NBA playoffs: Grizzlies look to claw past Spurs to reach Round 2

NBA playoffs: The Memphis Grizzlies visit the San Antonio Spurs tonight for Game 5 of their best-of-seven NBA Western Conference playoff series.

Mark Humphrey/AP
San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan (21) looks for a way around Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33), of Spain, during the first half of Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, April 25, in Memphis, Tenn.

The Memphis Grizzlies are looking to avenge their four-game playoff sweep in 2004 at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs by winning Game 5 tonight at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.

San Antonio is a veteran squad, with their starting five combining for 52 years of NBA experience. As for the Grizzlies, they’ve never played a playoff game in May. So, conventional wisdom would have predicted a quick exit for Memphis.

But, in this series, Memphis has put on a clinic in quickness and opportunism. The Grizzlies led the NBA in turnovers forced per game (16.5) and steals (9.4). And, in Monday’s contest, Memphis scored 20 points off 17 turnovers, while stealing the ball 8 times.

Though San Antonio has held the advantage in the paint, Memphis has scored exceptionally well from the three-point line (42% in Monday’s game), and, as a team, made over 80% of their free-throws - which can be invaluable in the stretch when you get 21 shots from the line. The Grizzlies’ field goal percentage was also over 50%, which also bested the Spurs.

Looking at Memphis’s defense, the Grizzlies were 23-3 in the regular season when they held their opponents to under 90 points. And when they can hold Spurs all-star starters Tim Duncan and Richard Jefferson to a combined total of 6 points in 56 minutes of floor time, they’re definitely doing the right things. They also have the ability to turn up the speed against San Antonio’s old guard, as they proved Monday night with a 14-0 run at the beginning of the third quarter.

But for tonight, with their backs against the wall, I expect a much different San Antonio team to show up. They have a 36-5 regular season record at home, and as playoff veterans, know how to keep their cool in critical situations. Memphis’s job is to stay out of its own way by keeping miscues to a minimum and try to keep exploiting and converting San Antonio’s mistakes.

Should Memphis win tonight, they will be only the second eighth-seeded team to defeat a No. 1 seed since the playoffs went from a five- to a seven-game format during the 2002-2003 season – the other being the 2007 Golden State Warriors. But in the end, I believe San Antonio and its big-game experience holds serve and the series returns to another sold-out game (it would be the seventh of the season) in Memphis’s Fedex Forum.

[Editor's note: the original version of this story made reference to the Portland Trail Blazers instead of the Golden State Warriors]

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