photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Let's quote Marvin Gaye before we begin. "What's goin' on? What's goin on? I say what's goin' on?"
At the risk of prematurely burying the San Antonio Spurs, yes, what exactly is going on?
I am not going with the argument that the team is aging. Overnight they didn’t just lose it. We heard that accusation levied against teams before. Even the championship Bulls team that was nearly extended to the full route by Utah were accused of such yet they still beat the odds.
Since their last championship season in 2006-07 where they swept Cleveland in the finals, the Spurs were dumped by the Los Angeles Lakers in the ’08 Western Finals, swept in the first round by Dallas in ’09, and ousted in the Western semis by Phoenix with a 4-0 dust-off.
After blitzing the league early in the season, the Spurs stumbled in the homestretch. It began with Manu Ginobili’s injury and even when he returned they didn’t seem that sharp anymore.
For the month of April (up to Game 4 with the Memphis Grizzlies), the Spurs are 5-6. In their last 10 matches of the regular season, they were 4-6. And there was that six match losing streak from March 23-April 1 where they allowed the Chicago Bulls to catch up and although tie them in the win-loss column grab the home court advantage throughout the playoffs by quotient points.
In the regular season, San Antonio went 61-21. They averaged 103.7 points and gave up 98.
In the playoffs, they are averaging 91.2 points while giving up 95.7. In the regular season, they beat the Memphis Grizzlies in their first two meetings at the AT&T Center, but Lionel Hollins’ boys picked up the next two at their homecourt of the FedEx Forum.
During those head-to-head matchups, Greg Popovich’s team won their home games by an average of 6.5 point versus Memphis while the Grizzlies defended their turf by winning by an average of 11.5 points.
During San Antonio’s first regular season victory over Memphis at the AT&T Center, their starting five scored 79 points and the bench added 33. Tim Duncan picked up 13 and 10, Tony Parker topscored with 37 while Manu Ginobili had 15 pts and 9 assists.
In contrast, Memphis’ starters scored an incredible 90 points and their bench added only 16.
In their second meeting, San Antonio’s starters scored 62 points while the bench tallied 33 markers. Manu led the way with 35 points, Tim added 12 and 8 while Tony finished with 2 after an injury.
Memphis’ starters one more outscored their counterparts by putting up 65 points. The bench had a slightly better showing by adding 23 points.
As the season got longer, Memphis (which would finish at 46-36 with a 30-11 home stand record), got stronger. They finished the month of February 8-4 and March 9-5. They sort of stumbled in April with a 4-3 slate losing their final two regular season matches.
But they greet spring with a win over San Antonio at home where their starters once more outscored the Spurs starting unit 69-40 (Parker was out). The Grizzlies’ bench matched SA’s starting production with 40 points of their own.
Zach Randolph picked up 21 and 10 while Marc Gasol had a poor game with 4 points and 3 boards. But Tony Allen (20) and Darrell Arthur (21) picked up the slack.
In their final regular season meeting, Memphis’ starters once more blew their foes apart by scoring 71 points to the 48 by San Antonio. The Grizzlies’ bench put up 42. Zebo and Tony 23 points each.
Without Duncan and a lame Manu Ginobili who only scored one bucket, Tony Parker tried to hold the fort by his lonesome (20 points). The Spurs reserves added 56 points.
The playoffs further clarified the picture. The Spurs simply couldn’t match up with Memphis’ starters. Popovich’s crack unit only outscored Hollins’ starting five once – Game 3 – and that was by a solitary point 64-63 and the Grizzlies still won.
San Antonio has been hobbled by injuries and Memphis found a reservoir of energy in the first round of the playoffs. The weak link of the Spurs has been the play of Richard Jefferson (who Pop worked with in the offseason the previous year) and at the center slot where Antonio McDyess, Dejuan Blair and Tiago Splitter have been the three-headed monster. McDyess since his days in New York to Detroit has reinvented his game from a high-flying aerial artist to a more grounded forward. No way can he guard Randolph or even Gasol on that end. Maybe more than a decade ago he could with his athleticism. Not now.
Take a look at the numbers of the starters and bench.
Zach Randolph, after great years in Portland, did not go the route of Steve Francis who after a trade never got his game going again after leaving Houston. Zebo has been a monster side by side with Marc Gasol. That's like Andrew Bynum and this dude name Pau. Only they are in the Southwest Division. That’s quite some team they’ve got and like their counterparts from Oklahoma, they are an exciting young team.
Who could have figured they’d be where they are at now? Although there’s still Game 5 to play, the window for another Larry O' Brien trophy for this Spurs team in the Tim Duncan era is rapidly closing.