The Last Stand (Grizzlies-Spurs: A 30 to 16 to 1 Series Post Mortem)

Posted on 04/30/2011 by


Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred…..

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

For most of my adult life, Tim Duncan has been the dominant big man in the NBA. 14 Seasons, 4 Rings and he’s missed the playoffs only once in that time.Together with Manu, I could always count on the Spurs to give me a sublime basketball performance. I loved them and Tim for that.

But for me it’s a little deeper than just basketball. Tim Duncan is about my age. He’s from the Caribbean like me. He’s also the first great one whose career I followed from college to the pros as a contemporary particularly because he was almost a Celtic. More than just a player, as Tim became one of the guys I will tell my children and grandchildren about watching play he also became one of my guys.

I suspect this is true for a lot of my compatriots on the web. This is why handicapping this particular series was so hard for most. The signs were all there in the numbers but Emotion is a powerful mistress.

But father time? He’s undefeated.

Every good thing must end.

And what an end it was

Let’s break it down shall we?

We start with the Boxscore for the last game as has been the custom here for these playoffs (see here for detail on the stats therein):

Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol thoroughly outplayed Tim Duncan. No one really showed for the Spurs this game. Miracles were not saving San Antonio this time.

Now for some background.

The Half Baked Notion

The first post I ever wrote for the Wages of Win network (and in fact the first post written for the network) was about my beloved Celtics and how people should not be surprised by their success in the 2010 Playoffs against the Cavaliers (see here). One of the key points in the article was that bad minute allocation and inefficient use of resources doomed the Cavaliers. This led me to think about teams that were successful in the regular season but dramatic failures in the playoff which led to the Half-Baked Notion (full article here ).

The Half-Baked notion is this: what wins in the regular season is not necessarily what gets you the big trophy.

What’s the difference? Minute allocation & how wins produced are affected by that allocation. We continuously hear terms like playoff rotation and playoff minutes thrown around come playoff time. The funny thing is that when we use math and science to take a take a look at the data we see that the pundits may just be right .

The half baked notion tells us that a good deep team filled with average and above average players will get you in the playoffs but to get far in the playoffs you need your wins to be concentrated in your Top 6.

If we look at 2010 numbers:

  • The best two players accounted for 55% of a teams wins in the 2010 Playoffs.
  • The top three players are just below the pareto threshold (80% of the Wins)
  • The next three (4,5,6th man) account for the rest of the positive win contribution about equally.
  • After that everybody else actually hurt teams in the playoffs.

With 30 to 16 to 1, I focus on the top six players for each team that will make the difference come playoff time.

In the pre-season, I worked my way through every team in the 2009-2010 NBA Playoffs based on my half-baked notion about the difference between the Regular season in the NBA and the Playoffs.

But this year the WOW network is going to start with series post mortem first. We will look at each series thru the prism of Wins Produced (see the Basics if you’re new here).

So far we have:

  1. Andres Alvarez with: Bulls-Pacers
  2. Andres Alvarez with: Thunder-Nuggets
  3. Heat-76ers by Mosi Platt of the Miami Heat Index:Heat Produced: Breakfast by the Bay
  4. By Yours truly:Knicks-Celtics
  5. By Yours truly: Spurs-Grizzlies (recursion much?)

And three more coming in short order.

Couple of more things before we go:

  • The Championship equation (originally seen here, here and here). I’ve found when looking at all the champions since 1978:
  • Win 52 or more games (Houston is an aberration that can be explained in one word: Hakeem)
  • Have two star points (either >2 Stars, > Star + Superstar or > 2 Superstars) in your Playoff Top 6
  • Have at least one .140 WP48 player who plays PF or Center in your Playoff Top 6 (credit to some dude and we’ll call it the Suns Corollary)
  • A superstar puts you in the conversation if you can make it in and surround him some talent (credit to Neal Frazier and we’ll call it the Hakeem Factor or for this year The Chris F#$%ing Paul Factor).
  • The Measure of a Champion ( see Here and Here).A team need someone who’s done it before to win it all (unless of course they have Larry Legend playing for them and a ridiculous roster). Magic, Horry, Duncan,Kobe, Manu,Billups, Prince, Rondo did it on the first go but were playing with Kareem, Hakeem,Robinson, Shaq, Duncan,Wallace & Garnett (all bigs). So Howard needs that plus one to get it done (Lebron had it right).
  • Homecourt matters ( see here & here). Discount it at your peril.


Hard fought Series. Scrappy Grizzlies.

What I thought before the series:

The Facts: The Forgotten Kings . My preseason blurb for the Spurs: “The Spurs are the forgotten contender. I think the Splitter/Blair/Duncan combo sets them up for the future with a scary frontcourt. Combined with their ability to develop backcourt player thru the development team and they’re the spoiler out west. I’ve already said that I think they’re at least a three seed out west. I trust Pop to play the right guys (Blair) more. I think the health of Ginobli come playoff time will be the deciding factor in whether or not their run ends in the West Finals or the Finals or with the crowds chanting “Duncan Bumaye, Duncan Bumaye!” . Heh.

The Grizz are also very, very dangerous.

Win % @ Neutral Site: For season 52% Spurs, since All Star, 59% Grizz. About 54% for Memphis is my best guess .

The Numbers said:

Home Team Win Margin 46%
W4 4%
W5 12%
W6 11%
W7 18%
L4 8%
L5 13%
L6 21%
L7 14%

Grizz in 6

My Prediction: Grizz in 7. I think we get an epic series. I also think that this is were the Grizz arrive as a contender. They can’t win it this year but next year watch out. The Spurs will go out swinging but I think this is the worst matchup they could have gotten as their getting a team with vets (Battier), a superstar (Randolph) and guys with playoff experience (Trick or Treat Tony, Powe).

I got right but the numbers got it perfect. Even I’m not immune to maudlin sentimentality.

The Numbers Breakdown for the series:

The Grizzlies were 3 points better than the Spurs. Grizz were clearly better despite San Antonio having  Homecourt in their favor. Should have been over in five.

And it shows up in the breakdown. The Grizz were way better on offense and better on defense. Knicks beat the Celts on Blocks and Offensive rebounds and thus got more offensive plays. But the Grizz killed them everywhere else. A mismatch that bucked conventional wisdom.

The Grizzlies clearly won the battle at the 4 and the 5.  Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol where who they were all season and it was too much for the Spurs. Throw in Battier killing at the 3 and it became really hard for San Antonio to recover. The Spurs clearly won the Shooting guard battle but the bigs cost them the war.

What we learned:

The Spurs are not the team they were. We saw that in the second half of the season and we saw it here. Duncan is fading and Parker is not that effective. Interestingly they have some great pieces to rebuild around. Splitter, Blair and Hill have all played at high levels recently. A rotation with those three, Ginobli  with Duncan in a reduced role is a good thing to count on. Given that, I trust Poppovich to get therebuilding done quickly. But make no mistake, It’s a rebuild and they have stepped back to the second tier out West. They are now in need of a new superstar for the first time in over twenty years.

It had to end at some point

The Grizzlies are who I thought they were. A tough physical team with a very effective top five (and O.J. Mayo). Z-Bo is a different player. Gasol plays with an edge. As a celts fan, I wish to god I could get Tony Allen back and I would take Battier in a heartbeat.

Their upcoming series with the Thunder should be epic. The Crowds will be crazy. Perk/Gasol might kill each other. Probably first in a series. I’m giggling maniacally.

Still don’t quite know who I’m picking in that one (but I will have that for tomorrow) . On that note, I leave you with a final salute to one of the great teams of my lifetime.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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