2013 Conference Finals: Spurs-Grizzlies

Hollins Wants To Stay With Grizzlies … What’s The Hold Up, Memphis?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – This is where the coaching carousel business starts to get a little silly.

The Grizzlies are coming off the greatest overall season in franchise history which included their first trip to the Western Conference finals. They have a solid roster and an excellent coach in Lionel Hollins, who has publicly expressed his desire to stick around and try to take the Grizzlies to that next level.

“Hopefully, I will be here,” Hollins said. “I love the guys. I love this city and the fans and everybody associated with the team. But we’ve got to be very, very realistic in what the future holds.”

When a man speaks like that, you have to wonder what’s not being said. What’s the hold up for the Grizzlies?

The Grizzlies are not going to publicly negotiate with their soon-to-be free-agent coach. And Hollins would be wise to use whatever leverage he has to get the deal he wants (and deserves). There are, after all, only four coaches in the league who can say they took their team to the postseason’s final four.

While a handful of teams around the league, including the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers (L.A. owner Donald Sterling was reportedly at Game 1 of the Western Conference finals observing Hollins) are searching for the right coaching fit or the next Hollins or Frank Vogel, the Grizzlies have the guy that fits perfectly with their roster under contract until June 30.

If it’s just numbers they are dealing with in the negotiations, fine. Both sides want the best deal possible, and there’s still time to haggle over details. But if there is more going on here, if there are some philosophical differences between Hollins, Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien and his front-office staff, there is no telling where things are headed.

If the Grizzlies think that a different coach can get the same things out of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and the rest of a team that, up until being swept by the San Antonio Spurs, looked like a team built to compete for a championship, they better be sure.

Proven commodities in the coaching ranks don’t always pan out in every situation (just ask the Los Angeles Lakers how that Mike D’Antoni thing is working out). Hollins has already shown what he’s made of. He didn’t take over an elite team, but the Grizzlies have become exactly that under his stewardship.

Why anyone would want to tinker with that chemistry, with that tangible success, is beyond me!

Hollins wants to stay in Memphis. He loves his team, the city and the direction the franchise is heading in with the new ownership and management.

Sounds like a slam dunk.

What’s the hold up?

Parker Keeps His Word To Duncan

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Maybe it really was just lost in translation two years ago when those forever aging San Antonio Spurs were kicked to the curb in the first round, a top-seed toppled by the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, and Tony Parker reportedly told the French press that his team’s window had slammed shut.

After all, the Spurs had gone through a three-year ringer: a first-round dud to the Mavericks in 2009, a second-round sweep by the Suns in 2010 and then the embarrassment of the Beale Steet beatdown in 2011. Parker would later say that the foreign press must have had a slow news day, that he had made no mention of any closed windows. He was, he said, excited about the team’s future.

Fast forward and certainly nothing was lost in translation when Parker told longtime teammate Tim Duncan after last season’s West finals unraveling against Oklahoma City that he would return the resurgent greybeard, who used to carry this franchise the way Parker does now, to the NBA Finals for a shot at a fifth championship.

Promise fulfilled.

“I promised to him that we will go back, go back to The Finals and get an opportunity to win the whole thing,” Parker said late Monday night, emotion clearly swelling within. “I’m trying to do my best, trying to be aggressive every night, and I think everybody on the team, we really wanted to do it for him.”

The amazing Parker, masterful at driving the paint, has turned in a phenomenal postseason and a dominant performance in the stunning sweep of the Grizzlies completed Monday night. Parker obliterated counterpart Mike Conley and the Memphis defense for 37 points on a remarkable 15-for-21 shooting, and six assists. In the four games, the league’s most dangerous point guard — arguable if you wish — averaged an unstoppable 24.5 ppg and 9.5 apg.

Perhaps Chris Paul will still get the nod over Parker as the game’s best point guard, but Paul is fishing or surfing or whatever you do in Southern California when basketball ends. Paul still seeks his first West finals appearance.

Meanwhile, Parker is headed for a shot at a fourth title as part of the Big Three with Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Their first came a decade ago when Parker was a 21-year-old kid in his second season stateside. 

