By: Christian Dudley (@ChristianDudley)
The Memphis Grizzlies have found their groove after singing the blues in San Antonio. Which version of this Grizz squad will we see on Tuesday in Game 5 of their first round series?
Having lost seven of their last 10 regular season contests, the Memphis Grizzlies could not improve their playoff position in the month of April. This also killed any effort to gain momentum heading into the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
This was a major problem for the Grizz just over one week ago. They indeed began their first round series flat. It was worse than flat. It was borderline embarrassing considering the Grizzlies have been preaching championship desires all season long.
Thankfully they got back on track. Their last-ditch, all-out effort in Game 3 won them the key turning point they needed. The Grindhouse was jumping and the fans helped will the team to victory.
Though Kawhi Leonard was held to just 16 points in Game 3, it was inevitable he would return to usual form in Game 4. However, the Grizzlies and the fans held together and squashed the Spurs once again in the critical series-tying contest.
There are two problems the Memphis Grizzlies face now.
#1...Can they defeat the San Antonio Spurs on the road? With all of the momentum in the world at the moment...being realistic...a road victory absolutely must happen in this series if Memphis wants to play to their full potential.
#2...Will the momentum continue into Game 5? The Grizzlies have made such a huge turnaround, they absolutely cannot lose sight of their ultimate goals now. This band of brothers from Beale Street have come too far in this series to lay down. Though it seems they have not even arrived to the arena in either of the two road matchups with the Spurs this postseason, Game 5 will require a 180-degree change by the Grizz.
This is a lot to ask of the 43-39 Grizzlies, but they have shown all season long that they can compete with the best of teams the NBA has to offer. If you ever doubted them, their performances in Game 3 and Game 4 surely changed your mind.
In these two wins, the Big Three starting unit of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph have averaged a combined 64.5 points per game. Through Games 1 and 2 combined, the trio produced just 52.5 points.
Though scoring clearly is a small portion of the components of these playoff matchups, it is no secret what their magic has been. Big Spain and Clutch Conley have both produced 30-point performances in the series, but the real key has been starting Z-Bo. After all, the team is undefeated in games he has started in this series. It is safe to say Randolph will remain in the starting lineup.
Field goal shooting is another key indicator of which club becomes victorious. In the four playoff contests between the Grizz and Spurs, the winner of each game has always shot higher than 45%. The loser has always shot significantly lower.
Surprisingly enough, defensive statistics have not been a huge tell-tale sign for these two franchises. Memphis sustained a dreadful 22 turnovers in Game 4 (compared to the Spurs' nine), but still won by two points in overtime. How exactly does this happen?
Despite Kawhi Leonard going for 40 points, or Marc Gasol notching 32, or even Mike Conley torching the net for 30+, it has not guaranteed their respective team the W. All in all, it is the best TEAM basketball. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this series is the Grizzlies have bested the Spurs in the TEAM BASKETBALL category the past two games!
So what version of the Memphis Grizzlies will Grizz Nation witness in Tuesday's Game 5? The only chance the Grizz can pull off the unthinkable is if they continue with their tremendous TEAM play they showcased in Game 3 and Game 4. Anything less will result in a quick loss.
It really has been a series full of the good, the bad, and the ugly for the Memphis Grizzlies. Yet, this is the roster most suited for the ups and downs. They have earned their way to tie the Spurs -- a 61-win squad -- in this playoff round. At 2-2, it is now a best-of-three scenario. This series is identically orchestrated to their 2016-17 regular season battles with San Antonio -- splitting the season series 2-2 and neither team taking home a road victory.
San Antonio, owning home court advantage, can win the series without notching a road win, but only in the event the series goes a full seven games.
Memphis still has obstacles to hurdle in order to advance to the second round. They will absolutely have to take care of business on their home floor as well as swipe a road victory in order to call this a successful series and meet Houston or Utah in Round Two.
The Spurs are an incredible squad and play efficient and nearly flawless basketball night-in and night-out. However, the same or more could have been said about the 2011 San Antonio Spurs...and look how Memphis took care of business back then. The Grizz won 4-2, though starting 3-1.
More comparable, in 2012-13, the Grizzlies faced an 0-2 hole versus the Los Angeles Clippers. The squad changed their identity after doing some soul-searching. Memphis stole the next four games, ending the Clips' season and winning the series 4-2. This marked the best season in franchise history for M-Town, eventually advancing to the Western Conference Finals before being torn down by the unfortunately familiar Spurs.
Believe, Memphis. The Grizzlies can soon have sole control over San Antonio and this entire series. And if they do, who nows exactly how far they could go. An NBA Finals really is not that far away for these Beale Street bullies.
Tip Time: 8:00 PM CT
Location: AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
Game 5's line: Per ESPN, San Antonio is favored by 10 points.
Blu3 World Order's prediction: Memphis Grizzlies in 6 games.