I’m not gonna lie, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when J.R. Smith’s garbage-time three pointer bounced off the rim with three seconds remaining to narrowly avoid a garbage backdoor cover by the Knicks. Alas, the shot, like nearly everything that left Smith’s hand this series, came up empty, and the Pacers closed out the series and secured the cover.
Now we are down to the NBA’s version of the Final Four, and it has gone basically like I mapped it out before we started. Both the Grizzlies and Pacers have lived up to their value by advancing a round further than their seed suggests, but now things are going to get tough as they meet better teams who have healthy rosters AND home court advantage for the first time in the playoffs.
The Pacers and Heat will have until Wednesday to rest up for Game One in the East, but the West tips off today at 3:30 EST, so let’s dig in to this series matchup. (And though there will be no hoops columns the next two days, we will be back on Wednesday with a full breakdown of the Eastern Conference Finals!)
Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs -5 (Total: 182.5) – Western Conference Finals Game One
You can look at San Antonio’s clinching Game Six win in two different ways; you can be worried that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for only 13 points and worry that Parker is going to be facing a tougher matchup in Mike Conley and that Ginobili is perhaps, old, beat-up and tired… OR… you can look at it the way I do – they beat a confident, explosive team in one of the tougher arenas to win in all the NBA by TWELVE points and they did it almost exclusively with the play of their 37-year old H.O.F’er and a bunch of role players.
Likewise, you can look at Memphis’s sizzling playoff run in which they have won eight of their last nine games, knocking out a pair of team that combined for 116 wins… or you can see that they beat an erratic and less-well coached Clippers team and a Thunder squad forced to play hero-ball after the loss of Russell Westbrook. OR you can see a team hitting it’s peak by getting great point guard play, possessing the best interior in the NBA and playing as good of defense as anyone in the league (Chicago and Miami included) highlighted by THREE All-NBA Defensive team players.
This series is going to be fantastic, and it’s going to be ugly at times. That’s OK – appreciate the physicality and intelligence of these two teams and don’t let the small media markets (and likely small television ratings) convince you this isn’t an awesome series – it is.
I have leaned Memphis all playoffs long, and I am going to stick with them now. I think Conley has improved enough to compete with Parker in this series. He did well against Chris Paul in the opening round. The reason this is key, is that as long as Parker is somewhat contained, the Grizzlies have advantages at every other position on the floor. Even legend Timmy Duncan is going to have REAL trouble with NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol. Add in the smothering defense of Tony Allen closing out on either Ginobili or Danny Green/Kawhi Leonard, and the Grizzlies are going to frustrate the Spurs at times.
It reminds me a little bit of the matchup last year in the Conference Finals, where San Antonio had a better record and more experience, but in the end, the Thunder were younger, fresher, quicker and just a little bit better.
This will not be a quick or easy series, and I’m not even sure the Grizzlies win today in San Antonio, but getting 5.5 points, I’ll take them to at least keep things close, if not win it outright.
Free Pick: Memphis Grizzlies +5.5