Will it be an unwelcome déjà vu for San Antonio?

Spurs 2-0 Grizzlies tbc..

Spurs 2-0 Grizzlies tbc.. Pic: NBA.com

San Antonio took care of home court in contrasting fashion to take a 2-0 series lead over Memphis and will now look to avoid repeating their collapse of 12 months ago.

The 2012 Western Conference Final started with the Spurs taking a 2-0 lead against Oklahoma before suffering defeat in the next four games and crashing out of the Playoffs.

Tony Parker eluded to their ‘nightmare’ before the series insisting that making the most of their home court advantage was vital and that last year’s defeat has been a motivation since training camp.

The Grizzlies are certainly capable of forcing San Antonio to re-live their collapse having already reeled off four straight victories in BOTH rounds so far, beating the Clippers 4-2 before a 4-1 win over last year’s Western victors OKC.

However, things haven’t quite clicked for Memphis just yet and their opponents have taken full advantage. Their head-coach, Lionel Hollins can at least take heart from the way his side battled back in Game 2 to force overtime but will be looking for All-Star Zach Randolph to have more of an impact on the series.

The opening game saw the Spurs get HOT from downtown in a dominant franchise record breaking performance (see tweet below) while the second was the ‘Tony Parker Show’ before holding their nerve in OT to go two up in the series. And this time it was the turn of Conley to pay tribute to TP9:

“Tony’s great, one of the best in the league! The draw and kick was effective and when you have a player creating a lot of plays it just puts pressure on the defence,” the Memphis guard added after going 0-2 down.

A 23-8 start to the series laid the foundation for an impressive beginning for Gregg Popovich‘s side as their lead grew to as many as 28 POINTS. San Antonio only needed six points from Tim Duncan in the 105-83 rout while the Grizzlies needed a lot more than the two points provided by Randolph.

His fortunes changed in Game 2, and in turn they changed for Memphis. However, not drastically as Randolph started the game going 1-10 before improving to 6-18 from the field for 15 points along with 18 rebounds while his front-court partner (and DPOY) Marc Gasol added 12p/14r.

San Antonio were out-rebounded 60-46 and gave up an 18 point lead which resulted in an extra period but they had all five starters in double-figures while Parker dished out a career-Playoff high 18 assists. The hosts enjoyed more minutes from Tiago Splitter and 14 more points this time around following the Brazilian‘s scoreless effort in the series opener.

Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are proving deadly 3-point shooters for the Spurs which makes them an effective team from outside considering the strengths of Manu Ginobili and Matt Bonner coming off the bench. Memphis on the other hand, are not prolific shooters from beyond the arc and would much rather work the ball inside to either one of Z-Bo or Gasol and happily play out an old fashioned three point play.

The series is far from over and Memphis will be encouraged by their battling display to force OT in Game 2 while San Antonio will look to steal a game on the road to cast aside any lingering comparisons to their 2012 WC Finals.

Both sides will now get a few days extra rest as Miami and Indiana play their opening two games of the series and Duncan believes this period will benefit the Spurs.

Speaking about the break, the 3x NBA Finals MVP added: “It’s huge! Coming off the last game and now this physical series, we will be refreshed going into hostile territory. It will be a tough game in Memphis but we will use this time to be re-energised.”

Game 3 in Memphis takes place on Saturday @ 9pm Eastern Time which will equate to the early hours of Sunday morning in the UK.

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NBA Playoffs: OKC Thunder 1-4 Memphis Grizzlies

Marc Gasol leads the Grizzlies to victory

Marc Gasol leads the Grizzlies to victory

Last season’s runners-up were dealt a big blow in Round 1 when Russell Westbrook suffered a knee injury which ruled him out of the Playoffs. OKC had enough depth to deal with the challenge of Houston but were up against it taking on Memphis and the Grizzlies progressed to the Conference Finals following up their 4-2 win over the Clippers in the first round.

