A little more than a week ago, San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan was staring down his nose at the lowly Memphis Grizzlies.
Duncan reportedly was miffed that Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins didn’t play some of his starters in road losses to Portland and the Clippers at the end of the regular season.
Duncan thought Hollins had his team tank games to clinch the No. 8 seed because it wanted a Western Conference first-round playoff date with the top-seeded Spurs, whom the Grizzlies beat twice in March in Memphis, rather than the second-seeded and defending league champion Los Angeles Lakers.
In other words, Duncan and his teammates felt disrespected.
Monday night, in the wee hours of his 35th birthday, Duncan was pondering the fact that his team is one game from elimination by the Grizzlies after the home team rocked FedExdForum with a 104-86 Game 4 blowout.
"They (the Grizzlies) really have it dialed in," said Duncan, who had six points and seven rebounds. "They got a game plan that’s working and they are sticking to it. They are being ultra-aggressive and we’re not making shots to make them pay for it. From top to bottom, they’ve outplayed us in every facet."
It’s stunning to see a future Hall of Famer who has won four NBA championships say that. It’s just as shocking to see Manu Ginobili, the heart and soul of the Spurs’ never-say-die attitude, admit Memphis is laying the wood to the Spurs.
"I’m disappointed because I thought we were going to bounce back emotionally, physically after the loss of Game 3," Ginobili said.
"But that edge, that emotion, was all theirs. We were kind of sad at a point. We went down 10, 12 and we, in our eyes, I couldn’t see the fire that said, ‘Yeah, we can make it.’ We looked bad."
If anyone should have felt disrespected in this whole deal, it’s the Grizzlies. Everyone assumed that because they are the second-youngest team in the league, they would be happy to win one game to break their 0-12 playoff losing streak and then would go home.
"None of us have ever thought that way," said Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who just a few years ago was being abused by the Spurs’ Tony Parker but now is the abuser. "We never thought about winning one game. We wanted to win the series."
All you heard in the Spurs’ camp early in the series was how San Antonio could survive while Ginobili healed a sprained elbow. He missed the Game 1 loss to the Grizzlies in San Antonio.
But in Memphis’ camp, no one talked about the team playing since the All-Star break without Rudy Gay, its second-leading scorer and big shot taker and maker at the end of games.
Such a tough-minded attitude comes from Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, a hard-nosed guard who lasted 10 years in the NBA and had almost three decades’ worth of experience before the Grizzlies hired him 2 1/2 seasons ago.
Hollins’ players love him because he is fair and honest and understands that players get emotional, get macho and run their mouths.
When Duncan got peeved at the start of the series about Hollins resting starters at the end of the regular season, Hollins’ reaction was predictable.
"I think Tim needed some motivation or something, but if I had a choice of teams this definitely wouldn’t have been it," Hollins said. "I would have taken Houston or something like that, that’s not in the playoffs."
On Sunday, on the eve of Monday’s Game 4, Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, the team’s locker room looney tune, accused Ginobili of faking his sprained elbow injury.
"He ain’t playing like his arm is hurt," Allen said of Ginobili. "I think that’s all for the birds right there. I don’t think nothing is wrong with him."
When asked if Ginobili was wearing an elbow brace so the Grizzlies will ease up on him, Allen replied, "I think so. He’s playing amazing right now."
Allen was asked again to clarify his comments.
"Who ain’t bruised up around this time of year?" Allen said. "Everybody got aches and bruises right now. Since he’s (Ginobili) got the high profile name, everybody puts emphasis on what’s wrong with him. I don’t go to the media saying what’s wrong with me. I don’t go to my P.R. guy and say, ‘Put this out.’ I just fight through. He’s trying to fight through it."
Hollins wasn’t upset with Allen’s comments, especially with the fact Allen just sounded off to reporters without being prompted.
"That’s Tony, too," Hollins said. "He talks to me that way sometimes. I don’t ask him a question, he just starts talking. I try not to listen too much. I’ve got to keep my focus, too."
Monday night, after three subpar games, Allen was back to his disruptive self, scoring 12 points, getting a couple of steals and jumpstarting the Grizzlies on a 14-0 run to open the second half that cut the heart out of the Spurs.
"Everybody started to smell blood, and we realized with a couple of more stops, we could throw the punches to knock them out," Conley said.
Now, the Grizzlies are one haymaker away from becoming the fourth No. 1 seed to beat a No. 8 in the NBA playoffs.
But if it happens, the Grizzlies won’t call it an upset. And neither will the Spurs.