During Game 2 in San Antonio, cameras caught Memphis coach Lionel Hollins having a brief in-game moment talking to Parker: “I love the way you penetrate. Mike is learning from you.”

Conley certainly got schooled for four straight games.

“He was outstanding the whole series and he controlled the series with his penetration,” Hollins said of Parker. “He made shots, made plays. One game he has 18 assists, [Monday] he has 37 points. He was huge.”

He has the Spurs back in The Finals for the first time since 2007, the last of three titles in five seasons. Back then, Parker was named Finals MVP in a sweep of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Parker and Co. could well see James again — a different James leading a Miami Heat juggernaut that happens to be the reigning champs.

“This [winning The Finals] is the hardest one and we don’t know who we’re going to play yet,” Parker said. “But, we know it’s going to be tough.”

Even the Heat and their tremendous perimeter defense will have difficult task slowing down what might be the NBA’s most unselfish, precise and efficient offense.

San Antonio’s versatility is practically impossible to limit. The Grizzlies took away the 3-point shot in Games 3 and 4 and the Spurs killed them with backdoor layups. If basketball kept hockey assists, San Antonio would own the category. It starts with the incredibly quick, full-service point guard.

“He can look at a defense and he makes pretty good decisions now on scoring or distributing based on what he sees, where maybe in the past he was a little bit more one-dimensional, like, ‘I’m going to score or I’m going to distribute,’ ” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “And when you do that you can get a little stubborn. But I think these days he’s much more mature in the sense that he actually reads what’s on the court and so he’s a better basketball player than he was an earlier.”

Parker turned 31 earlier this month and is only getting better. His postseason is so far off the charts: 23.0 ppg and 7.2 apg. He’s shooting 47.5 percent and 37.5 percent from 3-point range, well above his career average.

Between Games 3 and 4, Popovich recalled the first time he saw Parker play during a Nike Hoops Summit in 2000. Parker’s French team was playing against America’s top high school talent that included future Grizzlies big man Zach Randolph.

“I asked, ‘Who is this guy?’ because he scored 20-something points on all the Americans, just sliced them and diced them and nobody knew who he was and nobody cared who he was,” Popovich said. “But he was pretty impressive so [general manager] R.C. [Buford] and I took a closer look.”

No translation was needed.

Spurs’ Path To Success Still One Of A Kind





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Don’t bother trying to get a peek at the blueprints. There’s nothing you can glean from San Antonio Spurs’ secret formula that will work for your team.

No two championship teams are built alike, unless you are the Spurs and all four of your title-winning teams have an identical foundation: Tim Duncan at the epicenter with coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford at the controls.

Those same building blocks, along with future Hall of Famers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, have allowed the Western Conference-champion Spurs to chase title No. 5 this season. This current Spurs team highlights a ridiculously rewarding 15-year run that transcends this “win-now-and-at-whatever-cost” era that has claimed so many other organizations that were unable to sustain a level of excellence with the same parts.

The only organization with a better championship track record during this same era is that other would-be dynasty in Los Angeles. But the while the Spurs are going to contend with either Miami or Indiana for the Larry O’Brien trophy next month, the Lakers entered an offseason of uncertainty with Kobe Bryant on the mend from Achilles surgery and Dwight Howard‘s free-agency drama looming. It makes you wonder what might have been if the Lakers had been able to manage the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe dynamic and if coach Phil Jackson had stayed entrenched in the organization from the time they started winning championships until now.

What the Spurs have accomplished, however, is not up for debate. They’ve defied logic, the odds and the age of their biggest stars to reach the opportunity to compete for another title when they could have torn those franchise blueprints up a half-dozen times and started over from scratch.

The contrast in styles between the Spurs and Lakers is startling, albeit with nearly identical results for two franchises whose accomplishments the past 15 seasons will come to define an era in NBA history.

The Spurs stuck to their principles with a meticulously crafted core of stars and a series of role players who generally played better in San Antonio than they did elsewhere. The Lakers tried to reinvent themselves regularly (selling their organizational soul in the process, some would say) to keep the pace with their rivals in South Texas.

