For Memphis, coming home to play the Spurs after a 4-game road win streak is like coming in after a fun, exciting night out with your friends to find your ex-Marine Dad stayed up to bust you for breaking curfew. He humiliates you, he takes away something you love (Marc Gasol left the game with a sprained knee), and he leaves you completely dismantled with nothing to look forward to but a hangover.
First of all, let’s clarify that Marc’s departure (early in the 2nd quarter) did not ruin the Grizzlies’ chances tonight — it just made them that much worse. Memphis trailed by five after a quarter, and at best were looking to take a single digit deficit into halftime, still very much plagued by ineffective wing shooting and a packed interior. After Marc’s exit, a 7-point deficit doubled by halftime. Ed Davis spelled Gasol to close the first half, but Koufos took the floor with the starters for the second.
The Grizz found a spark in the third quarter in none other than Zach Randolph, as they quickly erased the 14-point lead to tie the game at 61. The Spurs are nothing if not adjustable, however, and they answered by rebuilding a six point margin to finish the quarter while Randolph and Conley sat. Memphis pulled within one on a long Tony Allen jumper with six minutes left in the 4th, but the Spurs answered with an eight point run and held the Grizzlies at arm’s length there on out to secure a 102-86 victory.
Mike Conley was outstanding — I get the sense he enjoys going up against Parker — with 28 points on 19 shots and 4 steals. The Grizz bench added a paltry 18 points, compared to the Spurs’ 45.
Gasol’s injury was reported at halftime as an left knee sprain, with an MRI scheduled for Saturday. My understanding as a non-doctor is that the best case scenario is a mild sprain and a 4-5 game recovery (similar to Bayless’ injury earlier this year). At worst, he could have a torn ligament, which is more likely in a non-contact injury (which this was). I would frankly rather focus on tonight’s loss than the possible repercussions of that.
1. Match-ups: that’s what we talk about when we talk about the Spurs. Conley looked strong early, quickly getting three steals and five points, and defending Tony Parker as well as anyone short of LeBron James could. Patty Mills put near full-court pressure on Conley after entering the game, and his disruption trickled down to the rest of the offense, forcing late starts and bothering simple passes. Tayshaun Prince had a strong first quarter against Marco Belinelli with six points, including a dribble drive without a pick, but was largely ineffective for the rest of the game — against no one. Seriously, they just left him open. Tony Allen spent most of his floor time chasing Parker, who, after a strong first quarter (7 points), was mostly a non-factor until crunch time when he turned on the jets.
The front court, obviously, is where it gets tricky against the Spurs. Marc’s injury paved the way for Ed Davis, who spent most of the California trip on the bench, to enter with Kosta Koufos. Joerger spent the rest of the game using situational match-ups, but Davis operates primarily in the paint, and that’s simply not an option against San Antonio. On defense, Davis has the length and maneuverability to cover Parker on screens, which is good, but he leaves his feet way too often and the Spurs’ interior passes burned him.
The lynchpin for the Spurs’ Grizzlies defensive scheme is Zach Randolph, who they held to just 5 first-half points on 2-10 shooting. Zach came out of halftime angry, scoring two quick buckets and drawing a non-shooting foul which helped spark a 12-2 Grizzlies run. He feasted on Boris Diaw in the 3rd quarter until Gregg Popovich switched to a 2-3 zone defense designed to guard him from both sides. Z-Bo finished with 16, but also deserves credit for single-handedly waking up a depressed crowd after halftime.
2. The Spurs gashed Memphis under the basket: 36 of their 51 first half points came in the paint. They finished with 56. Marc’s absence likely contributed to this, but even in the first quarter, it became obvious that the Grizz could not protect the lane.
3. As the second quarter wound down, the essential problem that separates the Grizzlies and Spurs revealed itself: Tayshaun Prince took three long jumpers from the wing in four possessions, because that was the only shot available. He missed two of them. I won’t rehash ways in which San Antonio has dominated Memphis for 12 of the last 14 games, but suffice to say that the central problem still persists.
4. The Spurs finished with 22 points off 14 Memphis turnovers. I don’t know what else to say about it by this point: the Grizzlies have to hold onto the basketball and maximize each possession against better teams, of which there are now quite a few.
5. Ed Davis was admirable tonight in a pinch: in 16 minutes, he was 3-4 with 4 rebounds and a pair of steals. A narrative argument has arisen over whether Davis deserves the blame he gets in the Grizzlies’ rocky start this season; we at BSB are hoping to jump into the discussion soon, but if there is one aspect of his game that is not debatable, it’s his screens. Anyone’s picks will look below-average compared to the Spurs, but Davis’ are particularly weak tea — even his moving screens are essentially useless, and he tends to take himself out of plays on rolls. Like I said, we will delve deeper into Davis’ game in the near future, especially if he sees increased minutes after Marc’s injury.
The Grizzlies host the Rockets on Monday night at 7:00 p.m., and 8 of their next 10 games are at home. So, there’s that.
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