The San Antonio Spurs kicked off their postseason with a near wire-to-wire 106-74 victory over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night. Outside of a very brief (3-2) deficit about 90 seconds into the contest, the Spurs looked about as dominant as ever as the game progressed and managed to wear down an already short-handed Grizzlies bunch for the 32-point win.
It was a total team effort in the victory, but Kawhi Leonard continued to show why most analysts consider him to be one of the game’s best two-way players. The former Finals MVP showcased the entire arsenal on Sunday night. Beyond the impressive and well-rounded offensive output (20 points, 8-13 FGs, 3-6 on threes), Leonard was an absolute terror on the defensive end, breaking up plays in the passing lane, hawking Memphis’ perimeter players and logging three blocks and four steals for good measure.
“He’s just aggressive,” Memphis’ forward Vince Carter said of Leonard’s performance following the game. “He’s in the passing lanes, he has great on-ball instincts, great hands and he blocks shots very well at his position as well. So, even if he gets beat, he can recover. He has very long arms,” Carter continued.
All of that praise was certainly warranted, but as is generally the case with these Spurs, Leonard had plenty of help from a cast of others as well. Tony Parker contributed 15 points and six assists, while LaMarcus Aldridge chipped in with 17 points in his Spurs postseason debut and blocked two shots of his own. Patty Mills and Kevin Martin also pitched in double-figure scoring efforts off the bench with 15 and 10, respectively, while Boris Diaw (four points, five assists) and Manu Ginobili (seven rebounds, three assists a steal and a timely block) each found ways to impact the game.
To Carter’s credit, he played very well during his 19 minutes of action and even managed to keep the game somewhat interesting throughout the early stages of the third quarter as the 18-year-veteran went 6-7 from the field on his way to leading all scorers for Memphis with 16 points. Trouble is, outside of Lance Stephenson’s 14 points (6-11 FGs) off the bench, the depleted Grizzlies didn’t have another double-digit scorer and managed to shoot just 39.2 percent (31-79 FGs), while only reaching the free throw line six times (4-6) as a team.
The Grizzlies will absolutely need more production from the rest of the starters (outside of Carter) as they head into Game 2 on Tuesday night (9:30 p.m EST). In the past, they’ve been able to lean heavily upon Zach Randolph during this time of year, but 34-year-old power forward struggled to muster just a 6 point (3-13 FGs), five rebound performance against a stifling San Antonio defense in Game 1. Fellow starters Matt Barnes and Jordan Farmar didn’t fare any better as the two of them also combined to go just 3-13 and had more turnovers (four) than assists (three).
Coach Dave Joerger and staff deserve credit for guiding this roster into the postseason, but it may prove to be a more daunting task to come up with a way to slow down an absolute juggernaut like the Spurs for even a game in this series.
Prediction: Spurs take Game 2 as well.
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