Don’t forget, the Spurs tipped off the championship chase in 1999 with Duncan and David Robinson, followed by the first of the three straight Shaq-Kobe title teams a year later.

In a copycat league where everything from the locker room set up to the analytics department is modeled on a nearly identical template from organization to organization, no one has been able to build a sturdier and more consistent operation than the Spurs.

It starts with having a transcendent superstar like Duncan, whose arrival sparked the Spurs’ renaissance. Add in unwavering discipline in the front office and on the bench (in Popovich and Buford), some splendid ownership (Peter Holt) and a market conducive to staying the course (rather than overreacting to the usual ebb and flow of the league) and San Antonio’s success was born.

The Spurs haven’t been to The Finals since winning their fourth title in 2007. Six years? That is an eternity in professional sports. Not many franchises would have survived the fallout from their Western Conference finals flame out against the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, when their juggernaut rolled into that series and led 2-0 before losing four straight games. Not many organizations with championship expectations would have (or could have) stayed the course in those other non-Finals years as well.

There’s no doubt the San Antonio market helps. There isn’t a rush to tear things down every offseason just for the sake of remodeling. The Lakers have changed course countless times during the same 15-year span, spending countless millions to and running through a series of coaches and role players to help them flesh out championship teams led by O’Neal and Bryant and later Bryant and Pau Gasol.

The Spurs understood that even with a power-packed outfit like the one they fielded during Duncan’s prime that there was no guarantee they’d win it all every season. That’s an understanding the Lakers never seemed to grasp during the early and mid-aughts.

The Lakers, spoiled a bit by those three straight titles in 2000, ’01 and ’02, tried to remodel overnight after watching the Spurs’ 2003 run. So they signed future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton in an attempt to chase a fourth ring and fell hard to the Detroit Pistons in The Finals in 2004 — the same team the Spurs beat in seven games a year later for the title.

Fast forward seven years later and the Spurs have four main pieces from that 2005 team — Duncan, Popovich, Parker and Ginobili — still on top of their respective games.

Those are the building blocks for a dynasty … the Spurs’ way!

Timeless Spurs Headed Back to the Finals While Emerging Grizz Now Seek Direction


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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Paul McCartney played the FedExForum Sunday night and during one of his several
soliloquies to the sold-out crowd he marveled at the cross-generational audiences that come to hear him play, a phenomenon that transcends time and age to create a seemingly eternal, ethereal world.

Inside the same arena Monday night, another traveling road show continued to manipulate their own timelines of age and accomplishment. The San Antonio Spurs aren’t quite working on a half-century of brilliance like Sir Paul, but in sports years, the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan partnership is as apt a comparison as one will find in the modern sports world.

Think about it. When they won their first title in 1999, today’s college freshmen were in kindergarten. Teenagers then now have their own kids wearing Duncan’s No. 21 jersey just as they did. This is as unique as it gets: A transcendent player and a gruff, no-nonsense coach — add a crafty and clever general manager in R.C. Buford who helps to draft Tony Parker late in the first round and Manu Ginobili late in the second — and all these years later it’s the same as it ever was, the Spurs back in the NBA Finals like it was, well, yesterday.

Duncan and Pop will vie for a fifth championship in 15 seasons and a fourth comprised as the Big Three. They finished the job with a 93-86 win for a sweep of the overmatched Memphis Grizzlies in their maiden voyage to the Western Conference finals.

“To get over that hump and get back into the Finals is just an amazing feeling, honestly,” said the 37-year-old Duncan after going for 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. “Nothing’s promised. Teams continue to change. Teams continue to get better every year and we seem to make minimal changes and we continue to play and compete a high level.”

Too high for a Memphis team that is now, having completed a 12th season here, truly attracting a generation of its own basketball fans that cut their teeth with a college team that plays in the same building.

