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Spurs overcome horrible second quarter but can’t quite rally past white-hot Grizzlies

After a strong start, a horrific second quarter had the Spurs playing catch-up all night, and they still almost made it.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

In the second game of a mini-series at the home of the West-leading Memphis Grizzlies, the San Antonio Spurs were out avoid the mini-sweep. Both teams had their leading scorers back after missing Monday’s outing, and it showed in the much higher scoring affair. The Spurs were able to hang with the Grizzlies for three quarters of four and nearly rallied back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth, but unfortunately a horrific second quarter, in which they were outscored 44-25, had them playing catch-up for the entire second half, and the clock ran out on them before they could complete the rally.

The Spurs got out to an early 11-6 lead in no small part thanks to Jakob Poeltl getting four blocks in the first four minutes. Jeremy Sochan was also on a mission early to show that he wasn’t intimidated by Jaron Jackson Jr. with seven early points, including a posterizing dunk plus the foul. The Grizzlies kept up by riding Ja Morant, who had 14 points of his 38 points in the quarter, and feasting on second chance points (especially once Poeltl was subbed out). However, the Spurs maintained the lead throughout, heading into the second quarter up 37-32 on a Stanley Johnson buzzer-beater three.

Then, the floor fell out. After only committing three turnovers in the first quarter, the Spurs committed three on their first four possessions of the second, and Memphis opened on an 11-0 run to retake the lead, forcing a Gregg Popovich timeout. They also hit their first six threes of the quarter while the Spurs defense looked completely lost, and Pop had to call another timeout as the lead swelled to 54-44 at the seven-minute mark — all with Morant sitting. Doug McDermott provided some temporary scoring relief with eight quick points, but otherwise it was a horrific defensive quarter for the Spurs, and they found themselves down 76-62 at the break.

After going just 1-7 from the field in the first half, a rusty Keldon Johnson started finding his offensive rhythm in the third quarter and hit his first three shots. Unfortunately, even though the Spurs offense was working and the defense was tighter, the Grizzlies were still white hot from three, forcing another Pop timeout as they stretched the lead out to 15. The Spurs kept fighting and using hustle plays to try and keep the game from getting out of hand, but every time they seemed to be starting a run, the Grizzlies would respond and get the lead back to the mid-teens, and the Spurs headed into the fourth quarter down 112-97.

Back-to-back Josh Richardson threes forced a Grizzlies timeout just two minutes into the final frame and set off an 11-2 run that got the Spurs back within single digits. It hovered around nine points for the majority of the quarter, with Memphis always having just enough answers to keep the Spurs at arm’s length. However, the Spurs kept clawing away, getting steals, and a 14-5 run pulled them within three points with 2:35 left after a five-point possession, which included a Johnson bucket, made free throw on a flagrant foul by Jackson, and Richardson midrange jumper. Unfortunately, the Spurs couldn’t keep Memphis off the offensive glass, with their final six points coming on second chance possessions, and they handed the Spurs the 135-129 defeat. It was another admirable effort from the Spurs, but another defeat, nonetheless.

Game Notes

  • Sochan one-handed free throw tracker: 1-1 (25-33, 75.8% — up from 43% before)
  • The refs were pretty whistle-happy early. The Spurs actually won the battle at the free throw line in the first half, going 14-15 (including 9-9 from Keldon) to the Grizzlies’ 9-13. The two teams combined for 21 fouls (it actually felt like more), and it had a notable impact on both defenses, as neither team seemed interested in contesting much at the rim for stretches. The Spurs had 34 points in the paint in the first half, and the Grizzlies had a whopping — and too easy — 44 points in the paint.
  • Several Spurs had pretty impressive stat lines in this game. After his early block party, Poeltl finished the night with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks. Although he got cooked on defense way too often, Zach Collins also posted double-double — the third of his career — with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists. Tre Jones won the Battle of the Brothers tonight with 22 efficient points to Tyus’s 16 (granted, it was off the bench with Morant back), and Tre was a huge part of the late rally with three massive steals. Sochan did a little of everything with 11 points, 5 assists and 2 steals, and the veteran duo of Richardson and McDermott combined for 27 points on 11-19 shooting.

Play of the Game

There were several highlight real plays from both teams in this one, but Sochan’s posterization of JJJ for the and-one in the first quarter showed he wasn’t going to accept getting the rookie treatment again.

Coming up: Home at the Dome vs. the Warriors on Friday 1/13

The Spurs are headed back to San Antonio, but not to the AT&T Center. Instead, they will make history with the largest NBA crowd ever at the Alamodome vs. a Warriors club that has a horrendous road record this season, but they also have Steph Curry back from injury. Tip-off will be at 6:30 PM CT on ESPN and Bally Sports SW-SA.