San Antonio Spurs Odd Lineup Leads to Loss Against Memphis Grizzlies

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Zach Randolph is a phenomenal player. Phenomenal when he doesn’t play against the Spurs. Since 2011 he is shooting just 34% against San Antonio, which is an incredibly difficult statistic to stomach when he primarily plays five-feet from the basket.

That version of Randolph did not show up in Texas last night. The one they call Z-Bo was great with a 21 point, 21 rebound game against one of the Association’s best front courts in San Antonio.

Dec 17, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs power forward Tiago Splitter (22) during the second half at AT&T Center. The Grizzlies won 117-116 in triple overtimeMandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Solid front court play has always been the staple for Memphis, who fashion themselves after the Spurs. Wednesday night was no different. The tandem of Randolph and center Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 47 points and 40 of the team’s 58 rebounds. They came up huge.

Switching over to the Spurs, Tim Duncan was his usual self. He again recorded a double-double with 23 points and 16 rebounds. His +/- however was a -19. Truly a sign of the team’s overall ineffectiveness when he was on the court – and that responsibility lands at the feet of the coaching staff.

When Memphis goes big, and puts their stars Gasol and Randolph on the floor together, San Antonio can hang, but, that was not the case in this game. Coach Gregg Popovich will be looking at that stat today and consider the adjustments he should have made during the game, and plan for the next bout.

I don’t typically make a habit of criticizing Popovich, as he has obviously proven his basketball superiority, but last night confused me. We know that Memphis is going to go big.

Their front court was on the floor a combined 94 minutes. Pair that with a big guard like Vince Carter, who played 41 minutes, and you have a size problem.

Starting rookie Kyle Anderson, not playing Aron Baynes, and not starting Tiago Splitter are just some of the interesting decisions Pop made on Wednesday night against Memphis.

Heck, their most efficient big last night may have been reserve center Kostas Koufos, who had 16 points in 17 minutes. Popovich has center Tiago Splitter on the recovery trail, and was feeding him minutes in the paint to gain his strength for the remainder of the year. But why not start him?

The starting lineup for the Spurs was confusing: Matt Bonner, Duncan, rookie Kyle Anderson, Corey Joseph, and Danny Green. Bonner was greatly effective against Randolph in their last matchup, but he was clearly off last night. So why keep him going for 15 minutes in the game?

Furthermore, is Memphis really the squad you want to use to mature a rookie? Kyle Anderson should have been riding the pine on Wednesday, not getting 13 minutes.

I’m still unsure why Aron Baynes did not get on the floor. The fact that he saw no minutes against Memphis is puzzling.

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If there was ever a Spur to go heads-up against Gasol and Randolph it is Baynes. Sparing minutes from Duncan and Splitter would have been huge. He has shown some offensive prowess this season that could have come up big in the second unit. Or, even start him so he can bang against the Memphis front court to wear them down.

When Popovich’s staff look back at this game they will see that the lineups and transitions were just simply odd.

All of that on the table, the Spurs almost pulled this one off. Credit the bench that was out of this world. The second unit accounted for 57 points, and the Spurs were absolutely better with this crew on the floor.

Boris Diaw was amazing. I believe this is what Popovich was going for with Bonner – it just didn’t work. Diaw’s 17 points and 13 rebounds were great, but how those rebounds were distributed kept San Antonio in the game. His six offensive boards were timely and he was able to transition several into key assists, of which he had five. Marco Belinelli, Splitter, and of course Manu Ginobili all saw big minutes.

Clearly the Spurs rode Danny Green to the near-win. Mr. Green saw a game-high 52 minutes of action that was really dominate on both ends of the floor. His team-high 25 points came on 7-13 shooting from behind the arc, and defensively he recorded five blocks and two steals. Phenomenal, but now he needs serious rest prior to the rematch against Portland on Friday.

This is one of the rare games that I believe talent kept the Spurs in the game while coaching was pulling them out of it. The lineups were weird when you consider what Memphis was doing with their front court.

On the other hand, the Spurs lost to one of the more complete teams in the Western Conference by one-point, in triple overtime, without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. That fact brings a short grin to my face.

Spurs lose 116-117.

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