These four straight losses came entirely unsuspectingly after the Grizz took out the Los Angeles Clippers in six and then top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in five. But it can’t diminish the wild success of this group during a drama-filled season, and the 17th consecutive playoff sellout crowd that encouraged their blue-collar club to the final buzzer proved it by standing and loudly cheering them off into the abrupt offseason. (more…)

A Challenge For Z-Bo; Motivation From Hollins

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Two weeks ago Zach Randolph carried the Memphis Grizzlies out of the second round for the first time in franchise history, averaging 18.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg. Two weeks prior he bludgeoned Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers with nearly 57-percent shooting to rally his team from an 0-2 hole.

T-shirts being sold on downtown’s Main St. read “Fear the Beast,” surrounding a face that is part Grizzly mascot and part Z-Bo. Just as the bandwagon had swelled to capacity in honor of Randolph’s four-year reclamation in Memphis, this headbanded beast can’t even buy a free throw in this quickly-slipping-away Western Conference finals.

The Spurs, with Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, have done what Griffin and Serge Ibaka could not. They have sedated the beast by suffocation.

“I mean, I’m a decoy, it’s respect. I got the whole team focused on me, two or three guys,” Randolph said after Memphis’ Monday morning shootaround in preparation for tonight’s do-or-die Game 4 at FedExForum (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). “I’ve got to make plays and be a decoy.

“I’m all about winning. If it opens up for me, fine. But if we can win and knock shots down I’ll be happy with that. I’ve just got to do the best I can in picking my spots because the attention is on me. I’ve got a guy in front of me, a guy behind me; [they're] leaving the guys in the corner and we’ve got to knock down shots. So it’s just about winning with me.”

Sounds like Z-Bo has a lot on his mind. Either that or the Spurs’ defensive strategy is inside it and kicking things around.

Surrounded by defenders virtually each time the ball comes to him on the block, Randolph is missing shots from distances he typically drops with ease. Instead he’s made just 11 of his last 32 field-goal attempts after his ominous 1-for-8, two-point start to the series. Equally if not more disturbing for the career-76.5-percent foul shooter is that he can’t bail himself out at the line, going 7-for-16, including in the last two overtime losses including critical late-game misses.

“What we’ve done is the best job we can,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’re just trying to make the bigs work for what they get. They’re very talented, very active. It’s impossible to stop them but we’re going to do the best job we can to limit them.”

The other half of “them” Popovich refers is 7-foot-1 center Marc Gasol, who hasn’t been able to make the Spurs pay for saddling Randolph. Gasol is 18-for-46 from the floor.

After a slow scoring start to the Clippers series, although he shot a high percentage, Randolph averaged 20.8 ppg. Oklahoma City block machine Ibaka made life tough for Randolph, whose shooting percentage dipped to 44.6, but he was highly effective, going for 51 points and 26 rebounds in the final two games of that series.

The Spurs are simply being far more effective than OKC harassing Randolph. They’re packing the paint and welcoming the few Grizz shooters on the roster to fire up jumpers. Quincy Pondexter, 9-for-19 from beyond the arc in the series is on his own. Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless are a combined 6-for-25.

If all that makes for a bleak Memphis outlook, consider that no team has ever won a series after falling behind 3-0. Demoralization can hit swiftly in a Game 4 as the emotional and mental stresses become overwhelming against such steep odds.

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, whose team has improved each season under his guidance, had a message for each of his players as they take the floor tonight.

“The motivation is just to go out and have pride and do whatever you can do,” Hollins said. “If they’re better than you, they’re better than you. But don’t quit and don’t go out there with a quitter’s attitude and just go through the motions; and the game is fairly close and you can walk away and say ‘this happened and that happened, that’s why we didn’t win.’ But if you just tie up your boot straps and reach down inside of you and be who you are and give all you have, and give a little more that you didn’t think you had, then possibilities are out there.

“That’s what it’s about. It’s about the big picture. Because if you give up now in an adverse situation, you’ll give up on life in an adverse situation. You’re trying to prove your character, your integrity and your self-worth. This is how you prove it. You go out and earn it.”

Grizz Go For 4 In A Row Again One At A Time

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins has told his players to ignore the nonsense that says no team has ever come back from the 3-0 hole they have dug against the so-far unflappable San Antonio Spurs.

