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San Antonio vs. Memphis, Final Score: Spurs overcome poor start but can’t rally past Grizzlies, lose 100-96

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Memphis overwhelmed a flustered Spurs squad in the first quarter and utilized an old ‘Grit and Grind’ template to win

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies
Johnson excelled in his first playoff action, but the team comes up just short in the end
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis bolted out to an early 21-point lead on the broad shoulders of Jonas Valanciunas’ dominant inside play and pressure-free shooting from Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson, Jr. San Antonio pulled back into the game on numerous occasions. But for each time that San Antonio pulled within one or two possessions, the young Grizzlies squad was able to stave off the Spurs with clutch shooting and gritty defense. San Antonio was done in by poor transition defense early and worse rebounding late, while shooting better from behind-the-arc (36%) than overall (35%)

Valanciunas’ monstrous performance (23 points and 23 rebounds) against the San Antonio frontcourt was bolstered by Ja Morant (20 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists) and Spurs irritant Dillon Brook (24 points and 7 rebounds).

San Antonio’s Rudy Gay (20 points and 7 rebounds), DeMar DeRozan (20 points) and Dejounte Murray (10 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists) were the sole standouts in a brutal offensive performance. DeRozan and Murray suffered rare off-nights (9 for 38 combined shooting).

Observations

  • Tim Duncan’s speech: 12 minutes / Unofficial average amount of time Spurs fans cried throughout Timmy’s induction: 21 minutes.
  • During San Antonio’s last elimination game, they went down 21-4 to the Nuggets in Game 7 of the 2019 First Round series. Tonight they fell behind 27-6.
  • Keldon’s Final Exam: Johnson hesitated on his first open look and dribbled comfortably into a pull-up at the nail.
  • Devin’s Deeds: Right after checking into the game, Vassell hit on a pull-up jumper.
  • Dillon Brooks resembles a chunkier version of Utah’s Jordan Clarkson. He had his way with whatever San Antonio defender ended up in front of him throughout the first half. More importantly, Brooks kept DeRozan in check.
  • Only worthwhile nugget of Pop’s interview after the initial bloodbath: ”we got our a** kicked in the first quarter.”
  • San Antonio’s opening defensive possessions offered promise: Murray picked Morant clean on a crossover and threw down a vicious dunk at the other end, while Walker IV blocked Anderson’s shot attempt from behind and followed that up with a block of Brooks in the paint. Undeterred, Memphis jumped out to an 18-4 lead with a flurry of makes as the skittish Spurs piled up the misses and neglected to get back in transition. Jackson, Jr. was on target from distance, while Valanciunas dominated in the paint. At one point, Jackson, Jr. wrested an offensive rebound away from several Spurs and fed it to Morant for a straightaway three. Walker IV, as Burke quipped “if you’re having troubleputting it in the basket, get yourself to the cup”, converted a lefty layup. Gay hit the team’s first three more than eight minutes in and ended up being the erstwhile leading scorer as the Spurs exited their worst quarter of the season lucky to be down only 19.
  • At the start of the second, Patty Mills came out of hibernation to hit a wing three. Murray asserted himself with forays into the paint to find his own shot and distribute to others. San Antonio found steadier footing behind its own 17-0 run, and Pop was overheard in the huddle deadpanning “believe it or not, after the first six minutes, we’re playing them even.” Johnson’s tip dunk and bellowing scream closed the deficit to two. Once Valanciunas re-entered the game, Memphis extended its lead. Jackson, Jr. was gifted three free throws on an egregiously late foul call on what was effectively a reach-in call on the ground. The Spurs were able to cut the lead several times to four. Memphis responded with timely buckets to make it a 56-49 game at the break as Brooks outscored DeRozan 12 to 6.
  • DeRozan and Walker IV scored to start the third, but a touch foul whistled on Walker IV supplied Anderson an and-1. Valanciunas and Jackson, Jr. turned away Spurs shots on back-to-back possessions. Poeltl deflty paired a reverse lay-up and a dunk off of nifty Murray feeds. A Morant steal and dunk pushed the advantage back to nine. Valanciunas continued to wreak havoc with some Herculean feats of scoring and tipping. San Antonio’s went on another of its dreaded cold spells late in the frame - dipping down to 31% - and the Grizzlies escaped the quarter up 72-65.
  • In the penultimate quarter of the season, Tyus Jones three pushed Memphis’ lead to ten briefly, but Gorgui Dieng responded with his own 3-point play and a three from above the break. A stepback jumper by Gay made it a four point game yet again. San Antonio picked up its first team foul four minutes in. A Mills three and a DeRozan pull-up momentarily gave the Spurs a lead, but Brooks countered with four straight buckets of his own. With 4:53 left, a charge drawn by Dieng on Morant was successfully challenged by Memphis and overturned. Morant missed both ensuing free throws.
  • Valanciunas claimed an errant airball and willed home a banker to make it 94-87. A Gay three at the end of an awkward possession was answered by Morant at the other end. A Desmond Bane offensive rebound and putback made it 98-90. A difficult stepback by DeRozan and free throw by Gay made it 98-93. Murray drew an offensive foul by Anderson, but DeRozan was not able to connect at the other end. Just as it with the Denver closeout game in 2019, San Antonio wasted precious seconds at the end not fouling the Grizzlies.
  • Gay miraculously tossed in a three over Anderson’s spindly arms to close to 99-96. Morant made 1-of-2 freebies and Gay’s errant three ended San Antonio’s season.

For the Grizzlies fan’s perspective, visit Grizzly Bear Blues.