Leave it to a team called the Grizzlies to demonstrate an acute sense of self-preservation.
Facing a potential 0-3 deficit, Memphis’ David Fizdale made the right adjustments and, with his squad feeding off the fervent energy of a raucous crowd, got the first postseason win of his young head-coaching career. Under a sea of yellow towels, all Gregg Popovich could do was shake his head.
Fizdale’s big pre-game decision – moving veteran Zach Randolph into the starting lineup – didn’t exactly come as a surprise. Randolph had been one of the few bright spots in Memphis’ Game 2 loss, and Fizdale had already said he’d be making changes to his starting five.
Still, the 35-year-old rewarded his coach’s confidence, notching 21 points and eight rebounds as he scored with ease all game long, both around the basket and from 18 feet. Popovich tried to put every big man he had on him, but each struggled in his own vexing way: Dewayne Dedmon picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter; Pau Gasol was too slow, and David Lee was man-handled on consecutive post-ups.
With Mike Conley (24 points) and Marc Gasol (21) also sharp, Fizdale was able to stagger his rotations, ensuring one of his big three was always on the floor to work the offense around.
When asked what was their undoing in his post-game press conference, Popovich alluded to a few untimely mistakes to begin the third quarter. The Grizzlies’ lead was just four at half-time, but it ballooned to nine in less than a minute thanks to a pair of Spurs turnovers and a lack of defensive focus, leading to open Memphis shots. They would lead to an immediate timeout by Pop with 11:07 still left in the third; when the telecast resumed, all five starters had been benched.
The starters would return a few minutes later, but the deficit, then at double digits, only grew. It didn’t help that Memphis took better care of the ball (only five turnovers on the night, to the Spurs’ 12), while San Antonio clunked 12 of its 28 free-throw attempts. Kawhi Leonard (18 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (16) each had their moments, but the Grizzlies’ physicality made things difficult for either to get going.
The Spurs’ starting backcourt, who had been so sharp in Games 1 and 2, made little impact. Tony Parker went scoreless after averaging 16.5 in his first two games and Danny Green, not quite his usual disruptive self on the defensive end, missed all four of his three-point attempts.
As a result, the Grizzlies got the win they desperately needed and the series is guaranteed to at least go one more game, with Game 5 to take place in San Antonio early next week. The Spurs have a couple of days to re-group now and make their own adjustments, while the Grizzlies have a chance to really make things interesting if they can tie the series at two games a piece.
Game 4 is scheduled for Saturday at 7pm in Memphis.