Spurs fans have every reason to feel confident right now. San Antonio swiftly dispatched the Lakers, a perennial powerhouse, and then quelled the uprising and youthful Warriors, a team which appears poised to contend in the West for year...
Spurs fans have every reason to feel confident right now. San Antonio swiftly dispatched the Lakers, a perennial powerhouse, and then quelled the uprising and youthful Warriors, a team which appears poised to contend in the West for years to come. The Spurs accomplished all of this through familiar means: systematic offense and suppressive defense, dropping only two games out of ten en route to a second straight Western Conference Finals showdown with a relatively familiar pseudo-rival.
The Spurs and the Grizzlies are not rivals in the purest sense of the word. Tim Duncan and Zach Randolph haven't, and never would, fasten their fingers around the each other's necks, a la Bird-Erving. The teams have only clashed in one playoff series with rosters remotely similar to what they are now (The Spurs swept the Grizz in the 2004 first round. Not a single player on that Memphis roster still plays in "The Bluff City"), but that 2011 series sure was a doozy.
While this matchup will never rival those Spurs-Mavericks/Suns tilts when each of those teams was in its prime, the sting from 2011 still lingers for many fans. That unceremonious first-round loss, only the third time in NBA history that an 8-seed defeated a 1-seed, was a serious gut-punch to the people of San Antonio. Most feel some combination of visceral dread and confident optimism, in varying degrees, heading in to a series with the physical Grizzlies. With a second straight chance to earn a spot in the Finals, however, those who wear Silver and Black would love nothing more than sweet, sweet revenge and a chance to dethrone King James.
What's Different Now?
Let's come back a minute to that sense of "visceral dread" we talked about earlier. Why are Spurs fans so scared of the Grizzlies? I'll tell you why. Because everybody remembers how Mike Conley subjugated Tony Parker, imposing his defensive will on the fulcrum of the Spurs offense. Everybody remembers that Zach Randolph never missed for the whole series. Everybody remembers that the Spurs shouldn't even have won two games, avoiding the Gentleman's sweep only through improbable heroics from Gary Neal and Manu Ginobili in Game 5. It was complete domination by the Grizzlies from start to finish, and it left most Spurs fans in a depressive offseason stupor.
Fortunately, the guys from SA who will step out on the court on Sunday afternoon have a selective memory, and they know things have changed. This is a new series in a new year, with tweaked rosters, reborn players and shifted mentalities. Neither coach is game-planning for the respective opposing teams from two years ago. The series may display the same brand of grinding drudgery with which the Spurs of the aughts were well acquainted, but after a few years "lost at D," the Spurs have righted the ship and are prepared to treat national audiences to a great defensive series.
Roster Changes: The Ins and Outs
Each team has made some noteworthy roster changes in the last two years. Below are the playoff rotation players who have left or joined each roster since 2011.
There are some significant changes over the span of two years. While the core of each team remains intact, the surrounding cast is largely different. The Spurs ditched Richard Jefferson (who finally managed to help us win a playoff game via two wonderfully missed free throws), Antonio McDyess and George Hill. The loss of Hill certainly hurts the most, as the Pacers are now discovering following his concussion in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semis. Even two years ago, George Hill was a great defender who could create his own shots. When Manu joined the starting lineup in Game 2 of the 2011 fir