Spurs’ ownership of Grizzlies, Randolph continues
There is some credence in the narrative that the Grizzlies don’t make for an ideal first-round opponent for a Western Conference top seed, but that sentiment doesn’t seem to hold as true in San Antonio.
The Spurs dismantled Memphis once again, this time in a 112-92 walloping that shot them convincingly back into the win column and over a hump that eventually plagued them last season. With the win, San Antonio clinched home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, should they make it that far, alleviating any pressure of a potential Game 7 on the road.
But we’re getting waaaaaaaayyyyy ahead of ourselves here, as Oklahoma City reminded a national television audience on Thursday. Still, the Spurs are playing well, and the No. 1 overall seed is becoming more within reach by the day. Unlike last season, when San Antonio finished its final 20 games with a .500 record, this group is progressing comfortably.
“I feel we’re in a good place … obviously we’re not exactly where we want to be,” Danny Green said of what feels like a night-and-day comparison to last April. “Last year was a different season for us. We started building momentum as we were in the playoffs, and I think it’s better for us to build momentum before we get to the playoffs.
“Right now we’re moving in a pretty good direction.”
Gregg Popovich mentioned prior to the game that this is the time of year he’s going to start ramping up the minutes for his most crucial players — namely Kawhi Leonard, who is almost certain to average the most minutes of any Spur once the postseason begins.
Leonard went off for a career-high-tying 26 points on 12-of-13 shooting in a team-high 29 minutes. They didn’t need him for 40-plus minutes in this one; then again, it’s been a while since the Spurs felt any real threat from the Grizzlies.
San Antonio has completely owned Memphis since the Grit-n-Grind Grizz bounced the Spurs out of the first round of the 2011 postseason, with the Spurs winning 14 of the last 16 games (playoffs included) and completely suffocating their best player in the process. Zach Randolph averaged 21.5 points per game on 50 percent shooting during that series three years ago; since then, he’s averaging 11.7 points and 33.8 percent shooting in 14 games against San Antonio.
The Spurs traded George Hill to the Pacers for the draft rights to Kawhi Leonard that summer, and along with the development of Green and Tiago Splitter, the rest is history. Where Memphis’ size and physicality killed San Antonio on the perimeter and on the boards in 2011, there was no longer a problem. The Spurs were overwhelmed back then, but the Grizz appear to be so now.
It was much of the same on Sunday. San Antonio shot 55.8 percent from the floor to Memphis’ 44.2 percent, and the Grizz managed to hit just five 3-pointers. Manu Ginobili bounced back from his ‘rest’ game against the Thunder with 26 points on just 11 shots. So, if you’re doing the math, Ginobili and Leonard combined for 52 points on 24 shots, missing just four attempts.
And it was over early. San Antonio jumped out in front after one, 26-10, and it never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
This one was never close, and the Spurs looked more like the team that won 19 straight than the one that fell in Oklahoma City to end the streak. And really, they’ve looked like that against anyone other than the Thunder, so things were back to normal.
Speaking of the Thunder, they lost to the scrappy Suns only a couple of hours after San Antonio beat Memphis. The Spurs’ magic number to clinch the top overall seed in the NBA is now two, which seems like all but a certainty.
That’s the good news. The bad: Tony Parker left the Grizzlies’ game with back spasms after scoring 10 points in the opening nine minutes of the game. Pop said there will be an MRI on Monday, so we’ll keep you updated as soon as we learn any information.
Other than that, it’s all a buildup toward the playoffs from here, and the Spurs feel they’re in a pretty decent spot.