The Memphis Grizzlies are in a do-or-die situation. They return to their home, The Grindhouse on Thursday night, down 3-2 to the San Antonio Spurs. After two spirited games from the Grizzlies, they lost Game 5 in San Antonio on Tuesday night. After the drama of the Grizzlies’ Game 4 overtime victory, San Antonio was able to respond with the 116-103 victory.
Looking Back at Game 5
Tuesday’s game was a game where both teams showed their offensive prowess, rather than their defensive mettle. It’s strange, isn’t it? The Grizzlies, known for their defense and criticized for their lack of offensive pop scored 103 points on over 50% shooting and 41% from three. Mike Conley followed up his heroic Game 4 with a 26-point performance. Conley was able to manipulate the pick and roll to his advantage. Danny Green guarded Conley, and he was unable to keep up with Conley’s silky drives.
Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were matched by the efficiency of the Spurs. San Antonio swung the ball, shot efficiently and had some strong non-Kawhi performances. Tony Parker chipped in a solid 16 points while his backup, Patty Mills, dropped 20 points on the Grizzlies, and was a remarkable +22 on the game. The Grizzlies played well on Tuesday – but the Spurs played better. NBA fans have probably heard that a lot the past twenty years – and that probably won’t change. (Coach Gregg Popovich also left a $5000 tip at a Memphis wine bar, so that’s pretty awesome too.)
Hopes for Game 6
Heading into Game 6, Memphis will need to bear down defensively. It’s well known how San Antonio has transformed into an efficient and athletic defensive team in the post-Tim Duncan era. We know. Kawhi Leonard still can’t be stopped on the offensive end. So Memphis will have to stop another breakout performance from Patty Mills off the bench, knowing full well that Kawhi will affect the game in one way or another.
The Grizzlies’ defense has to hold San Antonio to under 50% from the three-point line – one of the many reasons for San Antonio’s game 5 victory. Defending the three-point line, in particular stopping the swing passes that San Antonio uses after penetration should be a point of emphasis. The Grizzlies’ wing players need to close out and contest every San Antonio three-point attempt if they want to even up the series.
On the offensive end, Mike Conley has to continue to control the pace and flow of the game. Just like how Kawhi can’t be stopped, the same could be said of the Spurs’ defense trying to stop Conley. He will be asked to step up once again and lead his teammates. The rest of the Grizzlies played solid, but unspectacular in Game 5. Zach Randolph was held to only 9 points with only two free throw attempts. He will need to do his best to bang on the inside and frustrate San Antonio’s rim protectors. Marc Gasol will be called upon to defend Spurs’ flurries, but also act as the secondary facilitator for Memphis’ offense.
The Grizzlies should also look to exploit the boards. Their Game 4 win stemmed from dominance on the glass. In Game 5, Memphis lost the rebounding battle by one, and allowed 10 Spurs offensive rebounds. In a game where both teams shot well, every extra possession matters. The frontline of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green should be able to outmuscle San Antonio, usinig their girth and grit to give the Grizzlies a rebounding advantage in Game 6 at the Grindhouse. It ain’t nothin’ but a G thang.
And of course, it’s important to note the raucous crowd of the FedEx Forum. Both ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp spoke of the passionate fans in Memphis, and the pro wrestling entertainment featured before the game. Memphis won their previous two games at home, and will look to continue that in Game 6.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ Grit N’ Grind era was sparked by the team’s upset of the San Antonio Spurs in 2011. Six years later, the two teams face off once again, with a back and forth series that’s featured a little bit of everything. Memphis’ playoff hopes hang in the balance in Game 6. Will they be able to force Game 7 with a victory? We'll find out on Thursday night.