These are not your father’s San Antonio Spurs. Well, bad example, because your father’s Spurs had Artis Gilmore and George Gervin, and these definitely are not those Spurs.
But these are not the four-time champion Spurs, either. This is a very different team with a different, more offense-minded identity. As Timothy Varner said at 48 Minutes of Hell, one of the more interesting story lines of the playoffs is how far these new Spurs can go.
But for one night — and one night only — it was like the old Spurs were back.
Kind of. It was the defensive Spurs with just enough offense to win it. In what was an offensively ugly game, the Spurs held the Grizzlies to 39.8 percent shooting, 3-of-14 from three and 91.6 points per 100 possessions (16 points below Memphis’ season average). More importantly, the Spurs held the Grizzlies two big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, to a combined 7-of-23 shooting. The Spurs controlled the paint, they doubled Randolph and both and fronted and doubled Gasol. Memphis could not get comfortable.
It was an old-school Spurs defensive slugfest and they won 93-87 to even the series heading back to Memphis for Game 3.
This was not a pretty game, but then this isn’t really going to be a pretty series. Memphis wants to grind it out and the Spurs can play that game. For example, the first quarter saw both teams shooting less than 40 percent and ending with a 17-17 score.
San Antonio was always in for a tough series because the Grizzlies and their physical style with two quality scorers in the post were very much the kind of team that matches up with the new Spurs. Tim Duncan is still a quality defender and had a big part in what San Antonio did in the paint. But he cannot own it in the same way he did in years past.
The other key was the return of Manu Ginobili, who wasn’t sharp (only hitting 7-of-13 free throws shows you how much his elbow is hurting still) but still opened things up on the floor and came up with several key defensive steals. Manu helps create better angles of attack in the Spurs offense. More importantly, the Spurs had a different energy with him out there. Single game +/- is usually a pretty useless stat, but the fact Manu was a game high +16 was not a coincidence.
These Spurs did what the old-school Spurs did — they executed better at the end of the game. They went on a late 11-4 run to take control of the game and while the Grizzlies got a three from Sam Young to make it close the Spurs were willing to live with that (Young took 50 threes all season, that’s not his specialty). At the end of the game George Hill drained four free throws while the Grizzlies missed threes.
Memphis fans have reason to feel good — they got a split in San Antonio and lost the second game by six points on about as off a shooting night as Zach Randolph is going to have. They are going home with a real chance, knowing the Spurs have not been a very good road playoff team in recent years.
But that was the old Spurs, who made a return appearance Wednesday. We’ll see what Spurs we get in Game 3.