Western Finals Game Two - Plus Other MLB Closers

THE NBA PLAYOFFS - THE GRIZZLIES ARE IN AN EARLY HOLE BUT WAS GAME 1'S LOSS A "WAKE-UP CALL" FOR THE MEMPHIS GANG IN THESE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS?

PLUS OUR BASEBALL REPORT IS HEADLINED BY A COUPLE OF CLOSERS NOT NAMED MARIANO RIVERA

By Jim Hurley:

Hey, Memphis Grizzlies, welcome to your first-ever NBA Western Conference Finals ... Are y'all having fun yet?

The Grizz - who entered this round against the playoff-rich San Antonio Spurs having won eight of their last nine post-season games this spring (the last four in a row against the heartless Los Angeles Clippers and than four-of-five wins against the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder) - were supposed to be a breath of fresh air in this new setting but instead Sunday's Game 1 in the Alamo City was a major stink bomb.

Don't get us wrong!

The Spurs were absolutely superb in this Western Conference Finals opener just days after wrapping up a slug-it-out six-game series against the Golden State Warriors as Gregg Popovich's crew nailed a franchise playoff-high 14 trifectas (in 29 three-point tries, mind you) as the ball movement was top-notch and the interior defense was great.

Lots of bouquets to toss San Antonio's way a bit later here in this Jim Sez column but let's air Memphis' dirty laundry first:

The Grizzlies found themselves in a 23-8 deficit faster that you can say Hubie Brown as Spurs point guard Tony Parker (20 points and 9 assists in 33 minutes) ran laps around Memphis PG Mike Conley and friends but if you ask us the game really tilted SA's way when star reserve Matt Bonner (12 points on 4-of-6 triples) bombed in a couple of long-range three-pointers and - yes - he was completely uncovered when hoisting up those arc balls.

True, Memphis gets an "A" for effort for cutting into the monster deficit and trimming the Spurs' lead to just 6 points at 62-56 in the third quarter but than an 11-1 scoring spurt by San Antonio pushed the game out of reach once and for all and now Memphis is left to pick up the pieces for Game 2 ... let's examine what's ahead with a quickie reminder (of course) that the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals set between the heavy-duty underdog Indiana Pacers versus the Miami Heat (a 7-to-1 betting favorite to cop this playoff round) tips off Wednesday night in South Beach:

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
#5 MEMPHIS at #2 SAN ANTONIO
- Spurs lead series 1-0; Game 2 is Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Everyone knows that Game 1 was an absolute nightmare for Grizzlies' mega-star power forward Zach Randolph who finished up that tilt with one made field goal (on a tip-in) in eight attempts for 2 points in 28 minutes of game action and so it doesn't take the ghost of Red Auerbach to proclaim Randolph must show up and be a stat-sheet stuffer here in Game 2.

After all, as the ABC telecast folks kept informing us, Randolph entered this playoff round averaging a whopping 19.7 points per game and so he was off-the-radar-screen completely and now 48 hours later one would think the burly lefthander will be quite tired of hearing all the negativity and so expect a much more productive outing.

Still, even if Randolph gets the Grizz 19 or 20 points here and double-digit boards, will everyone else play their "A game" here? Center Marc Gasol (15 points, 7 rebounds and 0 turnovers in 34 minutes of play) was decent but wasn't able to make up for the Randolph no-show up front and save for reserve Quincy Pondexer (17 points including all five of Memphis' triple makes) the Grizzlies bench only had that one little third-quarter spurt and otherwise was a non-factor.

It's safe to say here that the defensive rotation must be better for Memphis here in Game 2 - heck, fired-up Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins was railing against his guys for not stepping out on three-point shooters all game long in Sunday's series opener - and Conley plus mates must send Parker crashing to the floor a couple of times here with a reminder of "Grizzlies basketball" which is ultra-physical in nature and emphasizes a grind-'em-down philosophy.

Believe it or not, the Spurs have not made it to an NBA Finals since 2007 - the year San Antonio wound up sweeping LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals - but they sure put their proverbial best foot forward in Game 1 while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor (that's 40-of-75 made field goals) with 28 assists and only 11 turnovers.

