by Mike Seely
The Spurs played nothing short of a perfect game Sunday, throttling Memphis 105-83 while holding Grizzlies' star Zach Randolph to a mere two points in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Kawhi Leonard continued his playoff-long coming out party with 18 points on 4-5 shooting from three-point range, but the game's real revelation was Matt Bonner (12 points, 4-6 on threes), who was virtually invisible during the Golden State series due to a spate of unfavorable matchups.
It's fair to say that Golden State as a whole posed an unfavorable matchup for the Spurs; sometimes when you have a bullet whiz right by your head, you feel as though life has sprung anew. Indeed, the Spurs looked like a fresher team than Memphis, despite being older and having less time off between series. Memphis might be formidable, but they're not deep. And with Randolph completely neutralized by a four-headed monster of burly defenders (Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, Bonner and Tiago Splitter), they were buried. It helps that Memphis center Marc Gasol, while certainly capable when positioned on the block, prefers to operate from the high post or elbow, thus allowing San Antonio to check him with the softer of its two bigs.
And make not mistake about it: What's carried the Spurs through their last three victories has been a recommitment to team defense. Before the series, Duncan predicted a cavalcade of ugliness for anyone daring to watch the proceedings. He was only half-right: While San Antonio made Memphis' possessions look labored at best ,the Spurs' offense was a clinic in ball-sharing. Duncan's selfless line, wherein he notched almost as many assists (4) as points (6, to go with 10 rebounds), was emblematic of the entire team, and a meaningless but nonetheless marvelous tip-in by DeJuan Blair during garbage time signaled the urgency with which the Spurs seem intent on playing right out of the box, an attribute which was sorely lacking against Mark Jackson's young Warriors.
Spurs fans can feel good about Sunday's victory, but they need to temper their optimism simply by looking at Memphis' previous two series, in which the Grizz dug themselves holes on the road before storming back when it mattered most. Frankly, it may have served the Spurs better had Randolph merely had a mediocre game versus being thoroughly embarrassed; he's sure to come out with a giant chip on his pillowy left shoulder in Game 2 Tuesday.
Still, everything seems to be breaking the Spurs' way. They drew the Lakers without Kobe Bryant, the Warriors without David Lee, and a Memphis team which let O.J. Mayo walk in the offseason and further depleted its bench in a mid-season salary dump with the Bucks, to say nothing of the Rudy Gay trade (and very little should be said of it, as the Grizzlies are a better team without him in spite of the reduced horsepower). While such streamlining has benefitted them to date, Memphis is a stripped-down version of the eight seed which stunned the Spurs in the first round in 2011. And when a big gun fires blanks against a deep, veteran squad, their margin for error evaporates quicker than a puddle in the South Texas sun.