The Lead: If the season had ended today, the 8th seed Grizzlies would face off with the #1 seed Spurs in a first-round playoff series. For that reason, there's been a lot of talk about how the two-game-in-three-night set the two teams just played could be something of a playoff preview. If that were the case, then the results would bode well for the Grizzlies.
In San Antonio on Sunday night, the Grizzlies came back from a 20-point first-half deficit to hold a lead with about 90 seconds to play before finally fading. Tonight, the Grizzlies controlled the game in the first half and ran away with it in the second, leading by as much as 25 at one point. The Spurs biggest lead was 2.
Three games into the season series, the Spurs are up 2-1, but the Grizzlies have now outscored the Spurs 303-300, with both losses tightly contested games in San Antonio.
The Spurs didn't have Tony Parker tonight, but Grizzlies haven't had Rudy Gay for a single minute in three games against the Spurs this season and played the last 29 minutes tonight without starting center Marc Gasol.
"No Call" Marc Gasol lived up to the nickname I've given him, getting bumped hard by Tim Duncan on a lay-up attempt without drawing a whistle. Complaining about this no-call get Gasol a technical foul. In the second quarter, Gasol stepped out to try to block a George Hill, and got called for a foul, his animated reaction drawing a surprising second tech and an automatic ejection. Surrounding all of this was a Jason Williams tech in response to a no-call on a Darrell Arthur attempt, another no-call on Duncan, and a tick-tack offensive foul on Shane Battier. All of this put the home fans in a bad mood, and lead official Dick Bavetta and his crew were booed loudly exiting the floor at the end of the first half.
The Grizzlies took a nine-point lead into the half, but were coming out without Marc Gasol and without a viable big to defend Tim Duncan. Darrell Arthur drew the assignment, and did as well as you could have hoped, but the big difference was that the Grizzlies were able to use quick, aggressive team defense to force turnovers (six in the third quarter), get out on the break, and push their lead into double-digits. Playing from behind, the Spurs went away from their potential post advantage, played smaller, and started forcing more three-points, with little effectiveness (4-16 in the second half) — the Grizzlies' quicker, non-Gasol lineups providing better floor coverage to defend against the three anyway.
Man of the Match: Darrell Arthur came off the bench to match Zach Randolph with a team-high 21 points, while adding eight rebounds (five offensive) and three blocks. He scored 15 of those points in the second half. Arthur hurt the Spurs with his increasingly deadly mid-range shooting (4-8 on shots from around the top of the key) and with hustle plays around the rim. Those are the cornerstones of Arthur's offensive game, but tonight he flashed a couple of things we haven't seen: A driving baseline floater and an spin-move off the dribble for a lay-up.
As Tony Allen put it after the game, "DA was point-blank ready."
Given the leaps made this season by players such as Kevin Love and Lamarcus Aldridge, Arthur is not good enough to contend for the Most Improved Player award, but probably deserves at least cursory mention. In this third season, Arthur's PER has improved from 10.54 to 15.73, his field-goal percentage has jumped from 43% to 51%, and his scoring rate is up from 12.5 per 40 minutes to 17.5.
Another Grizzlies player who probably deserves some down-ballot MIP consideration is Mike Conley, who, in the absence of Tony Parker, was quietly terrific tonight, finishing with 18 points (7-11 shooting), 9 assists, and 3 steals. In his fourth season, Conley's PER has jumped from 13.90 to 15.79 and he's putting up career highs in almost every statistical category.
Nightly Number: Forcing turnovers has been the Grizzlies' primary attribute this season, but tonight the Grizzlies did a better-than-usual job of turning those opportunities into easy transition baskets, scoring 27 fast-break points on 11-13 shooting. A couple of players who deserve some specific credit here: Sam Young, who has given the team not only another high-steal player, but a strong, athletic finisher in transition. And Jason Williams, whose addition gives the team a good fast-break manager on the floor for the entire game.
The Match-Up: Sunday night in San Antonio, Manu Ginobili decimated the Grizzlies, scoring 35 points, 18 in the first half. Tonight, he was nowhere near as effective, scoring 9 points (with 7 assists) on 3-9 shooting. Credit, in part, a combination of foul trouble and the Grizzlies' big lead (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat all his starters the entire fourth quarter) for limited Ginobili to 21 minutes. But I also thought Tony Allen got into Ginobili a little more tonight. And Allen punished the Spurs on the other end, scoring 20 points on 8-9 shooting. Allen played with a lot of offensive discipline tonight, every shot coming in the paint.
The Jacob Riis Report: The Spurs have been the best team in the NBA this season, with a 49-11 record, so it's not reasonable to assume that the Grizzlies' relative success against them, even without Rudy Gay, would necessarily carry over into the post-season. But … the Spurs, even with Duncan, might be the best frontcourt match-up for the Grizzlies among the four possible first-round opponents. The Lakers, as the last meeting has shown, have the ability the bottle up Zach Randolph with their two-seven footers. Dallas pairs a big, athletic center (Tyson Chandler) with a power forward (Dirk Nowitzki) that Randolph can't really guard. And Oklahoma likely transformed their once-weak interior defense at the trade deadline by adding big, strong defenders Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed to go with athletic shot-blocker Serge Ibaka.
The Spurs? Unless Tiago Splitter gets a lot better over the next few weeks, they don't really have a quality true big to pair with Duncan. The minutes instead are going to the strong but undersized DeJuan Blair and the old Antonio McDyess. When the Grizzlies pair Randolph and Marc Gasol, Duncan can only guard one of them. The Grizzlies will have a good post match-up with whomever Duncan isn't on. Yes — I'm talking myself into the idea that a Grizzlies-Spurs first-round match-up could be at least quasi-competitive.
Tweet O’ the Game: I need a shank and two minutes alone with the refs. Imma have to go Raleigh on their butts. — @Wendi_C_Thomas
Where They Stand: The win moves the Grizzlies to 34-28 and, unlike last night, they got some good help, with the New Orleans Hornets losing at Toronto and the Portland Trailblazers losing at home to the Houston Rockets. In gaining a full game on each, the Grizzlies remain in 8th, but are only 1.5 games behind the 5th seed Denver Nuggets, one game behind the 6th seed Hornets, and .002 percentage points behind the 7th seed Blazers.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies have two days off but will return with a big one Friday night at FedExForum, when the Hornets visit for the first time this season.
Announced Attendance: 13,480
In five minutes, Hamed Haddadi scored 6 points on 3-3 shooting and grabbed 4 rebounds. All he does is produce when given the opportunity. I hereby christen him The Per-Minute Monster.
I feel comfortable saying that Zach Randolph (a ho-hum 21-10 tonight) has never passed or defended as well as he has this season. His five assists tonight marked the third time in the past four games he's done that. He added four steals.