Ah, the classic dilemma of the basketball blogger...
Do we praise the team for playing, if not flawless basketball then at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, for the first 46 minutes, or do we bury them for making a mess of it in the final two?
After all, it's a simple mathematical equation. 46/48 minutes is roughly 95 percent of the game. The hip, trendy, "educated," high-level blogger thing to do is to focus on the process and the big picture rather than specific, small-sample-size results. Ultimately, who cares what happened at the end of the game and the trivial matter of "winning" and "losing?" the argument goes. It's far more important in the long run to analyze how the team played in the meat of the game.
On that score, there's little to debate. The Spurs weren't fantastic in their first game sans Tiago Splitter, who's expected to be out 3-5 weeks with a right shoulder sprain, but they were plenty good enough against a struggling Memphis squad that was also missing their starting center (and a slightly more integral one to their success at that) in Marc Gasol. Also out for the Grizzles was infernal pest Tony Allen, who has been having a pretty good season by his standards.
It's not like it was a beautiful game, chock filled with highlight plays. There were a couple of fancy passes from Manu Ginobili to Marco Belinelli early, and a touchdown toss from Tim Duncan to Danny Green late. But for the most part it was a fairly ordinary, solid and seemingly routine-looking win for the good guys against a decimated foe.
The Spurs led 91-75 with 5:25 left in the fourth, after Jeff Ayres slammed home a slick feed from Belinelli to put the ribbon on what had been a pretty good start for him in Splitter's stead. Ayres had done a pretty good job defensively on Zach Randolph and contributed a few of his usual hustle plays to the cause, and here Belinelli rewarded him for his hard work with an easy bucket. A couple minutes later the Spurs went lax in their own end and allowed the Grizzlies to score on four straight trips down the floor, but then a Belinelli three made it 96-84 with 1:59 to play.
Yes, those first 46 minutes were enough to inspire plenty of positive thoughts and good feelings about the Spurs, despite the struggles of Parker and Ginobili, the continued shooting woes of Danny Green and the aforementioned inferior opponent. Duncan had beasted, Kawhi Leonard had a terrific all-around showing and Belinelli continued to look like a worthwhile starter, contributing in all manner of ways. It should be enough for us. It's the process that matters, not the result.
But you know that's a bunch of baloney.
All we're thinking about is that final two minutes, no matter how many sloppy, fluky things that were involved to make it happen. The Grizzlies went on a 12-0 run in the blink of an eye, tying up the game at 96-96 without even needing to foul. It was unfathomable. It was gross. It was... reminiscent.
There's just something about blowing a game late that sticks with you, gnaws at you, more than regular losses. The Spurs have had surprisingly few tight games so far this season. There were comebacks from big deficits against Houston and New York where they roared back to take the lead, only to give it away at the end. And others against Sacramento and Minnesota, where they didn't give it away. There were games they had in control the whole time and almost blew late, against Phoenix, Atlanta, and home versus the Warriors. And some that were nip and tuck the whole time with the Spurs making the plays at the end to prevail, such as the ones at Oakland and at Phoenix the night before that. But for the most part, we knew if it was going to be a win or a loss midway through the fourth quarter.
The bottom line is that this game, as annoying as it was, would've been a hundred times more annoying had they lost. It took some big plays late from Duncan, Ginobili and Boris Diaw to pull out the win in overtime. That added expense not only figures to take its toll in tonight's game against the Mavericks, but likely cost them the services of Ginobili for a game or two, as he suffered a tweak of his right hamstring after scoring the game-winning points. It was a needless injury, one that wouldn't have occurred had the team not relaxed too early, but what injury isn't unfortunate and unlucky?
Hopefully it's nothing serious, but hammies are scary things that never quite go away, as we saw with Manu's ailments last year. They can't be cautious enough with that one as far as I'm concerned. Sit him against Dallas, test it out at home on Sunday against Minnesota if he feels good and then don't even think about playing him the next night at New Orleans. No BABA's for Ginobili until the end of the month at the earliest, please.
Will the way the game played out serve as a lesson to be heeded in the future? I'm not convinced any of us are ever capable of learning anything. We are who we are. You want to think about the long term, the process and all that jazz, but in the end my guess is that the Spurs will just look back on it as a win and move on, just another notch in an endless, 82-game slog.
Standard Pop Quote:
"These guys [Memphis] are basically really hurting from injuries. Coach [Dave] Joerger's got them playing their [butts] off for 48 minutes and doing everything they can, playing the right way. They deserve a lot of credit. They don't give in. They're a tough-minded group. I thought they were impressive."
By the Numbers:
15,916: The attendance at the FedEX Forum.
4,000: The attendance (approx.) at the time the Grizzlies completed their game-tying 12-0 run.
32:39: Playing time for Ginobili. (Ugh).
40:20: Playing time for Parker. (GAH).
38:19: Playing time for Duncan (OMG what are you doing NOOOOOOOOO)
1: As in one foul, the lone stat that prevented Bonner from pulling off a seven trillion in the box score.
+7: What Red Mamba finished in 7:10. Second-highest on the team. Because of course he did.
8-of-24: What Ginobili and Parker shot combined, and still this should've been an easy win.
1-of-14: What Ginobili, Parker and Green combined to shoot from three, and still this should've been an easy win.
24, 17, 37: Points, rebounds, and years on planet for Tim Duncan, and still this should've been an easy oh wait those are good things.
