Memphis Grizzlies 91, San Antonio Spurs 88: Tony Parker and milk cartons
At the end of regulation a confusing and chaotic swarm of Memphis Grizzlies surrounded the ball. There was not, however, a San Antonio Spurs 3-point attempt. So went the game. So goes the series. The top-seeded San Antonio Spurs now trail 1-2 after an 88-91 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
In an ironic reversal of the Spurs’ regular season success, it was San Antonio’s defense holding up it’s end of the bargain, making the necessary stop in the closing seconds of the game. It was the offense that failed.
Grabbing the rebound with roughly 10 seconds remaining George Hill pushed the ball, slowing momentarily for a quick glance to the sidelines, but without a timeout call from the coaches , advanced the ball ahead to Manu Ginobili. Ginobili was immediately trapped along the sideline. In giving the ball to the Spurs best player Hill took it out of the hands of its most under-utlized weapon.
In clutch performances few in the NBA are as brilliant as San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. While popularity polls lean towards Kobe Bryant as the best person for the last shot, for my money you can do no better than Popovich. A top seed with no legitimate MVP or All-NBA candidates, execution has been the driving force behind the Spurs success all season. So when one saw Manu surrounded with clock quickly ticking down, the mind boggled.
What was Popovich thinking? Why didn’t the Spurs call a timeout off the rebound?
As it turns out, Tim Duncan was attempting a timeout as Matt Moore of CBS’s sports expertly notes:
The buzzer sounds as the clock expires, Duncan is frantically calling for time. The broadcast clock says .2, but the game clock above the goal says .00. George Hill is still calling for the ball. Matt Bonner is pointing at Tim Duncan. And the Grizzlies are going up 2-1 in this best of seven series.
Now, there’s a world of things that can be talked about here. One, the Spurs should have called team when they got possession. Two, Bonner, closes to the official, or Ginobili, or Hill need to be calling time once the ball crosses the timeline. Three, even if the officials had seen Duncan motioning, there may not have been time for the Spurs to get a shot off. Four, the player has the responsibility there to alert the official.
But the fact remains that before time expires, Tim Duncan is calling timeout.
This, intended timeout or not, is still a case of botched end-game execution, something we’ve alluded to in recent days. But that is what the Lionel Hollins-led Memphis Grizzlies have done early in this playoff series. They have taken the execution away from their would-be executioners.
For all the rhetoric about the Spurs getting destroyed on the inside the Grizzlies shot a mere 42 percent and were beaten on the boards yet again.
All season long the San Antonio Spurs offense has been a thing of beauty; an efficient machine firing on multiple cylinders. The true story of the series has been Memphis ability to drag both teams through the mud, negating the Spurs strengths and putting both teams on equal footing.
In essence the Grizzlies are using heavy explosives in an extremely short range fight, hoping the Spurs are the team receiving the brunt of the damage. It’s a 50-50 proposition and currently Memphis is leading 2-1 in a game of heads vs. tails, punctuated improbably by a Shane Battier and Zach Randolph 3-pointer.
In the trenches, in the mud, the Spurs fleet-footed point guard has been deemed Missing In Action. Where is Tony Parker? This playoff series has gone on long enough to define a few trends. Memphis will not dominate the series on the boards as they did during the regular season, the Spurs will not find corner three-pointers, and most disturbing is the play of Parker.
Parker scored 16 points on 5-14 shooting, finishing with more turnovers (6) than assists (5) as Memphis once again moved the ball better than their opponents, out assisting them 24 to 19.
Few players depend on the 3-pointer as much as Tony Parker–not in his own shot, but in his teammates–and when teams have been able to remove the spacing from the Spurs offense they have generally been much more successful in walling off the lane from Parker. Such has been the case dating back to 2003.
If the Spurs are to take a game in Memphis they are going to have to discover a way to clean the lanes up for their point guard, because Mike Conley is not a player who should be playing Parker to a draw.
The fortunate part about Memphis’ love affair with dynamite is it’s just as likely to blow up in their hands. The playoffs are a grind and the Spurs have danced this dance before. Just because they have changed their stripes this season does not mean they have completely forgotten how to play this game.
Moments of execution and brilliance have flickered briefly in and out, keeping pace with Memphis best efforts. Searching for the right matchup, the right solution to uncork this offense and set the series right.
Memphis is running away, but in the mud one can never run very far.