2013 Conference Finals: Spurs-Grizzlies

Grizz Need Prince To Pack Some Punch

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The least-talked about story throughout this postseason run by the Memphis Grizzlies has been the late January trade of leading scorer Rudy Gay. In fact, it really hasn’t been a topic of discussion at all.

That’s probably because the Grizz have done quite well — thank you very much — without him. They posted a team regular-season-best 56 wins and are in the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. And, look, you can’t find an analytics guy worth his scientific calculator to suggest the Grizz even remotely miss Gay, a small forward the number-crunchers view disdainfully as a black hole. Gay, with a rap as an inefficient scorer who took shots away from big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and also apparently stunted the growth of point guard Mike Conley.

But, desperately needing a first win in Game 3 this series against the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night at the FedExForum (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), what would the Grizz give to just have a scoring threat on the perimeter? The Spurs are jamming up the paint because there’s no repercussion for leaving Memphis’ wings open.

Gay’s replacement, Tayshaun Prince, has not been good offensively. OK, so maybe some of that had to do with him chasing Kevin Durant for three quarters every game in the second round. There’s no doubt that Prince — with his 6-foot-9 frame and long, gangly arms — is a better defender than Gay, more team-oriented on the offensive end and will move the ball before he puts up a contested shot.

But, at some point, the Grizz have got to get some scoring from their starting small forward — who hasn’t scored in double figures since May 3, Game 6 of the Clippers series in the first round.

In the first two games of the West finals he’s 3-for-10 from the field for eight points. He’s taken two free throws. That has a lot to do with why Prince played just 16 minutes in Game 2, scoring a playoff-low two points, while reserve Quincy Pondexter logged 37 minutes — and scored just seven points with nine rebounds.

Since then, a hot topic has been the possibility for coach Lionel Hollins to alter his starting five. However, on Friday, Hollins said he has no plans to make such a move.

“Whatever it takes to win,” Prince said. “I’ve always been that way and nothing changes for me. Whatever happens, happens. I’ve never been in a position where I’m worried or concerned about how I’m shooting. I just have to continue to stay confident and when the shots are available take them.”

No one will ever confuse Prince for being a volume scorer or shooter such as Gay. Prince’s best scoring season was 14.7 ppg back in 2004-05. His career scoring average 12.6 ppg on 45.8 percent shooting. The Grizz would be thrilled with such an uptick.

“He’s going to come along. I believe in him,” said shooting guard Tony Allen, whose scoring and shooting percentage have tapered off this series to playoff low 8.0 ppg and 35.7 percent from the floor. “I ain’t really worried about that too much. I know he can ball, so I believe in him.”

Prince’s scoring average and shooting percentage has dropped with each series from 8.5 and 40.4 percent against the Clippers; to 6.2 and 29.5 percent against the Thunder; and now 4.0 and 30.0 in the first two games against the Spurs. OK, so maybe some of that has to do with Prince being guarded by Durant last round and now Spurs up-and-comer Kawhi Leonard.

So how can Prince get jump-started? Everyone associated with Memphis is talking about pace. Not running up and down the floor like they’re the Nuggets, which they’re not, but simply by pushing the ball into the halfcourt quicker and getting into their sets earlier in the shot clock. They believe they’re dragging, whether it’s taking the ball out of bounds or off defensive rebounds, and allowing the disciplined Spurs’ defense to clamp down and force too many bad shots with the clock ticking down.

“No question,” Hollins said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to preach this whole series is we need to get up and down the court and not let San Antonio set their defense and call plays with 15 seconds left on the shot clock.”

Prince said it should be evident in the first quarter Saturday if the Grizz are indeed successfully quickening the pace.

“It will kind of dictate how we shoot the ball,” Prince said. “We have to get into our pace a lot quicker and those shots will come a little bit more natural, come a little bit more easier. You’ll have more rhythm shots, more rhythm opportunities.”

Are Grizzlies In Need of Lineup Change?

