Game 1: Saturday, 4/15 @ San Antonio
Game 2: Monday, 4/17 @ San Antonio
Game 3: Thursday, 4/20 @ Memphis
Game 4: Saturday, 4/22 @ Memphis
Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday, 4/25 @San Antonio
Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday, 4/27 @ Memphis
Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, 4/29 @ San Antonio
Regular Season Series Results:
The Spurs and Grizzlies split their regular season series of four brutally slow, low-scoring competitions.
Players To Watch:
San Antonio Spurs:
Kawhi Leonard: A serious candidate for the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player award, Leonard will be the best player on the floor whenever he's in the game. His all-time great perimeter defense is his calling card, but his biggest value in this series will be his ruthlessly efficient offense. He can score from inside, knock down shots from beyond the arc, and put the ball on the floor when need be. When offensive possessions break down for the Spurs, they can just throw the ball to Leonard and trust that he will bail them out as the shot clock winds down. He's getting to be unguardable as a one-on-one player. The Grizzlies don't have anyone that can stop him, Grindfather Tony Allen included.
LaMarcus Aldridge: Aldridge's production was down this season, but the Spurs didn't suffer for it. If he just does what he did during the regular season during this first round matchup--hit midrange jumpers, post-up against smaller players, and pull down a handful of rebounds--it will be more than enough to push the Spurs past the low-seeded Grizzlies. If his production doesn't pick up later in the playoffs, however, the Spurs could be doomed for another early exit. Look for Aldridge to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor in this round as he tries to rev his game up to a level that can push the Spurs through the second round and beyond.
Dewayne Dedmon: Every year, it seems, the Spurs unearth a guy who was playing a small role on a mediocre NBA team or playing in the D-League and turn him into a bonafide NBA contributor. Dewayne Dedmon is that guy this year. He'll see significant minutes starting at center in this series, and will have to make sure to keep himself out of foul trouble. His biggest job will be bottling up Marc Gasol for stretches, something he did passably when the Spurs met the Grizzlies in the regular season.
Mike Conley: Conley is the best guard in the league to never make an All-Star team. He's also signed to the biggest contract in NBA history, so I doubt that fact bothers him very much. In this series, he'll play some good defense, knock down some outside shots, and work a pretty two-man game with Marc Gasol in crunch time. None of it will matter very much, unfortunately, as the talent around him and Gasol won't be enough to win them many (if any) games.
Marc Gasol: If Marc Gasol is called Big Spain, why isn't Pau Gasol, Marc's big brother, called Bigger Spain? This is only one many of the tough questions we'll be forced to wrestle with as we watch Marc match up against his brother for a couple of minutes every game of this series. Of course, the Gasol-on-Gasol action is going to be one of the biggest draws in this first round. Still, don't let that distract you from the fact that Marc is probably the Grizzlies' only real hope if they want to win more than a game against the Spurs. Even if he doesn't do anything mind-blowing, Gasol is still a lock to whip a few head spinning passes and jack a joyful "Can you believe they let me do this whenever I want?" three now and then.
Vince Carter: The Grizzlies are almost certainly going to lose this series. If you're tuning in anyways, take advantage of the opportunity to marvel at the fact that superstar-turned-really-effective-role-player Vince Carter still plays meaningful NBA basketball at the wizened old age of 40. Carter has shown no signs of slowing down and given no indication that this season could be his last, but when it comes to 40-year-old professional athletes, the end could always be just around the corner. Savor this opportunity to appreciate his game while he's still contributing in a uniform. Hey, if you get lucky, he might even reach deep into his bag of tricks and pull out a little flash of that high-flying Vinsanity magic.
People use a lot of different euphemisms to describe games between defensive-minded teams that employ a lot of post-ups and don't get out on the break very much. Some might call them "slugfests" because all that interior play can get muscular and aggressive at times. Others refer to them as "throwbacks" because they look like NBA games from the 90s when post-up bigs dominated the league like Mastodons in the Miocene epoch. Still, others just call them "boring." Whatever you call those sorts of games, you had better learn to love them, because the first round series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies is going to be full of them.
Both the Spurs and the Grizzlies rank towards the very bottom of the league in pace and in transition as a percentage of offensive possessions. As such, this series is going to take place almost exclusively in the half-court. It's going to be slow, and it's going to be brutal. Ironically, this is the sort of style the Grizzlies were famous for in the past, and its the same one they've gotten away from in their first year playing a more modern and fluid style under head coach David Fizdale. The winner of this series is going to be the team that is better able to whip the ball around, shift the balance of the opposing team's set defense, and squeeze the most out of each game's relatively few possessions. The Spurs, deep with high-IQ players and canny interior passers, will without a doubt be that team.
The Spurs are all but a lock to win this headbanger of a series but don't expect a sweep. As overmatched as Fizdale's Grizzlies are, Conley and Gasol are still top-flight NBA players with considerable playoff experience. They're good for at least one bonkers game between the two of them. I have to give the Grizz a game out of respect for those tenured Grit 'n' Grinders, so put me down for Spurs in five.