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Spurs wander into bear habitat, get lightly mauled by Grizzlies

The Spurs didn’t have enough firepower to hang with the Grizzlies.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

After hanging tough for the better part of three quarters, the Spurs lost their way late in Memphis, eventually falling 118-105. Despite a valiant effort from Derrick White, who recovered from a vicious, though entirely unintentional, elbow to the face while drawing a charge early in the 2nd quarter to put up 15 points and 9 assists in just under 24 minutes of play, the Spurs were outgunned. With another game in Detroit in less than 24 hours, Coach Popovich pulled the plug midway through the 4th quarter, riding reserves the rest of the way as the Grizzlies coasted to the win.

The Spurs did very little Spursing to begin the game. Unable to hit their jumpers, including a few good looks from the midrange and from deep, the good guys quickly found themselves down 9-0 to a Grizzlies team that was intent on dominating the offensive boards and grabbing every loose ball. Derrick broke the seal with a three out of the Spurs’ first timeout then hit Jakob Poeltl for a pair of layups. After a couple of minutes of solid defense, keeping the Griz off the glass and a few buckets, the Spurs took their first lead of the game 13-11. The game see-sawed from there, with neither team looking especially sharp, until late in the first when the Grizzlies’ reserves created a little separation. The Spurs finished the quarter down 32-26, after Devin Vassell threw a bad pass in the backcourt that sailed out of bounds and gave the Grizzlies an opportunity to score one more time as time wound down.

The teams traded buckets to start the 2nd, but then Lonnie Walker IV missed a three pointer and Kyle Anderson grabbed the rebound. Anderson took off on a ‘fast’ break. As he usually does, Derrick worked his way into Anderson’s path to the basket and perfectly anticipated Anderson’s attempted euro. Unfortunately, while Anderson was bringing the ball back to his left side, his right elbow crashed into the left side of Derrick’s face, opening a gash just beside his eye. Derrick left the court, but upon review, the refs determined it was a flagrant 1 foul, so Derrick either had to return to shoot the free throws or be ineligible to return to the game at all. So, the Spurs slapped a band aid over the wound and sent him right back out on the floor, where he proceeded to drill both of the freebies.

The play wasn’t quite a spark, but it did seem like an indicator that the Spurs were digging in. Sure enough, a couple of plays later the Spurs retook the lead 41-40 when Derrick found Bryn Forbes for a three in the corner. Unfortunately, after Derrick took another foul, he had to head back to the locker room again as blood had started to seep through his bandage. Once he checked out, the Spurs offense began to look a little ragged, but they managed to hang on to their lead for most of the rest of the quarter.

Whether because Jock Landale had struggled against the Grizzlies’ bigs in his 1st quarter minutes or perhaps in search of some playmaking with Derrick in the locker room, the Spurs turned to Thad Young for the first time in two weeks. His desire to be on the floor was clearly evident, with the 14 year veteran laying out for a loose ball and snatching an extra possession with his effort. But it wasn’t enough to prevent the Grizzlies from going on a Ja Morant fueled run over the final 3 minutes of the quarter to retake a 5 point lead, though a Lonnie three-pointer and a solid defensive possession allowed the Spurs to go into the break down just two, 63-61.

Derrick returned in the 3rd like he didn’t miss a minute, scoring or assisting on the Spurs first 9 points as they built a 5 point lead of their own. But their aggressiveness on the offensive end also translated to a little less discipline and focus, as they turned the ball over 5 times in the quarter. Once the game loosened up a little, the Grizzlies began to thrive, pushing the pace at even the slightest opportunity and generally keeping the game a bit more frenetic than the Spurs could handle. The home team also began to focus on locking down the paint, and the Spurs repeatedly drove straight into the waiting arms of the Grizzlies’ bigs and failed to even get a shot on the rim. Those poor decisions further fueled the Grizzlies attack and it didn’t take long for the game to start breaking open. By the time the 3rd stanza was over, the Spurs were looking up at an eleven point deficit.

The fourth quarter saw more of the same, with the Spurs showing bursts of life, but unable to sustain those flashes for long enough to make a dent in the Grizzlies’ advantage. Once their ability score in the paint was cut off, the Spurs’ offense all but ground to a halt and the Grizzlies continued to build on their lead until the Spurs decided to refocus on tomorrow’s game.

Game notes

  • Jakob Poeltl had a nice game, playing solid defense all over the floor while chipping in 15 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, but his free throw shooting is atrocious. He hit 1 of 4 from the charity stripe in this game, right in line with his 34.4% season average, which is the worst in the league for any player who has taken more than 20 free throws.
  • Keldon Johnson did not have a nice game. 6 points on 2 of 12 shooting is bad enough, but throwing in 3 turnovers, too? That’s a bit much.
  • Ja Morant has an incredible feel for how to use his body to create space. Despite being one of the smallest players on the floor, he will initiate contact with anyone at anytime to find a window for a drive or a shot. There’s a fair amount of foul avoidance behavior that makes this as successful as it is, but he’s so quick and so strong for his size that when he launches himself into a defender, even Jakob or Thad, and then fades away, the shot is essentially unblockable.
  • The Jones brothers had themselves a game. Tre put up 13 points with just 1 missed shot, but his brother Tyus still outshone him, scoring 18 to go with 4 assists and 2 blocks.

Play of the night

The block, the break, the baseline spin and the dunk.

SVP awards

3rd place (1 point) - Keita Bates-Diop | 8 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks

This spot could have gone to Tre Jones or Bryn Forbes, both of whom scored more points, but Bates-Diop is like a Swiss Army knife on defense, able to credibly defend almost any type of offensive player in almost any situation. He also scores without having plays run for him and somehow managed to play almost 23 minutes of high-caliber defense without committing a foul.

2nd place (2 points) - Jakob Poeltl | 15 points, 4 offensive rebounds, 2 blocks

Jakob continues to be the linchpin of the team’s defense, constantly moving to stop penetration, dropping into passing and cutting lanes and generally being a nuisance on the interior. That he’s become a legitimate weapon on the offensive end is a huge bonus.

1st place (3 points) - Derrick White | 15 points, 9 assists, 2 blocks, 1 headache

This was gearing up to be a vintage Derrick White performance, with the perfect mixture of looking for his own shot and setting the table for others. Unfortunately, the injury and the game situation cut his night short, but it’s another good sign that he understands that he’s most effective when he’s calling his own number more often than not.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 49pts

2nd - Derrick White - 37pts

3rd - Keldon Johnson - 23pts

4th - Devin Vassell - 22pts

5th - Jakob Poeltl - 21pts

6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 13pts

7th - Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott & Bryn Forbes - 9pts

8th - Keita Bates-Diop - 5pts

9th - Jock Landale - 3pts

10th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

11th - Josh Primo & Tre Jones - 1pt

Next game: Vs. Pistons on Saturday

The Spurs will continue their road trip and kick off the new year with a SEGABABA in Detroit, where the Pistons will be looking for revenge after coming out on the wrong end of a 35-point blowout just last Sunday.

Happy New Years, Pounders!