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Fran Blinebury

The Spurs look on as the Grizzlies put them one loss away from the end of their season.
Photo via Getty Images

Undaunted Grizzlies push Spurs to brink of elimination

Posted Apr 26 2011 7:42AM


There have been plenty of words used to describe the Spurs since they began winning championships back in 1999, but that was never one of them.

Sad was seeing O.J. Mayo miss a 3-pointer, Tim Duncan move in to wrap up the rebound and then Marc Gasol reach right over his head to pluck the ball way and deposit it into the basket.

Sad was looking on as Duncan groped at the ball in the paint like he were wearing oven mitts and then had teammate George Hill fumble it away out of bounds.

Sad was watching Darrell Arthur rise up as if on a hydraulic lift to reject a drive by Tony Parker and then outrace every one of the Spurs to the other end of the court to spike a lob pass from Mayo through the hoop with enough force to almost set off the tornado sirens in downtown Memphis once again.

As the Grizzlies keep coming on harder and stronger and with more confidence and swagger with each passing game, one can't help but notice the contrast.

"We were kind of sad at a point," said Manu Ginobili.

It's not just about discovering a new way to run the plays and make shots. It's about finding a way to match the Grizzlies youthful exuberance the energy that could light up all of the neon on Beale Street.

The Spurs are looking like Willie Mays staggering around in the outfield for the Mets. They are a worn out ghost of Muhammad Ali pushed around one night in the desert by Larry Holmes.

Youth eventually is served and the Spurs are suddenly looking like the cranky old man on the block, running around in his tattered bathrobe trying to keep the neighborhood kids off his lawn.

The Spurs led 50-48 at halftime of the Game 4 that could have put their world back on its axis. But that hope was over after a 14-0 blast by the Grizzlies and the Spurs now sit at the bottom of a daunting 3-1 hole in the series.

"They were four awful minutes," Ginobili said. "They gained confidence and everything went downhill for us. It was a very embarrassing first four minutes.

It was one more example of the Spurs being able to play and compete with the Grizzlies for only 24 minutes of a 48 minute game. It was merely the latest demonstration that maybe this team that won 61 regular season games by relying more on offense than the suffocating trademark defense that won San Antonio four championships in the last dozen seasons was only using gobs of makeup to cover over age marks and wrinkles.

It's looking like there will be at least another series and another few weeks to continue celebrating this delightful Memphis story that has hips shaking the way they did when Elvis was still living at Graceland.

But if the impending demise of the Spurs was, in a circle of life way, inevitable, certainly nobody saw the end coming with such swiftness.

"Surprising, but in my case I feel disappointing," Ginobili said. "I felt we were gonna bounce back emotionally, physically after the loss of Game 3. But it was all theirs, that emotion, that edge.

"We went down 10-12 and our eyes couldn't see the fire that would say, 'We can make it.' "

There had been enough different ways for the Spurs to rationalize their upside-down position coming into Game 4. After all, they had turned around the regular season stats and consistently outrebounded Memphis in the series, converted more second chance points and committed fewer turnovers.

The Spurs were telling themselves that if it weren't for a pair of rather fortuitous, late-game 3-point buckets by Shane Battier and Zach Randolph in Games 1 and 3, they might have been standing on the verge of a completing a sweep themselves. At worst, the cumulative score through the first three games was 279-279.

Then the bottom fell out. The Spurs were outscored by a whopping 30-15 in the third quarter, managed to squeeze out just 22 points in the first 18 minutes of the second half and finished up the night with Duncan, Ginobili and Parker sitting on the bench for the final five minutes looking blindsided, dumbstruck or maybe just worn out.

The old cliché says the torch is passed, but that is rarely the case. Usually the usurper comes along to grab it and burns the old house down. What the Spurs are going to have to do before Game 5 is poke around in the embers for a spark.

The starting front line of Duncan, Antonio McDyess and Richard Jefferson shot 5-for-16 for only 10 points. The best 3-point shooting team during the regular season again was hurried and misfiring at 5-for-18.

The Spurs can't go inside because the Grizzlies are reaching, grabbing, pushing and attacking at the ball on every dribble. The Spurs can't go outside because the Grizzlies won't give their spot-up shooters a chance to spot up.

At the conclusion of each game, the Grizzlies are gathering at midcourt to remind themselves there is still work to do. Meanwhile the Spurs trudge off with a larger, louder clock ticking in their heads.

"We put ourselves in this position," Duncan said. "If we want to stay alive, we've got to win one game at a time. There's no other way to say it."

Except Ginobili's way.


Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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