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Spurs look sluggish in loss at Memphis

Only two more games with these guys in the regular season and then like six more in late April

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Game 68 @Memphis: Grizzlies 104, Spurs 96 Record: 52-16

1st in Southwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference Streak: L-2

Well that first-seed fantasy was nice while it lasted.

The Spurs have suffered consecutive defeats against mediocre competition and again are starting to look like an old club that’s getting pooped at the wrong time. Quick, anybody know what the significance of this past Thursday and Friday was? They represented the final consecutive off-day stretch of the regular season. From this point forward the Spurs will play at least every other day the rest of the way, and that’s not when they’re not playing in a dreaded BABA.

Did this team look like one that had two days off to you? Me neither.

Granted some of the stiffness may have had to do with the stranger starting at point guard for them against Memphis. You’ll have to forgive me, I don’t keep up with the news very much so I might have missed the news of the dude they signed to a 10-day contract, but whoever that guy was in the No. 9 jersey, I’m fairly certain he doesn’t have much of a future in this league.

No, seriously though I’m not sure why Gregg Popovich elected to bring back Tony Parker for this one. He clearly did not look 100 percent out there and we have ample evidence by now that Parker at anything less is not worth the trouble. My guess is if Dejounte Murray was healthy —or even if Nico Laprovittola wasn’t hastily shown the door— then The Wee Frenchman would’ve still been shelved for this one.

It obviously didn’t help matters that the Grizzlies made four more threes than the Spurs in the game. That’s sure not supposed to happen. But the Spurs often don’t shoot well in this building. They scored a season-low 74 points last time they played here, albeit without Kawhi Leonard. Something about the FedEx Forum makes their long-distance packages wind up at the wrong destination you might say.

The first quarter was a fairly accurate microcosm for the game as a whole. The Spurs missed all of their wide open threes —0-of-9 in the period— while the Grizzlies canned all their open ones. Also, San Antonio’s bench was awful. Practically the only open looks the Spurs could generate came from outside and they got nothing easy in the paint or in transition.

From the very outset the starters had difficulty executing any worthwhile offense. I had to make sure I hadn’t recorded an NCAA tournament game by mistake. Leonard, perhaps eager to shake loose from Allen, absolutely sprinted into a three-point attempt, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone try outside of an end-of-quarter situation before. I don’t care how talented you are, if you’re moving as fast as you can, it’s not conducive to accuracy. As you might’ve guessed, he missed badly. Then on the next possession, he threw up an air ball trying to draw a foul. LaMarcus Aldridge pretty much saved the squad from being down a million points, and I thought maybe three of his seven shots in the period were quality looks. Parker was fortunate to draw a goaltending call on a layup attempt that would’ve been lucky to nick the rim at best and he had Mike Conley drill two threes in his mug on the other end, though one was well-contested. Leonard also had a bucket somewhere in there after the Spurs had like four offensive rebounds on one possession.

I’ll say this much for the starters: At least they defended well to start the game. Things went kablooey once the bench entered the fray, with a 19-4 Grizzles run to end the quarter. Patty Mills had an awful three-shot foul, then 98-year-old Vince Carter buried a wide-open three, then Zach Randolph had an easy roll to the basket (because what else is going to happen with Pau Gasol in there amirite?), then Carter had a cherry-pick layup in transition and then Z-Bo hit a long two and shortly later a longer three. Jonathon Simmons passing up a dunk so that Manu Ginobili could brick a three was the perfect culmination for the quarter. Randolph scored four baskets by himself in six minutes off the bench while the Spurs reserves combined to go 1-of-8.

The visitors reversed momentum in the second quarter and for a while we were reminded of the last couple of times these teams hooked up in the playoffs, where Memphis generally couldn’t throw it into the ocean. They shot 4-of-16 in the quarter and only managed to scored as much as 15 points thanks to a pair of threes and eight freebie attempts. The Spurs bench redeemed themselves somewhat to start the period, with Mills finally hitting an open three off the hammer set and then Gasol nailed a jumper. The starters began to trickle back into the lineup from there, with Parker hitting a J, Simmons getting a breakout layup, Dewayne Dedmon finishing off an ‘oop and Simmons again hitting a jumper to make it a 13-1 run.