“My hope is for us to not listen to you guys [the media] and say that it’s never been done before and it’s just a matter of time before the series is over, and to reach down in their souls and dig for something they didn’t know they had,” Hollins said. “Because that’s what you have to do to win a championship.”

The Grizzlies took the practice floor on Sunday for possibly the final time in this historic season that has seen a franchise-record 56 wins and a first-ever trip to the West finals. It is possible that Hollins could be coaching in his final game with the Grizzlies. His contract expires next month.

But that is a subject for a different day. The Grizzlies were doing their best to keep spirits up and talking about pride on and how to extend their season one game at a time.

“We have a lot of pride in this team and this city,” point guard Mike Conley said. “It’s more than just basketball here. And we owe it to ourselves, owe it to the fans to not get swept and embarrassed on our home court.”

The Grizz have lost three in a row for the first time since back in January. In each round of the postseason they’ve had to come from behind. They trailed the Los Angeles Clippers 2-0 and Oklahoma City 1-0. Both times they came back to win four in a row. It’s now the only option left after dropping consecutive overtime decisions.

“We have to understand that we still could have won those games and it easily could have been 2-1 in our favor,” Conley said. “We should be confident enough in ourselves and believe in ourselves that we can win and extend the series.”

But bouncing back from Saturday’s loss, the Grizzlies’ first of the postseason at The Grindhouse, won’t be easy. They played a near-flawless first quarter and opened an 18-point lead. It was whittled down to four by halftime and in OT the Spurs cruised to the victory.

A desperation win Monday night would shift the series back to San Antonio for Game 5 on Wednesday and then a potential Game 6 in Memphis on Friday.

“Now you have no margin of error,” Marc Gasol said. “We have a lot of pride and we don’t quit. You get swept, you get swept, but you’ve got to play as hard as you can. We play hard. You look at at both games, they both went to overtime. They played better than us in both overtimes, but we fought back and we came out the way we’re supposed to and we had a lot of pride.”

Trust In Pop: No Other Way For Spurs

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – After coaching a combined 1,536 regular-season and playoff games over 17 seasons, what still motivates San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich from day to day? Is it the teaching? The film study and preparation? The tactical decisions within the actual games?

“I think dinner after the game,” Popovich said dryly as only he can. “Those things are hard. It’s not fun, I know that.”

Pop must’ve had a satisfying meal Saturday night after the Spurs clawed back from down 18 early for a 103-94 overtime victory to seize a commanding 3-0 lead over the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals. Popovich’s 1,034rd career victory (regular season and playoffs) and 208th in the postseason moved him one win away from coaching in a fifth NBA Finals.

He and Tim Duncan, the two constants over this once-in-a-lifetime marathon of success, are on the verge of appearing in a Finals in three consecutive decades. Their first of four championships came in 1999 and was followed by titles in 2003, ’05 and ’07. After losing a 2-0 lead last season to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the favorite to win the West again until Russell Westbrook‘s unfortunate knee injury in the first round, the Spurs, who every year seem to be on their last, best chance to make it back, appear that they certainly will this time.

Although the Grizz have taken the last two games to overtime, they’ve been overmatched by the Spurs’ depth and their undeterred, everlasting trio of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, a Big Three that first took the floor together a decade ago.

“It’s amazing. It’s amazing being on this team and playing with those guys,” said Boris Diaw, who had his playoff battles against the Spurs when with the Phoenix Suns and was rescued out of Charlotte by a fortuitous trade last season. “They still play the same way. They’ve been playing great for years now together and they’re still the same leaders of this team.”

And Popovich is still coaching the same way, Duncan said, although these days far less frequently while wearing a neck tie on game nights.

“His fire and his passion is there and just like the rest of us he knows the opportunity we have here and how fleeting it is,” Duncan said before team’s late Sunday morning practice. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been there. We know the work it takes, we know how special it is and I guess you get a better appreciation for having gone that far and been that close for many years, and we just want to get back.”

