Charles Barkley predicted that the Memphis Grizzlies would be the fourth No. 8 in playoff history to pull off a first-round upset. With the Grizzlies up 3-1 on the San Antonio Spurs, Charles is looking pretty smart right now. But as it is with all of Charles’ predictions, you can’t help but wonder if he really believed that, or if it was just Charles being Charles.
I’m sure there are also a lot of Grizzlies fans out there that believed in their team. No offense to them, but I take that as biased optimism. Maybe I’m wrong, but I wonder if those fans would have purchased tickets for the conference semifinals if they were non-refundable.
Me? I picked the Spurs in five. And clearly, I was wrong.
Now, I was well aware that the Spurs never played consistent, championship-caliber defense all season. And that Memphis (eighth in the league, allowing 102.5 points per 100 possessions) was a better defensive team than San Antonio (11th, 102.8).
But the Spurs still won 61 games this season with Tim Duncan playing fewer than 30 minutes per game. And they were much better defensively (99.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Duncan on the floor.
The Spurs went 2-2 against the Grizzlies in the regular season, but they were similarly better with Duncan on the floor, outscoring Memphis by 6.0 points per 48 minutes in his 96 minutes. Duncan’s presence clearly helped neutralize Zach Randolph, who shot just 40 percent in those 96 minutes.
So the logic in picking the Spurs was that, with more minutes from Duncan than they got in the regular season, they would be more consistent, especially defensively.
Of course, Manu Ginobili‘s elbow injury has obviously been a factor in this series. Ginobili missed Game 1 and has been relatively ineffective offensively over the last three games, shooting less than 40 percent for the series.
Our own Fran Blinebury is covering the series and wrote this after Game 4…
It’s looking like there will be at least another series and another few weeks to continue celebrating this delightful Memphis story that has hips shaking the way they did when Elvis was still living at Graceland.
But if the impending demise of the Spurs was, in a circle of life way, inevitable, certainly nobody saw the end coming with such swiftness.
“Surprising, but in my case I feel disappointing,” Ginobili said. “I felt we were gonna bounce back emotionally, physically after the loss of Game 3. But it was all theirs, that emotion, that edge.
“We went down 10-12 and our eyes couldn’t see the fire that would say, ‘We can make it.'”
The Grizzlies are the official team of the Hang-Time Blog. So rather than lament Ginobili’s health or focus on the demise of the Spurs, here we’ll celebrate what the Grizzlies have become, which is a TEAM in every sense of the word.
The Grizzlies are where they are mostly because of the improvement they’ve made defensively. They ranked 24th in the league in defensive efficiency last season, and only the Chicago Bulls improved more this year.
The Grizzlies’ offensive efficiency didn’t improve from last season, but they changed their ways a bit. For three straight seasons (2007-08 through 2009-10), the Grizzlies ranked last in the league in assist rate, assisting on fewer than half of their baskets in that time.
This year, they moved up only one spot in assist rate (to 29th), but their 5 percent jump from 47.9 to 52.8 was the highest in the league. And now, in this series against the Spurs, the Grizz are assisting on 58.2 percent of their field goals, the fourth-highest rate in the postseason.
And oh yeah … We can’t forget that the Grizzlies are doing this without Rudy Gay, their most talented player.
This series isn’t over, and we definitely can’t count out the Spurs. But clearly, some of us underestimated the Grizzlies.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.