The Memphis Grizzlies will try to force Game 5 and extend the Western Conference Finals, but they have a long road ahead to get back into the series. The San Antonio Spurs' offensive execution, particularly in the pick-and-roll, has pushed the Grizzlies to the edge of elimination.
The Spurs were surgical in their use of the pick-and-roll in Game 3. San Antonio averaged 1.54 points per possession when a field goal was taken by the roll man out of the pick-and-roll according to data from Synergy Sports. Memphis was disorganized while trying to contain Tony Parker out of those sets. They must do a better job of handling the Spurs' screens in Game 4 or Gregg Popovich will direct his team to pick-and-roll the Grizzlies into elimination.
Parker picks up his dribble and Gasol is in position to challenge the shot. The Grizzlies are in great defensive position. If they stay exactly where they are, they have successfully stopped the play. Parker has the overstretched arm of Gasol in front of him and Conley is in position to stop the pass to Duncan.
Conley moves away from Duncan, however, and Parker immediately recognizes this. What was once a broken play becomes a wide-open jumper because of Conley's decision-making on defense.
Parker's decision-making has continually broken down the Grizzlies' defense in the pick-and-roll. In Game 3, Memphis scrambled on defense while trying to deal with the Spurs' attack, which only gave Parker more openings to maneuver.
Here, Jerryd Bayless will go under the screen while chasing Parker. This gives Parker room to drive to the rim.
Conley moves to cut Parker off but doesn't commit. The Spurs' floor spacing is keeping Memphis honest on defense. Parker drives past Conley and finishes at the rim.
If their strategy is to have their perimeter defense go under screens, the Grizzlies' help defense has to adjust. Conley did little to alter the play because he had to stay on his man. Instead of using Conley to rotate, the Grizzlies should use their big man under the rim to challenge Parker. If Conley had stepped back and protected the passing lanes, Quincy Pondexter could have committed to protecting the paint.
Memphis did not have a consistent strategy to stop the pick-and-roll on Saturday. Their inconsistent defensive decisions were glaring as they made fundamental mistakes. In the previous play Bayless went under the screen, but here he will go over the top.
Bayless is able to stop Parker's dribble penetration, but Gasol is unaware of Duncan's positioning as he rolls to the rim. Tayshaun Prince and Zach Randolph are both around the rim, but again the Spurs' floor spacing prevents them from helping Gasol.
Gasol does a full spin while trying to adjust on defense, and by the time he is able to recover, Parker has already found Duncan for an easy layup.
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The Spurs eventually put the game away in overtime, outscoring Memphis, 18-7, in the quarter. Memphis' elite defense looked unprepared for the Spurs. Here, the Spurs again use the pick-and-roll to create an open look.
Ideally, Gasol should push up to challenge Parker. Randolph is under the rim and can help if Parker drives by Gasol. Prince is close enough to Tiago Splitter to cover him, and he can rotate over to Kawhi Leonard if Parker kicks to the corner.
Instead, none of that happens, and Tony Allen is the only defender to move toward Parker while he takes an open jumper.
There are adjustments that Memphis could have made to slow down the Spurs in the pick-and-roll. The problem for Memphis, however, is that it requires a consistent team-wide strategy. Each player has to know exactly how he will defend the pick-and-roll, and where he needs to be.
Memphis showed a lack of cohesion on defense as San Antonio had their way. If they allow the Spurs to dictate their defense again, Memphis will likely be swept out of the Western Conference Finals.