Their first chance to lock up their first West title since ’07 comes Monday night in Game 4 back at the FedExForum.

“I think we should give them no hope,” Parker said. “And it’s always sweet to win on the road.”

The theme of the game will be to get it done for Timmy, now 37 and recently selected to the All-NBA First Team after a spectacular renaissance of a season.

“It would be amazing and hopefully I can talk about it more after a win [Monday],” Parker said. “Let’s focus on [Monday] and then we got, what, 10 days to talk about that.”

The Spurs are 11-2 this postseason and can complete a second sweep. Four times they’ve been taken to overtime and once, in the remarkable Game 1 comeback against Golden State, were challenged to two overtimes. Three times they were the fresher team in the extra period despite the high-mileage legs of their three stars.

Popovich gave no credence to his rigid management of minutes during the regular season as playing a role now, but his players certainly suggested that they felt good in Saturday’s overtime for a reason when they outscored Memphis, 18-7.

“I always trust Pop,” Parker said. “Whatever Pop decides is good with me.”

Trust is the operative word with the Big Three and their coach. Ultimate respect swings both ways. Pop will lay into his stars as quickly as a role player who erred. And the players hold each other accountable, too, such as when Duncan’s pass intended for Parker missed its target and skidded out of bounds. The two barked at each as they retreated on defense.

“I have a great deal of confidence in them and they’ve earned that,” Popovich said. “They’ve been together. They’re all very competitive. They may or may not do something perfectly, but they’re going to do it to the best of their ability. That allows one to go to bed at night and deal with whatever the consequences are.”

Nothing Old About How The Big 3 Just Win


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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Six years ago those boring old San Antonio Spurs were winning another title and then Tony Parker was jetting to Paris to wed Eva Longoria and Tim Duncan, we think, was happily married and that barren pasture on top of Manu Ginobili‘s dome, well, the recessive gene hadn’t quite kicked in.

“Mmm, you could see it a little,” Ginobili said.

The point is a lot has changed over six years. And then something like Saturday night happens, a 103-94 Spurs overtime win that might as well have dialed back the calendar to 2007 or heck even ’05. Even as San Antonio has retooled, added snipers to transform the old plodders into a high-powered offensive juggernaut and significantly reduced the median age all around the Big Three, it was the Big Three on this night that carried them to the brink of a fourth Finals appearance together and the fifth in the Duncan-Gregg Popovich era that now bridges three consecutive decades.

This vintage performance ripped the heart and likely the soul right out of the Memphis Grizzlies, who hoped to ride a first-ever Western Conference finals home game in front of a 16th consecutive playoff sellout crowd back into this series.

They were this close, a missed Mike Conley floater that would have won it at the buzzer in regulation. The irony had it gone down would have been that Ginobili, stuffing the stat sheet in every way, opened the door with a missed 3-pointer with 20.9 seconds to play. Memphis called timeout and Ginobili, on the bench, was so upset with himself that if he had hair longer than an eighth-of-an-inch he’d have yanked it straight out.

“Yes, of course I was upset because I made a very similar one a few minutes before and I thought I had a good opportunity to almost close the game and I missed it,” Ginobili said. “They had 20 seconds to win it and it could have been painful to lose like that.”

The start of Game 3 was painful for the Spurs, who couldn’t quite believe what was happening after all the talk of “Remember Last Year,” two wins away from their first Finals berth since ’07 and then wiped out four in a row by Oklahoma City.

Eight turnovers in the first quarter with four by Parker in the first two minutes as he called it maybe “the worst start of my career.” Down 18 points before the first 12 minutes were up. The Grindhouse in full throaty howl. With 4:53 left in the opening quarter and Memphis up 16-5, Popovich called a 20-second timeout and sat all five starters, pinning the first eight minutes as “one of the worst starts I have ever seen.”

“The first half I was grandfatherly and in the second half, what word can I say?” Popovich said. “I was ugly because I wasn’t going to watch it again.”

By the end of the night, with Duncan scoring the first five points of a breeze of an overtime considering the grinding hell of the first 48 minutes, the victory was being hailed as momentous by those who have seen it all on a team that has seemingly done it all. But as Parker said with a believing smile: “This is one of the best wins since I’ve been here with Timmy and Pop.”

