The 2016-17 season has come to an end and the playoffs are officially upon us. In the Western Conference, the second seed San Antonio Spurs will take on the seventh seed Memphis Grizzlies. While the Spurs are favored in this series, there is a lot of postseason history between these two squads that should make this matchup interesting. Additionally, it should be noted that the Grizzlies held their own in the regular season, splitting the season series 2-2. Here is a preview:
#2 — San Antonio Spurs
Led by MVP candidate and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs will look to make quick work of the Western Conference and return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014. However, a familiar foe stands in their way: Memphis.
The Spurs and the Grizzlies have matched up in the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons, including the stunning eight-seed upset pulled off by Memphis back in 2011. There’s a lot of history here and the Spurs are going to have to overcome that if they want to advance to the next round.
If the Spurs impose and maintain their brand of basketball — hard-nosed defense and top flight offense — they should have a very good chance of advancing to the second round. The Spurs are the only team other than the Golden State Warriors to be ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, averaging 111.1 and 103.5 per 100 possessions, respectively. Furthermore, the Spurs should also have an advantage in terms of depth. San Antonio led the league in Aggregate Bench Net Rating (ABNR) with a score of +8.9, according to NBA.com, so the bench will likely play a vital role in this series. Something else to watch for is how the team will handle the loss of veteran leader Tim Duncan. Duncan, who retired at the end of last season, played a vital role for the team even though his stats may not have shown it. A five-time champion and three-time NBA Finals MVP, Duncan’s postseason experience and leadership could be something the Spurs miss this postseason.
#7 — Memphis Grizzlies
Is Grit & Grind still the mantra of the Memphis Grizzlies? You bet it is. Even with bulldog Zach Randolph taking on a bench role this season, the Grizzlies ranked seventh in the league in defensive rating, surrendering 107.1 points per 100 possessions, while also playing at third-slowest pace (92.3 possessions per 48 minutes). However, Memphis is really going to have to kick it into high gear in order to challenge San Antonio. Yes, the Grizzlies have history with the Spurs in the playoffs. However, since that miraculous upset in 2011, Memphis is 0-2 against San Antonio in the postseason — they were swept in the 2012-13 Conference Finals in addition to last season’s opening round.
One big difference maker for the Grizzlies in this series, other than their improved health over recent seasons, will be head coach David Fizdale. Then an assistant for the Miami HEAT, Fizdale faced off against the Spurs twice in the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. He has seen what the Spurs can do in the postseason, which may help him prepare a solid gameplan and adjust his strategies effectively in this series. Fizdale will likely have to do this without the services of Tony Allen, who is out indefinitely with a calf strain.
If the Grizzlies want to win, they’re going to have to slow down Kawhi Leonard, plain and simple. The team runs through Leonard on both ends of the floor, so making life hard for Leonard will be key in this matchup. If they can manage to lock up Leonard for prolonged stretches, Memphis could find themselves in a surprisingly good position in this series.
Who Wins Game One?
At home in the AT&T Center, the Spurs take the lead early and play suffocating defense down the stretch to take Game One.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
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