which is a bad sign for the Spurs.
If you remember, Splitter was so bad against Oklahoma City in last year’s Western Conference Finals that Popovich had to bench him. He was getting abused by Serge Ibaka (seriously) and both ends of the court.
Splitter will now have to contend with Marc Gasol (assuming Duncan guards Zach Randolph) on defence. That’s a straight-up awful match-up. Gasol isn’t a great post scorer, but he’s a brilliant passer and he’ll be able to take advantage of any little mistake Splitter makes.
This is the biggest mis-match on the court.
San Antonio is a really good team. They’re deeper than Memphis, they have homecourt, and they have good wing defenders who should be able to keep Conley out of the paint.
But where the Spurs have been generally underwhelming since that first-round walkover against the Lakers, the Grizzlies have taken their game to a whole different level.
We’re going with the hot team that’s peaking.
Memphis in 6.
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