Overshadowed by Golden State’s historic run, the San Antonio Spurs put together their own season for the ages, too. Now that the postseason finally has arrived, they have no intention of easing up.
“We didn’t play the way we did this season just to be on vacation after a few games,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “It’s exciting. The pressure, the responsibility, the fact that we have another shot at making something big happen. We are very excited about that.”
The Spurs tied for the seventh-best record in NBA history at 67-15 only to earn the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference behind Golden State. Before their anticipated faceoff with the Warriors seeking their third berth in the NBA Finals in four seasons, the Spurs must start with their first-round series Sunday night against seventh-seeded Memphis.
Battered by injuries, the Grizzlies held the No. 5 spot until losing nine of their final 10. They still have veterans Zach Randolph and Tony Allen making their sixth straight playoff appearance with Memphis with help from Vince Carter and Matt Barnes. Carter said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has created a system that all the Spurs buy into no matter who’s on the floor.
Still, Memphis isn’t giving up without a fight.
“Everybody is beatable,” Carter said Saturday. “You just have to have that, I don’t want to say ‘perfect’ night, but you have to have that special night.”
This is the first playoff series between these teams since 2013, when the Spurs swept Memphis in the Western Conference finals. San Antonio also swept Memphis out of the playoffs in the Grizzlies’ first postseason berth in 2004, but Memphis upset the Spurs as a No. 8 seed in 2011. The Spurs won all four games in the regular season and leads the all-time series 63-20.
Tim Duncan, who could celebrate another Spurs’ sweep of Memphis before turning 40 on April 25, anticipates a very physical series.
“They’ve got a lot of vets out there who have been in the playoffs, and they know what it takes to get over that hump,” Duncan said.
Here are some things to look for:
SPURS’ DEFENSE: The 2015 NBA defensive player of the year, Kawhi Leonard is the odds-on favorite to win that award again after averaging 1.78 steals per game. San Antonio ranked first in the NBA holding opponents to 92.9 points per game and fourth in shooting at 43.6 percent.
HOME COURT: The Spurs went 40-1 on their own floor this season with the lone loss a week ago to yes, those Warriors. Memphis has won only seven games in San Antonio all-time, and the Grizzlies’ lone playoff win came in Game 1 of that 2011 series.
MISSING GRIZZLIES: Allen is expected to play after missing the final three games of the regular season with a sore left hamstring. But Memphis will be without both center Marc Gasol (broken right foot) and point guard Mike Conley (left Achilles tendinitis) in this series. Forward Brandan Wright (sprained MCL in his right knee) and guard Jordan Adams (right knee surgery) also are out. Memphis played an NBA-record 28 players this season.
ALDRIDGE’S FINGER: Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge sure looks healthier despite dislocating his right pinkie finger April 7. Before talking to reporters, he hit a 25-footer. The Spurs trainer changed the way he taped Aldridge’s finger to give him more flexibility, and the forward says he’s just trying to become comfortable with the tape.
X-FACTOR: The Grizzlies’ hopes in this series rest on the performance of guard Lance Stephenson, acquired by trade in February. He averaged 14.2 points per game with Memphis and scored a season-high 33 in a win over New Orleans in March. Memphis coach Dave Joerger put the ball in Stephenson’s hands for the last shot in last week’s 100-99 loss to Golden State.
“He can go get a shot. That’s the thing. You look at the number of guys you have that can go create their own shot, he’s one of those guys that can go get it.”
AP freelance writers Raul Dominguez in San Antonio and Clay Bailey in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.