Memphis takes 3-1 series lead over Spurs in stunning fashion: a blowout.
Posted by Matt Moore
If you're the type of person who believes one game can save, or change the course of a franchise, then this game may end up as one that lives forever in the history of the Memphis Grizzlies.
If you're the type of person who believes one game can end a dynasty, then this game may live in infamy in the history of the San Antonio Spurs.
Regardless of what kind of person you are, the result is the same. 104-86. The 8th-seeded Memphis Grizzlies now hold a 3-1 advantage over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. And the score isn't even indicative of how much of a runaway it was in the second half. The odds of the Spurs coming back to win this series are now somewhere between terrible and nonexistent. A team lead by Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan is as capable as any of coming out and staging the comeback against an inexperienced Memphis squad who may be feeling too good about themselves, though. There's still a heartbeat in San Antonio.
But it sure wasn't there in the second half. Mostly because the Grizzlies came out and put them into cardiac arrest. The cool, calm composure we've seen from San Antonio so many times in years past? Gone, in a flash of panicked scrambling for loose balls that time and time again proved unsuccessful. The Grizzlies scrapped for every loose ball...
You know what? Let's pause right there.
In basketball, saying you scrapped for loose balls is often synonymous with the college athlete diving out of bounds to try and save a possession. That that so rarely happens in the NBA is due to the gap in athleticism and ability. Players can much more easily swoop in and collect the ball, springing the outlet pass and scoring, rather than needlessly diving. This is mistaken for a lack of effort in the NBA but in reality, it's just a knowledge of what you can and cannot collect. What the Grizzlies have done in this series is not that. They have actually scrapped for every loose ball, in the sense that in that moment, that rare time span in between the release and catch of the ball, the Grizzlies attacked every single one. The Grizzlies dove into passing lanes, swiped at the catch to prevent possession (negating the foul), then immediately hawked. In the NBA you can defend the possession or you can defend the ball. The great defenses in the league typically defend the position, moving in for charges, cutting off driving lanes, and forcing low efficiency shots. The Grizzlies are the rare great defense that attacks the ball. That 3-pointer we talked about so much in the preview? The Spurs wound up 5-18, because every good look they got was attacked by a swiping hand, forcing it just a bit off to create enough time for the shooter to close. The Spurs wound up with a 19.5 turnover ratio. So on two of every ten Spurs possessions, they simply gave it to the Grizzlies. Seven of their 17 turnovers came in the third quarter, which saw Memphis simply blow the doors off.
As for the offense? The Grizzlies may never see that kind of lofty shooting again. 53.7 effective field goal percentage for Memphis, which factors their 41 percent 3-point shooting, this for a team that shot a 49 effective field goal percentage in the regular season and averaged hitting just 3.8 out of 11.3 3-pointers per game. They had everything working. The Grizz started working the pick and roll early, driving and kicking. They worked the ball inside, made great interior passes, and routed the Spurs by attacking, getting into the bonus early. By the fourth quarter, they nailed two more threes. The big difference maker offensively was representative of these upstart Grizzlies. Darrell Arthur. Arthur wound up with 14 points off 7-10 shooting. The Spurs dared him to hit from mid-range, obviously not having scouted that that's what Arthur does.
Earlier this season I visited Memphis and asked to speak with Arthur pre-game about his improvement. The P.R. staff told me he wouldn't be available until right before gametime. Not unusual, a lot of players don't talk pre-game. But the staff told me it was because since no one usually wanted to talk to him, he would shoot right up until the last minute when he had to head to the locker room. Sure enough, there was Arthur, working the mid-range jumper relentlessly with two-ball boys. I found out he does that nearly every game. Arthur punished the Spurs in the third quarter. Then in the fourth, Arthur came over on a huge block, then immediately sprinted ahead of the Spurs' slow, plodding defense. An alley-oop later, and the Grizzlies lead was 16, less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
Gregg Popovich capitulated early in the fourth quarter, pulling his reserves and submitting that the game was over, something he's done often in the regular season when defeat seems certain. But down 2-1, to pull the best players that have helped win you four championships? That's daring, even for Pop.
Memphis hit an emotional high Monday night, while the Spurs may never have been lower. This series isn't over, no series is over until that fourth win is cemented. But you got the feeling amid a raucous crowd in a city that's had so many years of disappointment and so many low attendance nights, with the Spurs a victim of poor defense and reliance on perimeter shooting after a decade of pounding the rock, that maybe Game 4 was more than just another chapter.
Maybe it was history.