Defense to decide showdown between Grizzlies, Spurs

MEMPHIS — On the best playoff run in their short history, the Memphis Grizzlies refuse to be satisfied with just reaching their first Western Conference final.

The San Antonio Spurs? Well, they know time is running out for a team that has done so very much in the NBA playoffs, yet last celebrated a championship in 2007.

Blowing a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals a year ago to Oklahoma City has driven the Spurs since training camp, and now they are back with Game 1 Sunday against Memphis in San Antonio, determined not to waste another chance.


‘‘We understand as a team that those opportunities are very rare, and we have another great one right now,’’ Spurs guard Tony Parker said Saturday. ‘‘We have home-court advantage against a very good team, so we have to take full advantage of it.’’

Get Breaking Sports Alerts in your inbox:
Be the first to know the latest sports news as it happens.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

This conference final pits Southwest Division rivals, with the Spurs as the dominating big brother with their four NBA championships and the fifth-best winning percentage in the league since this franchise moved to the NBA in 1976. No coach and player have more postseason games than San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan with 200 over 16 seasons.

This should be a defensive showdown between teams built around big men with Memphis countering Duncan with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Memphis held teams to an NBA-low 89.3 points during the regular season, and the Spurs tied for third in defensive efficiency. The Grizzlies were second defending the 3-pointer, which could slow down Parker and Manu Ginobili.

‘‘Finding ways to score is going to be very difficult,’’ Popovich said. ‘‘Just playing against their defense is enough of a concern right off the bat.’’

Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said beauty will be in the eye of the beholder for this series.


‘‘Some people think it’s ugly, some people think it’s beautiful,’’ Hollins said. ‘‘I don’t know. Don’t really care.’’

Home court mattered during the regular season as these teams split with each winning twice on their own floor.

Remember when Popovich sent Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, and Danny Green home to avoid playing the Heat in Miami on Nov. 29? Well, that rest at the end of a six-game road trip cost the Spurs an unprecedented $250,000 fine. But the move paid off when the Spurs hosted the Grizzlies on Dec. 1, when Memphis was off to an NBA-best 12-2 start, with a 99-95 win by San Antonio.

Three of the teams’ matchups came before Memphis traded away Rudy Gay on Jan. 30. Memphis won the last game April 1, when point guard Mike Conley drove the lane for a layup and a 92-90 win on a night when Kawhi Leonard stayed in San Antonio with a sore left knee, Duncan sat out, and Ginobili was out with a strained hamstring.

‘‘It’s going to be a tough series,’’ Randolph said. ‘‘Every time we’ve played them it’s a tough series. They got Ginobili, Parker, and they got a lot of other guys who do great things for the team.’’


A key matchup in this series will be Parker against Conley. Parker is averaging 22.4 points a game this postseason, while Conley is averaging a career-best 17.6 points while handing out 7.6 assists a game.