Spurs’ mind games get best of Grizzlies

With 47 seconds left in overtime, and the Memphis Grizzlies down by four, Mike Conley took a hurried, off-balance 3-pointer with 20 seconds left on the shot clock.

Same situation, 12 seconds left, and Jerryd Bayless comes off a screen and throws up an off-balance 3, passing up a clear driving lane to the basket.

And the Grizzlies lose, of course. They are down 0-2 to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals, having lost Game 2 93-89 in overtime Tuesday in San Antonio.

But why such a breakdown in judgment in the final minute? You could point to plenty of examples, but a play in the final minute of the first half probably says it as well as anything.

At that time, the Grizzlies were getting clobbered by a Spurs team that seemed to be enjoying beating the crap out of Memphis by playing Memphis’ muddy, physical game. But the Grizzlies are nothing if not tough and Tony Allen is nothing if not crazy, and so Allen found some space for a baseline drive. And Allen doesn’t drive baseline half-hearted. When Tony Allen drives baseline, he does it with hard dribbles and wide-open eyes and a double-foot gather before the finish. But when Allen got to the rim, Tim Duncan stepped in from behind and tapped the ball away. Allen got it back and went up strong and again was denied. Zach Randolph got it and Duncan blocked him. He got it back and missed again. Then Tony Wroten got it and he missed from a foot away.

It was 10.5 seconds of unfiltered angst and at the end of it Duncan had the ball and after he got fouled he ran up the floor with what qualifies for him as that look on his face.

The Grizzlies got back into the game by holding the Spurs to nine third-quarter points, but that didn’t negate the psychological poison San Antonio had already slipped into Memphis’ Gatorade. Because when it got down to the end, Memphis had forgotten what an open shot looked like. Conley and Bayless took off-balance 3s with time to spare because subconsciously or not, they didn’t think they were going to get anything better on the possession (and they were probably right).

This is a good time for everybody to remember that, OK sure, Memphis was the best defensive team in the NBA this year, but San Antonio was right there. People like to observe the Spurs’ brilliant offensive execution, but San Antonio was third in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season.

The Spurs can be a difficult team to evaluate because they spend the regular season in such a state of preparation that you can never really tell whether you’re seeing them at their best or not. The lineup changes a lot, Duncan and Manu Ginobili do a lot of resting and the whole thing can take on the air of one of those football teams that doesn’t want to use its best plays too early in the season, lest they be rooted out when it really counts. And that’s not even counting the “these guys are going to get too old one of these days” factor.  

But over the last two weeks, we have learned that the Spurs can win any way. They took care of the “Splash Brothers” of Golden State last week and this week they’re up 2-0 on the “Bash Brothers” of Memphis (with all appropriate acknowledgments to Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco).

You’ve got to be two-dimensional to beat the Spurs, and Memphis hasn’t found that second dimension yet. The Grizzlies have proved they can guard the Spurs, but on Tuesday they shot 34 percent from the field and 29 percent from the 3-point line.

Worst of all, when it got down to the end, they acted like they thought that was about the best they could hope for.