In the Tim Duncan era, the Spurs have had 86 regular season losing streaks. During that time, 23% of the team's losses have been followed by another loss. No matter how attentively you've been watching the team during that time span, there's no chance you remember all of them, let alone allow them to keep you up at night. Pop might, but he pays himself quite handsomely to do so. In any case, during Friday night's game against the 15-3 Memphis Grizzlies, he was determined not to put his circadian rhythms at any further risk. His irritation from the Brooklyn game carried north to south, gaining strength and frigidity like the vortex in The Day After Tomorrow. He signaled for timeouts seemingly after every made Memphis basket, possibly because it's the closest he could get to T-ing up his own players. Unlike two nights earlier, the Spurs responded, collapsed the paint, fronted Zach Randolph and doubled him on the catch, and made life fairly miserable for Marc Gasol, too. On the other end, Duncan and Matt Bonner continually pulled Gasol and Randolph out of the paint, not allowing the space under the rim to get congested. Amid a barrage of pick and rolls, the Grizz were forced to go small with Vince Carter replacing Randolph. The Spurs had run the mighty Z-Bo off the floor.
Turns out the Spurs' shooting stroke hadn't abandoned them in Brooklyn but had simply taken the early flight to Memphis. There, it greeted the team with 60% accuracy from the floor to the tune of 58 points in the first half. Against the #4 defense in the NBA. Duncan put up a 4-4-7, which sounds more like the engine displacement of one of his custom trucks than a stat line for a power forward (Tim would eventually finish with the fourth triple-double of his career, almost fifteen years after the first.) At one point, Danny Green had one three-pointer and three layups. As a half, it was a bit of an outlier, albeit one which found the Spurs up 12 even after a buzzer-beating three by the abnormally accurate Tayshaun Prince, who matched Gasol as Memphis' leading first-half scorer.
In the second half, the Spurs were unable to vacuum the the Grizz out of the paint, and their offense bogged down. Memphis was also trying to avoid a losing streak, which would be their first of the year. Also on the line was a 22-game winning streak at FedEx Forum dating back to February of last year. After failing to generate clean looks for anyone other than the disregarded Prince, Mike Conley became much more aggressive, running the ball off misses and diving into the paint on his end. Late in the third quarter, a wide open Randolph shot under the basket had Pop rubbing his temples (it missed.) The Spurs' lead hovered in the two possession range until Manu checked into the game, where he transfixed the re-energized Memphis defense, generating two wide open shots each for Duncan and Marco Belinelli and drawing a fourth foul on designated defensive nuisance Tony Allen. The losing streak flirted with the Spurs, but it ultimately left the building with the tall, bearded guy.
In Courtney Lee, Tony Parker finally found an opponent who's almost as hot from three as he is. Naturally, the two combined to shoot 0-2 from deep. By the way, Tony left the game in the third quarter. You may not have noticed, what with Cory Joseph penetrating, dishing, and floater-ing like he'd memorized the manual:
Nice floater from Tony Parker ... I mean Cory Joseph. #Spurs https://t.co/sOGnd0S4bx— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 6, 2014
In the macro, the Spurs kept poking and prodding and agitating and looking for weak spots in the defense that would lead to open shots. Those who grew up with a big brother will understand the role played by Memphis for most of the game. But the little brother eventually grows up, and the Grizz put together a 4th quarter run keyed by Conley's penetration. It was nearly enough, and if the Spurs had missed shots or committed the miscues that doomed them in New York, they would have left Memphis dwelling on a 15 point lead that got away from them. The Grizzlies make you spend all 48 minutes of your evening working hard, busting tail. As a team, the Grizzlies are a mixture of pure ingredients, and those ingredients have been hardening in the refrigerator long enough that you can't help but believe their beat writer when he says they can make the Finals this year.
But here's the thing about Big Brother: He's an institution, he's thorough, surreptitious, manipulating, and he's been around so long that someone could feel like Winston Smith running around Airstrip One trying to find a person (or unperson) who remembers a time preceding his dominance. The Spurs haven't looked dominant so far this year, but last season's best road team has now secured wins in Golden State, Cleveland, Los Angeles (meaning, the Clippers), and Memphis. As of Saturday morning, those teams sport a combined 55-18 record. You can imagine that Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, and Chicago will have their say, but otherwise those first four teams should make up the toughest competition come May and June. If the theme of last years' Spurs was their lack of "signature wins" early in the season, the theme of of this years' Spurs could very well be their refusal to slump.
Manu Ginobili - 17 points, 5-10 shooting, 5-5 from deep, 6 boards, 7 assists, 1 block
Tony was shooting well before leaving with a pulled hamstring, Kawhi Leonard was aggressive but couldn't get into a rhythm, and Tim had the triple-double, but it was Manu who stood with his arm out and his hand extended to the top of the head while little brother futilely swung his fists. He constantly kept the ball moving and never allowed the Grizzlies to string together more than a couple of stops. Even when Memphis cut the lead to 5 multiple times in the 2nd half, Manu continually generated a Spurs resurgence.
Quote of the Night
"Matty is just somebody who will do what you want him to do. If you tell him to jumper higher, he's going to jump higher, even though he can't. He's that kind of guy."
- Pop, praising his starting Center, who he also described as "hardcore." No, really.
Tweet of the Night
Sometimes the Spurs feel like a league wide salary cap on title hopes— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) December 6, 2014