It only seemed fitting that there was a power outage early on during the second quarter in Memphis. After three games of what's often been sludgy, grimy, and at times unwatchable play in what was always a foregone conclusion of a series, you could understand if some higher power just decided, "Ugh, enough of this."
And if the idea of God decreeing that Spurs-Grizzles isn't exciting enough seems too hacky or blasphemous for your tastes than consider the words of an even higher authority figure than the almighty -- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who described the team's first quarter offense as "Sloppy and unprofessional," to sideline reporter Heather Cox.
As we all know, the almighty dollar trumps good taste. League honchos and corporate television contracts demanded that the game be resumed after an 18-minute delay, with the Spurs leading 25-23 early in the second quarter and perhaps the two teams got the hint because from thereafter both offenses were free-flowing and quite professional-looking indeed. Not only did the Spurs score 91 points over the final three quarters, but Memphis totaled 76, which is a higher sum than they managed in all of Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio.
That both teams found their legs after a frigid start was surprising because the game was practically a SEGABABA, a noon start on Sunday after a late Friday Game 3. I remember the Spurs being in a similar spot in 2013 in their second-round series against the Warriors, where they led most of the way in Game 4 before just running out of legs late in a defensive struggle. Cox informed the audience that Pop told her that he planned on making subs more frequently for the game, with a tentative plan to not play anyone more than eight minutes at a time. (He didn't stick to it, but it's the thought that counts, or something.)
Continuing the theme from Game 3, the visitors were content to fire away from outside against the Grizzlies small-ball lineup, perhaps a bit too much for Popovich's liking. The mics caught him telling the team "I'm not looking for jump-shot city" during a time out. The Spurs launched 10 threes in the first quarter alone, making just three, and about the only positive they could take from a first quarter in which they managed a single solitary assist was that at least both of their point guards were scoring again --an 11 combined points for Tony Parker and Patty Mills-- after both were ice-cold in Game 3.
It went even worse in the outage-interrupted second-quarter. Kawhi Leonard got hot, scoring 12 points, but the rest of the team shot 3-of-13 combined. The refs were sending both teams to the line for some soft fouls to inflate what was otherwise a rock-fight, and even though the team listened to Pop and attempted just two bombs in the quarter, it didn't fix the offense. Even worse Lance Stephenson got loose a bit for Memphis, with a dozen of his own , and the Spurs led just 47-45 at half, a virtual repeat of Game 3.
And then, inexplicably, the dam burst, as it has all season long for the Spurs in the third. The starters were due to break out as a unit, and they combined for 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting in the period and the team scored 37 as a whole, their most in any playoff quarter since smoking the Heat for 41 in the first quarter of Game 3 of the 2014 Finals. (You might remember Leonard breaking out on the national stage with 16 of his game-high 29 points.)
Okay, twist my arm, here's a video of that quarter in case you forgot. Miss you, Tiago.
There wasn't anything quite that spectacular this time around, but the Spurs were helped by the fact that they were able to get out and run against the undersized Grizzlies in transition. Parker took advantage of not having a rim-protector to worry about and zipped for three lay-ups plus a trip to the line. Tim Duncan's presence was vital. He hardly played at all in the second half of Game 3, but this time Popovich kept him in there and he snuffed three shots in the quarter, with Leonard and David West adding a couple more.The Spurs won the points-in-the-paint battle 20-to-10 for the period. It also helped that Leonard didn't force up shots. Instead he found open shooters and cutters for three helpers.
Popovich has been resistant to use Duncan much against small-ball lineups all year, but not everyone is the Warriors. A lot of teams just don't shoot very well from outside, especially this time of year when everyone's dog tired and the pressure is so ratcheted up. The Thunder, for example, don't have many shooters. There's a legitimate concern that having Duncan play clogs up the offense too much and that he can't chase around smalls on the other end, but as we saw against Memphis, there are plenty of non-shooters to hide him on, even on switches. I'd rather have him play, because his rebounding and rim-protection is much needed. The Spurs have two very good centers in Duncan and Boban Marjanovic and I wish they'd play to their strengths more often rather than trying to match their opponent's smaller lineups.
Speaking of Boban, both he and Jonathon Simmons had strong fourth quarters (uh, offensively anyway) in extended garbage time that inflated the final numbers for both offenses a bit. There were plenty of contributors though, from Mills to his trio of threes, to West, who played his best game of the series by far and had a couple of really smart passes and well-timed cuts, to Boris Diaw who canned his first triple since March 5th and added three dimes. The Spurs can definitely go into the break feeling good about how they're playing.
And it is gonna be a bit of an off spell here. They're not going to start their second-round series until Saturday at the earliest. But five days off is preferable to five months I guess, which is where they found themselves after the first-round a year ago.
Manu Ginobili wasn't much of a factor in the game, though he finished plus-17, but he finished the series with just one turnover in 76 minutes, compared to 11 assists. I don't even know who he is anymore.
Leonard tossed in 2-of-3 threes on the afternoon and has made merely 15-of-21 from outside at the FedEx Forum for the year. Tony Allen made 8-of-28 at home all season.
"The Big Three" are passing playoff milestones left and right.
Duncan is now tied in playoff wins with a fellow he called "Bobby."
Most playoff wins in NBA history:— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 24, 2016
1. Derek Fisher - 161
2t. Robert Horry - 155
2t. TIM DUNCAN - 155
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 154
Meanwhile both Tony and Manu have passed Magic.
Tony Parker now has more playoff wins than Magic Johnson. Parker (129) passes Magic (128) and is now tied for 7th in NBA history.— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 24, 2016
Manu Ginobili has now played more playoff games than Magic Johnson. Ginobili (191) passes Magic (190) today for 11th in NBA history.— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 24, 2016
So I've got Warriors-Rockets on in the background as I'm writing this and analyst Jeff Van Gundy is off on another one of his rants about how terrible the "Hack-A" strategy is because neither Dwight Howard nor James Michael McAdoo can make free-throws. They're two of a handful of bigs who are a major liability at the line, along with the Warriors' Andrew Bogut, Houston's Clint Capela, Detroit's Andre Drummond, Toronto's Bismack Biyombo and of course the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan. Apparently we're supposed to sympathize with these giants for lacking the ability to perform one of the core principles of basketball: Making an uncontested 15-foot shot from straight away. We're supposed to feel bad for them because they're big and their hands are too large to shoot properly.
Except here's Marjanovic making 4-of-5 today and 76.3 percent for the season. Here's Yao Ming, who shot 83.3 percent for his career and Shawn Bradley who made 71.6 percent of his. Hell, here's Leonard, whose mitts are the size of frying pans, and he makes like 88 percent of his and shoots threes almost as well.
The debate over this rule is ridiculous. Hand size is not an excuse for poor shooting. No one is going to make Jordan stop jumping 13 feet in the air to block shots because it hurts smaller players' feelings. You're basketball players. Learn to shoot the friggin' ball, and if you can't, too bad. Don't get upset when opposing coaches take advantage of each others' weaknesses when all coaching is is taking advantage of other teams' weaknesses.
(Thank you again for enjoying tonight's episode of Old White Guy Yells at Cloud)
Hey, I get to go attend a second-round game for the first time ever. That's gonna be neat. And I'm officially suspending my non-fan status against the Thunder because I loathe them with every fiber of my being.
Your Three Stars:
1. Kawhi Leonard
2. Tony Parker
3. LaMarcus Aldridge