And that’s the end folks, the Spurs beat the Grizzlies to go up 3-0 in the series.
The saddest thing is, tonight was far and away the most fun game of the series. Don’t get me wrong, it was just as stressful as every other game, but it was almost always very close. When it wasn’t close, the Grizzlies were ahead. And how nice was that lead, really?
So, so nice. At the end of the first quarter, the Grizzlies led 29-13 on 66.7% from 3 and about 45% from he floor (astronomical numbers for the Grizz this series). The story, of course, was Memphis forcing turnovers from the always-composed Spurs in the first quarter and scoring 11 points off of 8 Spurs turnovers. The Grizzlies’ problem the entire series has been their ability to score through the Spurs’ stifling defense, but Memphis found themselves perfectly capable of scoring off of fast breaks, and boy, did they get fast breaks. Conley 3-Point PUJITS (Pull-Up Jumpers In Transition), and Tony Allen layups abounded. The defense was stifling and the Grizzlies exploited the lazy Spurs offense and everything was beautiful.
Early in the quarter, the Spurs were on target to turn the ball over 60 times in the game. Of course, a turnover rate like that is totally unsustainable, and something so wonderful as points off of Spurs turnovers could never last. Popovich would see to that.
As soon as the second quarter started, the Grizz regressed to the mean. Early in, the Grizz’s shooting percentages dropped to 38.5% from both the floor and from 3, and the lead dropped to as low as 9. Gasol’s paint patrol had been the real defensive anchor that caused turnovers and gave the Grizzlies their momentum; so when they pulled Gasol out — and the Spurs woke up — the Grizzles lost their magic. While the Spurs had 8 turnovers in the first quarter, they only had 9 turnovers for the rest of the game and overtime.
Another major factor for the shift: the swap of Tony Allen for Jerryd Bayless. In the first quarter, the Spurs only shot about 20 percent from the floor. In the second quarter, the Spurs shot over 60%. Jerryd Bayless was also -7 for the quarter, where other players had a +/- split as high as +16. The bench just could not contain the Spurs.
The second quarter ended with a 4 point Grizz lead, 44-40.
Kawhi came out of the half and immediately hit a corner three to take the lead, so the rest of the game was just the Grizz trying to out-grind the Spurs, and it came right down to the wire. Pondexter kept the Memphis offense alive, hitting 3 3-pointers and putting up 12 points through the 3rd quarter. Gasol just anchored the Grizzlies completely: even with just a 3-point lead at one point in the 3rd quarter, Gasol was still +13.
Unfortunately, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were also playing their best offensive basketball, and the Grizzlies still had no answer for a defense that was going out of its way to shut down Wendigo, ZBo, and Conley.
The third quarter ended with a 1-point Grizzlies lead, 65-64, but the momentum had completely shifted.
The Spurs took control early into the fourth quarter: whereas the Spurs had been trying to catch the Grizzlies all game, Memphis spent the entire fourth quarter trying to catch the Spurs. Mike Conley hit several important shots in the fourth. Whereas Conley was 3-12 going into the fourth, he was 6-15 at one point in the fourth, and he carried the Memphis offense.
There were two real stories to the fourth quarter:
1) the Spurs execution. The Spurs were just brilliant. Memphis was performing as well as they ever can offensively (44% from the floor, 39% from 3) in the fourth, but Memphis could not take away the Spurs’ midrange game off of pick and rolls, and that had other consequences. The Spurs started running the Warrior’s elevator motion for Manu and Bonner 3 pointers, and Memphis was forced to respect the midrange pick instead of running around the screen to the shooter. Here’s the Warriors running the play, for your reference:
There was probably something the Grizzlies could have done to stop plays like this, but frankly, I’m not sure what that something is.
2) Memphis’ Free Throw shooting. Memphis shot a horrendous 55.6% from the free throw line, and the difference between their Game 3 FT% and their regular season FT% would easily have made up the difference for the game. Free throw shooting was literally the difference between Memphis winning or losing, and the Grizzlies couldn’t execute on that end.
With 54 seconds left on the clock, QPon got his 6th foul and fouled out to send Ginobli to the free throw line, who hit both shots to take a one point lead over Memphis. With 33 seconds, Tony Allen was fouled on a ferocious drive, who hit one of two to tie the game. The Grizzlies played wonderful defense on the next possession and took a timeout with the game tied and 19 seconds on the clock.
For the last play of regulation, Conley ran a pick and roll with Gasol starting with about 12 seconds left. Unfortunately for Memphis, Splitter’s lateral quickness and mental acuity allowed him to switch the play brilliantly, and Kawhi’s length as he lagged out on the perimeter stopped Conley from passing to a spotted up Gasol.
Conley took a wild shot, and the game went to overtime.
The Grizz were still just out-executed in overtime. If nothing else, they were exhausted. I tweeted this from the Beale Street Bears twitter account:
ZBo’s tired and his defense has gotten lazy. Just pushing Splitter now, barely rotating.
— Beale Street Bears (@BealeStreetBear) May 26, 2013
Duncan came out of the gate with a fire lit under him, and he scored two quick post points in classic Duncan fashion. The Grizzlies were too exhausted to really answer. A Splitter hookshot (that ZBo was too tired to really guard) and a Tony Parker and-1 later, and the game was a wrap.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, and statistically speaking there’s no real reason to think that the Grizzlies will be the first to do so.
So I leave you with this reminder: this Grizzlies team is clearly the best in franchise history, and they put up one hell of a fight.
They’ll be back and grinding next year. Count on it. We don’t bluff.