An awful lot went wrong for the Grizzlies in San Antonio last night.
The Spurs threw more double-teams and team-defense attention at slowing down the Grizzlies' inside game, and it worked. In game one, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 49 points on 19-25 shooting. Last night, the pair scored 23 points on abysmal 7-23 shooting. Gasol — who did have 17 rebounds in 44 minutes — had several shots rim out. Randolph — having one of his worst games of the season — was limited in part by foul trouble.
Despite the focus the Spurs put on the Grizzlies' inside game, the team's ongoing struggles with perimeter passing and spot-up shooting became more pronounced. The Grizzlies had a hard time getting good outside looks and a worse time hitting them. As a team, the Grizzlies shot 3-14 from three-point range, with primary shooters O.J. Mayo and Shane Battier following up their 5-6 long-range performance in Game 1 with a combined 1-9 last night. (If you're looking for one definitive difference-maker, that's probably it.)
Meanwhile, the Spurs got back their best perimeter player, Manu Ginobili, who was effective despite wearing a heavy sleeve on his injured right arm: Ginobili had a team high 17 points, with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals, and used his crafty, jerky, flop-heavy style to get to the free-throw line 13 times.
And, while Ginobili was effective, the Spurs got their three-point game going — particularly in the second half — hitting 7-17 on the game (41.2%, slightly above their league-leading regular-season percentage).
And, oh yeah, Tim Duncan continued to exceed his regular-season production: 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks on 7-12 shooting.
All of that against the West's top seed in a must-win game for them on their home court. And what was the outcome? With 12 seconds left in the game, Spurs guard George Hill went to the line for two free throws. If he'd missed one, the Grizzlies would have had the ball, shot clock off, with a chance to force overtime. Hill hit both and the Spurs held on — a 93-87 survival win.
This game was closer than it had any right to be, and that was a testament to the resiliency of this Grizzlies team, which has impressed and surprised so many of us so many times this season. The Spurs made runs that seemed on the verge of burying them, and the Grizzlies kept responding: Mike Conley got to the basket in the third quarter, keeping the team afloat. Sam Young rebounded from a terrible first game — hitting mid-range shots early, shots in the paint late, and a clutch corner three near the very end to rack up a team high 17 points.
After getting beat on the offensive boards in Game 1, the Grizzlies won there, if barely (11-10). After losing the turnover battle in Game 1, the Grizzlies got back on track, winning that category by four — but not scoring off Spurs turnovers the way they usually do. After getting only two steals in Game 1, the Grizzlies nearly matched their league-leading season average last night with nine.
It was a scrappy, ugly game, and if the Grizzlies couldn't quite match the Spurs' execution, they easily equaled them in fight. Nothing that happened in San Antonio contradicts the notion that, despite the seeding, these teams aren't that far apart. If Rudy Gay were healthy, the Spurs would be in deep, deep trouble. As it is, this is looking like a long, difficult series.
And now it comes to Memphis. To, as one Grizzlies' fan dubbed FedExForum, "The Grindhouse." (Another Grizzlies fan dubbed San Antonio's AT&T Center "The Flophouse") Game 3, on Saturday, is already sold out. Game 4, on Monday, is getting close. If these first two games are any indication, Memphis basketball fans are about to see something unlike anything they've seen before.