The two share the Western Conference’s Southwest Division, a division Memphis has never won. And it may be a team Memphis has to go through if the Grizzlies want to make a run at an NBA title.
Memphis beat the Spurs for its only playoff series win two seasons ago, but in recent history, San Antonio came to Memphis Friday with a five-game win streak in the series. The last Grizzlies win came in Game 7 of that playoff series.
That streak ended Friday night as Memphis showed it may not be the same old Grizzlies in a 101-98 overtime win in front of 17,685 fans at FedExForum.
“That definitely brought back memories,” said Zach Randolph, a key cog in the playoff series two years ago. “They’re a grit-and-grind team too. They’ve got one of the best coaches in the NBA, one of the best point guards, a Hall of Fame forward.”
Memphis blew a late lead in regulation and watched Tony Parker hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send the game to overtime. But the Grizzlies fought back to move within 1 1/2 games in the division.
Memphis trailed 98-95 after Parker hit another 3-pointer to open the overtime. He had a game-high 30 points but it was the last of Rudy Gay’s 23 points that put Memphis ahead 99-98 on a pull-up jumper with 27.8 seconds to play.
Parker missed a go-ahead jumper and Tony Allen celebrated his 31st birthday by finding Darrell Arthur free on a fastbreak for a slam and three-point lead with 8.9 seconds left. Manu Ginobili missed a tying 3 at the buzzer.
Memphis (24-10) has won four in a row, three on the West Coast, and goes to Dallas for another division game tonight.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins talked earlier Friday about the courage and toughness it takes to do what the team did two seasons ago. That came into play after Parker sent the game to overtime.
“I told them, ‘You’ve got two ways to go. You can hold your head and feel sorry for yourself or you can suck it up and go back and win the game again,’" Hollins said. "It was a test of our mental toughness.”
San Antonio (28-11) hit 10 3-pointers to Memphis’ three in a game with 14 lead changes and 11 ties.
Arthur was big in the playoff series and he was huge Friday. He almost kept it to regulation. Arthur had only six points after three quarters but scored four points in the final 65 seconds of the fourth quarter and had 14 for the game. He gave Memphis an 89-87 lead with 1:05 to play but Tim Duncan tied it on a contested two on the other end. Arthur hit another for a 91-89 lead with 33.7 to play as the Forum may have gotten as loud as it had all night.
Arthur played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter and was 4 for 5 in the fourth and overtime.
“It seems like he always plays really well against us and is in a comfort zone against us," said Duncan, who had 13 points and 15 boards.
Danny Green missed a 3-pointer with 23.9 seconds left in regulation and Arthur grabbed the board and found Allen on a fastbreak for a 93-89 lead with 19.2 seconds to go.
“That really hurts the Spurs when you have a big that can shoot,” Hollins said of Arthur. “It spreads the court a little bit. They try to keep Mike (Conley) out of the paint with two guys and we throw back to Darrell, he has a wide open shot and he made them.”
Gay missed a pair of free throws with 12.9 to play and Ginobili rebounded Duncan’s miss. Stephen Jackson came in after a timeout and hit a 3-pointer to get the Spurs within a point. Randolph hit two free throws with only 3.5 seconds left but Parker had plenty of time. Randolph added to his league-leading double-doubles with 18 points and 10 boards.
“Sometimes the ball goes down at the end of the game. Sometimes it doesn’t,” said Gay, along with Randolph, the subject of surprising trade rumors this week.
Hollins has said he’d like to keep his team together.
“Rudy has been outstanding the whole road trip,” Hollins said. “He’s been very focused. I think what gets unnoticed is Rudy’s versatility. Everybody wants Rudy to score 30 and be Kevin Durant and LeBron James but Rudy Gay has versatility in terms of being able to defend better than either one of those guys.”
Memphis scored the last eight points of the first half to take a 51-43 lead into the locker room. The Grizzlies led by as many as 12 in the third quarter but San Antonio had an answer.
Memphis never was able to push its way to a lead through most of the first half and once it got up 60-48 on Marc Gasol’s two in the third, San Antonio went on a 20-6 run to take a two-point lead on Boris Diaw’s reverse lay-in.
The Spurs led 77-70 on a free throw from Jackson early in the fourth but Memphis scored 9 of the next 11 and tied it at 79 on a jumper from Arthur.
“Every time they play us, it’s going to be a playoff-like atmosphere,” said Allen. “DA stretched the floor out so perfect. I just liked his energy. He was very active.”
Memphis could have saved itself some trouble. Jerryd Bayless threw away two points at the end of the third. Ginobili turned the ball over and Bayless gave up an easy two to try and set up an alley-oop to Gay but the ball went out of bounds and Memphis trailed 71-68 after three.