Spurs sweep Grizzlies, aim for first title since 2007

Ron Higgins, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

MEMPHIS -- San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich certainly understood the talk.
As each year passed since the Spurs win their last NBA title in 2007, it didn't seem as if a team with its star veterans creeping toward their 30s would ever make it back to the NBA Finals.
Two of those 30-somethings -- Tony Parker and Tim Duncan -- muzzled such mumbling Monday night in FedExForum. Parker scored 37 points and Duncan added 15 points and eight rebounds as the Spurs beat the Memphis Grizzlies 93-86 to complete a sweep in the Western Conference finals.
The Spurs now await the winner of the Eastern Conference finals, and San Antonio will be well-rested before Game 1 of the Finals on June 6. The Miami Heat lead the Indiana Pacers two games to one in the Eastern Conference series.
"I'm pretty sure that we've been a team that probably has been written off like they've had their day," said Popovich, who has coached the Spurs to all four of their league championships with the 37-year-old Duncan as his power forward. "It seems logical. I would have said the same thing if I was a fan from the outside looking in.
"You don't expect this to happen this late in the game with the same group. It's tough to do, to maintain something that long, but it shows the character of those three guys (Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili), and their ability to play with whoever else is brought in around them."
Parker, 31, was clearly the MVP of the series. From his 18 assists in Game 2 to his stunning Game 4 performance in which he scored 25 points in the second half, turning back every last Memphis rally, he was magnificent.
It seemed as if every time the Grizzlies crept within three to six points, Parker was scraping off a screen, slithering inside the defense and either hitting layups over the Grizzlies' inside trees or finding an open 3-point shooter.
He's the reason why the Spurs dominated points-in-the-paint scoring 52-32, and why San Antonio shot 51.3 percent from the field.
"The first two games, we moved the ball and knocked down a lot of 3s (a combined 23 in Games 1 and 2)," Parker said. "That definitely opened things the next two games, because their defenders didn't come to help as much. I was penetrating because they were scared I would hit the shooters. I was just being aggressive and taking what the defense gave me."
Parker destroyed Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, who has been named first-team All-NBA defense the last two seasons.
And there was the Spurs' defense, which shut down the Grizzlies' vaunted inside game as well as point guard Mike Conley from start to finish in the series.
Center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph worked hard just to score 14 and 13 points, respectively, in the series finale, and they combined for 13 rebounds. Conley had nine points and seven assists.
As Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins noted, it was pretty much that way the entire series.
"Give the Spurs credit," Hollins said. "They had a game plan, they stuck with it the whole series and they never let us up for air. They not only did a nice job defensively on Marc and Zach."
Quincy Pondexter came off the bench to lead the Grizzlies with 22 points.
The Spurs gained revenge for losing a first-round series to the Grizzlies two years ago when San Antonio was the West's top seed.
The Grizzlies trailed by six points at the half and never got closer than three the rest of the way. Every time it seemed they were about to break through, Parker ducked behind a high screen and took a Grizzlies defender or two to school.
With the Spurs leading 89-86, Parker scraped off a screen, found a sliver of light in the lane, drew a shooting foul and converted two free throws with 29.7 seconds left. He followed that with two more free throws about eight seconds later, and the Grizzlies were done.
The Spurs hopped on the lifeless Grizzlies from the opening tip in establishing a 24-14 lead after one quarter. Three Memphis starters -- Conley, Allen and Randolph -- didn't score in the opening period.
San Antonio's superb team defense limited Memphis to 28.6 percent shooting in the opening quarter while the Spurs shot 52.4 percent with 11 baskets off seven assists.
Despite the Grizzlies going almost seven minutes between field goals in the second quarter, they managed to stay in striking distance. A Jerryd Bayless 3-pointer off an inbounds play with 2.1 seconds left in the half reduced the Spurs' halftime advantage to 44-38.
While the Spurs' defense was still doing a number inside against All-Star forward Randolph -- his two first-half points came off free throws -- the Grizzlies fired back by holding San Antonio to 0-for-8 from the 3-point arc before halftime.
Also, the Grizzlies' bench finally had played the Spurs' bench better than even, holding a 14-10 scoring advantage in the opening two quarters.
However, what got the Spurs their halftime lead was outscoring the Grizzlies 34-12 in the paint. It wasn't just Duncan getting to the basket, because Parker scored eight of his 12 first-half points on drives.
Every time the Spurs tried to throw a knockout punch in the game's first four minutes of the second half, the Grizzlies jabbed back. San Antonio maintained its halftime lead before Parker put on an offensive clinic.
Whether it was a crossover fade or ducking behind the screen, Parker's 14 third-quarter points boosted the Spurs to a 63-51 lead before he sat down for a breather.
That's when the Grizzlies, with a small lineup on the floor, went on a run that cut the Spurs' advantage to 72-66 by the end of third quarter.
Credit Pondexter and his 12 points in the period for willing the Grizzlies back into the game.
NOTES: San Antonio is 4-for-4 in the NBA Finals. Duncan is the only Spurs player to be part of all four of the team's championships. ... Teams that led 3-0 in an NBA postseason series are now 108-0 all-time in winning the series. ... Parker was the only player on either team to average a double-double over the first three games (20.3 points, 10.7 assists). ... The Spurs have won their last 17 of 19 playoff games in which Ginobili came off the bench to score 18 or more points. Ginobili finished with six points Monday.

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