The Memphis Grizzlies way - two traditional big men, a suffocating defense, a heavy diet of mid-range shots and a plodding pace - is an antiquated model in the current NBA landscape that features teams 3-pointers at a high volume, fast pace and downsizing lineups in favor of positional versatility.
It's a winning model, for sure, evidenced by Memphis' five consecutive playoff berths. But even with Marc Gasol, and his wide array of skills, a physical brute in Zach Randolph and the habitually underrated Mike Conley, Memphis was never able to get over the final hump.
With a limited amount of possessions, and a razor-thin margin of error, the Grizzlies struggled to differentiate themselves in a meaningful way come playing time. Smart opponents were able to strangle the life out of their offense by clamping down on Gasol and Randolph while completely ignoring the likes of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince on the perimeter. Memphis' defense, as good as it was, could never make up for the many deficiencies on offense.
This season, the Spurs are grinding out their games in homage to Memphis except with one notable exception: They are doing it better than the Grizzlies ever did.
San Antonio is first in defensive rating (92.2) by a wide margin, the next closest team, Miami, is allowing 3.4 points per 100 possessions more than the Spurs, and the Silver and Black are playing at the league's fifth slowest pace (96.16 possessions per 48 minutes). By basketball-reference.com's methodology, the 2015-16 Spurs would have the lowest defensive rating (93.9) since the introduction of the 3-point line.
What's more: Only three teams (Miami, Chicago, Utah) take fewer 3-pointers than the Spurs. Only New York attempts more mid-range shots per game. It's the Memphis way on crack.
Memphis' offensive problems always stemmed from A) a lack of shot creators outside of Gasol and Conley and B) the inability to provide any breathing room via perimeter shooting.
In Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio has two legitimate offensive crutches to escape the lowest doldrums of offensive inactivity. Kawhi is the key to making the Memphis way work long-term because of his utility on both ends of the floor. Not only can Kawhi lockdown the opposition's best player a la Tony Allen, but he does so without the glaring negatives of Allen's offensive game. Kawhi's creating offense within the construct of the Spurs offense, knocking down 50 percent of his 3-pointers and terrorizing every unfortunate soul in his sight this season. Aldridge is a dead-eye mid-range shooter. Throw in healthy doses of Parker, Duncan and Ginobili and there's enough offensive production to go around. Memphis has no such luxury.
For the first half, San Antonio labored to 45 points behind performances from its old geezers (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili,Tim Duncan). The lead was a healthy nine and the defense held Memphis to 36 points, concluding a first half that turned the basketball clock backwards 20 years.
And then Kawhi Leonard woke up. He finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and seven 3-pointers, with six coming in the second half alone.
San Antonio eventually broke the game open and cruised to its 13th win in 15 games behind Leonard's spirited second half performance.
And as the game slipped way, you could see the exasperation on the Grizzlies' faces.
Did they just beat us at our own game?
Yes, but San Antonio out Grizzlie-d the Grizzlies in the most Spurs way possible: By exerting its will gradually, until the Memphis infrastructure collapsed on its own.
Kawhi Leonard - 27 points on 9-13 shooting, 8 rebounds, 7 3-pointers, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block.
After a slow first half, Kawhi bot upgraded his programming to Steph Curry God mode, chipping in 20 points in the second half with his usual high percentages and excellent defense.
Quote of the night
"They are the world champions. We aren't going to be better than them unless we win it this year."
- Kawhi Leonard on if the Spurs are better than the Warriors
Bonus quote of the night
"I can honestly say that this is the first time that I've enjoyed this ridiculous interview. Welcome back, baby."
- Gregg Popovich to Craig Sager
By the numbers
- 50 percent: Kawhi's league-leading 3-point percentage after tonight's 7-of-9 performance. Your move, Steph Curry.
- 27-8-7: Kawhi is the first player in Spurs history to reach 27+ points, 8+ rebounds and 7+ 3-pointers in a game.
- 12: Consecutive games with a block for LaMarcus Aldridge, the second-longest active streak in the NBA behind Hassan Whiteside (21). Hat-tip to Jordan Howenstine.
- 8: Consecutive Spurs opponents that have failed to reach 100 points. Those results, in order: 82, 84, 83, 80, 88, 92, 70, 83. Seven Spurs wins. This defense is something else, man.
- 7: 3-pointers for Kawhi Leonard, which is a career-high. He was two away from tying the franchise record.
- +17: Game-high plus-minus for Manu Ginobili in just 22 minutes. In the 26 minutes that he sat, the Spurs were a +3.
- 37.5 percent: the Grizzlies field goal percentage. Marc Gasol was the only Grizzlie that shot better than 50 percent in the game.
- 4: Minutes for Boban Marjanovic.
- Danny Green will find himself on the back of a milk carton soon if he continues his shooting woes. He was 0-of-5 Thursday night, dropping his field goal percentage to 25 percent in his last six games. It's only December, it's only December, it's only December, it's only December ...
- Another quality performance from Tony Parker (17 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 66.7 percent shooting). Remember when everyone thought he was done after EuroBasket? That was fun.
- Much has been said about the Spurs offense, but they find themselves in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. (Only the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers are in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.) The ball is moving quickly and there are high-percentage shots for the taking. For much of the season, as Popovich said a few days ago, the ball hasn't gone in. Everything materialized offensively Thursday night, leaving the Spurs with 27 assists on 40 field goals.
- Manu Ginobili is still awesome. That is all.
- The Boban-Bonner frontcourt pairing is hilarious and we need to see more of it.
Enough with the Kawhi Leonard is an "emerging" superstar talk. He IS already a superstar. He's arrived.— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) December 4, 2015
Kawhi is basically a bigger Steph Curry with cornrows at this point. My goodness.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) December 4, 2015
Kawhi Shoot Around. Duncan Amazed. https://t.co/su65RscY0g— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 4, 2015
Kawhi Leonard just impressed Tim Duncan, whose career predates the moment when people started being impressed by things— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) December 4, 2015
Spurs score 100!!! CORNDOGS JACKIE MOON, CORNDOGS FOR ALL THESE PEOPLE!!!!— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) December 4, 2015
tony parker has four nba championships that's more than any other point guard in the nba right now— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) December 4, 2015
Craig Sager interviews Coach Pop during the break. https://t.co/F8pvWnc4U1— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) December 4, 2015
Having Kyle Anderson and Ginobili on the court together is like having two knuckleballers in the rotation— Lang Whitaker (@langwhitaker) December 4, 2015
i'd gladly trade 10 years of my life to catch an outlet pass from tim duncan just once— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) December 4, 2015
Yes.— Did Boban play? (@DidBobanPlay) December 4, 2015
Taco Bell menu item of the game
The nacho supreme. Starts off slow, you kind of regret ordering it in the first place, but then you reach the halfway point and think "hey, this is pretty good, wow" before it slowly becomes the best decision you've made all day. It wasn't until the second half when the Spurs found another gear and reached nacho supreme mode.
And that's a wrap folks. Until next time ...