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Spurs escape Memphis with first win of the Rodeo Road Trip

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The Spurs didn’t play well, but still managed to get a valuable win over the Grizzlies on the road before the All-Star break.

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

The fact that it took a missed free throw from rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. to avoid overtime shows that the Spurs probably didn’t deserve to escape Memphis with a 108-107 win over the Grizzlies, their first of the Rodeo Road Trip.

Yet considering how desperately they needed to get a victory away from the AT&T Center, they will gladly take a lucky W over playing well and and losing, and so should we. On Tuesday, winning was all that mattered and with a little help from their outmatched opponent, San Antonio did just that.

Even in a decidedly ugly game, there were moments in which the Spurs looked better than they have in their recent losing streak. Early on they were playing smart, attacking the foul-prone Grizzlies big man tandem and forcing contested mid-range jumpers on the other end by switching crisply across the perimeter. Unfortunately the good stretches have been intermittent lately, and Tuesday’s matchup wasn't the exception. After finding themselves in the bonus with plenty of time to go in the first, the Spurs stopped attacking. That lull coincided with a surge in defensive intensity for the home team, which held one of the best offenses in the league to 20 points while dropping 33 of their own mostly on tough looks.

Fortunately the Spurs’ reaction was swift. DeMar DeRozan had his best stretch of the night early in the second, getting a bucket and setting up two big Patty Mills three-pointers in the team’s first three offensive possessions. The Grizzlies’ bench held on surprisingly well for a while after that first wave, considering the lack of familiarity among the players, but couldn’t keep up when the second barrage came. This is time it was Davis Bertans leading the charge, making plays on both ends. The Latvian Laser was everywhere for a stretch, logging eight points and a block while forcing two turnovers in the frame to help San Antonio turn thing around and take the lead. Alas, the Spurs couldn’t get separation, foreshadowing how close the game would end up being.

The Grizzlies do deserve a tremendous amount of credit for preventing the Spurs from running away with it in the third quarter. As LaMarcus Aldridge dominated early and Patty Mills rained threes on them, the Memphis players kept fighting. Avery Bradley, who absolutely loves playing the Spurs, and Jonas Valanciunas gave them enough offense to not get blown out in the frame. San Antonio managed a double-digit lead, but simply couldn’t keep it. Every time the Spurs showed a hint of complacency, they got punished for it. Despite getting out-hustled, the disparity in talent allowed the Silver and Black to go into the fourth quarter up eight, but no one watching could have possibly been confident that the lead was secure.

The final period was a battle. Memphis cut the deficit almost immediately and the teams then mostly traded buckets. The Grizzlies actually got the lead with 3:50 to go and had it not been for a dominant stretch by Aldridge, they might have stolen the win. They had a chance to at least force overtime on the last play of the game, as DeRozan’s would-be dagger turned out to be an air ball. Jaren Jackson Jr. popped open for a three, got the ball, pump faked and drove for a layup, but Aldridge fouled him and forced the miss with one second to go. Jackson missed the first free throw, then made the second while trying to miss it, gifting the Spurs a game they desperately needed to go into the break with some positive momentum.

It wasn’t pretty, but the Spurs snapped their four-game losing streak and got their first win of the RRT. Now it’s time for them to get healthy over the break, rediscover their chemistry and go back to playing like the quality playoff team they seemed to be earlier in the season. That’s the hope, at least.

Game notes

  • The Spurs are going into the All-Star break with a 33-26 record, good for seventh in the West. That’s pretty much where optimistic projections had them in the offseason. The inconsistency is maddening at times, but the results have been decent.
  • The break should help DeMar DeRozan figure out what’s wrong with his game right now. Against the Grizzlies he hurt the team by shooting terribly and playing with low energy on defense for most of the game. The Spurs need the All-Star version of DeMar back.
  • The Grizzlies went big against Aldridge after he embarrassed Ivan Rabb, throwing Jonas Valanciunas and Joakim Noah at him. LA responded by running the floor like a madman to get deep position and exploding past the slower centers in the post. Another good performance by the Spurs’ cornerstone.
  • With the starting guards struggling (Forbes was 3-10 from the floor), the forwards provided Aldridge the support he needed. Rudy Gay and Davis Bertans did a little bit of everything, on both ends. Gay (15 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists) had the flashier box score, but Bertans made a similar impact in a quieter way.
  • Patty Mills went crazy from beyond the arc in a game in which the Spurs desperately needed someone to provide some perimeter scoring. He finished with 22 points on 6-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc. With Marco Belinelli (11 points on 10 shots) having a quiet night and Dante Cunningham and Jakob Poeltl being non-factors, Patty was the bench scoring, for the most part.
  • Remember Bruno Caboclo? I sure didn’t until I saw him come out of nowhere to block Aldridge at the rim in this game. He’s probably never going to be a rotation-quality player but he’s just 23 years old and still super long. Good on the Grizzlies for taking a chance on him.

Up Next: @ Raptors on Feb 22

After the break the Spurs will visit Toronto for DeMar DeRozan’s revenge game. The last time he faced his old team, DeMar had a triple-double. Let’s hope for a repeat performance.