The San Antonio Spurs opened the Western Conference finals resembling the past champions who’ve been there so many times before.
The Memphis Grizzlies looked like the first-timers still trying to adapt to their first conference finals appearance.
Tony Parker had 20 points and nine assists, Kawhi Leonard scored 18 points and the Spurs struck first by beating Memphis 105-83 on Sunday.
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.
”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.”
The Spurs avoided a repeat of their Game 1 loss when the teams met two years ago in the first round. The Grizzlies went on to knock San Antonio out of the playoffs as the top seed that time.
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.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in San Antonio.
”We just didn’t play well. It’s not anything specific,” coach Lionel Hollins said. ”It’s just that we were running too fast, we missed some layups, we were taking bad shots and our defense was really awful. And the Spurs played well.”
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 while All-Star power forward Zach Randolph struggled. Randolph had just two points, getting his only basket with 9:26 left in the game.
He had a playoff-best 28 points and 14 rebounds in his last game, as Memphis eliminated defending West champ Oklahoma City 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.”
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, though.
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 immediately 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.
”We did a good job of moving the basketball, finding each other, trusting each other,” Green said. ”Luckily we made some today.”
Pondexter led Memphis with 17 points, Marc Gasol scored 15 and Mike Conley had 14 points and eight assists.
”We were just so hyper, just running all over the place on defense,” 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.
”Every time we made a mistake defensively, they made us pay every time,” Gasol said, who had three baskets in a push that helped Memphis get within 51-37 at halftime. ”It was over-help or no help or whatever it was, they made you pay.”
Notes: Memphis’ only other 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.