Coming off a 32-point win in Game 1 of his team’s first-round playoff series against Memphis, Gregg Popovich knew that human nature was as worrisome a foe as the Grizzlies.
The Spurs coach did his best to lower expectations and keep his team focused.
“I’m not all that impressed with us,” he said before a Monday morning practice session. “We’ll see what happens.”
After another dominating defensive performance on Tuesday produced another easy Spurs win in Game 2, 94-68, Popovich may have to manufacture another form of motivation for Spurs players who already have the Grizzlies questioning their basketball manhood.
“We’re coming to a gunfight with some spoons,” said Memphis forward Matt Barnes.
Barnes promised more fight once the series moves to Memphis for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday but it is hard to imagine the Grizzlies finding more potent weapons between now and then.
“I just want to go down swinging,” Barnes said. “I don’t think we’re doing that. So long as we go down swinging, who cares what happens?”
The Grizzlies did a lot of shooting in Game 2 but without much effect. In terms Barnes might appreciate, they did a lot of swinging and missing. They took 88 shots, 22 more than the Spurs, yet somehow managed to lose by 26 points.
That’s hard to do, especially with the Spurs committing 19 turnovers. But on Tuesday the Spurs defense was even more stifling than it was in Game 1. They held a playoff opponent below 70 points for the first time since Game 1 of the 2005 NBA Finals against Detroit, an 84-69 win. The Grizzlies made only 28-of-88 shots, 32.6%, and missed 12-of-14 3-point attempts.
In two games Memphis is averaging only 68.5 points per game and shooting 59-for-167, 35.3%.
Memphis power forward Zach Randolph, erstwhile Spurs nemesis, had another nightmare game, missing 12-of-17 shots. Randolph averaged 15.3 points per game and shot 47.5% in the regular season but in two games has made only 8-of-30 shots.
Popovich gave LaMarcus Aldridge the credit for frustrating Randolph.
“I just think LaMarcus played excellent defense tonight,” Popovich said. “We didn’t double-team (Randolph) or anything like that. If he got in the lane we tried to make a play, I guess, but mostly (Aldridge) gets the credit for doing a fine job on a great player.”
A 15-year veteran, Randolph defended his team’s performance, no matter the extent of the two blowouts. He reminded that the Grizzlies are without two of their best players, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
“I wouldn’t say embarrassing,” he said, “because we know the circumstances and we know the circumstances we’re dealing with, especially with our team and the things we have been through. All we can do is play hard. We’ve just got to play hard.
The challenge for the Spurs after two romps is to maintain the appropriate fear of their opponent that Popovich insists they must.
“(The challenge) is stay focused,” point guard Tony Parker said, “It’s the playoffs, so you respect your opponent. We know over there it’s going to be a lot harder.”
It could get difficult if the Spurs don’t play with more precision than they did in turning the ball over 19 times in Game 2.
The Spurs’ 9-of-17 3-point shooting made up for that, plus the differential in total shots taken. Backup point guard Patty Mills made 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and his 16 points led the Spurs in scoring.
Popovich remains unimpressed with his team’s play at the offensive end. After 19 turnovers it won’t be hard to manufacture reasons to make his players understand why.
*Top Image: Spurs Forward LaMarcus Aldridge shoots a fade away jump shot over Memphis Center Chris Andersen. Photo by Scott Ball.