It was hard to know what to expect coming into Saturday’s game. On one hand, there was the San Antonio Spurs fresh off a thrilling but hard-fought victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night for their third straight win. On the other, there’s the rising Memphis Grizzlies, riding a five-game winning streak that had been on hold for twelve days due to COVID 19 complications. In other words, it was the tested-but-tired vs. rested-but-rusty, so which would prevail? On this occasion, it was the R’s not the T’s.
The Grizzlies, hungry for some basketball, came out on fire and never let up on their way to a 129-112 win. Gregg Popovich had to call a quick timeout after they scored an alley-oop and two threes on their first three possessions of the game, hoping to stymie yet another dreaded slow start from the Spurs that’s becoming too habitual to ignore (more on that below). LaMarcus Aldridge scored 10 quick points to briefly get the Spurs back in the lead, but the second unit came out equally slow, and the Grizzlies ended the quarter up 35-27 after a 13-4 run — and they never relinquished the lead again.
The weird thing is, even though the Spurs looked tired and out of it almost all night, they didn’t really have as bad a game as the final score would indicate. For instance, while it’s true that the Grizzlies were torching the Spurs on glass for much of night (which shouldn’t have been the case with Jonas Valanciunas and Jaron Jackson Jr. out), the game ended with Memphis only having two more offensive rebounds than the Spurs, and the Silver and Black actually won the second-chance points battle 15-12, which you likely never would have guessed from watching the game.
The Spurs won other hustle stats as well, like fast break points (16-13) and points off turnovers (24-19), and they had a decent enough night on offense to win on most occasions, shooting 47% from the floor and hitting 13-29 threes. Which leaves the other end of the court where the problems arose, and the Grizzlies — who were supposed to be rusty — just couldn’t be stopped.
They spent most of the night shooting around 60%, before “settling” for 56%, and hit a season-high 17 threes on 35 attempts despite coming into the night 29th in the league in three-point shooting. And the most maddening part was it wasn’t the usual suspect in Ja Morant (19 points) who was torching them; it was everyone whose fingers touched the ball after receiving a pass from him before turning the possession into one of his 11 assists.
De’Anthony Melton was the night’s leading scorer with 20 far-too-easy points, and Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, Gorgui Dieng and Desmond Bane all scored 14 to 16 points. The Spurs had seven scorers in double figures, led by Derrick White’s 18 points, but therein lies the problem. While it was great to see White back from his toe injury, looking no worse for wear and putting up such a strong performance off the bench, the best player on the night shouldn’t be one who is only capable of playing small stints at a time (even if he was fresher than everyone else, having not played Friday night).
Again, a lot of it can be tied back to weariness from the back-to-back, but Aldridge basically disappeared after his strong first quarter, and DeMar DeRozan never got going beyond a game-tying three midway through the first quarter. He only had five points on six shots, tying his career low with the Spurs. Perhaps as a sign of his exhaustion, he appeared to be trying to amp himself up early in the third quarter as he started jawing at Brooks for no apparent reason following his only other make on the night. The only thing it accomplished was a technical foul on his part, and that was the end of his contributions.
After failing to live up to their billing in the first half, the bench unit tried their hardest to get the Spurs back in the game. With Rudy Gay and Patty Mills joining White in double figures, they took advantage of perhaps the Grizzlies’ only cold spell of the evening to pull the team back within five points on a White three midway through the fourth quarter after being down by as much as 18, but Memphis responded with a quick 8-0 run, and by the 3:40 mark Pop was waiving the white flag for his tired team.
In the end, rested beat out rusty, tired and tested on this night, but the Spurs will have a chance for revenge on Monday when it’s the Grizzlies again for yet another one of these little mini-series. Odds are they won’t be as hot from three, but the Spurs can’t take any chances. After getting some rest, they’ll have to come out more prepared on defense and play with more fire. The last thing they need to do is hand another win to a team they figure to be in direct competition with for either a playoff spot or seeding.
- It wasn’t just from three where the Grizzlies were torching the Spurs. They also beat them at their own game by shooting 21-36 from the midrange, while the Spurs only went 7-25. They outscored the Spurs 56-42 in the paint as well.
- Pop brought in Trey Lyles over Devin Vassell with the third quarter bench rotation to try and find some momentum, and even though he didn’t do anything of note, he moved quickly on both ends and seemed to bring a bit of energy to a team running on fumes. It just goes to show how deep this team is that they can go eleven players deep and keep finding production.
- I know Pop is likely going to ease White back in before starting him, but something has to change to help stop the slow starts. Although the starters ultimately tied things back up before the bench allowed a run at the end of the first quarter, almost immediately falling behind 7-15 points every game can’t keep happening if the Spurs want to keep winning. White would provide an infusion of energy and playmaking on both ends of the court, but the question is, at who’s expense? I expect some tweaks to the starting lineup sometime soon.
Next Game: vs. Grizzles on Monday @7:30 PM CT
The Spurs will be seeking a bit of revenge when the Grizzlies return to the AT&T Center on Monday evening.