The Lead: For a half, this sequel to the best game at FedExForum this season threatened to be the worst. But it was saved by a frenetic fourth, a thrilling finish, and a big closing performance from Mike Conley that sealed the season's 50th victory, tying a franchise record.
For the first 24 minutes, the Grizzlies were in the mud — and not in the good way — against a Spurs team missing three of its four best players (Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, and Manu Ginobili). Even in building an early nine-point lead, the Grizzlies offense was awkward, and by the time the bench began to cycle through they looked like they'd just met up before the game, ending the half with 37 points on sub-32% shooting and a (lucky to be only) seven-point deficit.
In the third quarter, the Grizzlies played their normally super-effective starting lineup for close to nine minutes and managed to cut all of one point off the Spurs lead.
The fourth started poorly, with a Danny Green steal setting up a Gary Neal three-pointer. But then Jerryd Bayless did what sixth-men are supposed to do, giving the team a burst of energy and offense by scoring or assisting on three straight buckets to cut he deficit down to three. The rest of the way was a dogfight, with missed free-throws (3-6 down the stretch) and Tony Parker keeping the Grizzlies at bay.
Man of the Match: But with five minutes to go, Mike Conley put the team on his back. A lefty scoop lay-up brought the Grizzlies within two, then a bounce feed to Marc Gasol on the baseline sent Gasol to the line to tie it up. The Spurs rebuilt a four-point lead, but Conley sliced it in half with a jitterbugging drive down the lane. Down three with under a minute to go, Conley got a feed from Jerryd Bayless on the left elbow extended and knocked down a long one to tie the game.
A stop later, the Grizzlies had the ball with the game tied and six seconds to play. The Grizzlies set a back pick for Marc Gasol, Conley's man helped, and Conley flashed from the far wing to the top of the key to catch the ball. He sized up Danny Green, let a couple of seconds tick away, then went left past him, slivering to the hoop for the go-ahead bucket.
The final tally was 11 points on 5-7 shooting for Conley, who had a tendency to fade in the fourth quarter last season. This season, even without a reduction in workload, he's finishing strong. Part of that is the impact of Bayless, whose dynamic play alongside Conley allows Conley to be on the floor and be a scoring threat without bringing the ball up every possession and initiating every play. But a lot of it is Conley's added strength and confidence. This was a breakout game on the heels of a breakout month as part of a breakout season.
A footnote here was that Conley's streak of 64 consecutive games with a steal came to an end, but he was okay with that. “I'm happy with stealing the game, rather than the ball,” he said.
Nightly Number: For better or worse, this game was an inversion of the traditional Griz power game, with Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless not only taking more shots (29 to 25) than Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but also shooting a better percentage (62% to 40%). This was especially pronounced in the fourth quarter, where the backcourt took 14 of 19 shots and Randolph scored only one point.
The Match-Up: The Grizzlies won that way in this one, but you have to imagine they'll need better balance if they want to do anything in the post-season. And in this potential second-round preview, it was troubling to see the bigs struggle with Tim Duncan out. The Gasol/Randolph combo had trouble with the quickness and activity of their Spurs counterparts for much of the night and it was perhaps not coincidental that the Grizzlies got back into the game with first Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis in the frontcourt and then Davis and Gasol.
The Grizzlies were perhaps also fortunate that Spurs center Tiago Splitter fouled out with 2:37 to play. Splitter had scored at the rim twice in the previous three minutes and left the game with 13 points on 6-8 shooting and 11 rebounds. He's a better player now than when he came off the bench for the Spurs in the playoff series between these two teams a couple of years ago.
For what it's worth, though, the Grizzlies split the season series with the Spurs, 2-2. They lost by 21 in one game in San Antonio, but in the other three the total margin was one point, with two games going to overtime. No reason to think a potential rematch series wouldn't be tightly contested.
The Jacob Riis Report: The Spurs played the second night of a back-to-back set, on the road, against one of the league's six best teams and without three of their four best players. Other than Parker (himself a late first-round pick), every player on the floor for the Spurs was either a past-his-prime retread (Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw), journeyman (Danny Green, Gary Neal), or low-drafted role player (Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, Nando De Colo). And they controlled most of the game and barely lost.
This might be the best organization in pro sports and almost certainly has the best coach. They find talent, but they also develop it. Popovich approaches the regular season with an eye on the big picture, making sure to not overplay his key players and to also get his bench players enough minutes — and important minutes — during the season to develop them into useful and reliable contributors. He's tough, but dispenses enough royal jelly to get the best out of players who might not thrive in other settings. Nobody does it better.
The Grizzlies have developed a really good organization with a really good coach, but finding and developing secondary players is an area where the team could stand to improve. The small-market Spurs are a useful model for the Grizzlies in a number of ways — on and off the court — but this should definitely be one of them.
Tweet O’ the Game: Fan behind me screams at ref "You ain't bout this life!" #mymemphis — @ChrisVernonShow
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improved to 50-24 and are now tied with the Denver Nuggets in the West's 3-4-5 race. With the Clippers falling at home to the Pacers, the Grizzlies (and Nuggets) are now two games up on the Clippers in the loss column.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies head west for their last multi-game road trip of the season, starting Wednesday night in Portland and then continuing with the Lakers and Kings.
Announced Attendance: 16,642
The Grizzlies extended their current home winning streak to 12, the second-longest in franchise history.
Conley's game-winner, according to the Grizzlies media staff, was only the second of his career. The other came in 2009 when Conley scored a layup over Shaquille O'Neal in an overtime win over the Cavaliers. (I remember that one.)
The Grizzlies connected on their now-familiar halfcourt alley-oop play again, but with a first-time recipient: Tayshaun Prince, who quietly had a solid game (11 points on 5-11 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, no turnovers), playing well early when few of his teammates were.