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3 Shades of Blue has been doing a recap of the season that was.Part 1 dealt with the summer of 2010.Part 2 covered the Grizzlies pre- and regular season up to Dec. 31st. Part 3 dealt with the last 4 months of the regular season leading up to the playoffs. Today we cover the first round series against the San Antonio Spurs.

The First Round:

If you had asked a Memphis fan in January what he felt the Grizzlies chances were to make the playoffs the answer would have probably been not have been optimistic. The Grizzlies entered 2011 with a losing record and having just lost a heart-breaking game in Sacramento to the lowly Kings on a miracle shot by former Memphis Tiger Tyreke Evans. Heading into the last month of the season the odds were just slightly better than 50/50 that the Grizzlies would make the playoffs.

The Spurs on the other hand seemed to have found the fountain of youth. One of the oldest teams in the league, the Spurs had raced off to a big lead in the Western Conference and coasted home down the stretch resting their starters and seemingly was in excellent shape heading into the playoffs despite a late season slowdown that had allowed the Chicago Bulls to catch them for the best record in the league. What’s more, the Grizzlies decision to rest players at the end of the season rather than play them against Portland and the Clippers had apparently been taken as an insult by the Spurs giving them unneeded motivation against the young Grizzlies.

It didn’t seem to matter to most pundits that the Grizzlies and Spurs had split their season series nor that the Grizzlies had won the last two games. The Grizzlies had won their games at home in must win situations while the Spurs had players out or resting and the overall regular season stats seemed to back up the feeling that the Spurs would not have a great deal of trouble defeating the Grizzlies. In an average game the Spurs had scored more points, grabbed more rebounds, dished out more assists, shot a higher field goal percentage, free throw percentage and 3 pt percentage. The Spurs had won four NBA titles, the last in 2007, and had reached the Conference semi-finals the year before. The Grizzlies had never won a playoff game. This was a mismatch on paper.

But, as the saying goes, that is why they play the games.

Game 1:Magical History
The series did have more than a few subplots to keep fans interested however. The Grizzlies were playing this game on the same day that the franchise had played their first ever playoff game and against the same opponent. The team’s motto at this time was simply “Let’s Make History” hoping to stop the franchise’s dismal playoff record of 0-12 in three previous playoff appearances.

San Antonio entered the game not at 100%. Unlike the Grizzlies the Spurs had decided to play their starters for the last game of the season against Phoenix in an attempt to lock up home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Manu Ginobili injured his shoulder minutes into the game and was being held out of game one supposedly as a safety precaution. In light of the Grizzlies resting their stars for the final games of the season the decision to not rest the Spurs stars had raised eyebrows.

Still it was not considered to be a fatal blow for the Spurs. After all, the Grizzlies had never won a playoff game and even if the Grizzlies did win Game 1 the Spurs had lost five consecutive playoff openers so the veterans knew how to overcome early series deficits.

The game opened with the Grizzlies on the attack. The game’s scoring opened with Marc Gasol taking a Mike Conley pass and throwing down a big jam over Richard Jefferson who fouled Gasol on the play. The free throw gave the Grizzlies an impressive start to the playoffs and seemed to suggest that this year’s version of the Memphis Grizzlies was not the passive team of playoffs past.

The Grizzlies took a 27-22 lead at the end of the first quarter. The second quarter saw the teams trade leads until the Grizzlies took charge midway through the quarter. However the Spurs made a late run and would have tied the game had Tim Duncan’s 15 ft shot fallen at the end of the quarter. Instead Memphis took the 45-43 lead into halftime.

The 3rd quarter was all San Antonio. The favored home town team dictated pace and consistently got to the free throw line. The Grizzlies fought hard to prevent the Spurs from taking too much control but when the horn sounded the Spurs had taken a three point lead after out-scoring the Grizzlies 31-25 in the quarter. IT could have been worse if not for O J Mayo’s to baskets last in the quarter.

So the Spurs took a three point lead into the fourth quarter and when Richard Jefferson made a driving layup to open the quarter things seemed to be going the Spurs way. However the Grizzlies, just as they had all season, refused to quit. Led on the inside by their big men Zach Randolph (10 fourth quarter points) and Marc Gasol (6 points) and on the perimeter by O J Mayo (6 points), the Grizzlies continued to claw and scratch their way back into the lead. The lead switched back and forth throughout the quarter untilShane Battier completed the Grizzlies comeback with a magical three point shot with 0.23 seconds remaining to put the Grizzlies ahead for good.