GAME 1: Memphis 91-93 Oklahoma @ Chesapeake Energy Arena

Kevin Durant led his OKC side to a 1-0 series lead with an impressive performance consisting of 35 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and 2 blocks. Kevin Martin added a further 25 from the bench as the hosts battled back from as many as 12 down to take care of their home advantage. Marc Gasol had a 20-10 double-double for the visitors who came close to forcing overtime but Quincy Pondexter could only convert one of three FT attempts as the Grizzlies fell short. The teams were evenly matched in the first half before Memphis threatened to break clear in the third as they established a 12 point lead following a 14-5 run. Derek Fisher and Martin both netted from beyond the arc at the start of the fourth as OKC began to close the gap. Memphis still led at 90-87 with just over a minute left but two jumpers from Durant were followed by a pair of free throws from Reggie Jackson to effectively seal the win before Pondexter‘s misfortunes at the line.

OKC lead the best-of-7-series 1-0.

GAME 2: Memphis 99-93 Oklahoma @ Chesapeake Energy Arena

Durant (36-11-9) came even closer to a triple double with another leading performance for OKC but his efforts were matched by Mike Conley, who had a 26-10-9 game to inspire Memphis to a series levelling result. After the visitors edged the opening quarter, OKC moved ahead by half-time after a 13 point second quarter from Fisher which included a perfect 3 from 3 from downtown. KD then matched his team-mate’s efforts with 13 points of his own in the third and OKC took a five point lead into the final quarter. The teams were tied on five occasions before Kendrick Perkins’ free throws gave the hosts a slender 90-89 advantage with 2:41 to go. Conley then sparked a pivotal 10-0 run to seal the road win before Fisher ended the game with his fourth triple to stop the rot at the buzzer. The veteran rolled back the years with a 19 point haul off the bench but Conley was invaluable for the Grizzlies while Gasol contributed 24-5-5 as they stole the series initiative from the number 1 seeds.

The best-of-7-series tied at 1-1.

GAME 3: Oklahoma 81-87 Memphis @ FedEx Forum

Memphis made the most of home advantage to take a 2-1 series lead over Oklahoma after another tense encounter between the two sides. OKC shot a disappointing 36% from the field while both teams struggled from beyond the arc. The hosts made a bright start and were up by ten in the second quarter but OKC recovered with an 11-2 run which helped build a 45-44 lead at the half. Gasol had a strong third quarter with 12 points which saw Memphis move closer to another double figures advantage before Durant ended the third with a triple to make it a six point differential. Every time Memphis threatened to break clear, they were pegged back by the Thunder and Fisher‘s triple tied the game at 81 with just under two minutes to go. However, just as it seemed the momentum was with the visitors, they began missing and Memphis held their nerve at the line, to produce a strong finish as they did in game 2, making 6/6 to seal the win. Gasol was again a key contributor for the Grizzlies with a 20-9-4 stat-line while Durant‘s 25-11-5 was in vain once more.

Memphis lead the best-of-7-series 2-1.

GAME 4: Oklahoma 97-103 Memphis (OT) @ FedEx Forum

Memphis recovered from a slow start to move on the verge of a series victory after defeating Oklahoma in overtime. The visitors made a fast start with Serge Ibaka and Durant combining for 16 points in a 29-18 opening quarter. The lead peaked at 17 midway through the second on a KD triple before the Grizzlies managed to halve the deficit heading into the break courtesy of a couple of late 3-pointers from Jerryd Bayless. Down in double digits, the home side built some momentum with a 24-10 spell to take the lead for the first time at 76-74. The teams continued to trade leads throughout the fourth before a free throw each from Zach Randolph and Gasol made it 92-90 with 10.9 seconds on the clock. Up stepped Durant, with the finger roll lay-in to tie the game and extend the game beyond regulation. However, KD would then go 0-5 from the field in OT while OKC were kept scoreless in the final 1:55 and Tayshaun Prince and Gasol  capitalised to secure a huge victory for the Grizzlies. The DPOY led the way once again for the hosts with 23 points and 11 rebounds while Randolph produced a similar performance but managed to grab an extra rebound. Conley had a team-high 24 points while Durant took the overall scoring honours with 27 points as OKC fell short down the stretch when it matters most yet again.

