San Antonio Spurs 95, Memphis Grizzlies 82: Like a good neighbor, Manu is there….with a Spurs victory
AT&T Center–If San Antonio Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard learned anything during training camp, it was to be prepared when Manu Ginobili has the ball.
The Spurs All-Star shooting guard spotted Leonard sitting alone in the corner as he split two defenders in typical Manu Ginobili fashion–a quick between-the-legs dribble followed by a wrap around no-look pass. Leonard hit his first NBA career three-pointer, sending the AT&T Center crowd into a frenzy and Manu Ginobili trending worldwide on Twitter.
“The coaches told me to be ready in that spot and he’ll get me the ball,” said Leonard. “He throws some unique passes.”
While Ginobili may always find ways to deliver something new, eventually teammates learn nothing is unexpected. Richard Jefferson, somewhat of an expert on playing alongside special playmaking guards, was quick to let the rookie know more would be on its way.
“Well, I was fortunate because I played with Jason Kidd for seven years,” Jefferson said. “It only took me about a game or two to realize that Manu was capable of the same things.”
In the second half Manu Ginobili was everywhere, like an insurance agent from those State Farm commercials, showing up magically from out of nowhere with whatever the San Antonio Spurs happened to need at that moment.
[pullquote]In the second half Manu Ginobili was everywhere, like an insurance agent from those State Farm commercials, showing up magically from out of nowhere with whatever the San Antonio Spurs happened to need at that moment.[/pullquote]
Ginobili was the answer to every Grizzlies run, whether it was through scoring (24 points), passing (four assists), rebounding (five) or defense (three steals).
“He just does so much for our team,” Jefferson said. “He spread the ball around, he takes tough shots, plays great defense. He got a couple of steals.”
The San Antonio Spurs starting backcourt of Tony Parker (15 points, seven assists) and Ginobili helped flip the script on Memphis, taking a page out of the Grizzlies playbook with seven of the team’s 13 steals. Parker was particularly active in the fourth quarter, most notably stripping Mike Conley on back-to-back possessions as the Spurs pulled away.
“I think the defense fueled what we did. We played a very good defensive game, very active,” Popovich said. “We crowded things, got back in transition, got our hands on a lot of balls, a lot of deflections.”
It was the Spurs swarming, active defense that helped them overcome early foul trouble to their thin frontline. Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair each picked up three fouls early in the first half, leaving second-year big man Tiago Splitter (five points, eight rebounds, two blocks) to hold the fort through the second quarter.
Splitter was active, using his length and positioning to keep Zach Randolph (3-8, 10 points, six rebounds) and Marc Gasol (5-6, 13 points, six rebounds) well below the prestigious heights they reached last season in eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
Even more promising, Splitter was able to emphatically turn back two shots at the rim as part of a key defensive run that saw the Spurs hold the Grizzlies to 14 points in the quarter.
“I thought that Tiago was really good defensively, really solid,” San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “He stayed in good position, he blocked shots, he rebounded. He was real special tonight. He deserves a lot of credit.”
As positive as the Spurs defensive performance was, it was also not without some qualifiers.
Much of the Grizzlies sloppy play (24 turnovers) can be attributed to a shortened training camp and their own shoddy decision making (Rudy Gay with 18 shot attempts to Zach Randolph’s eight attempts).
“Our defense got better every quarter,” Jefferson said. “But you don’t to give too much credit to our defense right now.
“Every team has had just a couple of weeks to practice. Marc Gasol just to to camp a week and a half ago, so they’re going to be a much better team, as are we, so we have a lot of work to do.”
For a night at least the San Antonio spurs got a look at a little of what was missing in the playoffs last season–an active defense, and a reliable Manu Ginobili.