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Can Grizzlies, Pacers Survive In Conference Finals?
The basic premises floating around the pre-series chatter surrounding both Conference Finals was “Memphis is really good!” and “Indiana can definitely beat the Heat!” I endorsed one idea while I laughed at the premature thought of the Pacers hanging with LeBron James. Well, you know what? We’ve got ourselves a pair of gritty Conference Finals series! So let’s get to these long winded breakdowns already.
Indiana Pacers +7 over MIAMI HEAT
Friday, May 24 (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Series Record: Heat lead 1-0
There are two ways you can take Game 1: either the Pacers reinforced the public belief that they are a great matchup against the vaunted Heat, or the last minute heroics of LeBron James at the buzzer completely deflated their confidence. As you can tell by the header of this particular preview, I’m going with the former. The Pacers can absolutely cover in this game and take this series back home with a tie in hand.
I think head coach Frank Vogel coached himself out of a Game 1 victory by pulling Roy Hibbert off the floor in two key defensive stands late in the game. No matter what, Hibbert has earned the right to be on the floor when the game is on the line. He would’ve absolutely challenged LeBron on that final possession when Paul George (who I’m getting to in a second) overcommitted on defense giving the World’s Best Player a clear shot at the basket. Sure, LeBron could’ve kicked out to Bosh but there’s a much higher chance that the player we formerly called CB4 misses a 12-footer than LeBron does the same one-inch from the rim.
Hibbert’s 19 points and 9 rebounds were a reminder that he’s a deciding factor for how the Heat play. Chris Bosh had 2 rebounds in Game 1. Chris Anderson had 5. You get my drift here. Keep him on the floor unless he needs rest. Vogel better have learned his damn lesson regarding his star center.
Now on to Paul George, who went from being a potential hero to a goat (the bad kind) in less than a minute. George is a fantastic player, but the nuances of his game aren’t complete yet. He led the team with 27 points, but made some critical errors late in the game as well. I hope he learns. He’s the type of player that’s easy to cheer for.
The triple-double that LeBron put up was the 19th of his career in the playoffs and you can’t shake a stick at 30 points, 10 dishes and 10 boards. You just can’t.
Where you can poke holes in Miami is in their cast outside of LeBron, Wade and Bosh who were all brilliant in their own right (except for Wade’s foul on George). You’re not getting 16 points out of Chris Anderson again. You’re also not going to be able to rely on Norris Cole or Mario Chalmers who were crushed throughout the game.
This is a bet of depth versus star power, and I think that the way Indiana is built is a perfect catalyst for an upset in Game 2. I wag my finger at Paul George but he’s on the verge of greatness, and the team is thriving around him. This team may not have used their depth to its greatest advantages on Wednesday night, but they know they have to rely on their own big four: Hibbert, West, George and Hill.
I’m not willing to give up on Indiana just yet. For my gambling sake, I hope they haven’t given up on themselves either.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES -5 over San Antonio Spurs
Saturday, May 25 (ESPN, 9:05 p.m. ET)
Series Record: Spurs lead 2-0
In a somewhat stunning turn of events, the Memphis Grizzlies head back home in a two-game hole as favorites on their own court. There’s no doubt that the Grizzlies can hang with this veteran Spurs team, but they are becoming an erratic commodity after those first two games. Can the Grizzlies please just get back to playing the way that they have through the playoffs?
You could tell in the first two games that the Grizzlies seemed overwhelmed. Maybe it was facing a mastermind like head coach Gregg Popovich. It could’ve been the weight of the moment as they entered the Western Conference Finals for the first time as a franchise. Either way, Memphis got away from their game plan and played frantic, frenzied basketball that was uncharacteristic of their past play.
It’s also not what they’re good at. Memphis doesn’t really have the personnel to excel in transition. Zach Randolph isn’t nearly athletic enough, and as quick footed as Marc Gasol is, I doubt that he feels comfortable moving at full speed down court. What has always made Memphis a threat is their willingness to go in to a dog fight and see what the other team was made of. It’s how they bullied past the Clippers and overcame the Oklahoma City Thunder.
We saw glimpses of Memphis slowing down the pace of Game 2 in the second half and the results were incredible. They obliterated San Antonio 54-39 in the last two quarters before being edged out in overtime. But that’s why this line begins to make sense; if Memphis can control the pace at home they deserve the respect of the oddsmakers.
Where Memphis is still a question mark is in their supporting cast. I want to like Quincy Pondexter but he lobs up too many questionable shots in the heat of the moment instead of deferring down low. Jerryd Bayless may be lauded by the other stars in his draft class, but there’s a reason he’s basically on a different team every season and his shot selection is a major flaw.
Still, the Grizzlies have a one-two punch down low that they can’t shy away from. Even if Zach Randolph is struggling, he has to keep persevering because he will absolutely wear down guys like Duncan, Splitter and Boris “Freaking” Diaw (honestly where do the announcers get off touting Diaw in Game 1?).
The reason I’m spending so much word space talking about the Grizzlies is because we know what to expect from San Antonio. They have lethal perimeter shooting and reliable scoring in the post, though their personnel underneath the rim isn’t nearly as lethal as Memphis’s. The one caveat is Tony Parker’s calf. It’s just as possible for it to heal over this long layoff as it is for it to stiffen up. Either way, I don’t have a dog in this race as a fan, but you and I both know what to expect from the Spurs – the highest level of basketball possible.
It should be mentioned that the Grizzlies are also 6-0 ATS, and are still 18-7-1 ATS in their last 26 games overall. They’re also a staggering 36-16 ATS in their last 52 games when hosting a team with a winning record.
The Spurs are a strong 4-1 ATS in their last 5 road games but are a questionable bet overall. They’re 4-11 ATS in their last 15 games after a failed cover and just 1-5 ATS in their last 6 Conference Finals appearances.
As I’ve said before, you won’t be an idiot to bet on the Spurs. They’re a disciplined, focused and relentless team. But I think Memphis is starting to realize where they have the advantage in this series. The logic with an old team is to run them out of the building, but the Spurs are not a typical team of old guys. Swim upstream with the Grizzlies as they cover and make this an actual series.

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