Mike Conley wouldn’t let Zach Randolph take the blame for the Memphis Grizzlies‘ blowout loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
No one on either team expects him to play so poorly the rest of the series.
Tony Parker had 20 points and nine assists, Kawhi Leonard scored 18 points and the Spurs neutralized Randolph in beating the Grizzlies 105-83 on Sunday. Randolph had just two points – less than in any game this season, regular season or playoffs – after playing brilliantly to lead Memphis past defending West champion Oklahoma City in the last round.
”It’s not just him. It is all of us,” Conley said. ”He was telling us that he is going to do better, but we all have to do better defensively. Offensively, we have to move the ball and get guys open.”
The NBA’s stingiest defense wasn’t up to its usual standards, allowing the Spurs to hit 53 percent of their shots and a franchise postseason-record 14 3-pointers.
San Antonio raced out to a 17-point lead in the first quarter, then came up with a response when Memphis rallied to get within six in the second half. Both teams pulled their starters with over 5 minutes left and the Spurs leading by 21.
”It’s as good as we could ever expect,” said Spurs cornerstone Tim Duncan, who didn’t need a big game with so many outside shots falling. ”We shot the ball incredibly well from the 3. Tony controlled the game all around: scoring, passing the ball, on defense.
”We know they’re going to play better. They’re going to change some things. We know we’re not going to shoot the ball as well as we did. We have to be prepared for that. For tonight, right now, that’s as well as it could have gone.”
Game 2 is Tuesday night in San Antonio.
The Grizzlies will surely be trying to tinker and get back to the formula that got them to the conference finals for the first time: a combination of a suffocating defense and Randolph rumbling for points and rebounds inside.
He had a playoff-best 28 points and 14 rebounds in his last game, when Memphis eliminated the Thunder in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
”Obviously, he’s their best scorer. He’s a beast inside,” Parker said. ”We know he’s not going to play like that every game. It’s just sometimes it happens.”
Randolph, who missed his first seven shots before a tip-in for his only bucket, said he told his teammates he has ”to do better for them.”
”A lot of my shots were just off,” he said. ”I didn’t get the good looks I wanted to.”
The Grizzlies started to rally as soon as Randolph came out of the game for the first time in the second half.
Quincy Pondexter made a baseline cut for a layup off Darrell Arthur’s pass, then hit back-to-back 3-pointers during a 10-0 burst. Jerryd Bayless’ two-handed, fast-break dunk off a steal got the Grizzlies within 62-56 with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
The comeback was short-lived.
Bayless missed a 3-pointer on the next trip, and Manu Ginobili was able to make one at the opposite end to spark an 11-1 response that restored the Spurs’ lead to 16 by end of the quarter. Leonard hit a pair of 3-pointers and Gary Neal had one as San Antonio kept pouring it on in the fourth.
The four regular-season meetings were all won by the team with more points in the paint, but perimeter shooting proved to be a bigger factor in the playoff opener. Memphis, which was second in the NBA by holding opponents to 33.8 shooting on 3-pointers, let San Antonio make 13 of its first 24 from behind the arc and finish 14 of 29.
Danny Green connected three times and scored 16, and Matt Bonner hit four of his five attempts for 12 points.
”It was just one of those nights. Pretty much, everyone was shooting well,” Bonner said. ”We won’t expect that to continue every game.”
Pondexter led Memphis with 17 points, Marc Gasol scored 15 and Conley had 14 points and eight assists. The Grizzlies hadn’t allowed 14 3-pointers in a game all season.
”We were just so hyper, just running all over the place on defense,” coach Lionel Hollins said. ”We’d have four guys in the paint and nobody would be out on the perimeter guarding anybody. And that’s not how we play defense.”
The Spurs asserted themselves early, scoring on their first seven possessions and also getting a couple head-to-head defensive stops from their veterans while claiming a quick 23-8 lead. Parker swiped the ball from Conley on Memphis’ second possession, running out for a layup, and Hollins burned a timeout in the first 2 minutes.
Tim Duncan snuffed out the ensuing play by blocking Randolph’s shot, and the Spurs’ strong start continued. Bonner hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 17-point edge late in the first quarter, and San Antonio pushed out to a 43-23 advantage following consecutive baskets by Parker with 6:06 left before halftime.
It was the largest first-half deficit for the Grizzlies during the playoffs.
Memphis has lost its opener in each round in this year’s playoffs, recovering from an 0-2 hole in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers and an 0-1 deficit against Oklahoma City in the West semifinals.
Two years ago in the first round, Memphis won Game 1 in San Antonio and went on to knock the top-seeded Spurs out of the playoffs. San Antonio had a 2-0 lead on Oklahoma city in last year’s West finals before losing four in a row.
”I can promise you this: Nobody’s happy in our locker room, because we were up 2-0 (in the West finals) last year and we lost,” Parker said. ”It’s just one game. It means nothing. We still have a long way to go.”
NOTES: Memphis’ only previous deficit larger than 20 this postseason came in the first-round opener against the Los Angeles Clippers. L.A. didn’t lead by 20 until the final minute of a 112-91 victory. … Tracy McGrady got a standing ovation when he checked in with the Spurs up by 20 midway through the fourth quarter. … The Spurs had 13 3-pointers in Game 1 of their second-round series against the Clippers in last year’s playoffs.