Sequence of the Game: Usually we list positive Spurs plays in this space, especially after wins, but this time it has to be that game-tying 12-0 run by the Grizzlies which they pulled off in 1:22, without even needing to foul (though they did butcher Belinelli without a whistle for a turnover that led to the tying three). The nightmarish run had a bit of everything, from sloppy transition defense, which allowed the Grizzlies to turn a missed Ginobili three into an and-1 layup by Conley on the other end of the floor just two seconds later -- with a soft-as-can-be touch foul by Belinelli to boot -- an ol' under-the-basket by Ayres to provide the latest proof that he should never be playing down the stretch of a game unless the margin is 20 points or more, to two threes by the Grizzlies seven seconds apart.
I have to say, all things considered, it was definitely my least favorite 1:22 of the game.
Tweets of the Night:
Memphis' in-house PA guy moonlights as a strip-club announcer, right?— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) January 8, 2014
I was waiting for him to tell the people in the front row to make it rain on Conley.
Great decision by Jeff Ayres after offensive rebound: pass, don't shoot— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) January 8, 2014
Monroe, bringin' the snark.
That was a random tweet but the Spurs' side P&R D has been bothering me. I don't ask for a trap but you can't ICE it dropping that far down— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) January 8, 2014
There's Gomez again, showing he's ready for an assistant job on Pop's bench.
This version of Zach Randolph is like when you found out boogeyman wasn't real. You wonder what you were so scared of.— Jesse Blanchard (@blanchardJRB) January 8, 2014
That was the same year the Mavericks won a championship and LeBron James was terrible at basketball.
I love/hate how Tony Parker ignores Ayres on offense. I can't blame him but he needs to feed him the ball when he has position inside.— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) January 8, 2014
No. Nonononononononono. I fully support Parker's decision there. Dude can't catch the ball.
Mike Miller limping a bit. You know, like every other game he's played in.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 8, 2014
IT'S A TRAP!
Boris vs Randolph present the very real danger their bodies will absorb each other.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) January 8, 2014
I don't want to see that movie.
Wait, what?— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) January 8, 2014
WHAT?— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) January 8, 2014
WHAT?!?!?!— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) January 8, 2014
And @JMcDonald_SAEN smashes his laptop to pieces— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) January 8, 2014
Because being a beat guy on deadline is the worst job ever.
Manu Ginobili backdoor from Tim Duncan. Spurs lead 98-96 with 3.6 to go. If Dave Joerger likes me even a little, he's drawing up a 3 here.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) January 8, 2014
NOBODY LIKES YOU.
Coming this fall on CBS: CSI Memphis. What did Zach Randolph do on this court? https://t.co/Q0QdOtUbic— SARR (@SARR_SBN) January 8, 2014
Such rebounding skill would've come in handy in the final 30 seconds of Game 6.
I know he's 2-11 FG but I want the ball in @manuginobili hands in this situation— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) January 8, 2014
60 percent of the time, it works every time.
Random Observation: Mike Miller continues to look like someone Raylan Givens would shoot on "Justified." I'm so glad that show is back in my life, by the way. Miller didn't get a single three-point shot off in 23:34 in the game. I guess it's not as easy to get clean looks when there isn't a LeBron James to occupy the defense's attention. Still, you'd think he'd cast a couple of shots just by accident.
Your Three Stars:
3. Boris Diaw (22 pts): Had a couple of big baskets late in overtime when the outlook was very hairy for the Spurs, and he did a solid job defensively against the similarly-framed Zach Randolph.
2. Kawhi Leonard (31 pts): Hit his first seven shots and broke out of his three-point slump a bit, led everyone with a plus-17 and had much to do with the team's comfortable lead going into the final two minutes of regulation.
1. Tim Duncan (67 pts): Eventually you just run out of superlatives. He's just a beast. His overtime performance was very similar to Games 2 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals versus these guys, where it was so obvious that Duncan was beyond angry that the team had collapsed to the point of having to play the extra five minutes and so took out his wrath on the mere mortals with the teddy bears on their chests.
Next Up: Vs. Dallas Mavericks (20-15), Wednesday, Jan. 8: Yet another nationally televised SEGABABA for the Spurs, so you know Ginobili will be out for sure, and I wouldn't be shocked if Duncan and Parker sat too, considering the minutes they logged to pull out the win over Memphis. There is three days off after this one though, so that might give Pop some pause on the pragmatism, and it is a home game, where historically he's been less likely apt to sit people, so we'll see how it shakes out. Either way, expect Duncan and Parker to get more rest than usual, regardless of the score.
Thankfully, it will be a SEGABABA for the Mavs too. They're coming off an easy 110-97 home win over the hapless (and Kobe-less) Lakers, with Dirk Nowitzki leading the way with 27 points and Vince Carter adding 19 off the bench. These two teams already met once, "The DeJuan Blair Revenge Game," on Dec. 26 at Dallas, where the Spurs prevailed 116-107 to get the taste of their Christmas debacle versus Houston out of their mouths.
That day-after-Christmas game was similar to Tuesday night's OT in Memphis, with the Spurs in control the whole way, up 100-85 with 5:43 to go, before allowing a 12-0 run in 1:48 to make it a bit interesting. Danny Green had 22 off the bench, on perfect 7-of-7 shooting (5-of-5 from deep), while Duncan had 21 and 13 boards and Parker scored 23, despite hitting just 6-of-18 from the floor. It's gonna be Blair's first game back in the AT&T Center, so he'll probably be pumped up but I'm more worried about Nowitzki, whom the Spurs had no answer for in the first meeting, and that was with Tiago Splitter. Hopefully Green will show up again, because I think the young guys are gonna have to lead the way to pull out another win.