First Round Game 3 @Memphis: Grizzlies 105, Spurs 94 Series: 2-1 SA
The old adage about the playoffs is that a series doesn’t really begin until the home team loses. Baloney. It begins whenever both teams have a loss, period. That’s when the real adjustments are made and when the real attention gets paid. For a prohibitive favorite like the Spurs, who’d only beaten the Grizzlies 10 consecutive times in the playoffs going back to 2013, it was always going to take a defeat to get their antennae up, no matter how veteran-laden and mature they are. Forget the players, even Gregg Popovich doesn’t get serious about making tweaks until his guys catch an “L.”
Make no mistake, the seeds of this loss were planted in Game 2 and I’m not referring at all to Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s now infamous rant about the officiating afterward. Memphis, after falling behind by as many as 26 points in the second quarter of that game, played much better than the Spurs in the second half and could’ve well stolen the game if not for a few bounces here and there. I believe Fizdale’s admonishing of the zebras had less to do with the perceived injustice of the calls and more to do with rallying his guys toward a common cause, to keep them believing and fighting and pulling on the same rope. So don’t pay much attention to the final numbers where the Spurs still finished with eight more free-throw attempts and were called for three fewer fouls than the Grizzlies in Game 3. Fizdale got exactly what he wanted for his soliloquy.
The game followed a familiar recipe. The Spurs struggled to move the ball with their starting unit but hung in for a half largely due to the efforts of their chaos engine at small-forward, Kawhi Leonard. Then, I think Pop showed them a clip of Schindler’s List or something else that’s the complete opposite of what one would associate with firing up a team of professional basketballers, and the visitors quickly laid an egg in the third quarter big enough to hatch a brontosaurus.
Speaking of lumbering beasts, old nemesis Zach Randolph sure gave us some 2011 flashbacks out there, huh? LaMarcus Aldridge —at times— could challenge him. But Z-Bo just tossed aside Pau Gasol and David Lee like torn gift-wrap paper on Christmas morning. A simple perusal of the box score would suggest that the Spurs lost the game on defense, with Memphis sporting a final shooting line of 50.6/40.9/90.0 as a team and an assist:turnover ratio of 21:5. Indeed not only did Randolph go off but so did Pau’s younger brother Marc and the much-disrespected Mike Conley, with all three scoring at least 21 and combining for 66. Not only were the Spurs powerless to stop any one facet of Memphis’ operation, but their defense was so sluggish and inactive that they couldn’t force the kind of miscues to fuel their own flagging offense.
And that’s our cue to discuss the woes of, well, pretty much everyone not named Kawhi Leonard. Again, the numbers don’t look too gruesome on the whole, but don’t be misled by garbage time fluffery. Through three quarters the Spurs had 63 points on 41.5 percent shooting, with 11 assists and 8 turnovers and they were trailing by 18. They were Russell Westbrook, with less scowling.
No, I don’t think there will be too many peppy “See, I told you Tony Parker was just saving it for the playoffs” missives after this one, not after The Wee Frenchman got bageled in both the points and assists columns in his 19 minutes of floor time. Sure he bares some blame for the starters’ lack of ball movement to begin each half. But he was hardly the only culprit out there. Aldridge was held to only eight field goal attempts and was spotty from the charity stripe. Dewayne Dedmon was whistled for two early fouls and was a total non-factor. Danny Green couldn’t find the range from outside and couldn’t make a defensive impact either.
Then there was the bench, where Manu Ginobili continues to be 0-for-the playoffs. He hasn’t even missed narrowly yet in his 10 attempts spread through the three games and I wonder how much his eye is bothering him from that Z-Bo swipe early in Game 1. Or maybe it’s some undisclosed leg injury. Or maybe he’s almost 40-years-old and not up to this anymore. All I know is that he treated the ball like a radioactive isotope while in the game, so quick to shuffle it off to somebody, anybody, and that none of his teammates seem particularly inclined to give it to him anymore these days either. Ginobili got a DNP-CD in the second half and it would’ve been nice if someone asked Pop about it after the game, but alas.
Patty Mills was okay on the offensive end, Kyle Anderson had the game of his life and even Jonathon Simmons offered some encouraging moments in the fourth quarter, to the point where I’m wondering if Pop will play him over Ginobili in Game 4. But backup bigs Gasol and Lee were terribly disappointing on both ends and look, guys, I’m not going to crow “I told you so” in the wake of a blowout playoff loss, but I’d be perfectly content if Lee spent the rest of the playoffs in a suit, okay? I don’t know how much more painfully obvious it can be that Davis Bertans needs to play over him to unclog the offense. Right now the Spurs are making themselves way too predictable and easy to defend, with only two credible threats —Leonard and Aldridge-- among the starters and two —Gasol and Mills— among the reserves. Sometimes Pop plays three or all four of them at once, but not for long. The quartet have combined for 29 minutes together over the three games, with a 121.1 offensive rating.
The Spurs most oft-used foursome, Leonard-Aldridge-Parker-Green (with either Gasol or Dedmon as the second big), have gotten bludgeoned over 42 minutes, with a 102.8 offensive rating and a -15.4 net. They’ve fared slightly better with Gasol than Dedmon, but it’s been bad either way. Popovich pulled all five starters within 90 seconds of the third quarter, going with his patented “I”m going to make you all sit and think about what you did” hockey line-change maneuver, only the second line didn’t do any better. Weird, it was almost as though none of them were of the mind-frame to expect being subbed in so quickly.
It wasn’t all bad news on Wednesday, however. I became an uncle while y’all were asleep. The kid is already adorable to the degree that I’m wondering how she came out of my sister’s body. But the Spurs have a .000 winning percentage in the Emma Knapp era so blame her for this.