Heading into Sunday night's game against the Spurs, the Grizzlies had won six of their last seven games, but none seemed more important than Sunday night's game. Save for the Feb. 8 win over the Thunder, no other game had the feel of a playoff-test game like this one against the Spurs.
Unfortunately, the Grizzlies had two problems: opening and closing the game.
Having missed 15 of their first 18 shots, the Grizzlies found themselves down 29-16 after one quarter. San Antonio is not a team you want to give a little confidence early on.
Considering that the Grizzlies came back to tie the game after finding themselves down by 20 points in the third quarter, the slow start proved to be key. Another key, defending the perimeter.
Matt Bonner and George Hill came off the bench to hit 6-of-10 threes. This after Tony Parker left in the second quarter after injuring his calf -- he didn't return.
Mike Conley, who's defense has been suspect this season, was forced to cover a more physical Manu Ginobili. The result? Ginobili scored 18 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Spurs to squash the Grizzlies comeback attempt.
Ginobili was aggressive, knowing that Conley couldn't body him. He got to the line 16 times, hitting 13 of those attempts, causing both Conley and Tony Allen to find themselves in foul trouble.
Zach Randolph was physical, yet inefficient in this one. He pulled in 17 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass. However, he was unable to finish in the paint, as is evident by his 7-for-25 shooting performance. The same can be said about Marc Gasol, who converted on only one bucket, shooting 1-of-7 from the floor. As a team, they were only able to convert on six of their 20 second-chance opportunities.
Overall, the Grizzlies shot 37.5% from the floor. Many of those misses came in the paint. Several of those should have been converted.
The Grizzlies really struggled early on, and were unable to check Ginobili in the fourth. Those were the two keys in letting this one slip away.
Again, after their most recent success it's tough to say this was a "must-win" game, but considering that the Grizzlies are coming off wins over the Kings and the Timberwolves, if the Grizzlies want to be taken serious as a playoff contender (not to be confused with a championship contender) they need to pull out tough victories and not just win the games they are "supposed to win."
Shane Battier played his familiar role off the bench, scoring 8 points on 2-of-6 shooting, four rebounds, four steals and one turnover in 30 minutes. As we know, Battier's value doesn't show up in the box scores. He was key on the defensive side of the ball in helping the Grizzlies on their comeback run.
O.J. Mayo took a step back, going scoreless in 16 minutes. Mayo's value to this team comes by way of his offense. It's tough to win many games if he can't contribute in dropping in a few buckets.
I realize it's tough to get on the Grizzlies in this one. They were just as physical as the Spurs were, however, San Antonio just doesn't lose at home. Seriously. They don't. They are now 28-2 at home, having won 21 straight. On the other side, the Grizzlies have fallen to 13-20 on the road. They need to start picking up some key road victories if they want to stave off Utah, Phoenix and even Houston in their bid for a playoff spot.
Next up is... uh-oh... a home game against the Spurs on Tuesday night. This is an important game for the Grizzlies, as the 7th and 8th seeds out West are getting a little bunched up. In order for the Grizzlies to make the playoffs, they have to win tough games against the upper-tier teams in the league. Their next SIX games are against teams who are all but locks to be in the playoffs this year.
How many wins are needed? How about three or four. How many will they actually win? What do you guys think?