The start of the game showed exactly how the Spurs managed to string along eight straight wins over the Grizzlies coming into Friday's game. Matt Bonner started in Boris Diaw's place and he fronted Zach Randolph, as Kawhi Leonard helped any time Memphis tried to get him the ball over the top. These Grizzlies are not as dependent on post play as they were two seasons ago, when they were swept in the conference finals, but not having the option of posting up Randolph still takes them out of their game.
The Spurs, who played lackadaisically in a loss in Brooklyn, were extremely energetic in the first quarter, bringing the type of physical play on the defensive end other squads try to use on them to frustrate them. The officials were letting them play and for once that benefited San Antonio. Offensively, the three-pointers were falling and when they do, a Memphis team that ranks 28th in the league in three point attempts per game just can't keep up. The Spurs got an early lead and finished the first quarter up eleven, 25-14.
The Grizzlies improved in the second quarter, largely thanks to going small with Tayshaun Prince at power forward. The Spurs' bench stretched the lead but Memphis brought its starters back first and they cut the deficit to seven. They were getting to the line and making the most out of their second chance opportunities. The revamped offense that has made this incarnation of the Grizzlies more dangerous than ever was finally working. The problem was that they couldn't string enough stops together to take control.
It took the Spurs a while to adjust to a more mobile defense but as the minutes went by, they realized they could use Memphis aggressiveness against them, going for easy layups on backdoor cuts. On the first quarter the Spurs built a lead thanks to their defense. On the second, they maintained and added to it thanks to their offense, as both teams scored over 30 points. After a buzzer-beating corner three by Tayshaun Prince, the score was 58-46 going into the second half.
Pop often likes to start third quarters by feeding the ball to Kawhi Leonard and he chose that path against the Grizzlies. The results were mixed but the stagnation typical to post ups plus a couple of turnovers by Danny Green led to a slow, sloppy start. Fortunately, the Grizzlies weren't sharp either in the half court. It was through pushing the pace and taking advantage of a lax Spurs' transition defense that Memphis managed to cut the lead to five. Making matters worse, Tony Parker had to leave the game for the night with a mild hamstring strain right as the Grizzlies were making their push.
With Parker out, Manu Ginobili turned back the clock and took over. Manu assisted Duncan for an and-one, then Marco Belinelli two times for three-pointers while making a three himself in the middle of it all. With the Spurs' offense clicking, the fastbreak opportunities weren't there for the Grizzlies and their offense stagnated. When the dust had settled, the Spurs still had a double-digit lead going into the final quarter, having successfully fended off Memphis' push.
The fourth quarter started out slow, with the Spurs posting up Boris Diaw without getting results and the Grizzlies turning it over in consecutive plays. When the Grizzlies offense finally settled, Mike Conley tried to will his team to victory, taking advantage of Cory Joseph guarding him and Tim Duncan being on the bench. But the subs, especially Joseph and Baynes did enough to withstand yet another comeback attempt from a Memphis team that refused to go away. Once Manu and Tim returned, they not only kept the Grizzlies at bay but stretched the lead.
That was the story of the night: after a big first quarter that proved to be the difference, the Spurs always had a response for Memphis' runs, including one in the final minutes. There was always someone making a timely play to put out the fire. The Spurs showed the type of poise we can expect from the defending champions en route to an impressive win on one of the toughest arenas in the league to up their record to 14-5.
- Tim Duncan logged a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He's 38-years-old, I'm told. That's amazing. Duncan struggled at times with Gasol's defense but protected the paint well, moved the ball with purpose and was very opportunistic scoring on tip ins. Just a very smart game by Duncan, who played a team-high 37 minutes.
- Manu Ginobili was also fantastic. Ginobili went 5-5 from outside, which was a welcomed surprised after the struggles he's had with his shot for most of the season. But the best part of his performance was his ability to find the open man consistently, on his way to seven assists. He's also been very disruptive on defense on the past two games, always a sign that he's feeling well.
- Matt Bonner, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green combined to shoot 7-13 from beyond the arc and those shot were huge for the Spurs to first set the tone and then keep the Grizzlies at arm's length. They played solid defense as well. It's a bit worrying that Leonard has such a hard time getting inside position and shooting over smaller defenders but that will come with time.
- Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw didn't make a huge impact but were solid, just like everyone who suited up for the Spurs. Marco hit some timely threes and Boris had some nice post up buckets against Tayshaun Prince.
- Forget those double-digit scoring games and the fancy dunks. This is exactly the type of performance the Spurs need from Baynes. He basically didn't make mistakes on defense, scored when the opportunity was there and was energetic and physical for 12 minutes. That's likely going to be his role going forward and it's nice to see he can do it.
- Parker was playing well before exiting the game, finishing with 14 points and two assists in 23 minutes. It's a testament to Joseph's play that the Spurs didn't miss him down the stretch. Cory scored 10 of his 13 points after Parker left the game and played tough defense, like he usually does. He still can't create for others or shoot from outside but he has made strides as a finisher inside. If Parker misses a couple of games, the starting point guard slow will be taken care of.
- The Spurs appear to have the Grizzlies figured out but I wouldn't get too confident in a potential playoff match up against them. They are a fantastic team and if they can get one of Vince Carter or Quincy Pondexter to give them quality minutes and shooting, they will make teams pay for helping inside. We saw a preview of that tonight when Tayshaun Prince, of all people, scored 20, including four three-pointers.
Vine of the game
Here's the play that got Timmy the eight triple-double of his career:
Manu had a couple of "Kobe assists" in this one, as the defense collapsed on his drives, leaving Duncan alone under the basket. And Tim knows exactly where to be and what to do with the ball one he gets it. It's so much fun watching those two guys play.
The Spurs return to San Antonio to face the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, on the second game of a back-to-back. Pop said it's not likely Parker plays tomorrow and I wouldn't be surprised if Duncan rests as well. The only reason why he might play is the Spurs have two days off after tomorrow's game.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends over at Grizzly Bear Blues