MEMPHIS – Gregg Popovich didn’t need to remind the Spurs that a win in Sunday’s first-round playoff Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies would give them nearly a week away from the physical grind – and possibility of injury – that is the NBA post-season.
“They’re grown men,” the Spurs coach said. “They have kids. It’s their job. They already know all that stuff.”
Self-motivation served his players well in a 116-95 win that gave them a 4-0 sweep of the best-of-seven series and puts them in the Western Conference semifinals.
It was the ninth playoff sweep by a Popovich-coached team, more than any coach in NBA history.
Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points on just 10 shots in just under 28 minutes. He and fellow starters Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter. So dominant were the Spurs in the four games that the starters averaged fewer than 25 minutes in the four games.
Parker’s Game 4 motivation derived from a sub-par shooting performance in Game 3, when he missed 6-of-7 shots and scored only two points. He made 6-of-11 shots on Sunday and scored 16 points in just over 21 minutes. He was at his best, scoring seven points, during a Spurs run in the third quarter that pushed a 47-45 halftime lead to 84-66.
“I was trying to push the ball and trying to get the pace a little bit up,” he said. “I just got to the basket.”
After Parker’s third scoring assault of the period Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger called a time out in hopes of slowing his momentum. Danny Green spoiled his plans when he intercepted Matt Barnes’ in-bounds pass and continued to the basket for a dunk that seemed to suck the energy out of the arena Memphians call “The Grindhouse.”
“That was huge,” said Spurs guard Patty Mills. “I could feel it anyway, and then we got another stop and another basket.”
Green said Popovich reminded his players of some of the team’s defensive principles and called on them to tighten up their defensive execution during Joerger’s time out.
“We had discussions about what we do and who we are,” Green said. “That’s not letting the ball change sides easily. We weren’t denying, we weren’t getting into them, we weren’t being physical.
“I was just trying to make a play, making it tough on them and get in the passing lanes. I saw a lane, shot the gap and luckily got a hand on it.”
The Spurs now await the winner of the Oklahoma City-Dallas first-round series that goes to Game 5 on Monday night in Oklahoma City. The Thunder lead, 3-1, but no matter how Monday’s game turns out, Game 1 of the next round won’t be scheduled earlier than Saturday.
For the oldest team in the NBA, that’s a welcome break.
And, after watching Golden State’s reigning NBA MVP, Steph Curry, leave Game 5 of the Warriors’ first-round series against the Houston Rockets with an apparent right knee injury, the benefit of the sweep was magnified. Barring an injury during practice sessions this week, the Spurs know they will begin their next series with a fully healthy roster.
The Grizzlies turned out to be the perfect first-round foe for the Spurs because, playing without their All-NBA center (Marc Gasol), their top two point guards (Mike Conley and Mario Chalmers) and their best backup big man (Brandan Wright), they had no chance against a Spurs team that produced 67 regular season wins.
Their competitiveness perfectly prepared the Spurs for whoever they meet in the second round.
Popovich appreciated their grit.
“The good thing for us,” said Popovich, “as I think about the series, the Grizzlies were fantastic. Their pride, their passion and their physicality for 48 minutes every game.
“We found a quarter, here and there, every game when we spread ourselves but that was it. Other than that they played us even and I think Dave and his staff and those players deserve a lot of credit and it’s not just false praise. They really do because it wasn’t a fair fight and they didn’t care. Whoever was available came out and played and they executed to the best of their ability and they played with a lot of heart and fortitude that will serve them well as they move forward next season, for sure.
“For our part, that physicality will help us in the next round.”
The first half that of Sunday’s game was delayed by a 20-minute power outage which extended the game’s time to two hours and 39 minutes. It was a minor irritation for the Spurs, considering they now have at least five days before they must play again.
Top image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.