Memphis lead the best-of-7-series 3-1.

GAME 5: Memphis 88-84 Oklahoma @ Chesapeake Energy Arena

Randolph delivered his best play-off performance to help close out the series after a relatively quiet first three games for the Grizzlies. The 31 year-old All-Star had a huge game with 28 points and 14 rebounds to help eliminate the top seeds of the West. Memphis were dominant in the second after an even start and compiled a 14-3 close to the half to lead 50-38. However, in the third it was the turn of OKC to produce a strong finish to a quarter and a 16-4 burst helped to close within two points as they headed into a must-win final quarter down 64-62. A solitary Durant basket was their only addition to the scoreboard in the opening six minutes of the fourth as Memphis steadily increased their advantage. An 11-3 run gave them hope and even more so when Reggie Jackson nailed a three in the final minute to make it a two-point game. Durant squandered the chance to tie it up and Tony Allen closed out the game and the series with a pair of free throws. Conley dished out 11 assists to compliment his 13 points to round-off an impressive series from the point guard while for the 5th game running, Durant led OKC with another 20+ point haul whilst coming close to a triple-double yet again. Westbrook is often criticized for being too selfish but there is no coincidence of OKC’s downfall since his injury.

Memphis win the best-of-7-series 4-1. 

                   Top 5 players

  1. Marc Gasol 19.4 ppg; 8.4 rpg; 2.8 bpg
  2. Mike Conley 18.0 ppg; 6.8 apg; 6.4 rpg
  3. Kevin Durant 28.8 ppg; 10.4 rpg; 6.6 apg
  4. Tony Allen 10.0 ppg; 5.0 rpg; 2.4 spg
  5. Reggie Jackson 13.8 ppg; 6.2 rpg; 50% FG; 92.3% FT

Tony Parker pays respect to ‘underrated’ opposite number

Point duel: TP9 v Conley

Point duel: TP9 v Conley

Tony Parker claims San Antonio need to be wary of Mike Conley if they are to overcome the challenge of Memphis ahead of Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

Speaking after practice, Parker said: “(Conley) is a very underrated player and for me is in the top 10 for best point guards in the league!”

“He makes it happen for them, he’s a great shooter, has great penetration and you have to respect him.”

The Memphis point guard led his side to a 4-2 series victory over the number 1 seeded Oklahoma in the conference semi-finals, averaging 18.0 ppg; 6.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists.

Conley has been with the Grizzlies since 2007 and recorded his best points total/average in the regular season whilst making 100+ 3-pointers in a season for the first time having started in all 80 of his appearances. His next challenge comes in the form of one of the most experienced guards in the league.

Parker was the finals MVP in 2007 which was the last time San Antonio won the NBA Championship and the French international is also wary of the inside threat of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

“Obviously, we have to stop Gasol and Randolph but Mike Conley is a huge part of what they do. We need a lot of help on defence to stop them inside and we need to make sure we control the ball to limit turnovers,” the 31 year-old added.

The season head-to-head was tied at 2-2 with Parker scoring 30 points on two occasions while two games went to overtime as both teams were victorious at home. The Spurs were defeated 4-2 by the Grizzlies two years ago and also blew home court advantage in the conference finals against OKC last year, something they will want to avoid.

“It’s been a motivation for us since training camp and we have home court advantage again against a good team so we need to make the most of the opportunity,” said Parker.

Memphis have never reached the NBA Finals having only been in the league since 1995 while San Antonio have won all 4 of their NBA Championships since 1999. Parker v Conley will definitely be a key match-up as will the inside battle between the duo of Z-Bo & Gasol up against Tim Duncan and the help defence. Coach Gregg Popovich will also be hoping for further impact from Manu Ginobili off the bench.