The Spurs traveled to Memphis yesterday evening and left with a 94-81 win over the Grizzlies. The game remained close during the first half, but some solid contributions on the part of early season heroes Roger Mason and George Hill allowed the Spurs to distance themselves in the third and cruise to a comfortable victory during the fourth. The game was notable both for the return of Manu Ginobili and because, for the first time this season, the Spurs can lay claim to a winning record.
Tim Duncan had an underwhelming game, an outcome driven by a combination of unnecessary aggressiveness and Darko Milicic's solid defense (yes , that Darko Milicic). Duncan attempted his patented bank shot frequently, but oftentimes found himself launching from too far towards the baseline or too deep into the paint where he was surrounded by swarming defenders. In some instances it looked as if Milicic had done a surprisingly solid job displacing Duncan on the block, but others it seemed as if he merely insisted that he find his rhythm when the shot was just not falling.
Manu Ginobili, although he played limited minutes, returned in striking fashion. He scored only 12 points but did so via a nostalgic array of jerky left-handed layups and limp-wristed outside shots. The most decisive offensive gesture by Ginobili was when he laid down a sharp dunk minutes after having entered the game. If anyone had any doubts about his ability to contribute from the get-go, they were immediately set aside.
George Hill continued to impress. He led the Spurs in scoring (20 points), many of which were earned on well executed drives to the basket which at the very least ended in a trip to the line. His contributions were most notable during the third quarter, when our offense came close to suffering one of its famed droughts. Rather than let the offense stagnate, he continually made his way to the rim, driving the Grizzlies further toward the bonus and ensuring that the lead never slipped.
Roger Mason continued to be a major contributor on both ends of the court. If the offense became bogged down, he took control of the point. If we needed a few points to spread the gap or protect a tenuous lead, he created an open look for himself and nailed the shot. He played with the combination of cool, confidence and mercilessness that has been indicative of this franchise for so many years.
Mason also did the best job limiting an unintimidated O.J. Mayo, who dropped 26 points in his first career match-up with the silver and black. In all honesty I think Mayo should be the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. Yes, Derrick Rose is playing well and has assumed a leadership position few rookies are capable of, but Mayo is playing at an all-star caliber level. His game is both aggressive and efficient, and it is by his hand that an unsophisticated Memphis team is able to hang tough in the bruising Southwest Division.
The Spurs will face the Grizzlies again on Friday, a quick turnaround that I think favors Memphis. Yes, it is back in San Antonio, but in a lot of ways the Spurs have little to learn from this game. They were supposed to win. But a defensively disorganized and offensively inconsistent Grizzlies team can reflect on this game, adjust, and implement those adjustments soon enough that they may be genuinely effective. I think the Spurs will defeat the Grizzlies in San Antonio but if it were a closer game, I wouldn't be surprised. First, the Spurs must take on an equally disorganized Bulls team coming off an emotional road win at Utah.