For the second game in a row, the Spurs couldn't close the game out. This time it was our bench against an elite team, not the other way around, but that doesn't make it less heartbreaking.
As the Grizzlies went off to a 10-1 start and were controlling the boards, it looked like a blow out could be in the Spurs future. Fortunately, the grind-it-out style the Grizzlies play makes it harder for them to pull away and the Spurs took advantage of that fact. They regrouped and rode a strangely effective lineup featuring De Colo, Neal, Green, Bonner and Blair to slowly chip away at the lead the Grizzlies starters built early in the first quarter.
It almost looked too good to be true and I honestly thought as soon as Marc Gasol checked back in to make the Grizzlies offense passable they would regain the lead. A ridiculous buzzer beating three by Jerryd Bayless to end the first quarter all but confirmed that bad things were coming. But the Spurs battled inside and forced Pau's brother and Zach Randolph into a combined 3-12 first half shooting night. Even more surprisingly, the Spurs fought for boards and actually won the battle in the first half. The Grizzlies were struggling to find offense while the Spurs had good halves from Nando De Colo and a fantastic DeJuan Blair first, and then Tiago Splitter and Tony Parker. Going into the break, the Spurs led by seven, 44-37.
As the third quarter started, the Grizz seemed to realize that they were going to actually have to execute on both ends to beat these shorthanded but feisty Spurs. They started working high-low plays between Gasol and Randolph and generally looked to get the ball inside. Their starters outplayed the Spurs' starters once again, and once again the Spurs' bench came to the rescue and shifted the momentum. The Spurs survived the first Memphis push and went into the fourth leading by six, 68-62, in a low scoring affair.
Gary Neal seemed to be heating up in the beginning of the final period, as he hit a three pointer. The problem with Neal, as it is with all Irrational Confidence Guys, is that the thing that makes him useful (his belief that he is better than he is) can also be his undoing. Neal started forcing the offense through himself, calling his own number too often and with predictable results. Bonner hit a three pointer with 8:16 left and that was the Spurs second bucket of the quarter.
The starters returned but the offense didn't until halfway through the quarter, when Stephen Jackson hit a three after the Grizzlies cut the lead to two. The Spurs, led by Parker and a very active Splitter, got the lead back to six but the Grizzlies refused to go away and took advantage of some bad offensive possessions to tie it at 82 with four minutes left. A Splitter tip-in and a couple of Jackson freebies got the Spurs up four again. But Tiago Splitter fouled out with 2:37 to go and that ended up being the Spurs' undoing.
From then on Tony Parker took over the Spurs offense. Tony forced things a little too much during that span, as stars tend to do in the clutch, but he got the Spurs four points that first extended their lead to four and then to three after the Grizzlies took advantage of the Spurs' lack of size inside with a Gasol bucket and a Randolph free throw. With the Spurs up three, Jerryd Bayless drove to the hoop and, like they have done multiple times this season, the Spurs inexplicably helped off a three point shooter. This time it was Neal who left Conley open but I've seen it happen too many times before, and for no reason. Conley hit what ended up being only the second three pointer Memphis would connect on in the evening and the game was tied.
After that, Parker took a forced runner and missed. Green, who had subbed in to guard Conley, inexplicably (there's that word again) allowed Conley his left hand while the other Grizzlies cleared a lane. He attacked the rim and hit a lefty layup with only 0.6 second left for the Spurs to attempt a shot. Parker couldn't even get a shot up and the Spurs lost their second straight game on the last possession.
- Not a good week for Danny Green defending in the clutch. First he lost Bosh in the Heat game and now he allowed Conley his left. Not a good game overall for Danny, either, and that's also two in a row for him. I'm not worried, though. He'll bounce back
- Parker forced things but that's hero ball for you. Mike Monroe mentioned on Twitter that Pop said to him "Matt was wide open" in a play and he certainly was. But if he hits, we wouldn't be having this conversation. A great game for Parker regardless, who had to carry a less than ideal supporting cast for most of the game and still managed to score 25.
- By less than ideal supporting cast I mean Green but also Boris Diaw. Diaw is talented enough that he makes you forget his bad possessions, but lately he's been pretty terrible on offense. It's not even something he does, really. It's just that other teams don't guard him and that is tough on the Spurs' play-makers. I still like the Land Walrus and think he can contribute. He took some of those open looks tonight, so that's encouraging. He went 3-12. That is not.
- All of the Spurs' bench players did well tonight (yes, even Matt Bonner) but DeJuan Blair was the best of them all. Blair rebounded, scored, found cutters and assisted his teammates well when the defense collapsed. He even used those long arms to get a couple of steals to go with the reach-in calls. This is the type of Blair game that makes you think that, had he been drafted by a bad team, he would be getting seriously paid this summer.
- Surprisingly, Nando De Colo did better as a scorer and Gary Neal as a playmaker, at least statistically. The Spurs will need the pairing to do better than they did today in order to survive LWM. We'll probably have more on this tomorrow.
- Stephen Jackson had a solid game. Jack did a great Kawhi Leonard impression by turning spot ups into drives when the close out was too aggressive. He also battled for boards and played solid D. I'm hoping to see Jack produce more with Manu out and as a first step this was definitely a good game.
- Tiago Splitter will always and forever get called for cheap fouls, as the over the back whistle that got him his fifth foul shows. He did great against the tough Memphis front line, so I don't have any qualms with Sparkles but 25 minutes are too few.
- I don't want to meet the Grizzlies in the playoffs. I'm sure the Spurs can beat them but the way they play would ensure that every game comes down to the wire and they are extremely physical. I'd take the Clippers and the Nuggets before Memphis, to be honest.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends over at Grizzly Bear Blues