It's been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but the San Antonio Spurs being a great basketball team should probably join the list. They're incredible.
In case you missed it, the Spurs won 60 games again. It was the 6th time in seven years that the Spurs had a winning percentage over .700%, the 20th straight season of a winning percentage over .600%, and they'll once again have a high finisher in the MVP race. They are, by and large, outrageous.
However, they're not infallible. They lost in round one vs. the Clippers in 2015 - a fantastic seven-game series in which three games were decided by four or less points. A Chris Paul jumper with 1.0 on the clock was the deciding factor in game seven, seemingly ending the Spurs reign. Of course, it didn't, but it seemed like it might.
Fast forward to today and this series with the Grizzlies was not a foregone conclusion in the same way that, say, LeBron never losing a first-round series makes the Cavs/Pacers series a foregone conclusion.
Memphis is tough. They've been tough and they'll likely continue to be tough. However, with no Tony Allen available to slow down Kawhi Leonard, they just don't have enough in the tank to hang around in this series.
How has San Antonio continued to dominate?
1) Kawhi Leonard
What more can you say about this guy? He's the 2-time DPoY, he's getting a substantial amount of MVP buzz this year, and he's by far the best player on the 2nd best team in the NBA. He has drastically improved at something every year he's been in the league, he's only 25 years old, and as recently as a year ago he was still driving a 19-year-old car.
Oh, he's also scored 69 points on 28 field goal attempts through two games.
I'll wait a minute for that to sink in. Kawhi has basically broken the mold for efficiency in this series through two games. 14 field goal attempts in each, 32 points in game one, 37 in game two. He took more free throws than the entire Grizzlies roster in game two (which David Fizdale took delightful exception to). He's the best defender in the world. He does everything asked of him.
At this point, there's just no stopping the guy. As long as he's out there, San Antonio is winning this series.
2) Force the Grizzlies to shoot
Gut reaction: Which team should shoot more threes, the Spurs or the Grizzlies?
You probably said the Spurs, the team with the highest regular season three-point percentage in the NBA, should be shooting more threes. San Antonio shot a ridiculous 39% as a team this year while Memphis was 17th in the NBA at 35.4%. In a statistic that surprised me, however, the Spurs actually shot them less often in the regular season than Memphis.
It seems illogical, and that illogic holds true in this series: Memphis has taken more threes in each game so far, which is not their strong suit. San Antonio's game is to get Kawhi into the paint and to the free throw line, which they've done exceptionally well (just ask Fizdale). When that's not there, they keep the ball moving and are happy to shoot threes at a high percentage.
The Spurs are also the 5th best in opponent's 3pt %, meaning that the Grizzlies should expect to be a little worse than normal against this defense. That's been accurate too, as through two games the Grizzlies are 14-47 - about 30% from deep.
It's a simple plan, but it's working so far.
3) Take care of the ball
San Antonio did not do a good job of this in game 2, which is part of why Memphis was able to claw back in and cut the lead to less than five in the 4th quarter. The Spurs turned the ball over 14 times while forcing just eight turnovers in the game.
When you have the best player, better shooters, and a better defense (all of which the Spurs have in this series), you can afford to make some mistakes. Game 1 was a little better, with San Antonio only turning the ball over nine times to Memphis's eight.
This has been a specialty of both teams this year, incidentally. Both teams force over 14 turnovers per game. San Antonio gives it up just over 13 times and Memphis averages just under 13 per game. So far, Memphis is playing much cleaner basketball from a turnovers standpoint, but they simply can't keep up everywhere else. If the Spurs keep the turnover margin reasonably close, they can expect to win the next two and sweep Memphis in ho-hum fashion.
Basketball is a simple game, really. The Spurs, while doing the things mentioned above, are simply outshooting the Grizzlies. It hasn't been very close, either. Through the first two games, the Spurs are shooting 50% to the Grizzlies 38.5%. It's just not going well for Memphis.
It's not crazy to think that the Grizzlies win a slow, plodding, foul-filled, defense-first game at home to make the series a little more interesting, but they just don't have anyone who can slow down Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs should go on to win this series comfortably, and they'll likely do it by pounding Kawhi, pushing Memphis to take 25 threes per game, and taking care of the ball.