Ginobili: “One of the best wins I’ve witnessed being a Spur.”

These are proud players wearing the uniform of a proud franchise and they all know that this kind of thing can’t last forever. It probably shouldn’t have lasted this long with Duncan now 37 and breaking down at 35, and Ginobili 35 and warding off injury with every maniacal drive and Parker a high-mileage 31 with enough nagging injuries from head to toe to suffice for a lifetime.

Just two years ago, right here, the up-and-coming Grizzlies again read the Spurs their last rites, an eighth-seed toppling a tired, creaking No. 1 in the first round. But then this happens and the fairy tale keeps going. The Big Three in Game 3: 69 points, 21 rebounds, 15 assists. Nothing coming easy. Everything earned. Tiago Splitter‘s 11 points amounted to the only other double-figure scoring the Spurs got outside The Big Three.

The Spurs can pull off a most unexpected sweep on Monday night in Game 4 back at Memphis’ FedExForum. They’ve now taken out the Grizz with a blowout in Game 1, avoided a late collapse to win in overtime in Game 2 and then clawed back from the horrific start when the Grizzlies were making steals and fastbreaking and fueling their fans with belief.

Parker, who simply terrorizes these defensive-minded Grizzlies, finished with a game-high 26 points and five assists. After his turnover frenzy in the first two minutes, he had three more the rest of the game, logging 44 minutes. Duncan was phenomenal setting screens, battling inside for 10 boards to go with 24 points and five assists in 44 minutes, leaving Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph out of answers.

The last time Duncan logged as many as 44 minutes in a single game? Dec. 27, 2008.

And Ginobili, the warrior who ripped away rebounds to give him seven for the game, fed teammates for five assists and twice in the final 90 seconds of regulation came out of a timeout to backdoor on Quincy Pondexter, the second time fouling out Memphis’ best perimeter option who had hit three of the team’s seven 3-pointers.

“Those were huge,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said of those four of Ginobili’s 19 points. “They hurt us.”

The Spurs will look to apply the final hurt on Monday night and if they do put away the Grizz, they’ll await the surviving combatant from an Eastern  Conference series that could go on for a while.

That’ll suit those old boring Spurs just fine.

“We’ve been old for probably eight years now,” Ginobili said. “I remember in 2007, our last championship, they were saying that we were old, and it’s all right. I guess we are. But we play well, we play together and every year we are out there contending. That’s a great thing.”

And that never gets old.

Parker Keeping Close Tabs On Pacers’ Hill

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – When Indiana Pacers guard George Hill knocked down four big free throws in the final 50 seconds of the Pacers’ Eastern Conference-evening Game 2 win Friday night, one of George’s biggest fans was glued to a TV set some 1,000 miles away.

“I watched the whole game,” San Antonio Spurs point guard and Hill’s former teammate Tony Parker said following Saturday morning’s shootaround in preparation for tonight’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). “We’ve been texting the whole playoffs. I always follow George. He’s like my little brother, so I always text him.”

The Spurs drafted Hill out of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis with the 26th overall pick in 2008. In three seasons with the Spurs, the combo guard quickly became a reliable reserve behind Parker and Manu Ginobili, as well as a key fill-in starter at times when either Parker or Ginobili were injured.

So it came as a surprise when the Spurs pulled off the 2011 draft-day trade that sent Hill to his hometown Pacers in exchange for San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard, who Indiana selected with the 15th pick. The trade is a rare one in that both sides got exactly what they wanted. Hill took over as the Pacers’ starting point guard at the end of last season and has been a central figure in Indiana’s rise and its run to the East finals.

Meanwhile, Leonard has fit into the Spurs’ plans flawlessly as the starting small forward, and is lauded by coach Gregg Popovich for improving the team’s defense and rebounding this season, while also becoming an offensive threat from almost any area on the floor.

