Heading into a back-to-back against the Memphis Grizzles on Saturday, the Spurs were looking at their best chance yet to bust their six-game losing streak. Facing one of the few teams in the league with a worse record than them and missing seven rotation players, including Ja Morant and Marcus Smart, this would be the time to come together and get the job done. Alas, it didn’t happen, with the Spurs once again following the same troubling trend of leading by double digits in the first half, only to come out flat in the second half and get complete blown out.
The Spurs started the game strong, with all five starters scoring early and quickly getting out to a 20-11 lead. With Jaren Jackson Jr. facing foul trouble, the Spurs had the opportunity to keep attacking down low, but the bench unit was happy to keep jacking up threes. Gregg Popovich was not happy and called a timeout after Memphis got back within four, and the Spurs got more organized on offense and finished the quarter up 35-26 behind 10 points from Cedi Osman.
Even with Tre Jones back, Pop continued to go with some new looks off the bench, with Sandro Mamukelashvili and Dominick Barlow getting some first half burn and bringing energy in the process. Overall, the second unit scored 22 points in the first half, and throughout a slow-moving second quarter (due to an abundance of whistles), the Spurs kept slowly but surely building their lead up to as much as 19 and leading 68-51 at the half.
However, the third quarter has been their bugaboo this season, so that would be the real test, and once again, they failed. Memphis came out as the aggressor, kicking things off with a 7-2 run. The Spurs were initially able regroup and weather the storm, getting the lead back to 15 a few times, but the Grizzles went on a 7-0 to finish the quarter and cut the lead to seven, 94-87, handing the Spurs another third quarter in which they were outscored by double figures.
Back from foul trouble, Jackson Jr. started going at the Spurs down low, scoring eight of their first nine points of the quarter, six from the free throw line. The refs continued with the relentless whistles, this time in the Grizzlies’ favor, and Memphis was already in the bonus just with under 9 minutes left. They got their first lead of the game since the opening bucket on a Desmond Bane putback off a missed free throw, and overall, the Grizzlies used an 18-0 run across five minutes to stretch the lead out to 111-99.
As they are wont to do when things go wrong, the Spurs were flustered on offense, unable to stop turning the ball over or hit a shot. They tried to drive to the basket and force the refs to call fouls, but they refused to bite. The Spurs were finally able get some stops and few buckets to go in, clawing back to within six with two minutes left, but again turnovers and an inability to grab rebounds prevented them from getting any closer. They would go on to lose 120-108, making them an inexcusable 0-6 on the season when leading by double figures at home.
- In a game where each team dominated for one half, a lot of that had to do with which team seemingly had the officials’ favor. In the first half, the Spurs had a 23-12 advantage in free throw attempts, hitting 19 of them to Memphis’ 8. That naturally contributed to their 17-point advantage at the break. Then, in the second half, the Grizzles had a whopping 24-3 advantage at the line, getting many borderline calls in their favor while the Spurs couldn’t buy anything. None of this is to say the refs are the reason for the loss, but that is still quite the disparity, and it no doubt played a role in Memphis’s huge fourth quarter surge, just as it did for the Spurs in the first half. It’s never a good day when the refs are part of the narrative.
- It was another not-very-good game from Victor Wembanyama on offense, with 19 points on 6-17 from the field and more questionable shot selection, but he was a mad man on defense, recording 8 blocks and grabbing 13 rebounds. Those 8 blocks are a career high for him and the most by a Spur in a game since Tim Duncan in 2007. It also made him the third youngest player to ever record 8 blocks in a game, per Dan Weiss.
- Sean Elliott and Michelle Beadle were discussing how long ago current Grizzly Derrick Rose’s 2011 MVP was, and beyond it being over 12 years ago, another way to look at it is how many Spurs eras have gone by. Since then, there was the tail end of the Big Three era, the Kawhi Leonard era, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, and finally the Youth Movement. (And even then, you could argue the last two seasons have been their own mini-eras: a play-in appearance in the ever-so-brief Derrick White/Dejounte Murray era, followed by “The Tank”.)
Play of the Game
Usually, Wemby is the one on the receiving end of lobs, so how about him delivering one to Mamu as a reward for blocking a three on defense and running the open court?
Up Next: Monday vs. Clippers
The Spurs continue their homestand with a home-home miniseries against the Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, starting on Monday. The team that handed the Spurs their first of three massive blowouts early in the season in Los Angeles have been through plenty of turmoil since trading for James Harden. Can the Spurs finally turn things around, or will it be deja vu all over again? Tune it to KENS 5 at 7:00 PM CT to find out.