First, how about three claps for Matt Bonner? The Concord, New Hampshire stone cold unorthodox, New Balance killer finished the last four games of the Golden St. series playing no more than 7 minutes a contest because of his defensive liableness against the small ball Harrison Barnes cross match (Had David Lee quit it with the torn hip flexor heroics and Bonner would have never seen the floor over those four). Not to mention GS pulled a Memphis of 2011 and switched every and any Bonner pick/pop scenario, which meant the greatest sling shot jumper in the history of sling shot jumpers was made useless. Yesterday afternoon? Well, let’s just say I had an awkward Boner for Bonner (yes, awkward Boners for Bonner are kosher) because the man was the epitome of New England white boy, intelligent, work horse, ”I’m going to frustrate the fuck out of you with super effort when cutting, fronting the post and screening” style of basketball (Fact: If a native of New England grassroot hoops, you’d understand us white boys go HAM in mastering the intricacies of the game and thus play some of the more annoying basketball out there). Which all led to 12 points on 4 of 6 from deep in 17 minutes. A full on display of knowing how to stay ready in anticipation of your number being called. For all you discontented high schoolers pissed off over playing time, look to the Red Mamba.
Now, onto the topic at hand: Could Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan (I’ll throw Tony Parker in there as well although all praise of how spectacular Parker was is at this point old news) been more exceedingly brilliant? Prior to Game 1, Conley, Z-Bo and Gasol averaged a combined 56 points per contest throughout the playoffs. So what does Pop do defensively? Well, simple enough, he leaves room for two of those three to go off while making sure one lame duck has a terrible time. And as game film indicates, Memphis is predicated on a myriad of quick hit, hi-low/pick and roll action in which much of their post entry angles come from the top of the key. Against the likes of LA and OKC (teams who for loved getting bullied 3 to 9 feet from the cup), that action was nothing but murder as Z-Bo and Gasol were able to immediately seal and catch the rock deep enough to either get to the line or force defenses to collapse at will—Memphis has scored a playoff best 221 points off of post ups and Gasol/Z-Bo are getting to the line nearly 14 plus times per game combined. Thus, Pop simply throws an unfamilar look at Lionel Hollins: he fronts everything. Yes, everything; Even Tony Parker fronted the post when switching onto Z-Bo in the pick and roll. The result? Memphis resists deviating from their gameplan offensively, the once effective post entry angels bit the dust, one of Memphis’ big three was sentenced to box score prison, the 20.1 points per game off of post-ups turned anomalistic, not a single free throw was shot in the first half between the Twin “We Can Barely Jump Over a Phone Book” Towers (only two for the entire game) and a world was flipped on its axis. Try to lob it over the top? Baseline help came to the rescue. Z-Bo tries to play the game of inches in the paint with Tim Duncan on his back? Timmy fools Z by repeatedly pulling a Rick Mahorn (i.e. pulling the chair) as Z prepared to establish his base off the ball, flips the script by fronting him and once again baits the wings to uncomfortably throw it over the top. Tyshaun Prince or Tony Allen try to create a better angle to feed the ball into the post? Kawhi Leonard and his enormous hands and anticipation have ’em all too shook up and swarmed to do so in time. Brilliance.
Of course, adjustsments by Hollins will be made as a small sample size record of 8 and 1 after Game 1′s predicts bouncing back is in this team’s DNA. Defensively, the Grizz were the worst we’ve ever seen. Whether it was inappropriately jumping/doubling the ball handler in pick and rolls, inappropriately showing help off the wing to stop dribble penetration from Tony Parker or improperly rotating up to the kick back option at the elbow three extended off of pick and rolls that many a time forced Z-Bo uncharacteristically to huff and puff his way to closing out perimeter jump shooters, we were made hip to garbage on an end the Grizz are normally superb at performing on. But unlike the series of 2013′s playoff past, the NBA’s best defensive squadron has to adjust to a Spurs team that occupies every bit of the floor’s 50 feet in width. This time, there will be no standing and watching as all five guys pack it in. This time, Memphis’ weakside defense cannot key in on the strong side of the floor without getting punished by subtle weakside off ball action for corner/wing three’s. This time, the likes of Gasol and Randolph will be incessantly preoccupied and forced to expend energy (as you will remember, that was something that I mentioned they never had to do against Perk or Ibaka because Scotty Brooks decided to tackle the unexpected in predicable fashion. No wonder Z-Bo wasn’t lively enough to fight with San Antonio’s post defense on every possession). In all, last night was more than just a 20 plus point whomping; it was a reality check in which The Grizz finally felt the wrath of preparing for a champion. Writers can complain and scoff at the dearth of Z-Bo post touches and inability to establish the inside/out brand of basketball that has brought them to their first Conference Finals appearance in Franchise history. But without a solution capable of at least slowing Tony Parker’s dribble penetration onslaught, the road going forward looks bleak. Memphis Bleek to be exact (no one wants to be compared to Memphis Bleek).
Best believe Z is in Deep Thought as I write this. A wholeee bunch of reevaluating to do.