The 2020-21 season has come to an end for the San Antonio Spurs. Facing a must-win game, the Spurs fell into a big hole early against the Memphis Grizzlies and were never able to get all the way back on the tracks. The Grizzlies won by a final score of 100-96 and will now play the Golden State Warriors with a spot in the playoffs on the line.
In the first quarter, the Spurs trailed by as many as 21 points. Offensively, the decision-making was poor and the team played with almost no decisiveness. Every shot and every pass was second guessed. Defensively, San Antonio was weak in the paint and Memphis took advantage by relentlessly attacking.
Thankfully, the Spurs made this a ballgame by going on a 17-0 run in the second quarter. Following that burst, the contest remained tight until the early stages of the fourth quarter. With 10:30 remaining, the Spurs once again trailed by double-digits, 77-67. But, like they did in the second quarter, the good guys came roaring back with a 13-2 run to take the lead.
Unfortunately, San Antonio’s offensive woes return in the fourth. Following a Keldon Johnson three-pointer to give the Spurs a two-point lead, 83-81, with seven minutes remaining, the Silver and Black went four minutes without a field goal. By the time the offense started clicking again, it was too late.
All in all, the Spurs can be proud with how they competed following the terrible start. Defensively, San Antonio played well enough to win the game; they held the Grizzlies to 62 points in the final three quarters. The offense simply didn’t come along for the ride.
Spurs at Grizzlies: Final Grades
If the Spurs were going to win this game, it would have been with DeRozan exhibiting veteran moxie and blazing a trail for the youngsters to follow. Yeah, no, that didn’t happen. DeRozan’s timidness coming out of the gates played a leading role in the first quarter struggles. In nine first quarter minutes, he was 0-for-2 with a single assist. He was more aggressive in the second quarter but still went into halftime 1-for-11 from the field. Offensively, DeRozan played better in the second half and was more efficient — but the bar had been set low. At no point in the game could the Spurs rely on DeRozan for offensive production. That was a definite problem, especially because his defense was so horrendous throughout the game. Both individually and time-wise, he was slow and listless in every aspect. The Spurs could have survived if DeRozan would have been at least average on one end of the court. That wasn’t the case.
In multiple facets of the game, Murray was great. Defensively, he was beastly. He rotated well and pressured his man while smartly picking his spots for gambles. He also finished off defensive possessions by crashing the boards. Truthfully, he couldn’t have been much better on defense. Offensively, Murray carried the bulk of the playmaking load, as evidenced by him finishing with more than half of the team’s assists. No one on the team could make plays off the move other than Murray. Sadly, what could have been a great performance was derailed by Murray’s shooting. He was 1-for-9 in the second half and hit only one perimeter shot all game long. With DeRozan unable to create scoring opportunities for himself, the Spurs desperately needed Murray to pick up the slack — but he was unable to.
The good: Poeltl defended well on the perimeter and thwarted drivers left and right. He finished with five blocked shots and changed another handful of shots. Offensively, he was purposeful in his movements and was active on the boards. The bad: Poeltl had an extremely difficult time dealing with Jonas Valanciunas, who finished with 23 points and 23 rebounds (17 of the points and 17 of the rebounds came with Poeltl on the court). A lot of the good Poeltl did on defense was negated because he struggled so much to hold his ground against Valanciunas, who ended being the main difference-maker for the Grizzlies. Poeltl, despite some strong play in other areas, deserves a hefty amount of the blame for that.
I thought Johnson did well in what was the biggest game of his young NBA career. He might have been the only player for the Spurs who consistently played with the necessary amount of fearlessness and tenacity. He did great work on the boards and wasn’t bashful about trying to impact the proceedings. Johnson had some rough moments on offense (ill-advised drives) and defense (giving up penetration) but overall he has nothing to hang his head about.
Lonnie Walker IV
The good: Walker didn’t seem to be intimidated. He took the shots he needed to take. He had some open court plays that gave the Spurs some life. The bad: Walker’s defense left a lot to be desired. From needless fouls to erroneous rotations, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Offensively, he wasn’t doing nearly enough to make up for his defensive struggles.
It was far from an amazing night from Mills — but offensively he did a little bit better than we’ve come to expect as of late. He struggled to get open but his shot-selection was fine and he shot it straight. His defensive play wasn’t as hot. Uncharacteristically, miscommunication between Mills and his teammates allowed the Grizzlies to get easy buckets a few times.
Gay did all he could. From his first minutes until the final buzzer, he was scratching and clawing to give San Antonio a W. Gay’s decision-making wasn’t always great but he competed on both ends. Without him, the Spurs would have been in a world of hurt. If this was Gay’s last game with the Spurs, he’s leaving on a high note.
Dieng actually played really, really well. Things seemed to flow a lot smoother when he was on the court. The rare times Valanciunas was held off the boards, it was usually Dieng doing the heavy lifting. His rotations and his guarding of the paint were also impressive. Offensively, the spacing he provided was extremely useful and he made smart decisions with the ball. In retrospect, he should have played more.
The rookie didn’t embarrass himself — but Vassell also failed to move the needle much. Defensively, his rotations were a step slower than usual. Offensively, he was hesitant to shoot. That said, it was a good sign that he knew what to do and where to be most of the time.
Eubanks was the first center off the bench. But after he blatantly disregarded the gameplan in terms of how the Spurs were defending Ja Morant, Pop pulled him and gave the rest of his minutes to Dieng. I don’t know if Eubanks was nervous or just forgot what he was supposed to do in the heat of the battle, but that was a rather unfortunate turn of events for him and the team.
The good: The hole the Spurs fell into wasn’t really Pop’s fault, as that was mostly due to poor individual play on offense. His team showed some grit by battling back. Gameplan-wise, everything made sense. There were no glaring Xs and Os errors. The bad: With DeRozan not playing well, Pop should have limited his minutes to closer to 30. Doing that might have been enough for the Spurs to win it because the team’s defense was stellar when DeRozan wasn’t on the court. Dieng should have played more. Gay also probably deserved a couple more minutes.
The Spurs enter an important summer with a ton of cap space, vital free agency decisions and a lottery pick. This could very well be the offseason that determines what direction the Spurs will be heading for the next five or so years.