The Memphis Grizzlies came home Friday night to the FedEx Forum after what was arguably the best road trip in team history, a 4-0 sweep of the California NBA teams that has happened 3 times in almost 30 years. Their reward for such a great west coast swing? A San Antonio Spurs team that had won 8 straight games heading into tonight. The task ahead of the beloved Bears of Beale Street was a daunting one, and with a Marc Gasol injury the team struggled mightily in the second quarter. Mike Conley played inspired ball, but Zach Randolph continued his Spurs struggles and a lack of bench production ultimately doomed the Grizzlies.
The first quarter started well for Mike Conley, who literally got three steals off of the first three Spurs possessions and scored 5 of Memphis' first 7 points. Zach Randolph struggled finding his shot early, going 0-4 to start the game. The Grizzlies as a unit started 4-12 in the first 6 minutes of the quarter. They were getting decent looks at the rim, but just were not able to convert. The Grizzlies started the game with 4 of their first 9 points in the paint, while the Spurs had gotten all 10 of their early buckets there.
Mike Miller and Jerryd Bayless were the first subs into the game for the Grizzlies, and Miller promptly made a three point bucket in the corner on a pretty assist from Marc Gasol. Manu Ginobili subbed in making some plays early, and the Spurs lead got up to 5 at one point. But Tayshaun Prince took advantage of a mismatch of Marco Belinelli defending him and kept the Spurs from gaining too much momentum. The Spurs were led by Tony Parker with 7 points, Tiago Splitter with 6 and Manu Ginobili with 5 as the Spurs led 26-21 after a quarter.
The second quarter started with a Mike Conley drive to the rim for an easy lay-up. Then, one of the Grizzlies worst nightmares came true; while guarding Jeff Ayres in the post, Marc Gasol's knee buckled and he was in a considerable amount of pain. He limped back to the locker room and Ed Davis entered the game for Marc. He had a good first possession, tipping out a rebound off of his first miss and taking a pass from Mike Conley for a bucket. The Spurs kept up their offensive efficiency, shown by a gorgeous Ginobili pass to Belinelli on a fast break and the Spurs lead got up to 9 on the strength of the Spurs bench.
Patty Mills gave Mike Conley tremendous issues as the quarter went on. Pressuring the ball, forcing Conley into turnovers and just being a pest in general. Turnovers once again became an issue for the Grizzlies in this half; 9 turnovers in 17 minutes of basketball will lead to issues. Ed Davis gave some energy, though, defending well at times, getting rebounds and finding a slashing Tony Allen on an assist to cut the Grizzly deficit to 7 on a Popovich timeout. It was a well timed timeout, as the Spurs built the lead up to 14 on a Splitter dunk. The Grizzlies looked lost without Marc Gasol at times and were down to the Spurs 51-37 at the half.
Then, this tweet came across, and I almost threw up;
Half: Griz trail Spurs 51-37. Gasol has left knee sprain and won't return. He'll have MRI tomorrow.— Ronald Tillery (@CAGrizBeat) November 23, 2013
Non-contact, MRI scheduled. Hoping for the best, but not good. Thank goodness for this point, made by our managing editor Chris Faulkner;
The second half started about as well as it could have for the Grizzlies, all things considered; a couple of Zach Randolph post moves and a Mike Conley lay-up off of a steal led to the lead being cut to 8 before a Spurs timeout. Tim Duncan, who had struggled up to this point in the game, scored 4 points, including an and-one bucket, to get the lead back up to 12. Mike Conley then decided to take over, driving to the rim and scoring the basketball, while Tayshaun Prince got a transition jam off of a Tony Allen steal and the lead was cut to 6 points. Memphis was crashing the boards and attacking the rim, doing their best to be the aggressors with Big Spain out of the line-up.
The Grizzlies continued to exhibit the "All Heart, Grit Grind" mantra as they swarmed the Spurs on defense, dominated the glass and the paint on their way to tying the game at 59-59. Manu Ginobili drove for the lay-in and helped the Spurs retake the lead. Memphis outscored the Spurs 28-20 in the third, a great run and showing of determination without Marc in. Zach and Mike took command and the team fought hard, but the Spurs utilized their bench, led by Belinelli and Ginobili, to retake the lead. The score was 71-65 San Antonio heading into the fourth.
The Spurs started the fourth with a Boris Diaw and-one opportunity and Mike Conley responded with a tear drop basket. Mike Conley had a tremendous game, responding to the challenge of a tough match-up against Tony Parker and outplaying him. A pick-and-roll with Ed Davis resulted in a strong finish at the rim for Ed (much needed) and the Grizzlies cut the lead to 5. Ed Davis had a solid outing; 6 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 16 minutes. He will need to continue to play well if Marc Gasol is out for an extended period of time.
Mike Conley continued to be a revelation, faking out Tony Parker and getting to the foul line to get the Spurs lead to 3 with 9 minutes left. As the half went on, the Grizzlies continued to attack the paint and defend aggressively. Both teams were in the bonus relatively early in the fourth, leading to multiple attempts at the line. Tony Parker began to take control of the game, getting to the line and hitting shots that hadn't fallen all night. Tim Duncan hit a knuckle ball of a set shot to give the Spurs a 9 point lead with four and a half minutes left.
Mike Miller playing so much was confusing, at least to this observer; Quincy Pondexter only played 7 minutes while Miller was 1-4 shooting and -11 on the evening. Quincy probably couldn't have played worse. Manu Ginobili hit a big three point shot, but Conley responded with a shot of his own. The Spurs kept responding, however, and keeping the lead at 9 and eventually getting it to double digits. This tweet from our very own Andrew Ford sums it up well...
The Spurs are hitting every clutch shot imaginable. #Grizzlies— Andrew Ford (@AndrewFord22) November 23, 2013
Tony Parker had 11 points in the fourth quarter, hitting a three to get the lead to 13 with a minute remaining in the quarter. Matt Bonner also hit a three as the Spurs finished the fourth quarter shooting 11 of 18, scoring 31 points in the fourth quarter. The Spurs win, 102-86.
The major storyline coming out of this game is going to be the health of Marc Gasol, and rightfully so. He is one of the keys to the Grizzlies success and will be sorely missed if he is out for an extended period of time.Thank goodness Kosta Koufos, a player who started 81 games last season, is on our roster and will be able to at least tread water at the position moving forward, if necessary.
In his absence, players that will need to step up did not do so when needed; Conley scored 28, but Zach was 5-15 and continued his struggles against the Spurs, Mike Miller did little with his 23 minutes and Jerryd Bayless was an afterthought, not a difference maker as an off the bench scorer. The major difference tonight was the strength of the Spurs bench and Tony Parker in the fourth quarter; Mike Conley cannot do it alone. The deepest bench in Grizzlies history did not look the part tonight, and that ultimately doomed the Grizzlies this evening.
Two much needed off days before the Dwightmare and his Rockets come to the Grindhouse. Hopefully the news about Marc's knee will be good tomorrow after his MRI.
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