I would never undersell the importance of a late season win against a divisional opponent, nay divisional rival. The Memphis Grizzlies had already earned a 50 win season by posting a Conference second-best .68 winning percentage. Not untouchable, but pretty darn close.
Memphis had been dominant. Coach Dave Joerger has Marc Gasol and his boys at the top of the Southwest Division- one that had previously been dominated by the Spurs.But that was prior to March 25. March 25 marked the game that front-ended this three-game losing streak. They are a leading defensive team that is not performing that way as of late. Cleveland started this off with a 111-89 drudging in Memphis. Then Golden State got a piece, and handed the Grizz a 107-84 loss. And now the San Antonio Spurs have joined the club. Last night the Spurs beat the Grizzlies 103-89 in the friendly confines of the AT&T Center.
This is always a physical game between these two squads. One in which I don’t always favor San Antonio. The Spurs aren’t the most physical of team. The Spurs’ front court has the best power forward in NBA history in Tim Duncan, but I don’t think he would ever be confused for a rough-and-tumble player. Since moving on from Malik Rose, I’m not convinced the Spurs have emphasized physical play down low, but instead have made ball movement and the offensive scheme the emphasis of the team. That is not to say that the Spurs haven’t placed a historical value on two seven-footers in the paint. The current Robin to Duncan’s Batman is Tiago Splitter. Splitter would rather flick in a scoop lay-up than dunk on an opponent’s head. There was a point early in the game where Splitter received the ball on the offensive block and spun, dinked, and shuffled to try to get around Memphis’ Zach Randolph, who countered by just pushing Splitter out of the paint. I was actually surprised to not see Matt Bonner draw the start in this game. Coach Popovich has previously used Bonner’s offensive game to spread the court and move Randolph out of the paint, clearing the lane. They’ve had success in doing so in games past.
So imagine my surprise to see Splitter getting physical with Memphis last night. He wrestled for loose balls, shoved, and knocked the Grizzlies away from the rim. Other than the previously mentioned example Randolph moving Splitter off the box, this game had a feel that the Spurs were going to out-physical Memphis. Not too common. Splitter would finish with 15 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes. His counterpart at center, Marc Gasol would be limited to 16 points and only six boards in his 34 minutes last night. Randolph is a double-double machine, and earned another last night. He gathered 13 rebounds and 20 points.
But this game belonged to Kawhi Leonard. He scored 15 straight points for the Spurs in the fourth quarter. Typically a defensive stalwart, Leonard made his mark on the offensive half last night. He finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and was just unstoppable. Now, that is partly due to Memphis’ Tony Allen (their version of Leonard) was out due to a hamstring injury. Memphis tried to guard, unsuccessfully, Leonard with Jeff Green.
The Spurs as a whole shot 51% from the field.
The Spurs held serve in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Warriors, Rockets, Trailblazers, and Clippers all won in their games this weekend. This keeps San Antonio is sixth position in the West. What is significant, is that this loss for Memphis, and Houston’s win, resulted in the Rockets’ leap-frog over the Grizzlies to claim the number-two seed. It almost seems unavoidable. Memphis and San Antonio could face each other in a first round playoff matchup.The Spurs are 47-26 on the year. With nine games remaining, they are three games away from another 50-win season in the Tim Duncan era.