How could a team that plays physical, interior basketball somehow manage to wind up with only 15 free throws in a playoff game? Isn’t that precisely why you play that brand of basketball? To get to the line? Did the refs decide to swallow their whistles in the interest of provoking fights between old dudes and young whippersnappers? Are there rules? Is this Nam? When you’re talking about Game 2 of the Spurs-Grizzlies series, it’s safe to assume that loose officiating wasn’t the culprit, as Dan Crawford, Rodney Mott and Bill Spooner managed to send San Antonio to the line more that twice as many times. By the end of the night, Kawhi Leonard wound up shooting (and making) six more free throws than all 13 Memphis Grizzlies combined. It was the third most attempts in playoff history.
Kawhi has scored more from the stripe this series than the Grizzlies have as a team.
Clearly, this isn’t sitting well with Memphis coach Dave Fizdale, who did his best Stephen A. Smith impression at the podium after going down 0-2 to a much better basketball team.
So does he have a point? Are the Grizzlies getting jobbed because the officials favor NBA royalty (Gregg Popovich) over a rookie head coach?
No, Dave Fizdale does not have a point. In fact, he consistently has fewer points than Gregg Popovich, which is why he’s so mad.
The Memphis Grizzlies finished the 2016-17 regular season averaging the second most fouls per game in the NBA (22.4), which shouldn’t surprise given this roster’s re-branding as the basketball-equivalent of The Expendables. But what should be even less surprising (especially for Fizdale, who hinted at this in his press conference) is that the guy he’s accusing of benefiting from preferential treatment because of his “pedigree” has “pedigree” precisely because he takes advantage of the sloppy physicality that’s come to define Fizdale’s team. Does anyone actually believe that the refs had anything to do with the matchup nightmare that Leonard posed for the woefully underprepared Grizzlies defenders? Can Dave Fizdale blame Gregg Popovich for sending his best player — who also happens to have the league’s 13th best free throw percentage (.880) — at a 40-year-old Vince Carter? Moreover, Leonard has made it a point to draw more fouls this season after Tim Duncan suggested he do so to take advantage of defenders who had begun crowding around him.
Of course Kawhi Leonard shot 19 free throws when this is how he’s defended…
Maybe Fizdale is just frustrated that Kawhi took 19 free throws and made them all. Who knows?
Oh wait, I know — Dave Fizdale is just mad that Kawhi took 19 free throws and made them all.
To the point that his team should’ve shot more free throws, once again, Fizdale’s account doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. During the regular season, Memphis averaged only one more free throw attempt per game than they had on Monday night, so to assume that the Spurs — who committed the sixth fewest fouls per game this year — should’ve caused the Grizzlies to shoot more free throws, is, well, misguided. Just because they drove to the basket 20 times and only three of those resulted in whistles doesn’t necessarily mean that there weren’t four legitimate fouls committed on Kawhi Leonard in his 12 trips to the hoop. But more importantly, that ratio is explained by the Grizzlies relative lack of swingmen and slashers who are actually worth fouling. Outside of point guard Mike Conley — who went to the line three times last night — the team’s only other players capable of getting past defenders to create opportunities to draw fouls are James Ennis (D-Leaguer), Andrew Harrison (also a D-Leaguer), Wayne Selden (undrafted) and Vince Carter (who’s so old he was once traded for Alonzo Mourning).
Let’s be honest, the San Antonio Spurs could easily coast through this series without having to get physical with these guys.
As for Zach Randolph somehow avoiding the stripe all game, consider this: 67% of Z-Bo’s field goal attempts were from mid-range, meaning he favored uncontested shots all night. He’s also the kind of player who plays with his back to the basket, opting to fade away on jump shots, which rarely results in contact, let alone a call. Dave Fizdale might have to come to grips with the fact that when you play a guy like Zach Randolph, who averages 2.6 free throws a game, for 36 minutes and use him on 28% of plays (the highest usage among non-point guards), you’re not going to get to the free throw line. Then again, Fizdale probably knows this, and he’s just pissed that Kawhi Leonard is an unstoppable force of nature. What he may not know, however, is that complaining about calls during the game — while petulant and immature — does way more to help your cause than humiliating the referees in a press conference afterwards. Because if he actually believes the Spurs’ incessant in-game whining is getting them more calls, maybe he should try it out himself, instead of whining that they’re doing it, then doing it with a microphone in his face halfway through a playoff series. Rookie mistake.