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First To 60, Back On Track

By Jeff Koch on April 6, 2014.

Memphis 92, San Antonio 112

I will confess, I was worried about this game all weekend. I was worried that the loss to OKC on Thursday night had magically broken the spell, that the historic level of play this team had reached over the 19-game win streak would suddenly vanish. *POOF* Gone. Thankfully, those fears were quickly put to rest after about 12 minutes.

The Spurs couldn’t have played a better first quarter, giving up only 10 points, scoring 26. The tone was set immediately. The Grizzlies came back in fits and spurts, narrowing the gap to 6 at one point, but like many games between these two teams, the Spurs always had a response waiting. In less than one full calendar year the Spurs have faced the Grizzlies 8 times, and are a resounding 8-0 against them. But please, pundits, continue to talk about 2011 playoffs.

The story of the game has to be Kawhi Leonard. I try to find other things to discuss, but really, he is it at the tail end of this season. Partly because he’s the fresh blood, every possible story being written about Tim, Tony, and Manu. Mostly, though, because he’s been unbelievable, about as quietly unbelievable as any player can be. He had a mini-break out in last year’s playoffs, and expectations were through the roof. In the first half of the season, he didn’t quite reach them, and attention turned elsewhere. But he’s playing the best ball of his career right now, and I have a strong feeling that this year’s playoffs will offer him another huge break-out opportunity. (Pop is on record saying that he will lead the team in minutes during the playoffs, which makes sense as the team’s only true SF and the team’s best defender.)

As for tonight’s game: 12-13 shooting for 26 points with 5 assists should tell the story. Every time he shot the ball it was worth 2 points. That’s pretty good. We all know about his defense and his expanding offensive game, but tonight he showed that he can be the focal point of an offense for long stretches of games, allowing rest for Tony and Tim (and Manu). His midrange jumper looks near-perfect, which is doubly incredible considering the scouting report on him when he came into the league was that he could not shoot. Mind you, this was only 3 years ago. (Kudos to the coaching staff on this, as well.) His 3-point percentage has climbed back up after a slow start to the season. His jump shooting ability opens up the rest of the floor for him, and I expect a low-post and attacking game to be more prevalent soon.

The other big story was Tony Parker leaving the game with back spasms in the first quarter. A year ago, this might have spelled doom for the team. But with Mills and Joseph both much better this season, the team could easily withstand his loss for a game. The important question, though, is how serious this is and how long he might be out. I’m sure we’ll find out in the coming days, and Pop might put him on the shelf for a few days as a precaution. Let’s hope it’s not too serious.

The Spurs travel to Minnesota to face the Timberwolves on Tuesday, a make-up for the game missed in Mexico City way back in the beginning of the season.

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