Friday, May 17, 2013

2013 NBA Playoffs - Western Conference Finals

One half of the Western Conference finalists is as expected, the San Antonio Spurs. But the other half has crashed the party, the Memphis Grizzlies. Now who knows if the Grizzlies would have gotten past the Thunder with Russell Westbrook, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that the Grizzlies are playing outstanding basketball, and in many people's minds will be the favorites in this series. That is because two years ago as an up and coming 8 seed the Grizzlies throttle the #1 seed Spurs in the First Round of the playoffs. Can the Spurs get their revenge two years later, and make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007?

#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies

This series will be a clash in styles and philosophy. The Spurs still have that tag of being boring but they are actually a fast-paced, high scoring team. The Grizzlies are a bruising, grind it out style of team. They win games by keeping their opponents in the 80s and low 90s. They dictated the series against the Thunder and Oklahoma City wasn't able to overcome the Grizzlies defensive toughness. The Spurs will have more reliable offensive weapons than the Thunder, who had to rely way too much on Kevin Durant. The Spurs get scoring from all of their key players, and when one guy struggles, like Manu Ginobli did in the Game 6 win against Golden State, other bench guys can pick up the slack, like a Gary Neal who had 12 points in 8 minutes last night. While the Spurs are much more offensive oriented than the Grizzlies, they do play good defense. They took control of the Warriors series as they eventually wore out Golden State's shooters.

There will be some great individual matchups in this series, highlighted by the Grizzlies Zach Randolph going against the Spurs Tim Duncan. Duncan has seemed rejuvenated this season, but might face his toughest challenge yet with the bruising Randolph. The other battle of the bigs will be between Marc Gasol and Tiago Splitter. This is where the Grizzlies have the biggest advantage to me. Gasol is such a complete player, and has more mental toughness than his brother Pau. He doesn't shy from the big moment, as evidenced by his series clinching shot in Game 5 against the Thunder. He is a much better offensive player than Splitter, and a better defensive player. Perhaps, Gregg Popovich will give DaJuan Blair some more minutes in this series to try to combat Randolph and Gasol.

The guard battle will be Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Manu Ginobli going against Mike Conley, Tony Allen, and Jerryd Bayless. Conley is playing the best basketball of his career in these playoffs and took the Thunder's Reggie Jackson to school in the Conference Semi-Finals. Allen made life miserable for Kevin Durant, and in this series he will be expected to stop Ginobli and Green from cashing in on the open three point looks they love so much. Bayless has been mostly steady coming off the bench for Memphis, which is important, since one of the Grizzlies weaknesses is their lack of depth.

Memphis is playing like a team that is more confident than ever and like they are destined to make that leap to the NBA Finals this season. Matchup wise they have the edge over the Spurs in different areas that I think will help push them past San Antonio. It will be a battle and should be a fun series to watch, but their leaders, Randolph and Gasol will prove to be the difference as the Grizzlies earn their first ever trip to the NBA Finals.

Prediction: Grizzlies over Spurs, 4-3


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