Sunday's Game 1 of the Western Conference finals was decided by precision and effort — the San Antonio Spurs had great, heaping helpings of both, while the Memphis Grizzlies came up lacking. The former was most evident in San Antonio's half-court execution leading to wide-open looks and knockdown shooting, with the Spurs shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and a scorching 48.3 percent from 3-point range, setting a franchise postseason record with 14 long balls in a 105-83 Game 1 beatdown.
The latter, though, manifested itself most in the Spurs' ability to stymy big man Zach Randolph. The 31-year-old power forward led the Grizzlies in scoring during the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, but was largely locked up in Game 1, missing his first seven shots, not getting on the scoreboard until 2 1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter and finishing with a whisper-quiet two points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes.
After the game, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley — whose 14-point, eight-assist outing was overshadowed by a brilliant game from counterpart Tony Parker (20 points on 9 for 14 shooting and nine dimes) — said Randolph came to his teammates contrite following the final buzzer, Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports:
"He tried to apologize [in the locker room], and we wouldn't accept that. We said, 'It's not you; it's all of us.' He's just saying that he's going to do better, but we've all got to do better defensively, and offensively we've got to move the ball in order to get other guys open like Zach and play our game." [...]
Randolph, who entered having averaged 19.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in the playoffs, was quick to take blame afterward.
"It's just one of them nights, first game of the series for me," he said. "It was just the rhythm of the game. ... But I've got to be better. Like I told my teammates, I've got to be better for them and we've got to be better as a group."
Plenty of credit, certainly, belongs to a Spurs coaching staff lef by Gregg Popovich that designed multiple different looks to fluster Randolph and a San Antonio squad that committed to executing the game-plan throughout the Sunday afternoon contest.
That game-plan included banging with the Memphis bruiser before he ever got near the ball, contacting him early, riding him often and pushing him out of his comfort zones whenever possible, and it began on the first possession of the game, with Kawhi Leonard and primary defender Tim Duncan putting hands on Z-Bo right away:
It also included Spurs help defenders knowing the personnel they were guarding and acting accordingly, as with Danny Green allowing Memphis guard Tony Allen — who A) attempted 24 3-pointers this year and made three of them and B) is missed 36 of his 46 tries from the slot above the right elbow this year, according to NBA.com's shot charts — to roam out high in favor of staying on Randolph's hip alongside Duncan:
Do your thing, Tony. (Screencap via Synergy Sports Technology)
Allen wound up getting a kickout and making his shot, but that's still a way less dangerous look for San Antonio's defense than Randolph catching in the paint one-on-one with room to operate.
Ditto for any shot veteran backup Keyon Dooling (5 for 16 outside the paint this postseason) might take, which is why Spurs reserve Cory Joseph basically ignores him and chooses to buddy up with Boris Diaw instead, shading Randolph away from the middle and influencing him into popping an elbow jumper:
San Antonio also made a point of pressuring attempted entry passes and forcing Randolph to catch the ball further away than he might like to, as you can see here with Leonard pushed up on Tayshaun Prince on the left wing and Duncan pressing Z-Bo deep out into midrange:
That's a long way away. (Screencap via Synergy Sports Technology)
But while San Antonio repeatedly did good things to mess with Randolph's rhythm and keep him from getting comfortable, as both Conley and Randolph noted, there were opportunities for Memphis to take advantage of the attention Z-Bo drew, and Memphis just missed them.
Take this mid-first-quarter possession, which took place after Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins — likely very aware of how Green was basically ignoring Allen on offense early — took out his All-Defensive First Teamer in favor of reserve guard Jerryd Bayless, a more reliable and potentially dangerous distance shooter. Well, "more reliable and potentially dangerous" when he's putting himself in a position to help, anyway:
As Randolph makes his move into the paint, where all five Spurs defenders are waiting for him, Bayless is totally wide open out on the perimeter. He's also kind of just chilling and walking back to the other end of the floor:
Kind of just chilling. (Screencap via Synergy Sports Technology)
... which might be a nice display of confidence in Z-Bo's ability to go one-on-five, but is also not the best way to help provide floor-spacing and make-them-pay-for-loading-up offensive pressure relief. Randolph missed the forced attempt, and the ball went out of bounds to the Spurs. (Bayless had a decent enough offensive game in total, going 3 for 7 off the bench for eight points and adding five assists without a turnover, but his on-ball defense also helped facilitate some of Parker's whirling-dervish destruction in the first half.)
Tayshaun Prince committed a similar error midway through the second quarter, when Leonard completely left him alone in the corner to help on Randolph — understandably so, considering he's 0 for 6 on corner 3s this postseason, just 4 for 16 from deep overall and 21 for 73 (28.8 percent) outside the paint this postseason — and Prince responded by not only not spotting up as a threat for a kickout, but actually pointing to Allen, seemingly suggesting that he'd be a better option:
'Pass it over there.' (Screencap via Synergy Sports Technology)
The result, as you might expect, was a turnover.
Randolph didn't do himself any favors, either, with the sure-handed big man dropping a couple of passes down low and failing to make his customary impact on the offensive glass. When Hollins said after the game, “When you're right at the basket, and you miss layups, San Antonio had nothing to do with that," he wasn't specifically talking about Z-Bo, but the shoe fit him pretty snugly, too.
Add it all up — the constant pressure and doubling from all angles, the high-quality work by San Antonio's bigs of forcing Randolph further out or fronting the post (as detailed by CBSSports.com's Zach Harper), Randolph missing chippies and a lack of effective floor-stretching from Memphis' wings — and you've got a recipe for a bad Game 1 and a big-time loss.
Luckily, this isn't anything new for the Grizzlies, who lost Game 1 in each of their first two series this postseason and came back to win eight of the nine subsequent games. And luckily for Memphis fans, Randolph's point guard says he thinks the big man's temperament will serve him well as the Grizzlies prepare for Game 2.
“He's not going to get down,” Conley said, according to Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News. “He's just going to get more angry.”
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