To suggest that Game 3 is a big game for the Memphis Grizzlies is an understatement. The franchise is playing in its first ever conference finals series and they have looked a little over-matched at times during the first two games. They are playing against a veteran San Antonio Spurs line-up that is playing arguably its best basketball of the season at just the right time and appears to be determined to return to the NBA Finals.
Games 3 and 4 are in Memphis, where the Grizzlies are hard to beat. A 3-1 series deficit would be extraordinarily difficult to come back from. That means that the next two games are pretty close to ‘must-win’ for Lionel Hollins and his team.
The Spurs needed overtime to win in Game 2, but they have to be feeling great confidence entering Game 3. They have actually been just a little bit better on the road all season long. They won two of three at home against Golden State in the intense Oracle Arena in the second round and they will back themselves to do something similar on the road here.
Game 2 was a perfect example of the balance of this line-up. All five starters hit double figures in terms of points totals. Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan are winning the defensive battle on the inside against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and that is a surprise. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are hitting their shots, while Tony Parker is running the show just perfectly. All of this has happened while the third member of the ‘Big Three’, Manu Ginobili, has struggled to find his game. San Antonio know that if they win one of the next two games, they will probably be heading to the NBA Finals.
The stakes are extremely high for the Grizzlies. The problem for Memphis has been that they don’t have the scoring to pull away from teams. They have looked just a little tired and worn out defensively and their effort is being matched by a Spurs team with lots of weapons and sound defensive principles. San Antonio are extremely balanced in terms of their abilities and they are matching Memphis’ aggression and determination.
A lot has been said about the need for Zach Randolph to step up and make his presence felt. However, Randolph has been the threat isolated and attacked by San Antonio’s defense. Duncan is defending the basketball to perfection and showing that even as a veteran he can compete with a prime player like Randolph.
Hollins needs more offense from his entire line-up. Mike Conley picked up 18 valuable points in Game 2 after non-showing in Game 1, but he was scoring more in the first two rounds. Meanwhile, Tayshaun Prince has struggled to assert himself in any way and played less than 20 minutes on Tuesday. Tony Allen shot 2-11 in Game 2 and looks seriously tired, which is a major concern on both ends of the floor.
The Grizzlies have had time to rest. They will have the energy of the home crowd behind them. They will need to step up and play a tough game against a Spurs’ opponent who looks hungry.
Betting Preview: Memphis (-5.5) vs. San Antonio
The Spurs are a tough opponent on the road, everything is rolling for this line-up from top to bottom and the spread gives this bet a very good chance even if the Grizzlies are able to win the game. Taking a six-point margin will require a lot more scoring from Memphis than has been forthcoming so far. The fifth seed are a lot tougher on home floor, but it does feel like the competitiveness of this series could take a hit with a San Antonio Game 3 win.
The Pick: San Antonio (+5.5)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 17-10