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The Spurs were thoroughly outhustled by the Grizzlies in high-scoring loss

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Just one glance at the hustle stats shows why Memphis won this game.

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

Although the result of a 134-121 Spurs loss at the hands of the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies may not suggest it, this game had some similarities to the Spurs’ wins over the East-leading Bucks and Celtics. LaMarcus Aldridge continued to shoot lights-out from three. DeMar DeRozan dominated whomever dared challenge him with 36 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists, and the Spurs as a whole continued to let it fly from three, hitting a solid 17-40 on the night.

However, this time it wasn’t enough. Unlike in their previous wins, the Spurs didn’t get out to a big lead early that had allowed them to play from ahead most of the time, which ended up being key in a streaky game that was all about runs and responses. They also didn’t have anything resembling a defense going to stop the even hotter Grizzlies, who shot 52% on the night and had 39 assists on 52 field goals.

Perhaps more than anything, the Spurs were completely outhustled in every category that can show it. The Grizzles had 27 second-chance points off 11 offensive rebounds — that’s almost 2.5 points per offensive rebound — plus they outscored the Spurs 22-9 on the fast break. No matter how solid the Spurs were in their halfcourt sets on offense, those are some tough numbers to overcome.

It was easy to tell from the output that this game wasn’t going to be like the last two. Although the Spurs scored well enough in the first quarter for most nights, with 32 points on 14-23 shooting, the defense wasn’t up to par. The Grizzlies scored 37 points themselves, thanks in large part to 12 of those pesky second-chance points and five free throws (to the Spurs’ one missed attempt), three of which came on and-ones.

After four lead changes in the first quarter, the Spurs would never lead again despite getting close a few times. By the time the second quarter started, the offense briefly joined the defense in its hiding place, and they missed 11 of their first 12 shots to spot Memphis a 50-35 lead. Still, this was a game of runs, and the Spurs recovered and finished the quarter on a 13-6 run for just a 63-57 deficit, thanks in large part to 13 points apiece form Aldridge and DeRozan.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and the Spurs came out of the locker room slow yet again, almost immediately getting back down by 13 points. If the Spurs deserve credit for something in this game, it’s that they kept responding when Memphis threatened to run away, when in the past they would have caved. DeRozan had a lot to do with that.

He hit a corner three, drove to the basket, drew fouls, and overall scored 18 of the Spurs 41 points in the third quarter to keep the Grizzlies within striking distance despite spotting them 37 points in a quarter for the second time this game. Overall, the Spurs closed the quarter on a 12-2 run to get within two heading into the fourth.

But alas, that was as close as they would get. The fourth quarter followed the same mantra of the previous two quarters, with Memphis yet again building their lead back up to double digits before the Spurs once again responded, and then the Grizzlies responded to that. Unfortunately, by the latter part of the fourth quarter the Spurs were gassed from all the comeback attempts and didn’t have another one in them, and Memphis put the game away.

With that, the Spurs are denied a three-game winning streak yet again, and the Grizzlies (17-22) now move into the 8th spot in the West the Spurs (16-21) had been occupying based on percentage points and lead the season series 2-1. The final meeting between these two squads is on March 16 back at the AT&T Center. If things remain roughly the same as they are today, it may be a vital one for the Spurs’ playoff aspirations, both from a win total and tie-breaker standpoint.

Game Notes

  • Gregg Popovich spent a good part of the first quarter working over the officials, trying to get them to call Ja Morant for carrying the ball. They never did, and in a sign of how the game was going at that point, he got away with a clear travel in the second quarter when he was caught in the air with nowhere to go. He heaved the ball towards the rim and went for his own rebound, but replays showed the ball was still in his hand after he landed. He drew a loose ball foul on the rebound, and the Grizzlies scored on the ensuing possession.
  • With a corner three with just over three minutes left in the first half, Aldridge hit his 38th three of the season: a new career high. It was his third of the game after an “off” night in Boston, and overall he hit 5-9 in Memphis. Just another day in the office for him.
  • Usually 11 turnovers is nothing to complain about for the Spurs (or any team, really), but the problem is they are so prone to live ball turnovers, whether its fumbling dribbles, lazy passing, or getting stripped. Combine that with the young Grizzlies’ pension for getting out fast, and the Spurs had trouble stopping them in the open court.
  • Rudy Gay was arguably the only player you could say was “bad” the other night in Boston, with just 4 points on 2-8 shooting, 4 turnovers, and an extreme case of butter fingers. So it was nice to see him have a bit of a bounce back game with 13 points on 3-7 from three, 5 rebounds and no turnovers. Unfortunately, like the rest of the team he struggled on defense, often caught with his hands down by shooters. Even Kyle Anderson hit two threes with his Slo Mo release after Gay failed to close out on him. It was that kind of night.
  • Bryn Forbes was the only other player besides the Mid Three to score in double figures (can we still call them that with Aldridge suddenly shooting threes?), with 21 points and four threes, all of which were tough shots. With Lonnie Walker IV and Derrick White having off nights, it’s one of those times that it’s hard to blame Pop for playing Forbes when he was hitting shots that the Spurs desperately needed to keep up. His defense remains a huge liability, but in fairness, on this night that was the case with almost everyone.
  • A line of severe thunderstorms rolled through San Antonio during the game. I got some serious thunder and lighting along with some pea-sized hail, but tornado warnings for neighboring counties interrupted the broadcast a few times. Fortunately, reports say nothing touched down. Hopefully everyone out there stays safe!

Next Game: @ Raptors (Sun. 5:00 PM CT on FSSW)

Now it’s time for the Spurs to regroup — especially on defense — as they had back East to take on the other two top teams from the opposing conference to close out this road trip, beginning with the defending champs. Hopefully DeRozan remembers how his trip back to the North disastrously ended last time and is ready for revenge. With the way he’s been playing lately, there’s no reason to think he won’t be.