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San Antonio overcomes 1997 Spurs cover band

The Spurs play the long game, rest four players in Memphis, win anyway.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

So it's not quite fair to call Memphis a 1997 Spurs cover band because the Grizzlies have actually played 8 more players this season than that 20 win Spurs team. For another, Memphis is a playoff team rather than lottery-bound, and will likely give the Clippers or Thunder a run for their money in the first round regardless of who suits up for them. On Monday night, both the Grizzlies and Spurs trotted out lineups that more resembled a couple of Summer League teams than the 2 and 5 seeds in the Western Conference. Whether at full strength, or less than half, the Grizzles are usually up for giving their Southwestern Division rivals a hard time (even if they're 20 games back in the standings), but this time Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Company couldn't quite muster the resolve to finish their multiple comeback attempts after falling down early by double digits. This was maybe best typified by Carter's sensational 360 degree layup attempt *ahem* that skipped off the side of the rim.

At 2-1, Gregg Popovich's annual Concession Week has been shorter on short-term pain for long-term gain than in past years. Obviously, playing the Memphis 10-day contract guys helps keep things afloat in the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the Big 3, none of whom made the trip to OKC or Tennessee, but with the defensive play of Kyle Anderson and Danny Green and the go-to chops of LaMarcus Aldridge (who had another big first half against the Grizzlies) there's a notion that Pop might be able to buy a few more rest days for the older guys and the young superstar over the last few weeks of the regular season.

Speaking of older guys, last nights gave us one of our most extensive looks at Andre Miller and Kevin Martin in Spurs uniforms. Professor Miller, in particular, flashed some of the uber-chill smooth jazz post moves which he's spent the past four decades perfecting. Unlike Vinsanity, Miller never traded on his athleticism, and his game has aged almost as gracefully as Tim Duncan's. I can see fourth quarter minutes for him in the playoffs, especially early on.

Martin will have his moments in the postseason as well, and is a bit more deployable against the Thunder and Warriors. He's very good at moving to whichever spot on the floor will offer him the most offensive options, and while his defense isn't lockdown, it could be good enough to keep him on the floor. At any rate, he's a long armed shooter who will make it just a teensy bit harder for Golden State to work defensive switches.

With the decline of Memphis, Houston and Dallas, the Western Conference isn't quite as top-to-bottom formidable as it once was. That won't matter to the Spurs once they get to the playoffs, since they're likely to face a feisty Utah team in the first round before running into the Saw movie that will be OKC and Golden State. Becky Hammon spoke last week about how Popovich is a barrier-breaker for giving her the chance to be a coach regardless of her gender. But it's only been recently that the public has seen that sort of forward social momentum from PATFO. In a very different way, though, Pop has spent years breaking down mental barriers that might otherwise relegate the less heralded members of his team to harmful stereotypes. Games like last night allow even deep bench guys to show what they're made of, to play like stars even if just for one game, so that when the true tests come in April, May and June, they will be ready to contribute if for whatever reason Pop calls on them. It's what's separated the Spurs from the rest of the league since 1997.

Since it appears the Spurs have conceded the number 1 seed to the Warriors, and were surely never playing for goals like attaining 70 wins, Pop has also been able to separate from his players' minds all other concerns besides the one that actually matters. What does it profit a team if it wins 73 games and loses the championship? Will it matter tomorrow if the Spurs or Warriors finish the season undefeated at home or having suffered no losing streaks? With the way Memphis fought five days ago in San Antonio, it was conceivable that this Spurs lineup might be the first of the season to follow up one loss with another. Instead, they stayed hungry and kept the seat warm for Kawhi and the others. They might not have resembled a typical 62-win team, but these guys made sure their coach had no flashbacks to darker times.

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