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What We Learned From The Spurs Loss to the Grizzlies

March madness extends to the NBA

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs loss to the Memphis Grizzlies resembled a first round NCAA Tournament matchup so closely, it was actually pretty amusing.

You have the underdog low seed (or the third-worst record in the NBA) facing off against a blue blood with some question marks (star player not playing for a Western Conference contender.) The underdog comes out with something to prove and nothing to lose. They full court trap, pressure the powerhouse and make them uncomfortable from the jump. And of course they shoot the lights out on the other end. It’s the perfect formula for an upset in March.

But the top seed is ranked that high for a reason. They have talent, and if you give them a window, they will get back in the game. That’s what happened to the Spurs tonight. Their “cinderella story” was squashed by a team destined for the playoffs, because they couldn't hold the lead they built. Blowing a 29-point lead in 19:09 of game time seems somehow impossible, but as Spurs fans have seen, anything is possible with this team – good or bad.

Glass half empty outlook, this is one of the more brutal losses of the season. Turning the ball over with sloppy play, and letting the Grizzlies hang around by getting out in transition, and finding easy buckets in the paint. The Grizz turned San Antonio over 20 times, and outscored them 60 to 34 in the paint. Everything the Silver and Black did so well in the first half, was outdone by doing the opposite of it in the second.

Glass half full outlook (and I’m an optimist, so sue me,) they are clearly getting better! When the main core of players are playing together, they look pretty dang good. They move the ball extremely well, have just enough shooting to go on big runs, and compete on the defensive end. Individually they are improving as well.

Keldon Johnson has the spirit you need from a leader on the floor, and is starting to shoot the three with more confidence (he was 4-11). Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley are looking more comfortable with the pace of the NBA. Devin Vassell finally looked a little more like his pre-injury self, with 25 points on 9-21 shooting, with 5 assists added in. Zach Collins has stepped into the starting role and looked like a real piece for the rebuild.

Despite the progress, this loss was evidence of the one thing this team is severely missing: a star. In moments like the 4th quarter and overtime, teams need a stabilizing force. Someone who the ball will find whenever you need a score. Unfortunately, this roster just doesn’t have that at the moment. Johnson is one hell of a competitor, and has closed out some fun games this year, but he’s still too one-dimensional as a scorer to thrive in these situations. They need a dynamic, go-to guy in the clutch. Which is why they’ve put themselves in the position they are in, as the now second-worst team in the NBA, to get a star.

The game against Memphis was a loss in the sense that they were defeated in a single NBA game. But it’s a win in the sense that these young players got clutch time experience against a good team that puts them in a better position to win these games down the road. Hopefully those future close games will come with a young star in tow, thanks to losses like this.


  • I am closely monitoring how Gregg Popovich manages the lineups in the late 3rd quarter to early 4th quarter. I know Jeremy Sochan and Keita Bates-Diop left with injuries in the second half, but there is no world where you run out Gorgui Dieng, Dominick Barlow and Sandro Mamukelashvili at the same time and expect positive results. That group along with Blake Wesley and Johnson ended the 3rd quarter, and a similar one started the 4th, where Memphis really started to get back into the game. The team has been going to the double big (or Friday’s triple big) lineups when the Spurs have had leads during the home stand. It feels like the kind of lineup a tanking team would play to allow a good team to get back into what is looking like a surefire win. —Or maybe my brain is just in tank conspiracy mode.
  • This was such an encouraging game for Vassell. For the most part, he played within the flow of the game, and didn’t seem to be pressing for shots. The 3s in transition were beautiful, and he made some nice moves in the mid range. In the last few games, it seemed like a lot of his shots were falling short. After getting some rest, it looked like he had some more strength in his legs. It’s likely too late in the season to see him get back to full strength, but great to see the progress right now, anticipating a fully healthy key piece to start the season next year.
  • The Silver and Black have some edge to them. KJ was talking his talk all night long to Dillon Brooks, and even had some words for him after the loss. Collins was getting mauled several times near the end of the game, and when the Grizzlies complained about an illegal screen (in which the call went their way) he nearly got into another altercation. This young squad isn’t going to let anyone punk them. They compete, and are ready to get chippy if the game warrants it. That’s pretty a-typical of a rebuilding team. It’s fun to watch how much pride they are taking in getting better, and competing every night.