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San Antonio vs. Memphis, Final Score: Spurs compete admirably, but fade late against Grizzlies 105-118

The typical Spurs balance was eclipsed by Ja Morant’s singular brilliance.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies
This miraculous alley-oop baseline shot to close out the first half was Morant’s ‘piece de resistance’ in Memphis’ win
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio, despite playing a largely mistake-free game and matching Memphis’ offensive output for most of the first three quarters, was overwhelmed by the Ja Morant experience, who emphatically carried his team to victory. San Antonio was done in by frigid outside shooting and the Grizzlies’ parade of athletic bigs controlling the boards and defensive paint.

The Spurs ended their annual Road Road Trip with a very respectable 4-4 record. Dejounte Murray (21 points, 8 assists, and 2 steals) and Jakob Poeltl (16 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists) again led San Antonio. Lonnie Walker IV chipped in 22 points, continuing his recent spate of excellent, and more importantly, sustainable performances.

Though Morant’s star shined the brightest this evening (52 points on 73% shooting and 6 rebounds), he was supported off the bench by De’Antony Melton (14 points and 5 rebounds) and Tyus Jones (13 points).

In the meantime, and likely not important at all to the Hall of Fame coach himself, Pop remained just one shy of the all-time coaches win record with the loss. With Sacramento’s win at Oklahoma City, San Antonio (24-38) fell further behind Portland and had their margin over the Kings trimmed to 1.5 games in the conference standings with 20 games remaining.

Observations

  • This is a wonderful write-up of Walker IV’s resurgent performance since the trade deadline.
  • Have there been any other NBA teams in history that have had such a poor record and still maintained a positive point differential this late in the season?
  • Bill Simmons and Ryen Russillo introduced their first ever “NBA Saboteur Hall of Fame” (about 71 minutes in) on their podcast today in honor of former and current players that sabotaged their way off a team to another destination. A former small forward (and his uncle) was one of the prominently featured inductees - as expected.
  • It seems like the current version of Poeltl (Pop-a-Shot acumen, defensive stalwart, and pick-and-roll broheim) is like the fully-actualized version of what Steven Adams could have been (perhaps) if he hadn’t started his career with OKC and four ball-hawking teammates - though obviously Adams makes more of his free throws. Poeltl swished his first Pop-a-Shot in the opening moments.
  • It would be interesting to see Memphis catch and pass Golden State or Phoenix and grab home court advantage in the first two playoff rounds.
  • Sequence of the Game #1 - Teammate Edition: Tre Jones and Walker IV found each other twice in transition to start the second quarter. Walker IV drew in three Memphis defenders and found Jones diving into the lane for a knifing layup. Shortly after, Jones returned the favor by floating a dime to Walker IV for another lay-in.
  • Sequence of the Game #2 - All-Star Guard Edition: Murray spoon-fed a trailing Johnson down the left wing for an emphatic slam over former Gonzaga big man Killian Tillie.
  • Sequence of the Game #3 - Lonnie Edition: Late in the short clock to start the fourth quarter, Walker IV drove straight to the rim and converted a difficulty spinning layup and followed it with a wing three on the next possession.
  • Keldon’s Kitchen: Keldon showed off his two-way prowess by erasing a Morant attempt at one end and drawing Jaren Jackson Jr’s fourth foul at the other end in the third period.
  • Devin’s Deeds: Off the catch midway through the third quarter, Vassell did the “Sean Elliott special” - driving baseline and knifing between two defenders for an impressive bank shot.
  • Hammer Play: San Antonio ran its vaunted play after a timeout and Joshua Primo, realizing his baseline pass would be intercepted, re-directed the pass to Poeltl in the paint for a hook.
  • Murray and Poeltl notched the visitors’ first six points to help San Antonio go up 12-7. Johnson and Doug McDermott nailed threes from the exact spot above the break. Morant found an absurd amount of success deep in the lane and from distance. The hosts surged ahead after Melton made his first two attempts and his frontcourt mates turned away several shots at the rim. Morant found himself surrounded by Spurs and willed home a floater. The only thing that halted the onslaught was a shot clock malfunction. Despite 74% shooting by Memphis, San Antonio was fortunate to be down only eight as Walker IV found a hot streak late in the frame.
  • To start the second, Walker IV and Jones pulled the Spurs briefly within two, but the Grizzlies quickly responded with two threes. As the Memphis shots finally stopped falling, Johnson paired a transition slam and a floater to shave the deficit to three. San Antonio’s first turnover finally came seven mintues in. Morant threw down a ferocious slam over Poeltl and ignited the entire building. He amazingly topped that display with a Play of the Year candidate - an impossible-to-describe-out-of-bound-90-foot-alley-oop-baseline-miracle-shot-thing. Despite Morant’s perfect half, San Antonio again was somehow only down ten at halftime.
  • Both teams started the second half operating more in the halfcourt. Murray’s pair of elbow jumpers made it a one possession game. Morant continued his one-man wrecking ball in, around, and through the Spurs defense. Adams swatted away a pair of McDermott’s attempts, but the swingman swished home a pair of wing threes. Despite whittling the deficit down to one several times, Morant spearheaded a 10-0 run to push the Grizzlies out to 96-85 to close the period.
  • Walker and Vassell tried to take charge of the Spurs offense to start the fourth. After momentary fatigue, Morant found his footing and deftly led his team with ferocious drives, while also setting up his shooters. Morant’s 50th point, off of what were a series of unfortunate 50/50 ball situations that always went Memphis’ way, essentially ended any chance San Antonio could mount a late comeback. To add insult to injury, Rodney Mott ejected Murray out of the game for throwing the ball at his lower leg.
  • It’s very rare when the San Antonio game is one of the last games of the night while still playing in the Central time zone. Have a safe and wonderful evening!

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

The Spurs return home to face De’Aaron Fox and the Sacramento Kings Thursday night at 7:30 PM CT.