After that, the quality looks dried up for the quarter. Leonard found Mills for another three and David Lee for a layup, and he hit a couple of tough shots near the end of the period, but in between were a half-dozen wretched turnovers for the Spurs. There were passes thrown out-of-bounds, a charge on Ginobili, a travel by Leonard and I think at some point Pop might’ve double-dribbled. Somehow, the Spurs trailed just 44-43 at half.

Things got less sloppy, at long last, for both sides in the third quarter. There wasn’t much ball movement to speak of for the Spurs —it was mostly just dumping the ball into Aldridge— but at least they were getting shots up. LMA sank 5-of-11 in the quarter and San Antonio added threes from Ginobili and Simmons as well as eight free-throws to crack 30 for the quarter. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies countered with 31 of their own. They made 5-of-7 triples, with JaMychal Green and even Tony Allen canning one each. Green and unheralded Troy Daniels scored 8 apiece in the quarter and Memphis is a tough squad to beat when their role players are producing like that.

The Spurs trailed by just a bucket going into the fourth quarter but the game quickly got away from them thanks to a 9-2 Memphis run. Daniels hit his third bomb of the half to start the period and then Ginobili had the chair pulled out from underneath him for a turnover that led to a breakaway score for Conley. After Gasol and Randolph traded trips to the line, Z-Bo brutalized poor Davis Bertans for another layup to make it 84-75.

Simmons, Leonard and Bertans would hit threes on the Spurs’ next three possessions but they’d never get closer than three points the rest of the way. Parker threw up some contested shots, Simmons had another terrible three-shot foul on Conley, then Conley followed that shortly after with a ridiculous three with Parker again in his jersey, and then Marc Gasol had a back-breaking “and-1” against Aldridge to make it an 11-point game with 2:30 to go.

So it goes for the Spurs. Leonard was mortal, Aldridge was only good when he needed to be great and no one else stepped up except Simmons, who had a bounce-back game after a couple of weeks in the doldrums. Ginobili looked very much like someone ready for his jersey to be raised into the AT&T Center rafters except for a two-minute stretch in the third quarter. Mills lacked his usual spark. Marc’s older brother didn’t make any threes today and anyone else notice that when Pau isn’t hitting bombs it’s kinda hard for him to score? Parker’s return from a four-game absence was... well it’d be just swell Murray heals up soon.

San Antonio certainly weren’t awful on Saturday night. 15 turnovers isn’t that excessive and it led to a whopping seven fast-break points for Memphis. The Grizzlies didn’t overwhelm in the paint or dominate on the glass. They simply made a couple more threes and free-throws than we would ordinarily expect while the Spurs in turn made a couple fewer from outside than usual. Perhaps that’s the most disturbing takeaway from the game. The Spurs weren’t that bad collectively and the Grizzlies weren’t that good and yet they were beaten relatively comfortably by a team they may well go on to face in the opening round of the playoffs. They’ll be odds-on favorites in such a series and will probably win, but Memphis will ugly up the games and make the Spurs work for it and the point guard match-up doesn’t look at all fun. The good news is if the Spurs get past Conley they’ll only have to deal with Chris Paul or James Harden or Russell Westbrook, and after them the two-time league MVP who can shoot from the moon. So exciting!

Up Next: Vs. Sacramento Kings (I’m not looking up their crap record)

The Spurs have beaten them twice already this season unless they’ve beaten them three times. It’s one or the other. I’m pretty sure Aldridge is going to dominate his match-up with Boogie Cousins, but less optimistic about how he’ll fare against Skal Labissiere. (Is it bad that I just contemplated what that phone call between R.C. Buford and Vlade Divac would be like?) I have no idea if Ginobili or Parker will play but I’d guess not. The game will start as soon as you finish reading this.