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Locations change. Games change. Series change. Nobody knows that better than the Spurs and the Grizzlies.

This time a year ago, the Spurs were in precisely the same spot with a 2-0 lead and halfway home in the Western Conference finals. Then the Thunder reeled off four straight wins and suddenly it was summer in San Antonio.

Barely a month ago, the Grizzlies fell behind 0-2 in the first round of the playoffs to the Clippers. Then Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and the NBA’s best defense ripped off four in a row and began their deepest playoff run in franchise history.

Lineups change.

That could be what it will take now for the Grizzlies to get up off the floor and keep moving forward.

There’s little doubt that for the Grizzlies to win four out of five games against San Antonio, they’re going to need an effective Z-Bo in the middle of their offense, throwing around his bulk and wreaking havoc in the low post.

But, while Randolph did miss more than a few easy shots at the AT&T Center (“tightest rims in the league,” he said), there has also been the matter of a Spurs defense that blatantly collapses and doubles on Z-Bo because the Memphis perimeter shooting has been so horrid.

For all of his high energy and ability to make something out of nothing at times, Randolph does need room to operate with the way the Grizzles are misfiring so bad from the outside, he’s apt to continue getting smothered by the Spurs.

The Grizzlies‘ starting pair of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince has made just 8 of their 24 shots from the field in the first two games. Prince has been especially woeful at 3-for-10, and it could be time for coach Lionel Hollins to put Quincy Pondexter into the starting lineup at small forward for Prince — and even consider getting Jerryd Bayless onto the floor much earlier in games.

It was the combination of Conley, Pondexter and Bayless playing with the Randolph and Gasol that enabled the Grizzlies to find an offensive rhythm for the first time in the series during the second half of Game 2.

Prince has had production go steadily downhill since the first round of the playoffs, and it’s gotten to the point where he is also a liability on defense. It be too early to say where this is just a bad match and bad series or whether the 33-year-old former defensive stopper is showing his age. But there’s no mistaking that his opposite number, the 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard, is winning the matchup easily. Leonard has size, strength, quickness and energy to run the floor, get rebounds, chase down loose ball and make shots against Prince.

It was always going to be difficult for Memphis to keep up with a Spurs offense that likes to play at a faster tempo and has more weapons and more ways to score. But the Grizzlies can’t afford to dig themselves a deeper hole by employing a lineup that is only 3/5 of a threat to score, even if they should get a bounce from being at home in the Grindhouse for Games 3-4.

History says that in the history of the NBA playoffs have lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series and come back to win. Of course, both of these teams have experience with that history, although from opposite sides.

“We’re in a great spot, but if you look at it, it’s the same spot we were last year,” said the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. “It doesn’t mean at all that we’re going to make it just because we won the first two. We have to go there and try to win one.

“If it’s the third [game], it’s better. We’ve been here. We know that it’s not over until you win the fourth. So we just have to stay humble, keep working hard, definitely try to get one [in] Memphis.”

Locations change. Games change. Series sometimes change.

But sometimes it takes a lineup change to make it happen.

TEAMS THAT HAVE RALLIED FROM 0-2 IN A BEST-OF-SEVEN PLAYOFF SERIES

–Celtics vs Lakers 1969 NBA Finals
–Lakers vs. Warriors 1969 Western Division semifinals
–Bullets vs. Knicks 1971 Eastern Conference finals
–Trail Blazers vs. 76ers 1977 NBA Finals
–Bulls vs Knicks 1993 Eastern Conference finals
–Rockets vs. Suns 1994 Western Conference semifinals
–Rockets vs. Suns 1995 Western Conference semifinals
–Lakers vs. Spurs 2004 Western Conference semifinals
–Mavericks vs. Rockets 2005 Western Conference first round
–Wizards vs. Bulls 2005 Eastern Conference first round
–Heat vs. Mavericks 2006 NBA Finals
–Jazz vs. Rockets 2007 Western Conference first round
–Cavaliers vs. Pistons 2007 Eastern Conference finals
–Spurs vs. Hornets 2008 Western Conference semifinals
–Thunder vs. Spurs 2012 Western Conference finals
–Grizzlies vs. Cippers 2013 Western Conference first round

Duncan Saves Spurs From Identity Crisis


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SAN ANTONIO — All teams have their identities. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins hardly was creating the kind of profile that would go over big on Match.com when he described his bunch as “a fat, grumpy, grubby person.”

