Game 5 Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

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An awkward jumper from the elbow ended perhaps the best game so far in these NBA playoffs.

Marc Gasol—in the final seconds of overtime—won the game for the Memphis Grizzlies (110-108), knocking down a tough shot over San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and evening up the opening round series at two apiece.

“He really stepped up and made the play that mattered,” said Memphis point guard Mike Conley in his post game interview.

While Gasol’s game winner will likely be the play that’s remembered, the real excitement stemmed from the battle between Conley and Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. The two traded blows all night, nearly matching each other shot for shot until the final buzzer. Conley finished the game with 35 points, nine rebounds and eight assists while shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Leonard matched him with a line of 43 points, eight rebounds, three assists and six steals while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor and 70 percent from behind the arc.

“The fans got their money’s worth tonight, that’s for sure,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in his post game interview.

The fourth quarter was some of the tensest basketball we’ve seen so far this postseason. Memphis went into the frame with a 74-71 lead after the Spurs battled back from a nine-point deficit in third quarter. From there, Conley and Leonard went to work, combining for 40 points (24 for Kawhi, 16 for Conley) on 14-24 (58.3 percent) shooting. The Spurs took the lead late—their first since early in the second quarter—with Leonard scoring the final 16 points of regulation for the Spurs before Conley sent the game to overtime with his patented right-handed floater.

The overtime period managed to one-up the fourth quarter in intensity. Tied at 96, Conley opened up the scoring with an easy layup against shooting guard Danny Green. After some back and forth, Andrew Harrison had a massive block on Patty Mills on a Spurs fast break, leading to a 6-0 run by Memphis to take the lead. Two extremely clutch threes from Leonard tied it up before Gasol hit the game winner just seconds before the buzzer.

In the final two frames, the shots from Conley and Leonard felt automatic, almost like you knew they were going to drop.

“Honestly, I’m taking suggestions on how to guard Kawhi Leonard,” said Memphis head coach David Fizdale in his post game interview. “I’ve tried everything.”

As for his own player, Fizdale said plainly: “[Conley] is a superstar.”

With the series now split, both teams are going to need their respective superstars to step it up even further and lead them to victory. Both teams also have plenty they need to improve on in order to win Game 5.

For example, the Grizzlies finished the game with 22 turnovers to the Spurs’ nine.

“It was a very frustrating process to see us turn the ball over that way,” said Fizdale.

They were careless with the ball all night as each starter registered at least 3 turnovers (Gasol turned it over a game-high seven times). Heading back to the AT&T Center, the Grizzlies needs to clean up their act if they want to have a chance to leave with the win; they won’t get away with play that sloppy in San Antonio. The Grizzlies also need to get Zach Randolph right again. Randolph, who led the team to their Game 3 victory, had somewhat of a down night in Game 4, posting just 12 points on 4-12 shooting in addition to 11 rebounds.

As for the Spurs, they have some issues on offense. Outside of Leonard and point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 22 points, four rebounds and five assists after an abysmal Game 3, San Antonio struggled mightily to get anything going on the offensive end. Aldridge finished the game with 13 points and only two rebounds, while Green finished the game with five points and shot 0-6 from three. The bench, the league’s best during the regular season, got outscored by Memphis’ bench 24-17. Manu Ginobili still has yet to score in the series. The Spurs need to find a way to match the Grizzlies’ renewed vitality, and that starts with Aldridge, Green and the bench playing much better than they have over the past two games.

Who Wins Game 5?

It’s pretty evident that home court advantage has played a massive part in this series; both teams remain undefeated against each other this season on their home turf. Since Game 3, however, the Spurs have looked extremely off-balance in the face of Memphis’ physicality. While Leonard and Parker stepped up in Game 4, their supporting cast was nowhere to be found.

However, a return to their home court should provide somewhat of a confidence boost for San Antonio. Like he did with Leonard after a flat second half in Game 3, Popovich should be able to get Aldridge and Green back on track as well. After another close game, the Spurs will head back to Memphis’ Grindhouse up 3-2 in the series.

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