Spurs better equipped for turf war with Grizzlies


AT&T CENTER — The play whistled dead, a foul given, Tim Duncan walked past Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, offering a subtle shoulder bump as a consequence for Gasol standing in his intended path.

For much of the night, the Spurs and Grizzles traded exchanges like this, each team attempting to claim a space on the court as their own and unafraid to knock any trespassers off of it. Now well acquainted foes, a meeting between the Spurs and the Grizzlies is hardly a cordial affair and the Spurs 103-82 victory over Memphis was no different.

“Them beating us in the first round of the playoffs, that taste will always be in our mouth. It just feels like every time we play them it’s a playoff game,” Spurs guard Gary Neal said. “Especially with the way they play, it’s so physical.”

Blessed with size, strength, and length, any contest against the Memphis Grizzlies inevitably turns into a turf war.

Few teams can match the sheer power of the Grizzlies frontline. Gasol and Zach Randolph are an imposing tandem, exchanging bruises for boards and generally overpowering a league that has trended smaller and quicker.

“It’s always tough when you play Randolph, he’s a physical player,” Tiago Splitter said. “You’ve got to match him because he’s going to go for every offensive rebound, he’s very violent in the post. You’ve got to play really hard to not let him win the game.”

In many ways the Grizzlies are a perfect foil for the Spurs, whose finesse offense based on space and timing can be disrupted occasionally  by physical defenses, as was apparent in their turnover-plagued loss to the Grizzlies less than a week ago.

The Grizzlies are quick, with good size and strength on the wings. They closeout aggressively on shooters, deflect passes, and root opponents out of their preferred spots.

“A lot of times if you closeout the lane you can force teams into turnovers,” Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins said. “If you let them go down the lane, now you have to run to the lane, then run back out and help, and that never happens. But if you’re already there and forcing them out to the perimeter and forcing them around the perimeter you’ve got a better chance to create turnovers.”

But the Spurs do have counters. When their offense is clicking, as it was last night, the Spurs space the floor expertly. When Duncan (9-of-17, 19 points) and Danny Green (3-of-5, eight points) are hitting shots it stretches defenses beyond their limits, creating one rotation point too many.

Rested and in rhythm, Duncan hit a few jumpers early on. With the defense having to shade towards the Spurs center an extra step or two, driving lanes became accessible to Parker, forcing the defense to collapse in ways that comprise their rotations.

“Guys did a great job of moving the ball and moving bodies,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Not catching it and holding it. They were real fluid offensively.”

It’s not all finesse and fluidity, however.

Stephen Jackson, absent from the Spurs 2011 first round collapse, is long past being a fluid player. He’s a grinder. No longer able to blow past defenders, he now uses his body to move them off their spots, taking a bump, spinning off it, and finding teammates for open shots to the tune of five assists.

In Jackson the Spurs have an edge. And with the additions of him, Kawhi Leonard, the emergence of Tiago Splitter, and the revitalization of Tim Duncan as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate the Spurs have a defense capable of challenging the Grizzlies brutality.

These Spurs exist on the fringes of the defensive elite. They have length on the frontline and wings, changing some of the dynamic of this series from 2011.

His team outrebounded 11-3 in the first quarter, Splitter answered the call, holding Zach Randolph to 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting and five rebounds. On one occasion Splitter successfully fended off Randolph with one arm while corralling a rebound in a crowd with the other.

The Spurs limited the Grizzlies to a single offensive rebound in the second half. And with no second chance points, a middling Grizzlies offense starved its defense, pushing the game to a tempo the Spurs were more comfortable with.

“Tiago did an unbelievable job of fighting Zach all night,” Duncan said. “We had our guards down there battling as well. Controlled that part of it, that was a really huge part for us.”

And of course there’s Duncan himself, perhaps the biggest counter to the Grizzlies. In 2011, the Grizzlies overwhelmed Duncan with Gasol and Randolph. But Duncan this season, on top of his game, can mitigate much of that advantage.

In this turf war Duncan practically sealed off the paint. With eight rebounds, five blocks, and four assists he provided the Spurs a little bit of everything they needed.

Including a subtle bump from time-to-time between plays.

  • NYC

    Jesse: In graf seven, I think you meant to say that the Grizzlies are a perfect foil to the Spurs.

  • NYC

    Might want to take a look at the penultimate graf as well, lol.

  • http://www.facebook.com/spencer.pierce1 Spencer Pierce

    Reading this article makes me realize that the Spurs are taking on a different type of team this year, much more defensive minded than the past two years. Unlike previous years, I don’t think there is any team in the West the Spurs can’t beat. Maybe they won’t be the favorites against the Clippers or Thunder, but I think the way the Spurs are built this year (emergence of Tiago, Jackson with a full year with the team, and another year for Kawhi), I think the Spurs might have one last shot at a Finals for Timmy and crew.

  • Sir Timothy

    Grizzlies are a good team. The West is down to 3 teams only.

    Spurs, Clippers and Thunder. One of these 3 goes to the Finals. I would say 40% chance Thunder 30% Clippers 30% Spurs as of now. The teams that finish 1 and 2 have a big advantage so we will see how it shakes out.

    Grizzlies should move Gay – his salary is too big and that type of player is so much easier to acquire than a Gasol or Randolph, much less a Duncan!