The San Antonio Spurs gave little indication on Saturday that the club had any interest in hanging around the Memphis Grizzlies any longer than necessary. One tough quarter, apparently, was enough for Gregg Popovich and his batch of crowders.
The Spurs tipped off what the club hopes will be the run toward its first title in the post-Tim Duncan era with a dominant, 111-82 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. Kawhi Leonard led an unsurprisingly balanced San Antonio attack over the Grizz and the Spurs took a 1-0 lead in their opening-round series. Memphis was paced by the strong play of center Marc Gasol, but the club had no answer to San Antonio’s seemingly unrelenting offensive gifts and some incessant defensive brilliance.
LaMarcus Aldridge overcame a slow start on his way toward 20 points in a fashion that was typical for LMA’s entire team, which fell in the second round of the postseason in 2016 during Aldridge’s first run as a Spur, and the final season of Duncan’s 19-year NBA career. San Antonio wasn’t exactly left panting at an early Memphis run that put the Grizz up 13-points early, but Memphis’ early activity and Marc Gasol’s obscenely good looks from all over certainly got the Spurs’ attention.
The 31-year-old center, playing in his first postseason against a team featuring brother Pau, took advantage of both his younger brother, Duncan replacement Dewayne Dedmon and Aldridge on his way toward 25 first-half points – the most he’s scored in nine seasons and three postseasons against San Antonio:
While Gasol roared, teammate Mike Conley contributed his typical brand of streamlined brilliance in the first half, but his touch would dim as the night moved along. Marc Gasol would finish Game 1 contributing a relatively slim seven points and three boards in the second half and a 32-point, five-rebound night in total.
The Spurs managed to completely overcome their double-digit deficit to Memphis by halftime, ramping up the pressure defensively while forcing Conley to play the hero offensively even after he’d dropped 10 first-quarter points on the Spurs.
That insistence only intensified in the second half, as San Antonio introduced a switching defense that forced the ball away from Gasol and Zach Randolph’s hands, while pushing Conley into isolation situations he was clearly uncomfortable with – even while going up against longer, slower defenders like Aldridge and reserve forward David Lee.
“Doing a good job on” Conley, Gregg Popovich reminded after the game, “is of paramount importance.”
Conley finished with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting, with those misses including a series of good looks from both inside and out that the Spurs were more than happy to live with.
San Antonio’s insistence on turning Conley into an isolation scorer, a role the steady point man (who thrived in previous screen-and-roll runs with Grizzlies teammates in the first half) wanted little to do with. Even well before the Spurs introduced Extended Garbage Time as the game moved into blowout territory in the fourth quarter, Conley looked spent.
Randolph was equally as frustrated, missing four of his first five shots and 10 of 13 overall while producing a team worst -39 for his efforts.
Randolph, who was a significant part of Memphis’ two regular-season wins over San Antonio in four tries (averaging 16.5 points and 6.5 rebounds over 31 minutes in two snail-paced affairs), just could not find the space needed to not only make himself impactful, but tilt the court in a way that opened scoring lanes for young Memphis helpers Wayne Selden (starting in the injured Tony Allen’s absence: 2-of-8 shooting), JaMychal Green (1-of-3 shooting) and 40-year-old Vince Carter (2-of-8 shooting in the start).
The entire Grizzlies offense was an absolute mess, once San Antonio locked in:
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) April 16, 2017
The much-maligned Danny Green played a sparkling defensive game for the Spurs, missing all six of his shots but contributing four blocks and a steal through the first three quarters while playing lights-out ball on the end that matters most to San Antonio. Green was the biggest part of the movement that not only enervated Conley, but took the ball away from Gasol and Randolph (with Aldridge and others fronting the post superbly) in the spots they adore the most.
That’s the stuff that hardly scans, all that we’re used to from San Antonio.
The new wrinkle, in this 61-win season, is that MVP candidate and Michael Jordan-clone who looks ready for his newest, biggest stage.
Kawhi Leonard notched a team-high 32 in either sly or scintillating fashion, picking his spots enough times to leave us wondering why things took so long when he decided to pull pops like this:
Leonard finished with five assists and two steals, contributing just two turnovers to the San Antonio total of nine on the night, in the face of a Grizzlies team that ranked No. 4 in the NBA in defensive turnover rate this season:
Though the Grizzlies don’t boast the defense they once did, especially with Allen a longtime All-Defensive stalwart, out with a bum calf, but that shouldn’t take away from the impression that Leonard left us with. One that reminds us he’s eminently capable of scoring down the stretch of close games that, sometimes, will boil down to isolation brilliance:
The Grizzlies were supposed to act as familiar foes to San Antonio, having lost to them during the 2016 playoffs and after splitting the previous two postseason pairings (in 2013 and ’11) between the two. On Saturday, though, Memphis’ bar code wasn’t clearing. Something in San Antonio’s defensive pressure made the Grizzlies not appear as themselves, and the No. 7 seed won’t have much time in attempting to counter the frightening on-court obstacles these Spurs provided Memphis with as Game 1 moved along.
If this is how the Spurs plan to play their second and third quarters moving forward, the 2017 NBA playoffs are going to be a much more compelling thing.
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