So with everything on the line, here are three things that San Antonio needs to do to keep their season alive.
1. Play with some heart
The only spark we’ve seen from the San Antonio Spurs where they looked like they were in a groove, having fun, and bringing extra fire to the court was in Game 2 when Manu Ginobili returned to the lineup. The Spurs had an answer for everything that the Grizzlies threw at them, particularly in the 2nd half when it was tight almost the whole way. Instead of letting their late lead slip like they did in Game 1, they brought home a victory.
Sadly, ever since then, it’s been getting worse and worse. San Antonio went down early in Game 3, but their rally fell short. And then in Game 4, they couldn’t answer the bell in the 2nd half. Everything came easy to Memphis in the last two quarters of this series.
Although it seems out of character for the Spurs, I’d love to see some of the players encouraging the crowd to get loud, show some emotion when they get a break, even start a fight. I was surprised that Gregg Popovich didn’t find a reason to get tossed from Game 4, because it felt like he’d tried everything else to get something to work. If San Antonio can get a spark, then they might just have a chance.
2. Attack on Defense
Whatever San Antonio has tried to do on the defensive end hasn’t been working. The big men don’t switch off on screens, so the guards are forced to either go under, giving the Memphis jump shooters open baskets that they’ve been making, or go over the screen let the guards get into the paint, wreaking havoc and forcing the Spurs into mistakes that lead to easy buckets. San Antonio also isn’t doubling down when Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph get the ball. Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter and Antonio McDyess have constantly looked overmatched in the low block. They’re being left on an island or the most part. Guards at the top of the key will “show” that they’re thinking of double teaming, but are so scared of leaving their man open that they never commit one way or the other.
Bring the double teams. Force Gasol or Randolph to try and beat two guys or pass out of the paint. The Spurs know how to be quick on the defensive end and can adjust by rotating to the open men after the outlet pass. This could create turnovers and force Memphis to take shots that they’re not comfortable with. And the Grizzlies forcing things on offense is something we haven’t seen much in this series.
3. Take care of the ball
It’s not just making good passes, but making good catches. Tim Duncan, Splitter, and McDyess would have had easy points in the paint if they had been able to corral the ball better in Game 4 instead of fumbling and either giving Memphis time to recover or just turning the ball over and not even giving themselves a chance.
In this series so far, the Spurs have actually shot the ball well, but that’s because they’ve had too many empty possessions. San Antonio has turned the ball over 60 times to Memphis’ 51 giveaways.
Tony Parker had an excellent game shooting the ball in the first half of Game 4, shooting 7-7. But he had seven turnovers in the first two quarters and finished the game with only one assist.
Considering that Memphis won the first two games by six points and that San Antonio has actually outscored the Grizzlies in points off turnovers 69-54, it’s s significant stat. The only time Memphis was able to blow out the Spurs is when they had more points in transition and off turnovers.
So as much as Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and George Hill have been barreling into the paint, they need a functioning offense to support them. There were times in Game 4 where, literally, everyone on the Spurs offense was standing behind or near the three-point line as the point man had the ball at the top of the key. Trying to drive to the basket isn’t going to do much good and it’s tough to protect the ball when you’re surrounded with no outlet.
Execute those changes and San Antonio can maybe put a little pressure on Memphis to close out the series at home, or face a Game 7 back at the AT&T Center. If not, we might have to start talking about the end of an era in the Alamo City.