Memphis Grizzlies 92, San Antonio Spurs 90

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When the San Antonio Spurs lost on Sunday evening to the Miami Heat, there was a feeling in the air that the Spurs hadn’t lost just one game. With a back-to-back coming later in the week with the Orlando Magic and, with the possible Western Conference Playoffs #1 seed on the line, Oklahoma City Thunder, many expected Gregg Popovich to rest some of his guys for Monday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

That’s exactly what happened, as Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard didn’t suit up for the Spurs. And just like that, thanks to a late bucket from Memphis point guard Mike Conley, San Antonio’s cushion in the loss column against the Thunder has all but disappeared. Thursday night’s national TV matchup with Oklahoma City becomes all the more important.

Both Matt and I had conflicts last night, so neither of us was able to watch the game live, which is why you’re probably reading this on or after your lunch break. Plenty of words have been posted about what went right and all that went not so right, so I’ll spare you more of that. Watching the replay of last night’s game afforded me the chance get a fresh look at Gary Neal.

With Manu Ginobili out of action for the next three-to-four weeks with a strained hamstring, Neal’s role on the second unit becomes all the more important. Against Memphis, Neal looked like he was moving as good as I’ve seen him move this season. Neal finished the game with 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting and hit two of his four 3-point attempts. According to the Express-News, Neal has been bothered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot and tendonitis in his left achilles for a significant chunk of the season.

As much as I’m not a fan of undersized shooting guards who can’t defend, Neal can help the offense while Ginobili recovers.

If the second unit doesn’t boast the creativity it once did, another shooter can help. Nando De Colo has some of the same play making traits as Manu, just not the athleticism to create the type of openings that the bench group is used to. Having Neal out there, who can knock down shots and understands the system, will help open up things for others.

Neal is not afraid to take the shot that’s presented to him, but he’s also willing to make the extra pass and play the good-to-great game. The Spurs need as much of that as they can get on the bench right now. If Neal has recovered from his previous injuries and gotten himself back in game shape, you’re likely to see the second unit get an offensive boost.

Even against the Heat, Neal knocked down a nice step-back 3-pointer and followed it up on the next possession with a heat-check 3 that missed. The confidence is looking solid.

Speaking of Nando De Colo, the extended absence of Ginobili means you’re likely to see more of the French rookie soaking up the backup point guard minutes. As much as I like Cory Joseph and some of the things he brings to the table, the Spurs need someone to set the table for others on that second unit and that’s just not Joseph’s game.

De Colo should get most of the minutes behind Parker from here on out and the Spurs’ second unit offense should be a little better for it. He’s not Manu Ginobili, but sometimes he can trick you into thinking he might be part of the extended family.

  • Len

    Well this year is a 180 degree turn around from last season. Winners of 20(?) straight heading into the postseason didn’t lead to an O’Brien. Perhaps a healthy dose of adversity heading into them can.

    I know it’s a reach but it’s the best I’ve got.

  • Andrew G

    The thing I found most troubling about our last minute of play (besides, you know, giving up the game) was our second to last look that started with about 30 seconds left to play in the game. I look down and see we still have 3 timeouts. No timeout is called, instead Tony holds the ball for 24 seconds and plays the hero to no avail. Then with .6 seconds left after the game is all but over for us, THEN we call a timeout. WHAT!?

  • Colin

    I agree. I think that the recent slew of games that have come down to the last possession will only serve to help the Spurs come post season. Sure, it’d feel much better if we had beaten the Heat and the Grizz but we didn’t. I feel like the reasons we lost those games can be easily remedied in 3-4 weeks in terms of personnel movement/changes both offensively and defensively from a coaching standpoint.

    Let’s hope Ginobili can come back with some spark. Without him at least 80-90%, I don’t think we can get past the 2nd round.

  • Graham

    Totally onboard with this. Nothing like an endless stream of tough, tooth and nail games coming down to the wire to harden your resolve for the playoffs. We’ve been competitive in every game, and while the execution hasn’t been there consistently, the toughness has. Team hasn’t quit, and are playing hard at least. Once we get a good dose of top level opposition, our offense can adapt and be ready for the Playoffs.

    Gino will be needed, but I do think we can handle the first two rounds without him fine.

  • Graham

    I think TP was overcompensating after Tiago fouled out. I hope that’s just an abberation based on unusual circumstances.

  • leben

    Can anyone tell me why Pop insists on switching picks on D. There was a period at the end of the 3rd and early 4th where we were “treated” to the sight of Bonner v. Bayless, a disadvantage if ever there was one. Not only is it bad in the obvious way (a big guarding a small on the perimeter) it causes the small to front the big which then causes the back side having to hedge and throws the Spurs’ D all out of whack: on the boards and in rotations.

  • Titletown99030507d

    But he still doesn’t have to be the hero. There are others for that. Crappy play at the end.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Can’t complain about Tiago’s play he had as many rebounds the other three stooges had. And twice as many points as each. Blame it on Icy again and the pitiful perimeter defense.

  • Graham

    Certainly can’t argue with Tiago’s effectiveness. He’s our only other legitimate Rim Protector.

    I thought Diaw played decently and Bonner as well, for what we were asking. Neither of those guys are built to bang with Zbo and Marc in the post. Don’t blame them for the loss, blame a combo of shoddy officiating early and a concerted effort by Memphis to foul out Tiago for the loss.

  • Spurholic Mumbai

    Thought, Neal’s missed jumper on the break was a key moment in the game, a 6 point lead would have become 8 with less than 2 minutes to play and it was a 2 on 1, with Jackson running the floor with him.

    The other aspect was Spurs difficulty in guarding 2 shooting guard line up which Grizzlies and Warriors have been throwing at them this season. Bayliss and Conley, though undersized, were consistently getting to the basket / getting the open man. Think, the coaching staff needs to try defending such a line up by going small – either Cory Joseph / Patty Mills with Tony Parker and Gary as the third guard, as Gary was finding it hard to defend Bayliss.

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