MEMPHIS -- The lights flickered, and officials at the FedEx Forum announced play would be suspended as workers scrambled to remedy the drop in voltage that affected all of Shelby County and knocked out the lights in the arena for 20 minutes.
LaMarcus Aldridge stared at the scoreboard. “I was like, ‘I just hope we can get this game started soon.’ I didn’t want to have to wait until tomorrow.”
Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs won’t have to wait after completing a four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies with a 116-95 triumph on Sunday. While Aldridge wanted to avoid waiting "until tomorrow" to complete the game, he and the Spurs know the physicality of this series against Memphis actually strengthened the club’s prospects for tomorrow.
“The good thing for us, I think, about the series is the Grizzlies were fantastic; their drive, their passion, their physicality for 48 minutes every game," coach Gregg Popovich said. "We found a quarter here or there in each game where we spread ourselves, but that was it. Other than that, they played us even. Dave [Joerger] and his staff and those players deserve a lot of credit. It’s not just false praise. They really do because it wasn’t a fair fight, and they didn’t care. From our part, that physicality will help us I think in the next round.”
It’s no secret: The Spurs whipped up on a wounded Memphis squad that used an NBA-record 28 players during the regular season. But San Antonio believes Memphis’ brand of physical defense will serve it well once it reaches the second round, where the Spurs will likely take on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Oklahoma City holds a 3-1 lead over the Dallas Mavericks in their best-of-seven series, and there’s a 99 percent chance the Spurs will meet the Thunder in the next round, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. BPI gives San Antonio a 73 percent chance to win a series against Oklahoma City.
“I haven’t watched too much of that series, but I can imagine it was rough,” reserve guard Patty Mills said. “I think it comes back to Memphis being the top of the pack in terms of that kind of stuff. Not being out to hurt anybody, but that’s how they play defense.”
Does a physical series like this help to prepare San Antonio for Round 2?
“For sure, especially on offense,” Mills said. “Our defense, no matter who we play, can be solid. In terms of offense, it was good to go through these guys to sharpen things, for sure.”
The Spurs wrapped up Round 1 with the third-best scoring differential in any four-game series (+88) and the third-best differential in an opening-round series, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
But they entered the postseason out of sync offensively, after an odd combination of rest for the regulars, new additions (Kevin Martin and Andre Miller) and injuries to Aldridge and Boris Diaw late in the season affected some of the on-court chemistry while preventing the club from operating at its peak at the start of the first round.
Despite Memphis’ injury situation, the Grizzlies provided San Antonio with the perfect whetstone to sharpen its offensive weaponry. That became clear in Game 3, when Kawhi Leonard pushed the Spurs past the Grizzlies by scoring 13 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, in addition to blocking five shots while not committing a turnover.
Then, in Game 4, the Spurs blasted off with a 15-2 run in the third quarter to outscore the Grizzlies 37-21 while hitting 14 of 22 shots. Leonard poured in a game-high 21 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and two blocks. Leonard averaged 21.5 points in this series, which registers as his best average in any playoff series of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“I guess you could say that,” Leonard said when asked whether the Spurs are starting to find the rhythm that has eluded them since the end of the regular season. Guard Manu Ginobili believes the Spurs have “sort of” found it.
“We were not as sharp as we wanted to be, but for moments we were,” Ginobili said. “They are a tough matchup because they are very aggressive. They grab, they hold. That’s the type of game they try to play. Sometimes that makes it hard.”
The easy part now is resting and waiting for their second-round opponent, as the Spurs hope to tweak a few things offensively while healing up a few nicks here and there.
At minimum, the Spurs will have five days off before their next game, with a chance to get up to seven days off. Leonard was the only Spur to average 30 minutes per game in this series. San Antonio’s starters averaged fewer than 25 minutes per game. That’s the fewest minutes per game the starters have ever averaged in a first-round series under Popovich, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That makes the Spurs the most well-rested team Popovich has taken into the second round.
“This was a tough one,” Ginobili said of the series. “Kawhi played 42 minutes on Friday, but we got to rest him a little bit today. I think we’re due a couple days off, then we’ll have a couple good practices to get a rhythm back. I think it’s very important … we need it.”
They’ve found it, finally. Now they’ve got to keep it.