On a night that looked to be a sure loss as recently as a few days ago, the Spurs managed to play both offense and defense in the same game against the rejuvenated Memphis Grizzlies. Grit and Grind is back with a vengeance, and with a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol on the court, the Griz came into the evening in 2nd place in the West with the league’s 2nd best defense.
Undaunted, perhaps thanks to Coach Pop’s freshly shaved countenance or Tim Duncan’s attendance (coincidence?), the Spurs hung tight throughout the game. Despite getting off to a bit of a slow start and going down by 10 in the first 7 minutes, the home team surged back in front with a 14-3 run over the next four minutes, and neither squad built more than a 6 point lead the rest of the way.
Conley and Gasol were forces to be reckoned with all night long, and they used the pick and roll and pick and pop to devastating effect. None of the Spurs’ guards could stay with Conley – few can, to be fair – and he was able to get into the paint or step back for open looks seemingly at will, finishing with 30 points on just 23 shots, to go with 9 assists and 4 rebounds. But the Spurs played tough team defense, rotating to open men, helping on drives and mismatches, and made the Grizzlies work for everything.
The first half saw an unexpectedly brisk pace. Somehow, the slowest and 6th slowest teams in the league put up 120 points before halftime, with the Griz taking a 2 point lead into the locker room. The end of the 1st and beginning of the 2nd quarter in particular saw a resurgent Spurs’ offense score early and often against an outstanding defense. Things slowed back down in the 3rd quarter, and stayed that way for the rest of the game. Both team finished with just 92 possessions, the 4th lowest of the season for Memphis and tied for lowest of the season for San Antonio.
The Spurs made an effort to get LaMarcus easy buckets throughout the game. They used duck- ins, seals, and early posts, among other things, to get LaMarcus close to the rim or matched up against a smaller player. That part of the game plan worked, and LaMarcus finished the night with 19 points. Unfortunately, it didn’t have much effect on his shooting woes. It took him 20 shots and 9 free throw attempts to get there.
In crunch time, the teams’ stars traded body blows like heavyweight boxers, with Conley and Gasol taking every Grizzlies’ shot over the last 5 minutes, and DeMar, LaMarcus, and Rudy scoring all of the Spurs’ points in that time. Both defenses dialed up the pressure, and every bucket was dearly earned. The game came down to the wire, and looked for a moment like another chapter in the growing legend of DeRozing Time.
In an incredible ending to the game, DeMar hit a heavily contested 20-footer while fading away from the basket with 1.2 seconds remaining, only for Marc Gasol to draw a shooting foul with less than second left at the other end. Gasol hit both of his free throws to give the Grizzlies a one point lead, and the Spurs were unable to score in the mere 7 tenths of a second remaining, though it certainly appeared like LaMarcus could have earned his own trip to the line on their final attempt.
Close games tend to be coin flips over the long haul, though, and the fact that the Spurs were in this against such a good opponent is a good sign. A franchise like the Spurs shouldn’t put much stock in moral victories, but more efforts like this helps to forget the dismal performances of last week. They’ll win some and they’ll lose some, but at least they’ll have a chance.
Let’s start with the highlights.
- The Spurs offense looked as good as it has all season, and for brief periods, all but unstoppable. The Grizzlies defense is excellent, and scoring 103 points on 92 possessions against them is a good work, if you can get it.
- Much of that had to do with Rudy Gay’s continued dominance. He scored easily, drew fouls, made timely cuts for resounding dunks, and played great defense, repeatedly thwarting mismatches in the post with perfect kick out switches.
- Right on his heels was Mr. DeRozing Time himself. It wasn’t DeMar’s best game, with a season high 5 turnovers, but he scored well and fought his way to the basket time and again, especially as time wound down. The shot he hit with just 1.2 seconds remaining should have been a game-winner. It was an incredibly difficult look, with Conley all but in his shirt, but that’s one of the things that makes DeMar special, the ability to take and make shots just like that.
- The bench was a much needed shot in the arm at the end of the first. Patty, Marco, Davis, and Jakob finished the charge that brought the team back from their biggest deficit of the night, and combined for some nice highlights, including this Patty block (?!?) and assist that allowed Jakob to show off his body control and finger roll.
And now the less rosy stuff.
- Bryn Forbes did not have a good night. That was 100% caused by Conley, who seemed intent on murdering Bryn’s mojo the whole game. To Bryn’s credit, he still found shots, and continued to compete, but it was the worst night of his breakout season so far.
- LaMarcus also struggled, though it was nothing new. He continues to do lots of little things to help the team, and his rebounding and defense alone make him one of their most important players. But as long as he’s not a threat from the midrange, the Spurs pick and pop game has no teeth, and it will become increasingly more difficult to generate quality shots with him on the floor without dramatically changing how he plays the game.
Up next: at Pacers on Friday
The first half of another back to back that finishes up in Milwaukee. These next two games are going to be tough, so gird yourself for hard times, it might be a rough weekend.