The Spurs have their identity too, and when they trudged back out onto the court for the start of overtime, nobody carried the weight of what had happened on his shoulders more than 37-year-old Tim Duncan.

For 16 seasons, he has been their rock and foundation through four championships and now eight trips to the Western Conference finals.

For longer than many of his teammates have been out of elementary school, he has been their cool head and road map out of turns down the wrong street.

So an 18-point lead with just under two minutes left in the third quarter and a seven-point lead with a tick less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter had been swallowed up in the maw of the hungry, grubby Grizzlies. And as has been the case for more than a decade and a half, the Spurs relied on their identity to find themselves again.

Duncan took a feed from Tony Parker and dropped in a layup on San Antonio’s first possession of overtime. He grabbed a rebound off a missed jumper by Parker and converted the follow bucket. Then he did a nifty little twinkle-toe dance right down the middle of the lane and let go with an eight-foot floater that kicked high off the back rim and then settled into the net.

The old veteran who should have been the most tired guy on the floor scored every field goal by the Spurs in overtime and allowed his team to escape with a 93-89 victory that could have been a stunning flip-flop and crushing blow.

It’s easy to say the Spurs are right back where they were exactly a year ago, with a 2-0 lead and in the conference finals and maybe already peeking ahead to a stay on South Beach to kick sand with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat.

But despite their blowout win in Game 1, nothing against the growling, grabbing Grizzlies is ever easy.

And the Spurs remember well what happened exactly a year ago this time, when the Thunder pulled off a complete reversal to sweep four straight games and win the series in Game 6.

Since the first day of training camp last October, coach Gregg Popovich has described what happened to his team as “identity theft.”

The Thunder played smarter, tougher, more aggressively and more decisively. So much of the emphasis all through this season has been to insist that his team never forget and never back down from who they are.

However, the vagaries of the NBA playoff schedule, which is made up to honor the whims and wishes of TV executives, had delivered an team exhausted by an test of endurance against Golden State straight into Game 1 against Memphis with barely a chance to catch a breath. Then they had to come right back and play Game 2 on Tuesday night while LeBron and D-Wade have had time to pick out Eastern Conference finals wardrobes with a pre-Memorial Day extended weekend off.

This was a game the Spurs needed to stash into their travel bags as they head into a long-awaited three-day respite of their own to heal those playoff tweaks and aching muscles, especially those on the body of a 37-year-old walking legend.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” channeled Manu Ginobili, the Argentinian Yogi Berra. “That’s the only thing we learned.”

For the longest time, it was a night to celebrate Parker, who has been one of — if not the — best point guards in the game while flying beneath the radar of notoriety. He dealt a career-high 18 assists to go with his 15 points and rolled through the Grizzlies’ lane at will.

Late in the third quarter it appeared to be another game that has been unusually customary for the Spurs this spring, where their foundational player Duncan would not even play down the stretch.

In Game 1 of the previous series against Golden State, Duncan was suffering from a stomach ailment and it wasn’t until he left the game and went to the locker room that the Spurs began their dramatic comeback from 16 points down in the last 4 1/2 minutes to win in overtime.

In the critical Game 6 against the Warriors, Popovich took a struggling Duncan out for the final 4:28 and allowed Tiago Splitter to close out the series.

On Sunday against the Grizzlies, Duncan made a careless pass that led to a Jerryd Bayless breakaway and then missed a 14-foot jumper that brought in Matt Bonner as a sub late in the third quarter as Memphis rallied. By the time Duncan returned, the Spurs had pulled out to their biggest lead of the game without him.