In Friday’s Game 2 against the Miami Heat, Hill scored 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting in a team-high 41 minutes. With the game tied 93-93 and 48.9 seconds to go, Hill stepped to the free throw line for two crucial shots. He had missed all three of his previous attempts in the game, including a pair with about eight minutes to go in the game that could have put Indiana up five, but instead led to LeBron James giving Miami a one-point lead with a 3-pointer.

This time Hill nailed both free throws to give Indiana a 95-93 lead. He did it again with 8.3 seconds to go, this time sealing the game with a four-point cushion.

Parker said he texted Hill afterward.

“We’ve been in a lot of contact lately, [him] asking me advice and stuff like that,” Parker said. “So I try to do my job and be a good big brother. I am very proud of him and he’s playing great basketball.”

Parker was asked if he might regret giving Hill some of this advice if both teams advance to the NBA Finals.

“No,” Parker laughed. “I love George. He’s fine.”

Slowing Parker is Grizzlies’ No. 1 Priority

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Forget about figuring how to free Zach Randolph for a few good looks without Matt Bonner and everybody else in black-and-silver spackled all over him like some Memphis dry rib rub. Or even how to jump-start the sluggish Tayshaun Prince.

Because if the Memphis Grizzlies, with their trio of All-Defensive Team performers, can’t slow down shifty San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker in tonight’s Game 3 as the Western Conference finals finally resume at the “Grindhouse” (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), this series is history.

“It’s not easy is it?” Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol said following the team’s shootaround. “They do a good job of creating space, creating gaps. It helps them having Matt Bonner spread out or Danny Green in the corner helps, or Manu [Ginobili], that helps creating those gaps and those lanes. But we have to do a better job of staying on the ball, pressuring him, attacking him on the other end.”

That responsibility lies with Mike Conley and Tony Allen.

As Gasol said, it ain’t easy. Parker’s killed Memphis all season. In four regular season games he averaged 25.5 ppg and 6.5 apg. He shot 50.7 percent from the floor and got to the free throw line 30 times, more than against any team except Houston (31). In the first two games of the West finals, Parker’s gone for 20 and nine, and was still lethal in Game 2 on a 6-for-20 night with 15 points and 18 assists.

Parker’s first step is the key. Once he’s by his man, he’s in the lane and at that point is options — drive it all the way, toss up a floater, kick it out for a 3 — seem endless.

“He’s top five for sure,” Conley said, ranking Parker’s quickness against other top point guards. “But the thing is it doesn’t look quick, but it’s deceptive. He’s very quick with his first step and he’s good and crafty with the ball once he gets around you, which makes it even worse. I love to guard the best. I love to guard Tony. We’ve got a lot of defensive-minded guys on our team and I’m one of them, so I love the challenge.

“But I’ll also do whatever it takes for our team as well. If Tony Allen’s the better matchup or maybe he does a little bit better on him than I do I’m fine with it and I’ll let him do that.”

As for Allen, who helped turn the second-round series with his late-game defense on Kevin Durant, sticking Parker more in Game 3?

“How much more do you want Tony Parker to be guarded by Allen?” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins retorted. “He’s been guarding him most of the series. If I put him more it would be the whole game. Is that what you want?”

Parker said the calf bruise that bothered him in the last round is now fine and that the three-day break between games was a wonderful thing for him, allowing him to get plenty treatment, plenty of rest and plenty of time to think about how the Grizzlies will attack him.

“I’m going to try to adapt to whatever defense they’re going to do, if they’re going to trap me or whatever, I’m going to have to trust my teammates. I’ve been doing that all season long so whatever they are going to propose, I am going to take whatever the defense gives.”

Conley said the plan is for him and whoever else takes a turn on Parker to apply pressure earlier and make Parker work harder to get the Spurs into their sets. Then it becomes a defense-on-a-string concept to defend their precision pick-and-rolls and keep Parker from slithering into the lane at will.

“We had the same issue with Chris Paul,” Hollins said. “They’re great point guards and great point guards figure out a way to get in the paint. You just got to limit those amount of times that they get there and make sure that guys are flowing back to their own men so they’re not giving up wide-open 3s.”