Honestly, I think Gregg Popovich would've preferred to lose.
The Spurs skipper wasn't exactly beaming after his charges just barely squeaked by at the AT&T Center against the skeleton crew of what used to be the Grizzlies. He was very complimentary about the efforts of Memphis coach Dave Joerger, his staff, and of course their football roster of players, both before and after the game, but typically when Pop has to deliver one of those postgame "attaboys" to a decimated opponent, the outcome is far more one-sided than we saw Friday night.
Granted, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green usually play and it doesn't exactly take a Coach of the Year award to figure out that the home side's defense would suffer mightily without their twin dobermans on the perimeter, and Pop gave Boris Diaw and Patty Mills the night off too. When you play Kevin Martin 33 minutes, Kyle Anderson 24, Jonathon Simmons 20 after a long layoff and Andre Miller 16, some defensive slippage is to be expected.
But man, the Grizzles were missing their top three dudes. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley we knew about. But Zach Randolph sat this one out too after spraining his ankle and/or allegedly being involved in something far more serious. If you bet me that Memphis was gonna crack 100 tonight I'd be broke right now.
The Spurs started brilliantly, not missing Leonard --out with that right thigh contusion-- and the other fellas that were resting at all, scoring a season-high 37 points in the first quarter on 68.2 percent shooting and opening up a 14-point lead. LaMarcus Aldridge was dominant against the corpse of "Birdman" Andersen, repeatedly getting good position on him in the paint and then pump-faking him into oblivion. Aldridge scored 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the quarter, explaining afterward that Tim Duncan was jealously barking at him because the Grizzlies were double-teaming him while letting Andersen check Aldridge one-on-one.
After that though, things started to slide. The Spurs still shot well in the second period, albeit with a couple too many turnovers and only one three-pointer, but the defense started springing leaks all over the place. At one point Pop used a lineup of Duncan-David West-Martin-Manu Ginobili-Miller --a combined 185-years-old-- and that didn't work too well. Former Spur JaMychal Green hit a couple of mid-range jumpers and old man Vince Carter hit 4-of-5 shots and the visitors sank 12-of-18 attempts in the quarter. Still a 13-point lead at half, but I would've thought that 64-51 would be our score after three quarters, not at recess.
It really started getting ominous in the third quarter, where the Spurs have usually been juggernauts at home. Again they shot over 50 percent in a period, making 9-of-17 shots with Aldridge pouring in nine more, but the Grizzlies were relentless, making 15-of-23, hitting three from downtown and scoring 33 in the period. This time it was the berzerker tandem of Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson who got loose, hitting from everywhere and rampaging into the lane, and the pair combined for 15 in the quarter on 7-of-8 shooting. We were even treated to Pop benching Anderson for lackadaisical defense and subbing in Simmons, which, I don't know about you but brought me back to December and January.
It was madness. 88-84, Spurs after three quarters. Aldridge had 30 and 9 in three quarters, Duncan and Parker were having productive games, and still San Antonio couldn't shake these broken, infernal Grizzlies.
The lead stayed between two and six points for most of the fourth quarter. West scored his customary three straight buckets early but was complicit in giving up 'em up on the other end as well. The Spurs finally broke it open with a 13-0 run midway though. Ginobili hadn't done much up to then, but he found Aldridge for an open jumper, buried a corner three on the ol' 5-on-4 power play, passed to Martin on the wing for another three, and then hit a third triple himself on the opposite wing. All of a sudden it was a 15-point lead and the home crowd could breathe easy.
The key play in that sequence was Stephenson, down six trying to drive between West and Aldridge and landing hard on the floor with no whistle. Play continued and the Grizzlies didn't take a foul. The Spurs smartly worked the ball around to an open Ginobili and it resulted in a five-point swing.
They probably should've taken the foul.
So, the Spurs won, their 37th in a row at home this season without a blemish, tying the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the best ever start. Their official home streak stands at 46, going back to last year, second only to the greatest team ever.
Klay was ready to celebrate https://t.co/cvpC9Lpek8— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 26, 2016
They allowed 53 percent shooting to this nondescript Memphis team, including 7-of-18 from downtown. It was only the fifth time in the history of the Grizzlies they've made at least 35 percent of their threes on at least 18 attempts against the Spurs. Three of the previous four occurred in 2007, back when they had Mike MIller and Damon Stoudamire.
Stephenson had an all-timer of an explanation for their offense's success afterward, saying, "The Spurs know everybody's plays and they know how everybody runs their plays, but we just play off our instincts. That's probably why we got those easy baskets that normal teams don't get on the Spurs."
So there you go. The key to beating the Spurs is to not run any plays. Pop wouldn't stand a chance against me on NBA2K.
Your Three Stars:
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2. Tim Duncan
3. Manu Ginobili
Up Next: At Oklahoma City Thunder (50-22)
Hey, remember how the Spurs have that hella long other streak going too, the one about not losing on a SEGABABA since Feb. 20, 2015 at Oakland? Well, I hope you'll remember it fondly because it's probably ending tomorrow against the Thunder. The team announced prior to tonight's game that "The Big Three" will all stay home for the two-game road trip to OKC and Memphis for rest. It's up in the air whether Leonard will be available, but I'd lean toward not because Popovich said his thigh contusion still feels pretty "tight," and there's no reason to risk anything in a meaningless game. So maybe do yourself a favor and skip this one and go see a movie instead. I heard Superman vs. Batman was pretty awful, but movie theater popcorn makes everything better. Russell Westbrook will get a triple-double like in eight minutes and no one but Thunder bloggers will care.
[POSTSCRIPT: They've officially scratched Leonard and Aldridge too, so that's five Hall-of-Famers out at OKC. Go get 'em, guys.]