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VOL. 131 | NO. 78 | Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Memphis Takes Pounding in Opener With Spurs

By Don Wade

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The Memphis Grizzlies were not alone in their unmitigated defeat. The NBA Playoffs started this past weekend and while descriptions of what happened to the Grizzlies within the shadow of the Alamo in San Antonio were colorful – “a 106-74 bludgeoning by the San Antonio Spurs” read one account at NBA.com – this was hardly an isolated incident.

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chris Andersen, right, is defended by San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, left, as he tires to score during the second half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, April 17, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 106-74. 

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

In fact, across the NBA landscape, there was an echo from one losing locker room to another. Five teams lost their first game by 20 or more points. The Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph said, as expected, the Game 1 loss was just a single game – that in the playoffs the score is not the thing whether you win by one point or lose by 30, adding, “We’re just trying to get one game.”

Meantime, after Oklahoma City crushed Dallas 108-70 in that first-round series’ opening game, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said: “It’s only one game. Whether you lose by two or by 50, in the playoffs it’s only one game.”

Which is perhaps the worst news of all for the Grizzlies. This being a best-of-seven series, they likely will experience the worst the playoffs have to offer three more times. And perhaps in succession.

Before this series started, ESPN polled 21 of its reporters/writers that cover the NBA. All 21 picked the Spurs to win the series and 18 of 21 predicted a sweep. Only three eternally optimistic souls – J.A. Adande, Ramona Shelburne and Michael Wallace – said the Grizzlies would extend the series to five games.

Game 2 is at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the AT&T Center. In a normal year, like the previous five in which the Grizzlies made the playoffs, there would be much discussion about adjustments and counter adjustments.

But this Grizzlies’ roster, which has included using an NBA-record 28 players this season, looks like something out a fantasy draft gone horribly wrong.

With center Marc Gasol (knee surgery) and point guard Mike Conley (sore Achilles) lost to the team long ago, they were always going to arrive in the postseason severely compromised. But other injuries, most notably losing backup point guard Mario Chalmers, and the necessary trades of free-agents-to-be Courtney Lee and Jeff Green, means the Grizzlies are in the playoffs with a team that, had it been deployed for a full season, would have struggled to win 20 games and would have wound up in the NBA Draft Lottery.

Although the Grizzlies managed to squeeze out a winning record of 42-40 in the regular season and earn the Western Conference’s 7 seed, they started this series having lost 10 of their last 11 games.

Former NBA star-turned analyst for TNT Reggie Miller, said on the Dan Patrick Show that his network’s TV crew – Charles Barkley, Miller, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Chris Webber – could perhaps beat this Memphis team.

“Give the Grizzlies a run,” Miller said.

That’s embarrassing. And, by the way, ridiculous; Barkley and Shaq would be more likely to snatch nachos from a fan on the first row than to jog down the court and play defense. But if Miller said he’d be a better perimeter shooter even now than anyone on the Grizzlies, well, he wouldn’t be too far wrong.

In Game 1 on Sunday, with Tony Allen and his sore hamstring playing off the bench, coach Dave Joerger started Randolph, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Chris Andersen and Jordan Farmar. The five starters combined for 32 points on 13-for-36 shooting (36.1 percent). They also combined for 10 assists and nine turnovers.

Carter led the Grizzlies with 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting. Joerger only played him 19 minutes because, with the game out of reach in the third quarter, why spend his energy for no gain?

Overall, the Spurs forced the Grizzlies into 17 turnovers and small forward Kawhi Leonard, who also picked up his second Defensive Players of the Year Award on Monday, punished the Grizzlies on offense with 20 points and hawked them on defense with four steals and three blocks.

“When we’re turning the ball over and not hitting shots as well, the lead can go from a five-point game to a 15-to 20-point game in blink of an eye,” Carter said.

Joerger said reserve guard Lance Stephenson would be a key to getting the Grizzlies going offensively because of his ability to create his own shots. Stephenson had a nice game with 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting and is a physical presence on defense. But he’s also way too inconsistent to be a difference-maker in a series.

Farmar, a veteran NBA point guard, was playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Premier League before being signed by the Grizzlies late in the season. He only averaged 10.5 points and 4.1 assists per game there. His backup, rookie Xavier Munford, is much more familiar with the NBA Development League than the NBA postseason.

“It’s X’s first couple of weeks in the NBA,” Joerger said after Munford contributed four points, four assists, and three steals with two turnovers vs. the Spurs in 27 minutes. “I thought he went out there and competed and did a nice job.

“So we’ll go back and watch video and try to get a little better and look for making a bigger dent (in Game 2).”

Whether that has a profound impact on the final score is difficult to say. But it would be nice if the next game account from San Antonio did not include the word “bludgeoning.”

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