If you have been a fan of the Memphis Grizzlies for any amount of time at all, you know that it is your duty to both fear and hate the San Antonio Spurs. Whether it was the early years when they regularly drubbed Memphis or the last year’s sweep in the Western Conference Finals, San Antonio has regularly played the role of “bullying big brother” to the Grizzlies. Other than the fantastic upset that was the 2011 first round series, the Spurs have owned our beloved Grizz.
Before we get too analytical, let’s give props to the continuing sensation that is James “Kid Dynomite” Johnson, as well as newcomer Courtney Lee. Both guys were huge in this game in a variety of ways. JJ’s defense was a huge part of the comeback tonight — especially his three blocks in less than two minutes in the second half. Lee stepped in with virtually no familiarity for the Grizzlies’ system and put up 12 points (including two 3-pointers), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block in 26 minutes of play. He truly is a pro’s pro, as he has been described by many.
Finally, a huge shout-out to Mike Conley for being the best player on the floor tonight. Period. No argument. Tim Duncan had a great game, but Conley was a one-man show on both sides of the ball for much of the game. *coughSuperStarCallsForDuncanButNotConleycough*
That last bit is all I’ll say about the officiating since I never want to place blame for a win or loss on the zebras, although there was plenty worth discussing from both teams’ fans after that game tonight. Instead, let’s hear what Dave Joerger had to say about the game and the new guy:
The Spurs did what they always do, executing with precision and making opponents pay for every little mistake they are unfortunate enough to make. Marco Belinelli looked like a sure-fire All-Star in the first half, torching the Grizzlies’ defense for 14 points. Tim Duncan didn’t looked slowed by Father Time at all, thriving on his matchups with everyone not named Marc Gasol…which was everyone he faced tonight. And, of course, Kawhi Leonard showed that he is an emerging force who relishes playing the Grizzlies.
For the hometown team, Conley and Lee were fantastic, while ZBo, JJ, and Jon Leuer (#WHITESNAKE) were also valuable contributors. Nick Calathes and Mike Miller continued to struggle, much to the chagrin of fans, while Tayshaun Prince looked decent when he wasn’t being called for ticky-tack fouls in a very physical game. One of the continuing mysteries is why the coaching staff insisted on playing Calathes without Ed Davis being on the floor. Their chemistry in the pick-and-roll is one of the few things that make both of them look not just competent, but actually pretty good. Additionally, Joerger needs to stop using Miller as his security blanket — especially when Miller isn’t shooting or isn’t hitting shots. Those are two things that have to be addressed sooner, rather than later.
The Spurs were in relative control of this game most of the night until, suddenly, they weren’t. Seriously, I think they were as surprised by how the Grizzlies cut that 12-point lead down to nothing in less than 90 seconds as anyone else was. Fans, media, everyone looked up and realized that it was a 6-point game…and then it was a tied game after a collective blink. And it all started with bench players who were playing with energy and intensity — requirements for Grit n’ Grind, lest we forget.
No sooner had Pete Pranica said that the Spurs were probably about to win their 7th straight against Memphis (1:15 left in the 4th, Spurs up 96-85) than they went on a run. A Conley breakaway and-1 cut it to 8 points. Then, a turnover led to a Courtney Lee layup in transition. Belinelli airballed a three-pointer with 28.9 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Conley hit a cold-blooded three to make it a 3-point game. Finally, in a bit of magic that surely had the ghost of Don Poier smiling, Lee and Johnson forced Belinelli into a turnover that led to Kid Dynomite hitting a ballsy pull-up three to tie the game with 13.0 seconds left.
Super Grizz comes out, the crowd is hyped, Twitter is going bonkers, and everyone in the (We Don’t) Bluff City is waiting for another heartbreaking loss at the hands of the hated Spurs. On a nifty play, Manu Ginobili scores the go-ahead bucket on a reverse layup when JJ loses him in the mix. With 3.6 seconds remaining, fans were covering their eyes and holding their breath collectively. Mike Conley gets the inbounds pass, runs a shake-and-bake on Kawhi Leonard, and gets a floater to drop at the buzzer after it dances ever-so-tantalizingly on the rim for an eternity.
Overtime. Free basketball.
After the emotional comeback, the usual suspects emerged in the extra period, as Conley and Duncan each led their respective teams on every possession to another tie with 8 seconds remaining. Then, Manu Ginobili did what he always seems to do when the game is on the line, hitting a layup with 1.8 seconds left after a hesitation dribble that froze Ed Davis in his tracks. Joerger draws up a play, Conley takes the three to win it…and comes up just short from 30 feet away.
Once again, the Spurs prevail.
I won’t wax philosophically about “moral victories”…but this team is closer to getting it figured out than many would have believed a few games back. With Marc Gasol getting closer to his return and the addition of a solid SG in Courtney Lee, this team could easily go on a run to put themselves back in the playoff discussion.
Other news and notes:
Tony Allen has been diagnosed with a ligament injury to his hand, which will likely see him out of action for a couple of weeks. Expect to see plenty of Lee and possibly some of rookie Jamaal Franklin while The Grindfather recuperates.
The Grizzlies declined to sign Seth Curry to a 10-day contract, so he will head back to the D-League until Memphis or another team signs him.