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article imageNBA: Spurs hand game to Memphis, lose home court advantage

By Lynn Herrmann     Apr 18, 2011 in Sports
San Antonio - The San Antonio Spurs began their post-season run on Sunday, hosting the Memphis Grizzlies in the first of a best-of-seven series, and true to recent form, allowed a team to come back from a double digit deficit, and lost in the closing seconds, 101-98.
Starting the NBA’s extended playoff season on Sunday, the Spurs came in as the number-one seed, and with the best record in the Western Conference assuring them home court advantage for as long as they care to be in the playoffs, promptly gave up that advantage in game one of the opening round.
Finishing the regular season with a 61-21 record, third-best in franchise history and their fourth 60-win season, the Spurs faced the number eight seed Grizzlies in a physical contest that sent San Antonio to the free throw line for a season-high 47 attempts, where they converted 36.
Memphis came out and asserted its authority early in the game. The foul-filled contest never allowed the Spurs to develop a rhythm to their attacking style of play, thus depriving them of any chance for sustained momentum.
The first half was marred by numerous and frequent fouls called away from the ball and
acknowledged or not, the Memphis game plan was a brilliant strategy fitting into their punishing style of play.
The last time these two teams met in the regular season saw a massive collision between the Spurs Manu Ginobili and Memphis starter Marc Gasol, an impact that sent Ginobili to the bench early in the second quarter for the duration of that game, a game the Spurs lost in the final minutes of the fourth quarter that helped them on their way to a six-game losing streak.
That losing streak, while now history, never allowed the Spurs a late season run into the playoff, instead, they limped in losing eight of their last 12 regular season games, setting the foundation for their post season wishes.
On Sunday, the Spurs would be without the services of Ginobili again, sitting out because of a sprained right elbow suffered in the first three minutes of the regular season finale against Phoenix last Wednesday, services the Spurs desperately needed by game’s end.
Memphis, appearing in the post-season for the first time in five years, did what they do well, bringing a physical brand of ball that the Spurs do not match up well against.
The Spurs started out the first quarter with a 9-2 run to go up 9-5, but after a Memphis timeout, the Grizzlies battled back, taking the lead, 13-11 on a short jumper by Zach Randolph. They then maintained that lead throughout the first quarter, punctuated by a high-arching trey from O.J. Mayo at the buzzer to take a 27-22 lead into the second frame.
San Antonio briefly regained the lead in the second quarter on a Tim Duncan slam, putting the Spurs up 34-31 but as has been their case throughout the season, a strong defensive presence was lacking, and Memphis answered, going on a 9-0 run to take another lead lasting throughout the quarter.
At the half, on their home court, the Spurs trailed by two, 45-43 and were led by Duncan with 12 first-half points.
San Antonio started out strong in the third quarter, attempting to match the Grizzlies physicality with their own aggressive run-and-attack game. The strategy worked for a while, allowing the Spurs to go on a 9-0 run and a 57-51 lead.
Memphis, continuing its fouling strategy, picked up its fifth team foul half-way through the third, allowing San Antonio the luxury of free throws on fouls for the remainder of the quarter. That helped the Spurs to their largest lead of the game, 70-59 after a Gary Neal stop-and-pop three-pointer.
The Grizzlies battled back, however, going in an 11-4 run to close out the quarter and erase that double-digit deficit, down by just four, 74-70. That striking distance margin would provide a great benefit as the game wound down.
George Hill, starting in place of the injured Ginobili, scored his first field goal of the game at the 8:38 mark of the fourth quarter, to give the Spurs an 80-78 lead. Unfortunately for San Antonio, Memphis had two more surges left.
A pair of baskets by Tony Allen, including a layup and 15-footer, gave the Grizzlies a 92-85 lead with 3:59 to play. It tied their largest lead of the game.
After the Spurs regained the lead, 98-94 on back-to-back treys by Matt Bonner and an pair of free throws by Hill at 1:06 left in the game and with the home crowd on its feet and roaring, a layup by Gasol closed the gap to 98-96. Then the incomprehensible, for Spurs fans.
Shane Battier, who scored 10 points off the bench in the game, hit his biggest shot this season, a dagger trey to put Memphis up 99-98.
A missed three-pointer by Hill led to a pair of free throws by Memphis’ Allen, making it 101-98 with 10.2 seconds to play.
After a timeout, the Spurs were clearly forced into a three-point situation. Great defense by Memphis did not afford the Spurs a good look, and a Richard Jefferson trey at the buzzer missed.
San Antonio, with a four-point lead and 1:06 to play, on its home court, allowed Memphis to go on a 7-0 run in less than a minute, and they gave yet another victory to an opponent. This time, however, it’s not about the best record in the NBA. As Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said over a week ago, it’s money time. And the Spurs came up short.
Randolph and Gasol provided a two-man tag team, with their strength and size being more than the Spurs could handle. Randolph led Memphis with 25 points and 14 rebounds. The 7’-1”, 265 lbs. Gasol owned the paint, scoring 24 points on 9-of-10 field goal shooting.
For the game, Memphis shot 55 percent from the field and hit 21-of-33 free throw attempts. It was the first playoff victory in Memphis franchise history.
More about NBA, western conference, the playoffs, San antonio spurs, Manu ginobili
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