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Spurs hang on against feisty Grizzlies

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Led by their supporting cast, the Spurs avoided another end-game meltdown and picked up a much-needed win over Memphis.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

You don’t need the replay in front of you to see it unfold in your mind: The loose ball, initially poked free by the outstretched arm of Kyle Anderson, suddenly bouncing wildly down the floor after an errant pass, then retrieved again mere inches from the baseline by the same 7’3” wingspan, whose owner can do nothing but spin blindly so as to not let his momentum carry him out of bounds, buying him just enough time to spot an open Davis Bertans at the rim and fling a lob his way. The basket gives the Spurs an 81-78 lead.

There were numerous times in their 100-98 win over Memphis in which the game — a “must-win” in one veteran’s estimation — seemed to hang by a thread, but only one with Anderson did the literal and the metaphorical converge, his arms serving as a sinewy lifeline time and time again. As a result, a season that has itself been undone by another player’s connective tissue averted disaster for at least one more game.

Who the opponent was didn’t matter — Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a guard on a 10-day contract, didn’t even have a name on his jersey — nor did it matter that they had lost 13 games in a row. For the most part, the Spurs appeared to be playing themselves, trying to leave behind their recent end-game demons and get the win they so desperately needed to keep up with the competitive West.

Anderson played a big role in that. In his 49th start of the season, he had eight points, four assists, and five steals, using his length and instincts to catch ball-handlers off-guard and initiate fast-break opportunities.

The recipient of Anderson’s memorable alley-oop, Davis Bertans (17 points), along with Tony Parker (a season-high 23 points), gave the team a boost off the bench, Bertans doing his damage at the line and at the rim, while Parker feasted in the mid-range.

“Kyle, Tony and Davs were great for us tonight,” said Gregg Popovich afterwards. “They all played really well.”

Despite their struggles, the Grizzlies showed considerable fight. Marc Gasol had 23, 10 and four, burying a number of tough shots and nearly willing the game into overtime in the game’s closing seconds. With Memphis down four, Gasol’s shot (later changed from a three to a two) banked in, but he was unable to draw a foul in the act.

With their usual go-to players cold (LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray and Pau Gasol combined for just 22 points on 7-of-27 shooting) and the three-point shot not falling (they made 6-of-22 as a team), the Spurs needed all the scoring they could get from the supporting cast. Aldridge, in particular, didn’t look quite right in his first game back from his ankle injury, although Popovich summed it up as him being “a little rusty” on the night.

He wasn’t the only San Antonio big hobbled by injury, as Gasol spent time on the sideline wincing and having his shoulder tended to. He would return, but continued to demonstrate discomfort with it through the end of the game.

And such was the bitter reality that attention shifted to following the game: to Gasol’s shoulder (“He told me it was bad,” Tony Parker said), Aldridge’s ankle, Rudy Gay’s ear (a blown-out ear drum, to be checked out tomorrow), as well as the trials ahead. Nothing looked easy against the lottery-bound Grizzlies, and yet things will only get tougher in the next month.

But don’t talk to Danny Green about the prospect of “getting swept” on this upcoming three-game road trip versus Golden State, OKC and Houston:

“We’re not looking to get one, we’re looking to get every game we step on the floor for. It’s very important where the standings are. At this point, we know we control our own destiny.”

Indeed the Spurs — now up one spot to fifth in the West — hold their destiny in their hands. And they’ll hang on for as long as they can.


A few more notes on...

The free-throw advantage

When your shot isn’t falling, getting to the line helps. The Spurs took 31 freebies (making 24) on Monday, to the Grizzlies’ nine, a disparity which made all the difference.

A quiet night for Dejounte

Murray took an early seat less than three minutes into this one, after getting burned on a back-cut by his man. With Tony Parker cooking, and the team in desperate need of a win, it made sense for Pop to turn to his trusted veteran, who played 26 minutes to Murray’s 18.

Davis, on the pass from Slow Mo

Davis Bertans gets in on the Slow Mo fun and reflects on what could be a new career-high for him for alley-oop dunks in a game.