For a while there, it looked as if Marc Gasol had enough in him to make it his turn to lead the Grizzlies to an upset. His 25 first half points in Memphis’ Game 1 loss to the Spurs kept the No. 7-seeded Grizz in spitting distance of a 61-win team, and yet San Antonio’s stifling defense got in the way of any second half magic in what turned out to be a 29-point, blowout loss for Gasol’s team.
Gasol added just seven points, all in the third quarter, as Memphis called it an early night on Saturday. The dominance that marked the first 24 minutes of action, with Gasol making all the right decisions in a half that also saw Mike Conley score 13 points, was nowhere to be seen in the pivotal third quarter as San Antonio forced Gasol into what it usually does – makeable, but “go ahead and make it, guy”-long two-pointers.
That second half cannot carry over if the Grizzlies are to make a series of it. Let’s not forget, as ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reminded us on Monday, of first-year coach David Fizdale’s unwavering, go-to expression from before the playoffs:
“Marc’s light,” says Fizdale with maximum seriousness, “is very green.”
San Antonio’s light was a winning shade of green as well on Saturday, as they dismantled a Grizzlies team forced both by injury and limitation to move helpers like Vince Carter, Wayne Selden, and Troy Daniels into pivotal scoring roles. The Spurs won 61 games, and yet again we’re looking to the losers’ locker room for answers.
We always do this with the Spurs, all over the map.
Somehow Patty Mills’ legitimate Sixth Man award aspirations are less significant than that of Andre Iguodala’s, even though Mills’ work in that area helped push San Antonio to 61 wins. Here we are all over again, hands clenched in the same sweaty dance, wondering for the trillionth time why the loser isn’t pulling its weight in a matchup against San Antonio. Against a Spurs team that just started off the postseason with a massive, 29-point win. Never, ever giving credit to a team that has stayed perpetually in the championship (let alone “playoff”) picture since the fin de siècle.
I digress. Back to why it’s all the Grizzlies’ fault.
San Antonio did have the biggest hand in forcing Memphis toward its weak one, but Gasol cannot be sated with his limited, seven-point, 2-5 shooting third quarter performance in Game 1. Movement and pointed aggression – an ability to recognize what the Spurs are giving Memphis, and how to avoid it like you would Papa John at a party – are the answer, and not enhanced raw shooting totals.
Marc knows what numbers can get you. From earlier in April:
“Stats are great, but wins and losses matter. Stats are killing the game of basketball. Basketball is a subjective game. A lot of things happen that you cannot measure in stats. Different things matter. To me, the most important things in basketball are not measured by stats.”
Stats aren’t killing basketball, strawmen just tend to kill anything. No sane NBA analyst is on record suggesting that Marc Gasol is a lesser center just because he chooses to almost exclusively dignify high-efficiency looks with his time and attention. If anyone is telling Marc Gasol as much – the internet is a rather large room – then he needs to dutifully ignore them.
What analysts and, we suspect, coaches have done for years is suggest Gasol look for his shot more often, noting that even the misses can help open things up for his teammates.
The long looks help the perpetually-flustered Grizzlies in innumerable ways, within the team’s aging offense. Coach David Fizdale explained this in MacMahon’s feature on ESPN:
“It was about the residual effect on his teammates — how much it helps Tony Allen float around and do what he does in the paint, how much it helps Z-Bo on his post touches, how much it helps Mike Conley get into the paint and make plays for our team,” Fizdale says. “That was the biggest part of it, really trying to see how in a selfish way he’s being totally unselfish by adding the 3-point shot to his game.”
It isn’t as if this wasn’t considered, say, the moment it was apparent Marc Gasol had perimeter touch as some kid in Barcelona or some Kazaa-clicking, passenger side newb as a teenager in Memphis during the early aughts. Nobody is telling him anything new, in regard to three-point shooting, whether he’s coming off a 3-3 night (as was the case in Game 1) or an ohfer run from long range.
Just ten feet can make a world of difference. Even after a six-month regular season, Gasol still seems somewhat shaken when he isn’t able to work out his frustrations after what he deems a misstep by banging down low on the next possession. When the other team dares scoring a layup on him, Gasol in years past would prefer to get angry at the high post just a few seconds later, overseeing the defense from the most middling of mid-ranges at around 15 feet from the goal.
Now, instead of banging, he’s asked to run about. To set the screen that will lead to the screen which will free someone up for the screen that will give Marc Gasol – the 7-1 guy who can at times look like the best low-post scorer in the NBA – a 25-foot shot to line up for.
Gasol’s relative inaction wasn’t the reason Memphis lost on Saturday – the guy poured in 32 points, after all:
Luckily for all close to the whole of the NBA (the same league that gave a no-stats All-Star the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013) recognizes this. Mike Conley was forced into playing the hero with Danny Green draped all over him (after a first half spent blowing by Tony Parker), and he mostly failed, while the Grizzlies could not hang with its cast of 9th and 10th men masquerading as 5th and 6th men.
This doesn’t mean Marc Gasol shouldn’t continue to let fly. A Memphis Grizzlies win over the San Antonio Spurs, backed mostly on their center’s touch from 25-feet away, would not stand as a novelty. It wouldn’t be conquest by gimmick and it would certainly be something to be proud of.
And, due to Gasol’s brilliance and the alert recognition of his rookie coach, a playoff game won mostly on Marc’s shooting exploits would be something to build upon.
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