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April 26, 2011
Playoff Prospectus
Joys of Youth

by Bradford Doolittle

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at Memphis 104, San Antonio 86 (Memphis leads series 3-1)
Pace: 86.1
Offensive Ratings: Memphis 120.8, San Antonio 99.9

The series' pivotal game began more or less like you'd anticipate. The battle-tested Spurs stepped up their game, shooting 55.3 percent from the floor in the first half. Tony Parker scored 19 points on 7-of-7 shooting. San Antonio got just two points from Tim Duncan, but still out-scored Memphis in the paint and did a reasonably good job of keeping everyone but Marc Gasol off the offensive glass. Nevertheless, the Spurs could not shake Memphis. Parker shot well, but committed five turnovers. The Grizzlies were getting offensive contributions from up and down the roster--Greivis Vasquez even stepped up to contribute seven points off the bench. Despite their offensive efficiency, the Spurs led by just two at the break.

Nothing we saw in the first half prepared for what we saw after halftime. Memphis scored the first 14 points of the third quarter. The Grizzlies were on the attack, getting eight of those points at the foul line and forcing three turnovers. The Spurs missed five straight shots, two in the lane, two three-pointers and a midrange jumper. Parker finally hit a layup with 7:23 to go in the period, but it was just a blip for the Grizzlies. Memphis led by 13 at the end of the quarter and eventually by as many as 24 points. Gregg Popovich pulled the plug at the 5:43 mark of the fourth, opting to rest his veterans for Thursday's Game Five. All told, the Grizzlies shot 55 percent after halftime and outscored the Spurs 13-0 off turnovers. Simply put, Memphis made San Antonio look old.

The Grizzlies' 120.8 Offensive Rating was the best either team has posted in the series. It was also the series' slowest-paced game, which surprisingly seems to favor Memphis and its deep contingent of big men. Zach Randolph and Gasol combined for just 20 points and, as ESPN's Marc Stein pointed out, neither got a single touch after the 2:43 mark of the third period. Meanwhile, Darrell Arthur's coming-out party continued with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Don't be surprised--Arthur averaged 18.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per 40 minutes this season, and put up a .534 True Shooting Percentage on a .218 usage rate. He's the perfect third big man to pair with Randolph and Gasol. Also, the Memphis second unit soundly thumped its San Antonio counterparts, as evidenced by the plus-minus numbers of Shane Battier (+16), O.J. Mayo (+15), Arthur (+13) and Vasquez (+14).

Of course, the Memphis starters outplayed San Antonio's starters as well, which is particularly worrisome for a team that relies so much on a core trio. Duncan had six points and seven rebounds and shot 3-of-7 from the field. Manu Ginobili shot 5-of-13. Parker scored just four points after halftime and had just one assist in the game. Memphis continued to get away with single coverage in the post and the San Antonio three-point shooters couldn't get loose, going just 5-of-18 from behind the arc. Duncan's numbers against Memphis are pedestrian and the Spurs have been outscored in the series with him on the floor. We're talking about San Antonio's franchise player here, the guy that was handled with kid gloves all season just so he'd be ready to step it up in the spring. So far, it hasn't happened.

Anybody that writes off the Spurs at this point would be foolish to do so. However, that doesn't mean the San Antonio isn't teetering. The Spurs' defense has been mostly fine in the series, though it certainly wasn't on Monday. However, San Antonio has got to figure out how to solve Memphis' defensive riddle. The Spurs have posted a .464 eFG% in the series and a 103.9 Offensive Rating. San Antonio is 20-of-65 (30.8 percent) on threes in the four games after leading the league in three-point accuracy during the regular season. Parker's success in penetrating during the first part of Monday's game wasn't enough to convince Lionel Hollins to allow his defenders to sag. No, the only thing that is going to do the trick is for a post player to go off for big numbers. We all know whom I'm referring to and at this point in the series, I've seen no evidence that Mr. Duncan is up to the challenge. With Ginobili struggling with through physical woes, the Spurs have to get a big game from Duncan on Thursday or this series may never get back to Memphis.

at Denver 104, Oklahoma City 101 (Oklahoma City leads series 3-1)
Pace: 92.6
Offensive Ratings: Denver 112.3, Oklahoma City 109.0

Once again, it came down to a mildly-controversial desperation shot, but the Nuggets staved off elimination by holding off the hard-charging Thunder and sending the series back to Oklahoma City. And it's kind of nice that this series, that we thought would be so tight, is alive. The Nuggets just seem like too good of a team to be swept out of the first round. It's not a very analytical thing to write and there certainly have been better teams to be swept than Denver, but now we get a chance to see if the Nuggets can steal a game in a hostile environment and really make this series interesting.

The defenses ruled the first half of Monday's see-saw battle, which was tied 45-45 at the break. The offenses, and the pace, perked up after halftime and Denver used grit and hustle to overcome shoddy shooting. Denver shot just 35.7 percent from the floor in the second half, but hit 7-of-13 threes and 22-of-30 from the foul line. The Nuggets held a 13-4 edge in second-chance points and a 14-6 advantage in points off turnovers. Still, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 42 second-half points to keep the Thunder close and Durant scored 16 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter alone. OKC came up short when Westbrook missed a 35-foot heave at the buzzer, during which his legs were brushed by Denver's Kenyon Martin. That led to a post-buzzer tirade from Westbrook that was very much like the one staged by J.R. Smith at the end of Game Three.

The Nuggets' offense found a focal point in Ty Lawson, who scored 27 points in 36 minutes on 8-of-16 shooting. He again teamed well with Ray Felton, even though the latter had an off shooting night (2-of-10). Lawson scored 13 points in the final period, and was aided by a big finish by Danilo Gallinari, who scored 18 points on the night and hit key shots down the stretch. With Denver finding better luck with small configurations, Wilson Chandler has become the odd man out, playing just 8:26 and going scoreless on Monday.

Oklahoma City can't be too concerned with losing a one-possession game to a desperate team on its home floor, especially since they are still up 3-1. The Nuggets had the Thunder defense on its heels a bit with their constant attacking off the dribble, but that'll happen when a team is up against the wall. There has been a lot of talk today about Westbrook taking 30 shots in the game. It's not so much the number as it was the fact that there seemed to be a lot of instances when Westbrook forced up a shot at the expense of an open spot-up shooter. It's something to watch for, but if it's really a problem, Scott Brooks should be able to correct it with a little light film study.

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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