Spurs shut down Randolph in Game 1 win over Grizzlies

With 9:30 left in the fourth quarter, Jerryd Bayless missed a driving layup. With 9:29 left Zach Randolph rebounded it and with 9:28 left he put it back in for two points.

And that was the first and last time Zach Randolph scored in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Sunday in San Antonio. You can imagine how bad that was for Randolph’s Memphis Grizzlies, whose whole deal is built around him being close to unguardable on the block.

The San Antonio Spurs crushed Memphis 105-83 Sunday. The game got so out of hand that the Spurs not only put Tracy McGrady in the game, but he was called for double dribble and it didn’t even matter.

And in so doing, the Spurs answered the biggest question their team had to answer between last week and the NBA Finals: Can you stop a team that scores on the block?

The Spurs dispatched the Golden State Warriors on Thursday by drying off the so-called “Splash Bros.,” those being Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who torched the Spurs from the outside at the beginning of the conference semifinals before San Antonio figured out that Golden State’s Whole Thing was going to be those two draining jumpers.

So the Spurs decided to just shut all that down, and it worked, and here they are.

But the Grizzlies are the opposite of the Warriors, who did not have a big man who was both good enough and healthy enough to make the Spurs nervous about spending so much of their energy on the defensive perimeter. The Grizzlies have two big guys who it is fun to imagine are actual grizzly bears. Randolph, in particular, should be an issue for the Spurs, who are not necessarily constructed to stop a great post scorer.

But Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan smothered Randolph, and they got a lot of help from some carefully crafted double teams. By the end, Randolph was irritated and in a hurry. One time down he caught the ball in the post, felt like he was kind of open, and flipped it over his shoulder without even looking at the basket.

It was one of his best looks all day.

“Hard work,” is how Spurs coach Gregg Popovich described the strategy on Randolph, and that works as well as anything else. This is just basketball, after all. There are only so many Xs and Os to draw. You can either guard the other guy or you can’t. That was how Game 1 was decided, and it therefore sets the narrative for the rest of the series.

The Spurs have proven they can stop Zach Randolph. Now it’s up to the Grizzlies to prove they can win anyway.

It starts, of course, with Randolph himself. He could play better, and he will. He finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder with 23 and 28 points in Games 4 and 5. Randolph and Gasol averaged a combined 38 points per game this year. They had 17 Sunday, as Randolph went 1 for 8 from the field with no free-throw attempts.

Chances are, that will be Randolph’s worst game of the series, and it would be less concerning had the game been even vaguely close. But the Grizzlies were not close to winning this game. They were down big early, got down bigger, made the customary run every NBA team makes, and ended up getting run out of the gym.

Outside of Randolph, they didn’t even play that poorly. The Grizzlies shot 43 percent from the field, 41 percent from the 3-point line, won the rebounding battle and had 12 turnovers. That’s not the kind of game that is likely to win a NBA championship, but if you’re the Grizzlies and you hang your hat on your physicality and defense, you’d like to think that would be enough to keep you in a game.

Sunday it was not.

The Spurs are supposed to be vulnerable, but it’s a funny thing that keeps happening. The longer the playoffs last, the more every other team’s weaknesses start to look like they’ve got billboards on top of them, while the Spurs’ weaknesses … wait, what are they again?