With two minutes and 12 seconds left in the San Antonio Spurs’ 116-103 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, both coaches unloaded their benches. This is normal procedure during a playoff blowout, which each coach hanging on for a few minutes longer than usual, juuuuust to be sure. You can never be too cautious.
The difference in Tuesday’s game from a normal, run-of-the-mill blowout is how we got there. Only two and a half minutes prior, Memphis was surging and cut San Antonio’s lead to 102-97. Then, the Spurs rattled off a 12-0 run that effectively ended the game and triggered both coach’s closing lineups, one that sent the Memphis stars headed to the bench with their backs to the wall, and San Antonio’s contemplating the importance of finishing this series off in Memphis in Game 6.
Throughout these playoffs, this season, and even the past few years, we’ve seen huge leads evaporate in minutes. But the flip side is an obvious one: teams can grow them in moments, too, and San Antonio is a perfect example. They’re the Spurs, coached by the league’s consensus best coach and still geared to show up for a death blow when the time comes. Once the clock ticked under five minutes, something clicked in for San Antonio. After that happened, it was over.
This series took a sharp left turn when it shifted back to Memphis. For two games, the Spurs were exactly who we thought: a team that isn’t spectacular, isn’t sensational, but is consistently better than whomever they’re playing.
Once the Grizzlies were in their home confines, though, everything changed. They took Game 3 rather handily, and Game 4 might have been the game of the year so far when it ended on a Marc Gasol buzzer beater. But Memphis still cannot guard Kawhi Leonard, and that bit them once again.
Leonard dropped 28 points on 9-of-16 shooting, with six assists and a telling plus-19 while on the court. A bench lineup featuring him, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and Patty Mills (20 points, plus-22) annihilated Memphis. Leonard’s stats could have been gaudier, but there were times where he basically sat at the half-court line, drew a defender out past the three-point line, and allowed his teammates to play four-on-four basketball. The extra spacing tends to work out, and their 53-percent shooting and 50 percent from downtown tells you all you need to know.
The Grizzlies aren’t friendly at home and they certainly don’t give up easy. But they would be wise to take a lead into “winning time” in the fourth quarter, and figure out something, anything, that could potentially turn Leonard into another player, not a superhuman force.
Otherwise, their season won’t be continuing on past Thursday’s game.