After the game Battier discovered his wife was in labor in Houston. He immediately left the stadium for the 90 minute drive to Houston to see his daughter. Only in the movies and Memphis as Don Poier once said.

Game 2: Ginobili Returns
Manu Ginobili’s absence from game 1 was often mentioned when talking about the Grizzlies surprising upset to open the series. In Game 2 Manu himself showed why that was the case. Despite playing with a bulky brace on his non-shooting elbow, Manu dominated the game throughout.

All season the Spurs had been a different team with Manu than without and this was especially true against Memphis. The Spurs had been a combined +42 scoring against the Grizzlies when Manu was on the court and a -49 when he was off the court. The team’s field goal percentage was 52.1% with Ginobili playing and just 39.6% when Manu was on the bench or injured.

Despite obviously not being 100% and not shooting well Manu’s 17 points were more than enough emotional lift to prevent the Spurs from becoming the first #1 seed to open with back to back losses. Only four top seeds had ever lost the first game of the playoffs before but only Dallas had not come back to win the series. Once before San Antonio had lost the first game of the playoffs as a #1 seed and not only came back to win the series but continued that momentum to an NBA title.

The Grizzlies didn’t go easily however. Sam Young, who rebounded from a terrible game 1 with 17 points himself, hit a three point shot with 14.9 seconds remaining to cut the lead to two but the Spurs made their free throws down the stretch and won the game 93-87.

Game 3: A Terrific Home Crowd
The Grizzlies had accomplished a lot during the season but had really not captivated the cities imagination yet. That all changed in Game 3. The stands were packed with Grizz fans waiving towels and cheering for the home team. The team used that energy from the crowd to fight tooth and nail with the more experienced Spurs.

Both teams seemed nervous at first in the raucous environment. Four minutes into the game the score was only 6-4 Grizzlies and Tim Duncan had missed two free throws already. However the Grizzlies eventually settled down and raced to an early 29-20 lead. The teams played even in the 2nd quarter with Memphis finally growing the lead to 15 late in the quarter but the Spurs made the last five points of the quarter to close the half down 10 points.

The Spurs started chipping away at that lead coming out of halftime. The veteran Spurs refused to back down and outscored the Grizzlies 24-19 in the quarter to cut the lead in half entering the final period.

Then things got really interesting. With a packed house screaming their support, the Grizzlies withstood challenge after challenge to their lead. Zach Randolph continued to dominate inside with running mate Marc Gasol adding to the scoring but neither player reached double figures in rebounds for the first time in the series as Memphis was beaten badly on the boards all night.

The Spurs tied the game for the first time at 75 with 8 minutes remaining and again at 80 with five minutes left in the game. Both times the Grizzlies answered with runs to retake the lead. The Spurs refused to go away however and where within two points when Tony Parker is a shot with 1:04 remaining in the game when the Grizzlies called a 20 second timeout to set up a play.

Whatever was drawn up in the timeout didn’t work and Zach Randolph, a monster scoring inside all night, holding the ball 26 feet from the basket unguarded as the clock ticked down. Z-Bo calmly stroked in the three point shot to give the Grizzlies a five point win they would not surrender.

The Spurs now trailed 2-1 in the series making them the 3rd #1 seed to fall behind 2-1 in a series since the league expanded the first round to seven games and only the 7th #1 seed ever. Still San Antonio was confident they could turn things around as only two of the seven underdogs had gone on to complete the upset.

The game marked the first time the Grizzlies had ever won a home playoff game.

Game 4: The City Starts to Believe
The Grizzlies playoff success had everyone talking in Memphis and actually a lot of people talking around the country for the first time. The Spurs thought it was high time to end any thoughts of an upset in Game 4. For the first time in the series the Spurs dominated the first quarter taking a 26-21 lead on Tim Duncan’s 35th birthday. However the Grizzlies continued to fight and pulled within 2 points at the half.

Whatever Lionel Hollins said at halftime must have had an effect because a different Grizzlies team emerged from their locker room.

So far in the series the games had always been close with neither team capable of putting together enough of a run to squelch the hopes of the other team. Not so in the second half of Game 4. The Grizzlies came out to start the second half with more energy, speed and power than the Surs could handle turning a two point halftime deficit into a 13 point lead by outscoring the Spurs 30-15.

