The San Antonio Spurs’ ability to make it rain from long range is the biggest X-factor in this year’s NBA playoffs, and Matt Bonner is their ace.
The Memphis Grizzlies got that memo in Sunday’s 105-83 Game 1 loss.
Bonner is on fire from beyond the arc in these playoffs (60 percent) and after going 4-of-6 from deep in Game 1, the Grizzlies know they need a defender attached to his right shoulder cannon at all times.
Only problem is, six different Spurs hit a trey in Game 1 to combine for a franchise postseason record 14 3-pointers. That was the most made 3-pointers given up by the Grizzlies this season, regular season or postseason.
“It was just one of those nights. Pretty much, everyone was shooting well,” said Bonner, who also helped defensively to limit Zach Randolph to 2 points on 1-for-8 shooting. “We won’t expect that to continue every game.”
Maybe not, but no team can ever sleep on the Spurs’ 3-point shooting. San Antonio — which set the all-time franchise record for 3-pointers in a game with 20 against the Dallas Mavericks back on December 23 — is shooting 37.2 percent during the playoffs, second only to the Golden State Warriors.
The Grizzlies, who are playing in their first conference final in franchise history, are nonetheless in familiar territory. Memphis lost both Game 1s against the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder in the first two rounds of these playoffs before going a combined 8-1 to win those series.
Just as the Grizzlies won’t fret from a series deficit, the Spurs aren’t likely to get complacent with a series lead. San Antonio is motivated by its playoff exit last season in the West finals at the hands of Oklahoma City.
“I can promise you this: Nobody’s happy in our locker room, because we were up 2-0 last year and we lost,” point guard Tony Parker said. “It’s just one game. It means nothing. We still have a long way to go.”
Bonner, who had the attention of the Thunder during that entire series, was held to 1-for-7 shooting from deep in the first three games before only playing three total minutes over the next three. Bonner was a constant focus of the Thunder’s defense for a reason: He was the NBA’s most efficient 3-point shooter last year (45.7 percent). Plus, Oklahoma City had first-hand experience of what the 6-foot-10 long range sharpshooter was capable of when he nailed 7-of-7 3s in a 114-107 win over the Thunder in 2010.
The Grizzlies will have to open their eyes to the Spurs’ perimeter shooting much the same way if they want their unprecedented playoff run to continue. That principle shouldn’t be anything new to Memphis, which ranked second in the NBA at defending the 3-point line during the regular season, only allowing teams to shoot 33.8 percent from downtown.
Bonner, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and the rest of the Spurs’ role players will be relied on to make use of the team’s superb ball movement and hit shots consistently to keep the Grizzlies’ defense from keying on Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
Outside of the Spurs’ big three, Bonner is the only player left from San Antonio’s last championship team in 2007. That was the year the Spurs swept the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.