Can Spurs stave off elimination again?
Five writers tackle five questions on a big Game 6 between the Grizzlies and Spurs
The biggest game in Grizzlies history? You bet.
Coming off a stunning Game 5 loss, Memphis will host San Antonio on Friday (ESPN, 9 ET), with the Spurs hoping to once again avoid elimination, as they did dramatically on Wednesday night. A loss to the 8th-seeded Grizzlies might cause the Spurs a lot of soul-searching, with some wondering if it would also mean the end of an era.
We've asked our usual mix of local and national voices to look ahead to Game 6 (and 7?) and tell us whether Memphis will be bouncing into Graceland:
1. What's your take on Game 5?
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: Game 5's impact won't be known until Friday. The fans will support the Grizzlies, who must shake off the loss and come out hard. With their Game 5 win, the Spurs have now won twice in this series, but both games came down to the closing seconds, and they haven't been able to defeat the Grizzlies in Memphis all season.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: The Spurs got lucky with some fortunate bounces and hot shooting at the end of regulation, but in overtime, San Antonio looked far more confident than Memphis and closed out Game 5 rather easily. I wonder if that kind of bizarre sequence will be enough to swing the momentum back in the Spurs' favor.
Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: Game 5 showed us the importance of having a coach of Gregg Popovich's quality. Down three points with 12 seconds left, the Spurs executed to perfection, extending the game and then running a play to get the tying 3-point shot. Popovich was able to milk three possessions out of the final 12 seconds, scoring on each one.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I loved Manu Ginobili's honesty as much as the miracle shots at the end. All of us chroniclers of history were ready to ladle on the superlatives about how the Spurs were just too proud to go out in a Game 5 at home and he tells us that the Spurs got lucky more than they showed the "heart of a champion." He's as good as Pop at the podium.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: Game 5 was exactly as it seemed: a Spurs victory born of guts and desperation. The Spurs are not playing to save the series or even the season. The Spurs are playing to save an era. It's not an exaggeration to say they bear the weight of history as they travel to Memphis for Game 6.
2. What's your take on Game 6?
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: Game 6 is the Grizzlies' NBA championship game. Either the team wins Game 6 or it loses the series. San Antonio realizes a loss in Game 6 might spell the end of the Spurs' glory days with Duncan. The Grizzlies need to focus on what they do well and not concern themselves with things they have no control over.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: The Spurs expended a ton of energy grinding out Game 5. On only one day's rest and having traveled back to Memphis, I wonder if they'll have enough to match the Grizzlies' energy, which is sure to be off the charts at home. Conversely, can Memphis (fans and players) control that emotion and avoid the nerves that accompany being an unlikely favorite?
Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: I want to see whether the Grizzlies are able to handle the pressure of trying to close out at home. In Game 5, I think they once again showed they were the better team. If they keep their cool, play solid defense and get the ball in the post offensively, they will be able to close out.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: The Mavs just showed us, with the way they dragged themselves off the floor to win Games 5 and 6 after blowing a 23-point lead on the road in Game 4, that sometimes we media geniuses overblow these "crushing" defeats. Don't be so sure that the young Grizz are just going to crumble now. Shane Battier's been saying it all series: Most of these Memphis kids are blissfully oblivious to what's at stake here.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: Some think the Spurs' dramatic Game 5 victory shifted the momentum to San Antonio, but I'm not one of those people. The Spurs have yet to put together a full 48 minutes of offense against the Grizzlies. In many ways, that's the storyline. Can San Antonio's offense finally break loose against the unrelenting Grizzlies D?
3. Which player will you be watching most closely Friday?
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: Zach Randolph has been the leader for the Grizzlies despite a lot of attention from opponents. The Grizzlies need him to establish himself down low. If San Antonio can defend him with just one man, then the Spurs will make it difficult for the Grizzlies to get easy looks and the Spurs will get out and run. For Memphis, Zach is the man.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: I'll be watching the matchup between Tony Allen and Manu Ginobili all evening. It's so hard to consistently perform against Allen's brand of tenacity, strength and crazy talk, but the Spurs need another big game out of the banged-up and assumedly tired Ginobili to force a Game 7. I'll also be watching Duncan, just to appreciate all the nuanced grace and strength he brings to each game.
Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: Tony Parker. When Parker is playing well, specifically if he is finishing in the paint, the Spurs are in the game, giving themselves a chance to win. The way that the Grizzlies are defending the pick-and-roll, they funnel Parker to the middle, so his finishing is vital.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Tony Parker. Finally came to life in the overtime period in Game 5 after the Ginobili and Neal heroics. The Spurs have been waiting for that Parker all series. If he can start hurting the Grizz, San Antonio might finally generate some offense. That's been a h-u-g-e problem for the regular season's offensive darlings. They just haven't been able to score enough.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: It sounds odd, but Matt Bonner. There are two storylines here: (1) will Popovich continue to tolerate Bonner's defensive limitations, and (2) can Popovich even justify playing Bonner, whose 3-point percentage has dropped from 45.7 in the regular season to 27.3 in the playoffs? If Popovich can't afford to give Bonner his customary 20 minutes a contest, who will receive his minutes?
4. Which team would the Thunder rather face?
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: The Thunder would rather face the Spurs. San Antonio doesn't have one dominant interior scorer, much less two, and San Antonio doesn't have a one-on-one defender the caliber of Allen or Shane Battier, who have given fits to Kevin Durant. Memphis also has too much inside for the Thunder, which is why OKC went 1-3 against the Grizzlies.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: It's surprising that the Thunder have only a combined 1-6 regular-season record against these two teams, because they would appear to match up well against either. My guess is that given how depleted they may be after a seven-game series, the Spurs would be Oklahoma City's preference. On the other hand, against the Grizzlies the Thunder would have home court, plenty of athleticism to counter the Grizzlies' strength and a significant advantage in talent.
Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: Memphis. Since Oklahoma City acquired Kendrick Perkins, its strength has been defending the low post. This is the Grizzlies' biggest strength offensively, and I just think the Thunder would rather face an inside-oriented team than an outside-oriented team.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: They'll never say so publicly, obviously, but it's San Antonio. Hands down. Even though the Thunder didn't have Kendrick Perkins for any of the teams' four regular-season meetings, they haven't forgotten that Memphis won three of them. And Memphis is playing at a higher level than San Antonio now. OKC's youth and athleticism has always bothered the Spurs. You have to assume that the Spurs would be even more vulnerable after the effort they'll need just to make it to the second round.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: The Grizzlies. Oklahoma City's obvious advantage in youth and athleticism would serve them well against San Antonio, and the Spurs don't have an obvious defensive stopper for Kevin Durant. But San Antonio's playoff experience, home-court advantage and seemingly endless ability to grind out improbable wins present problems the Thunder would do well to avoid.
5. Spurs-Grizzlies: Who wins the series?
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: The Grizzlies have the lead, strength in the paint, speed and a rabid fan base dying for a win. Experience has helped San Antonio stay in the series but the Grizzlies have everything going in their favor, including the realization that the Spurs needed not one but two Hail Mary shots to win Game 6. The Grizzlies win tonight.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Wow! It feels so unnatural to count the Spurs out, but I think fatigue catches up to them Friday. Memphis can keep the pressure on for 48 minutes, and I don't know if the San Antonio has the depth to respond. However, if they somehow pull through and score some points, the Spurs will be favored when they return home.
Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: The Grizzlies. Even in their wins, the Spurs have rarely looked like their dominant selves, and they seem to struggle getting into a flow offensively. With Memphis playing at home, I expect them to come in, play great defense, and get the ball to their two studs inside. I think Memphis closes things out in Game 6.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Experience and instinct tells me that the Spurs are going to win the next two and make sure the Manu and Neal specials meant something. But you know what? The Grizzlies deserve to be picked to win Game 6 after how well they've played in this series. If I'm wrong, fine. Would happily tip my hat to a San Antonio comeback. But I'm going with closeout Friday night. Just feels right.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: The Spurs are known for their resolve and ability to take a punch while staying upright. The Grizzlies aren't intimidated by the Spurs and they seem poised to deliver a stunning first-round upset. I think the Grizzlies have an edge in this game, but I also think the winner of Game 6 wins the series.
If the Spurs lose tonight or Sunday, does that mean the end of an era?
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: I believe the era is ending regardless of the outcome of the series. San Antonio can't continue to fool Father Time forever.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: I'd say so. The Tim Duncan era, anyway. I'll be curious to see where the Spurs go from here. They've been a model for building and maintaining excellence on a Big Fundamental foundation. Now, I expect they'll teach us a lot about building a contender without a dominant player.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Yes and no. I don't see the Duncan/Ginobili/Parker triumvirate contending for titles without a stud power forward landing in their lap, but write off the Spurs? Have you been paying attention for the last decade? They've reinvented themselves at least twice around Duncan. I'm not betting against R.C. Buford doing it again. That might mean trading Parker, but I wouldn't be surprised if they re-load again.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: If the Spurs lose tonight, it will be the end of their current championship era. Over the course of the season, Tony Parker has repeatedly mentioned that Spurs players feel like this is their last good chance at a title. However, a loss won't mean the end of the Spurs. The team is well-positioned to remain competitive through trades, a solid young core, good cap management, and, simply, good management.
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