No doubt "Pops" put into his team's head the revenge factor after Memphis kayoed a then-#1 seed Spurs bunch in the 2011 playoffs but will that good feeling from Game 1 carry over to Tuesday night or will the wake-up call get answered by a proud Grizzlies team?

P.S., keep in mind this series won't play Game 3 until Saturday night!

Here's how the Grizzlies-Spurs Western Conference Finals Series has gone so far (note home teams are in CAPS):

DATE

WINNER

SPREAD

LOSER

SCORE

5-19

SAN ANTONIO

- 4.5

Memphis

105-83

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have all the Side/Totals winners in these NBA Conference Finals plus there's lots of Major-League Baseball Winners too when you sign up today - so cash in big with Hoops and Baseball each and every day! Just be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the daily and nightly NBA and MLB winners.

In other NBA News & Notes ...

Remember that the NBA will stage its annual Draft Lottery prior to Game 2 of the Memphis versus San Antonio series and the big prize out there remains Kentucky's one-and-done F Nerlens Noel while most mock draft boards consider Kansas G Ben McLemore, UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett and Michigan G Trey Burke as the next tier of great rookies. The real buzz that could be filtering 'round the league is that Orlando - which sports the highest odds to land this year's top prize - could dangle that pick should the Magic get it. So stay tuned for the lottery and what just might lie ahead ...

Finally, from the NBA coaching world, the New Jersey Nets - who bid adieu to interim boss-man P.J. Carlesimo following the team's Game 7 home loss to Chicago in the first round of this year's playoffs - could be eyeballing former Milwaukee head coach Scott Skiles but we simply don't believe the hype. Skiles is a quality coach but his in-your-face nature flies directly against what PG Deron Williams and/or two-guard Joe Johnson could handle. Ask us and the Nets could pull a doozy surprise and hand the job to a "first-timer" such as current Indiana assistant coach Brian Shaw or maybe even general unknown Spurs assistant Mike Bundenholzer who has served as Popovich's top assistant since 2007.

THE BASEBALL REPORT

It's finally the farewell season for New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera whose path to the Hall of Fame was paved years ago but how about a couple of MLB hurlers that are making names for themselves these days as star closers. Here's a couple of folks we are thinking about:

BOBBY PARNELL, New York Mets - Hey, right across town in Gotham City there's a real young closer on the rise in this heat-throwing righthander. Parnell - who earned his sixth save of the season in Sunday's 4-3 rubber-game series win at the Chicago Cubs - actually earned three saves in the Mets' last four games on this Midwest trip through St. Louis and Chitown and he's been a totally different hurler than in years past when the occasional closing role really made Parnell get all choked up. Now, while throwing in the mid-90s - which means this North Carolina native has dialed things back some from his 102 mph days - Parnell appears relaxed in the ninth inning. Note that Parnell exited Sunday's game at Wrigley Field with an 0.93 ERA and has not allowed a run in eight May outings and he's also fanned eight batters in his last eight innings of work. His save opportunities for the offensively-challenged Mets have been few - for sure -- but he's converted all six saves and may be worth your fantasy league team's attention.

ERNESTO FRIERI, Los Angeles Angels - Here's another closer that plays for a sub-.500 team these days but don't sleep on this 27-year-old righty who earned his second four-out save this past weekend in Sunday's 6-2 home win against the Chicago White Sox. True, Frieri was a touch wild as he walked three batters in the top of the ninth inning but he got the job done and now has nine saves in 10 save opportunities and so he's been a rare beacon of light for a Halos team that begins the new week at 17-27. Note that Frieri (0-1 with a 2.25 ERA) could be the real make-or-break player on Mike Scioscia's team the rest of the way - with all the talk about a slumping RF Josh Hamilton and a hurting 1B/DH Albert Pujols, the Angels desperately need Frieri to give 'em a touch of the 2002 version of Frankie "K-Rod" Rodriguez.

NOTE: Catch our complete and in-depth coverage of the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals between the Indiana Pacers versus the Miami Heat in the next edition of Jim Sez!

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