Well, that escalated quickly.
During the first-ever Playoff Gasol-off, the Memphis Grizzlies took a surprisingly big lead in the middle of the first quarter, then kept the festivities close through the halftime break, down just three to the 61-win San Antonio Spurs in their building, 52-49. And that’s where the positives stopped for Memphis. The Spurs clamped down on defense, the Grizzlies’ role players (and most of their starters) couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and the game was over by the end of the third quarter. Every healthy player on both teams saw floor time last night, as both coaches emptied their benches in the game’s final nine minutes.
A typically brilliant performance from Kawhi Leonard set the tone for the Spurs. The 2014 Finals MVP tied his postseason scoring high of 32 points (in just 32 minutes!), and chipped in 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. He shot 11-of-14 from the field and a perfect 9-of-9 from the free throw line. To be fair, the task of defending Kawhi primarily fell to Vince Carter, so that might account for some of his success.
Leonard was not alone. Tony Parker outplayed the heck out of his Grizzlies counterpart Mike Conley (Conley, by the way, would have started over Parker for San Antonio had he actually signed with the Spurs last summer), scoring a smooth 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting, over just 21 minutes of floor time. LaMarcus Aldridge — who was held scoreless in the first quarter — contributed a significant amount of scoring punch to wrap up the proceedings, grabbing all of his 20 points in the second and third quarter. He also had 6 rebounds.
Memphis kicked off the first quarter on an absolute tear, with their lead ballooning to as much as 13 points (22-9 with five minutes left in the quarter) in San Antonio’s house. The Grizzlies would end the quarter up 30-25. In the first half alone, Conley racked up a stat line of 13 points (on 5-of-8 shooting), 5 assists and 4 rebounds; while Gasol played terrifically himself, setting a Grizzlies franchise record for most points scored in any playoff half with 25 (on 9-of-13 shooting). Gasol beat out Zach Randolph and.. his brother Pau, both of whom shared the previous record, 21 points. After Mike Conley and Marc Gasol went to work on the San Antonio Spurs during that first half, San Antonio responded by limiting Conley to 0-of-10 shooting the rest of the way.
Spurs facing familiar athleticism problem, unable to run with youngsters like Vince Carter.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 16, 2017
The Grizzlies lost their grip on the lead when San Antonio acquired a 34-33 advantage four minutes into the second quarter thanks to some creative Kawhi Leonard jump shooting. Marc Gasol picked up the slack for an otherwise listless Grizzlies squad, keeping the score close almost single-handedly in the second quarter. Gasol had 14 points on his lonesome, far outpacing the 5 points scrounged together by the rest of his team during the same time frame.
Manu Ginobili headed back to the Spurs locker room with three minutes remaining in the half after incurring an errant Zach Randolph forearm to the eye. But he would return to the Spurs bench in the third quarter — Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich played him conservatively the rest of the way, though, just to be safe. Batman played just 13 minutes, converting none of his four shot attempts.
A quick sidebar: Vince Carter had a terrific defensive moment on Kawhi Leonard, future third-place 2017 MVP finisher, in the third quarter. The 40 year-old deflected a Leonard attempt to shovel the ball inside, yielding a turnover and a two-on-one fast break, which ended in a layup by Wayne Selden. But more importantly, Vince Carter also did THIS a bit earlier in the game:
Vince Carter with the fast break slam!— NBA SKITS (@NBA_Skits) April 16, 2017
Half-Man, Half-Amazing didn’t give Memphis much else, though, scoring a grand total of four points in 28 minutes (on 2-of-6 shooting), and notching a -12. The worst plus-minus on the team by a country mile, though, belonged to Zach Randolph, who had a -39, to go along with 6 points on 3-of-13 shooting, and just three rebounds. To call Z-Bo’s performance “lethargic” would be too generous. If the first playoff game is any indicator, the future is looking increasingly dimmer for the Grizzlies’ two eldest statesmen.
The Spurs, keyed by Aldridge, Leonard and Parker, outscored the Grizzlies 32-15 in the third quarter, bringing their differential to 20 points (84-64) entering the game’s final frame. Perhaps the most important element of the Spurs’ big post-halftime adjustment came on the defensive side of the ball, as Danny Green took it upon himself to thoroughly shut out Mike Conley. Tony Parker kept pouring on the pain in the fourth, eventually getting the Spurs to a 29-point advantage with 9:03 remaining in regulation.
Again, the score at the half: Spurs 52, Grizzlies 49. The score at the end of the game: Spurs 111, Grizzlies 82. That’s a 59-33 second half in San Antonio’s favor. San Antonio’s depth obliterated Memphis’s much more top-heavy attack. Though San Antonio only had three players reach double-digit scoring, they made 41 of 77 shot attempts from the field, good for a scary-good 53.2%.
By the time Marc Gasol had scored his 32nd point of the night, he had... tied the output of the entire rest of his team! I know because I screen grabbed it, okay? Observe:
This is kinda the problem. pic.twitter.com/MCnR3yjsrB— Alex Kirschenbaum (@kirschhoops) April 16, 2017
Not to pour salt into open wounds, but I’d like you to notice that the non-Big Spain Grizzlies needed two more made field goals amidst 25 (!) more shot attempts to reach the same point total. As our Fearless Leader observed in his wrap-up last night, the rest of the Grizzlies squad ultimately went 20-for-61 on the night, or 32.7%. That is absolutely atrocious.
In the fourth quarter, after generously leaving in their starters for the period’s first few minutes, Gregg Popovich and Fizdale started emptying their benches after the clock hit the 8:50 benchmark. Dewayne Dedmon would linger, but the old guys and Kawhi got to luxuriate on the sidelines. David Fizdale relieved Marc Gasol and Mike Conley of their duties with a bit less than seven minutes remaining. And that was all she wrote.
I fully believe that the Grizzlies will play better than they did last night, probably at the FedExForum. They should probably win at least one game, given the unreal talents that are Mike Conley (assuming someone frees him from the clutches of Danny Green next time) and Marc Gasol, who combined for 45 of the team’s 82 points. But, with the Grizz having blown $94 million on a roster spot this summer; Tony Allen out indefinitely; and almost zero bench output, the Spurs will be winning this series. You can take that to the bank. To the blood bank.