To borrow a line from the opening credits of Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Memphis Grizzlies are alive damn it and it's a miracle.
But only temporarily.
As currently constructed, Memphis is a glorified bunch of D-Leaguers and end-of-rotation filler along with Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Lance Stephenson. Stephenson, perennial locker room knucklehead acquired in a February trade, is one of the few players on the team that can create their own shot, which says everything about the sad state of the Grizzlies. A guy named Xavier Munford -- a real NBA player and definitely not a player name generated on NBA2K -- is playing significant minutes for a playoff team.
Locking up the seven seed, when Utah was more healthy and frankly a better team, is a big reason why Dave Joerger could potentially be Coach of the Year. And, still, this team is a flat-out mess.
Memphis stumbled down the stretch of the season, losing 10 of its last 11 games entering the playoffs. The team, which has sustained injuries to Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen, has utilized a NBA-record 28 players through the course of the season. They won 42 games but, really, it feels like 50 if you consider the bulk of the team sat on the bench in street clothes every night.
These developments, of course, aren't ideal when the first-round opponent is the San Antonio Spurs, winners of 67 games this season and owners of the top-ranked defensive outfit in the league.
Unlike losing to Golden State, which blitzes the opposition and knocks them out quickly with a flurry of 3-pointers, losing to the Spurs is slower, painful and seemingly never-ending. It's a basketball torture chamber of sorts as the Spurs strangle the remaining life out of teams breath by breath, Kawhi Leonard breakaway dunk by Kawhi Leonard breakaway dunk. Much like the Spurs of old, it's a methodical undertaking. You don't realize it at the time but suddenly a nine-point lead in the first quarter turns into a 11-point lead at the half which turns into a 30-point deficit after three quarters and concludes with a 32-point loss after regulation.
Sunday night's 106-74 victory against Memphis, who entered the night as 18.5 point underdogs, was business as usual for two teams trending in the opposite direction. San Antonio has its eyes set on the bigger picture -- a sixth NBA championship -- and the looming presence of the Warriors (if they get past the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is no guarantee). The Grizzlies are merely a formality at this point, a step in the process before the real NBA playoffs begin. Memphis has shocked the Spurs in the playoffs before but these are different teams, different circumstances and health is certainly not on the Grit-And-Grind Grizzlies side. A first-round upset is basically untenable.
Memphis has its attention focused entirely on the Spurs, as imposing a road block as any NBA team outside of Golden State. All Joerger's injury-riddled team has on its side is hope. Perhaps the only way for Memphis to beat the Spurs is to prevent them from entering the building.
Less than one minute into Game 1, Kawhi jumped the passing lane, corralled the errant pass from Chris Andersen with his massive octopus arms and broke away for an easy dunk. The entire play took less than six seconds, but it might have like an eternity for a Memphis team gasping for breathe, desperately trying to expand its diminishing life span in the playoffs. There are fewer plays more demoralizing and more back-breaking in basketball than the reigning Defensive Player of the Year destroying the entire play and creating offense on his own.
Memphis is technically still alive in the postseason, sure, but with each Kawhi breakaway dunk, each LaMarcus Aldridge mid-range bucket, each Tony Parker layup, each Boban Marjanovic slam, the Grizzlies are coming closer and closer to its inevitable basketball mortality.
Memphis' time will come soon enough, while the Spurs are just beginning.
Kawhi Leonard: 20 points on 8-13 shooting, 4 steals, 3 3-pointers, 3 blocks, 2 rebounds, +18.
The 24-year-old basketball robot designed in Gregg Popovich's laboratory put up this line in just 29 minutes too. Playoff Kawhi mode was activated indeed.
Quote of the night
"We're the type of team that just focuses on ourselves. We know we have an opportunity, and we want to make the best of it."
- Kawhi Leonard
By the numbers
- 32: The Spurs' 32-point victory was its fifth-largest postseason victory in franchise history. It's also the second biggest margin for the Spurs in its opening game of the playoffs.
- 1,065: Tony Parker passed Steve Nash and Larry Bird on the NBA's playoff assists leaderboard. He's fifth all-time with 1,065 assists. The only players with more assists than Parker in the playoffs: Magic, Stockton, Kidd and LeBron. Seems like good company.
- 1: Boban slam.
- No Spurs starter played more than 30 minutes in the blowout. Tim Duncan, Parker, Danny Green, Aldridge, Kawhi and Manu Ginobili didn't even play in the fourth quarter.
- 13: Spurs entered the game. In other words, that's the entire active roster. The only Spur who didn't score Sunday night was Kyle Anderson, who missed his only field goal attempt.
- 16: Points scored by the Memphis starters not named Vince Carter. An ugly performance all around for the Grizzlies.
- Uh, the Spurs are just waaaaaay better than the Grizzlies at basketball. That's all I have for you.
Spurs championship tracker:— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) April 18, 2016
tfw you're Zach Randolph and all your team's injuries have left you to fight the Spurs on your own pic.twitter.com/feeD4Fx1Vt— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) April 18, 2016
When you're tryna keep your boy from talkin to his ex at the bar https://t.co/mnKZSrymgC— Brayden Neubauer (@Braydenominator) April 18, 2016
I know Kawhi is perpetually nonplussed but falling asleep while dunking is too much pic.twitter.com/RTZdPujklB— Angie Treasure (@snark_tank) April 18, 2016
Boban has the same amount of points as Zach Randolph and he's only played in the fourth quarter.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) April 18, 2016
Not the first time Manu has gotten the best of a Grizzly pic.twitter.com/CbFsKPsueD— David McGinnis (@dav_mcg) April 18, 2016
RING MAKER: Congrats on the championship Spurs! What kinda design you want?— Myles Brown (@mdotbrown) April 18, 2016
POP: We were thinking...
*Boban walks in*
RING MAKER: I quit.
Farmar &— ☕netw3rk (@netw3rk) April 18, 2016
Is it too early to bring out the brooms?— Maddy Skye (@MaddySkye) April 18, 2016
BREAKING: Game 2 of Spurs-Grizzlies will be aired on tape delay.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 18, 2016
Taco Bell menu item of the game
*Disclaimer: This section is not sponsored by Taco Bell. I'm just a huge fan. It's in my Twitter bio, after all. Direct any "Taco Bell is terrible comments how could you like this toxic sludge" below. It's cool.
Has to be the biscuit taco. You don't have high expectations going into the meal and somehow it turns out even worse than you expected and you want it to stop so you keep eating expecting to stop but it doesn't stop and it feels like it will never ever stop. That was Spurs-Grizzlies last night and, probably, for the rest of the series.
And that's a wrap. Until next time ...