Manu Ginobili, the supposed savior of the Spurs said after the game that he didn’t see the fire to come back from the Spurs after the Grizzlies took the double digit lead. Apparently Coach Popovich agreed with that assessment as he benched his starters with nearly six minutes remaining in the game. For the first time in the series everyone started to realize that this was not just some lucky shots but that the Grizzlies were for real and that the Spurs were in serious trouble.

Game 5: An All Time Classic Close Call
The Spurs had been beaten in games 1 and 3 and beaten down in game 4 but game 5 was back in San Antonio and the Spurs seemed determined not to go down quietly.

San Antonio knew as well as anyone that they only needed to win their games at home and beat the Grizzlies in Memphis in game 6 to escape the series. This was not a time for the former Champs to concede despite the team’s history in series where they down 3-1. In five previous seven game series where the Spurs with Tim Duncan had trailed 3-1 San Antonio had never come back to win.

The Spurs started game 5 like they had no intention of making it 0-6. The Spurs held the Grizzlies to 14 first quarter points in building a six point lead. The built on that lead in the second scoring 30 points and extending the lead to 8 ponts at halftime. Perhaps it was over-confidence or perhaps it was just old age but the second half would turn out very different.

It was the 3rd quarter in Game 4 where the Grizzlies youthful legs left the Spurs in the dust and once again Memphis came out on fire to start the second half. The Grizzlies came out in the 3rd quarter looking like a team that didn’t want to give the spurs any hope in return game to Memphis. Outscoring the Surs 26-15, the Grizzlies took a three point lead into the 4th quarter and looked primed to end the series in five games.

The fourth quarter saw the momentum switch back and fourth with both teams playing excellent basketball. Neither team backed down from the other as the Spurs made run after run only to see the Grizzlies come back and regain the lead. With under two minutes remaining the Grizzlies were ahead by five points after Shane Battier made one of two free throws but the aging Spurs had one more run left in them. Ginobili hit two free throws and following a Randolph miss George Hill made a jump shot to pull the Spurs within one point with 13 seconds remaining when Randolph made an 18 foot jumper temporarily silencing the crowd. Ginobili answered quickly with a layup but Randolph made two free throws with 9 seconds remaining to pull the Grizzlies back up by three.

Ginobili grabbed a loose ball and calmly sank a long shot that looked to tie the game but replays showed his foot was on the line. The Spurs immediately fouled Z-Bo with 1.2 seconds remaining. Randolph made both free throws apparently putting the Grizzlies ahead for good 97-94.

The Spurs used their final timeout to draw up a play. Whether it was drawn up for Gary Neal or not, the rookie drained a 25 foot shot at the buzzer to force overtime.

In overtime the Spurs scored on their first three possessions and took the game 110-103. The game proved that Memphis was for real but it also showed that the Spurs weren’t going to go without a fight.

Game 6: History is Made
The Memphis Grizzlies had already done enough to make their city proud and the league to take notice, but the young guns weren’t finished. The team that had made Heart, Grit and Grind their rallying cry wanted to show the world they had what it takes to defeat the former champions despite their late game collapse in San Antonio. This team wanted to make history.

The series that had begun with Shane Battier’s made for TV three point shot while his wife was in labor would now end on the shoulders of much maligned power forward Zach Randolph. Randolph had been huge all season and in the first five games of the series but that was just a prelude to the show he put on in game 6.

The Grizzlies jumped on the Spurs in the first quarter taking a 24-16 after one period. The Spurs fought back at the end of the second quarter to pull within 3 points 46-43. The Grizzlies fought the Spurs toe to toe in the 3rd and outscored the former champs 24-23 to take a four point lead into the final stanza with the crowd cheering like mad. The Spurs still had life however and pulled within one point with 4:39 remaining 89-79.

That’s when Z-Bo took over the game. He scored 8 of the Grizzlies next 10 points pulling the Grizzlies ahead 91-82 and ending any hope of a Spurs comeback. Randolph scored 17 points by himself in the fourth quarter as the Grizzlies completed the upset.

San Antonio put up a valiant effort befitting a former championship team but time finally caught up to the Spurs. The Grizzlies had accomplished something no one thought possible just weeks earlier and created a frenzy in the city better known for their college basketball team than their pro.

 

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