SAN ANTONIO (AP)—No one even asked Memphis coach Lionel Hollins about it. He just waited for nearly two dozen cameramen and reporters to huddle around Saturday, then spoke directly to one person who wasn’t even there.
Right. About that.
“We did not tank the season so we can get the San Antonio Spurs,” he said.
Hollins was playfully needling the two-time MVP. But after Duncan said “they chose to play us” in reference to the Grizzlies sitting their stars and dropping their last two games—losses that assured Memphis the No. 8 seed— Hollins couldn’t resist responding before Game 1 on Sunday.
His levity seemed fitting for a team facing little pressure ahead of this series. Eighth seeds are 3-51 against No. 1s in NBA history. The Grizzlies are 0-12 in the playoffs and are in the postseason for the first time since 2006. Winning one game would make franchise history.
Then there’s the Spurs.
They’re back atop the West after a 61-win resurgence and mindful this could be their last shot for a fifth title in the Duncan era. Not that it’s made San Antonio the conference favorite for the NBA finals.
So when the Grizzlies rested Tony Allen(notes) and Zach Randolph(notes) in their last two games, in addition to Mike Conley(notes) in the finale, the Spurs saw Memphis as not exactly eager to improve its seeding and possibly face the Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas instead.
“They played us well the last couple of games,” Duncan said Friday. “They feel they match up well against us. They chose to play us, they got us, and we’ll see what happens.”
“I don’t know why they want us so bad,” Hill said. “It was 2-2 (in the regular season). That’s 50 percent. But if they want to take their chances against us, bring it, I guess.”
Hollins insisted that wasn’t it at all.
“My thought process had nothing to do with the San Antonio Spurs,” Hollins said. “It had to do with us being healthy coming into this series, whatever series it was going to be.”
The Spurs, of all teams, can relate to wanting to stay healthy.
They lost All-Star Manu Ginobili(notes) to a sprained right elbow in their season finale Wednesday against Phoenix, a game that was largely meaningless beyond trying to stay above Chicago for the NBA’s best record. A night earlier, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t play his stars against the Lakers.
Ginobili is doubtful for the postseason opener. But San Antonio’s second-leading scorer was already back shooting jumpers Saturday, and his teammates seem to think he’s OK to play.
Parker, along with Ginobili and Duncan, are the only Spurs remaining from the 2003-04 team that swiftly ended Memphis’ first playoff appearance in franchise history, sweeping the Grizzlies in four games. Seven years later, Memphis is still waiting for its first postseason win.
Forward Shane Battier(notes) was on that 2004 Memphis team, before being traded to Houston and then back to the Grizzlies this season. Battier said Saturday he can’t figure out why some people think Memphis tanked its final two games in order to play the No. 1 seed.
Same for Allen.
“They don’t come to me and say, ‘Hey, T.A., this is what we’re going to do.’ Me, personally, I was hurt,” the guard said of sitting out the last two games. “As far as tanking, I don’t know nothing about that. So I’m not the one to talk to about that.”
Hollins was. But he was only talking to one person out there.
“I just want Tim to know that,” Hollins said. “Tim, we weren’t seeking you out.”