It's amazing the difference five days and a little home-court advantage can make, with or without Manu Ginobili.
San Antonio took a 57-54 lead into the half before blowing Memphis out of the AT&T Center, 103-82, without the services of their Argentinian sixth man, outscoring the Grizzlies 46-28 after the break and capping off a night in which they shot 57.9 percent from the floor and COMMITTED JUST 13 TURNOVERS PRAISE ALL THAT IS HOLY. It's been strange watching a team go from one of the least turnover-prone in 2011-12 to one of the most this season, something that says a lot about the Spurs' "lagging" offensive efficiency in 2012-13. (To be fair, their offensive rating is only 1.4 points worse per game. It feels kind of ridiculous to even bring that up ... I digress.) But if the Spurs continue to play defense the way they did tonight, and the way they have for much of the season for that matter, a one-point difference in the result of a mathematical formula won't matter all that much in the end.
San Antonio currently owns the third best defensive-efficiency rating in the league, up eight spots from last season. While Tim Duncan is blocking shots at the best rate of his career, it's the three-point line where the Spurs are cashing in when the opponent has the ball. The silver and black allow the lowest opponent three-point percentage in the league -- up from 19th in that category a year ago -- and gave up just ONE three all night to the Grizzlies. Not only that, but San Antonio is fourth in the league in steals per game and ninth in opponent turnovers per game. This team is DRASTICALLY improved on that side of the ball and it's paying dividends as the Spurs continue to battle turnovers.
But they didn't tonight. San Antonio had 33 assists on 44 made baskets while only giving the ball away 13 times.
"The guys did a great job of moving the ball and moving bodies. They weren't catching and holding it. It was really fluid offensively," Gregg Popovich said after the game. "They did a good job in the second half on the boards. I thought we performed very well tonight.
"It was one of our better games."
Tim Duncan had 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists and five blocks (his 12th in the last two games), Tony Parker had another double-double with 17 points and 11 assists, and Tiago Splitter had a great night colliding with Zach Randolph and nearly notching a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. But the Spurs had an atypical offensive contributor in the scoring department.
Boris Diaw scored 14 points in 28 minutes, but the 12 he scored in the second quarter helped keep the Spurs in reach when the Grizzlies briefly took a lead. The passing of the second unit, namely between Diaw, Splitter and Stephen Jackson, was once again phenomenal. When San Antonio's pick-and-roll game is operating like it was tonight without high turnover numbers, the shots will be there even against the best defensive teams in the league.
The Spurs have altered their offense in different ways this season, incorporating more flex cuts, back doors and pin-downs, but tonight they picked and rolled their way around the Memphis bigs. The farther away from the basket you can pull Randolph and Marc Gasol, the less effective they'll be. Gasol has been one of the league's best defensive players, but he has no chance guarding Tony Parker off a Duncan screen at the elbow. When the Grizzlies' 'bash brothers' abandon the rim, the lane opens up.
San Antonio scored 46 points in the paint on 23-for-33 shooting compared to just 26 points on 13-for-28 from inside for the Grizz. On top of that, the Spurs squashed the early rebound advantage Memphis had and took control in that capacity against one of the biggest, most physical interiors in the NBA. Much of that was due to Splitter and his nine rebounds. Watching the battle between he and Randolph, it's easy to identify at least one thing the Spurs missed in that 2011 playoff series. With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green joining Splitter as key pieces on this roster, this is a different team than we saw then ... so long as Manu is healthy.
Tonight's game was a nice way to reach the midway point of the season after experiencing some ebbs and flows of late. While a convincing win against the Memphis Grizzlies in which the team played exceptionally well on both sides of the ball, there's still a long way to go. Not to mention it's not in the Spurs' mindset to care about game No. 41.
"That's not a goal of ours. We only have one goal. We don't start any season saying we want to win this many games by this time of year and that kind of thing," Pop said. "You can win a game and play poorly. You can lose a game and play really well. So it's more about that.
"Records don't mean anything."
After watching the last two seasons, this couldn't ring more true.