It was an odd trend, said some Spurs. Merely a coincidence, said others. They couldn’t run the entire gantlet without Duncan.

And they wouldn’t.

“It was great,” Duncan said. “I was glad I was able to play in overtime … just happy to be out there and do anything.”

Everything, really, when the Spurs needed him most. Which has always been their identity.

‘Red Mamba’ Defense Zeroes In On Z-Bo

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SAN ANTONIO — When most people think of the hard-nosed defense in a playoff series between the Grizzlies and Spurs, the images that come to mind are the steely gaze and the locked-in intensity of Tony Allen, the quick hands of Mike Conley or those long arms and smothering style of Kawhi Leonard.

Then there’s Matt Bonner.

Don’t snicker. None other than Kobe Bryant nicknamed him the Red Mamba for Bonner’s ability to fearlessly knock down big shots in big situations. But in the playoffs, Bonner has also been part boa constrictor for helping to put the squeeze on opposing big men.

In the first round, Bonner often got under the skin of Lakers center Dwight Howard with his willingness and ability to bump and grind. On Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Bonner played a key role in limiting Grizzlies inside force Zach Randolph to 1-for-8 shooting and just two points.

It was a team effort with Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw all sharing the rugged duties. Bonner’s main responsibility in Game 1 was to front Randolph and try got prevent him from getting the ball in the first place. The eight shots by Z-Bo were his fewest in a game since April 15 and the single bucket scored was his career playoff low for any game in he’s played at least 10 minutes.

“We found something that works for him,” Duncan said. “He’s comfortable doing that. I think when the whole team is locked in knowing he’s going to do that, we feel pretty confident.”

The added bonus of Bonner’s defensive contribution is that it allows Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to give him more playing time and take advantage of his outside shooting ability that stretches Memphis’ defense. Bonner drilled four 3-pointers in Game 1 as the Spurs set a franchise record with 14 3-pointers.

That’s the Red Mamba showing all of his fangs.

T-Mac Living Dream Beyond First Round

SAN ANTONIO — This is the way it was always supposed to be for Tracy McGrady — conference finals, clock running down in the fourth quarter, ball in his hands and the crowd buzzing at the thought of what he might do.

With T-Mac, anything always was possible, and nobody knows that better than the Spurs who were once on the receiving end of 13 points in the final 35 seconds on one mind-boggling night in Houston. Now though, with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili riding out the conclusion of a 20-point Game 1 blowout on the bench, McGrady is far outside the center ring under the big top. He’s more part of the cleanup crew that walks behind the elephants.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “It’s great to be part of this terrific organization and guys around here. I’m living the dream right now.”

Which says something about dreams or McGrady or both. For about a decade, T-Mac was a headlining NBA star whose name could be mentioned in the same breath with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and the rest — except in the springtime when reputations are forged.

For all of the improbable 3-point shots he made, high-rising slam dunks he threw down, thread-the-needle passes that he delivered right on the money, what McGrady could never do was win a single playoff series.

He had the numbers, but never the pedigree of a winner as he went 0-for-every postseason situation he was ever in, his teams on which he was the leader blowing 3-1 leads in Orlando and Houston and another pair of 2-0 leads with the Rockets. What’s more, every stop along the way in a different NBA jersey always would up with much recrimination, little remorse and the microfracture knee that led to his trade out of Houston signaled the end of his relevance as a star or even starter.

Until he sat on the San Antonio bench, mostly in street clothes for the 4-0 sweep of the Lakers, McGrady was the only scoring champ in NBA history to never make it out of the first round of the playoffs. Now T-Mac is in the conference finals, albeit in a drastically different role — the equivalent of playing for spare change and nostalgia as part of a rock ‘n roll oldies tour.

He has appeared in four games of the playoffs for a total of 17 minutes, shot 0-for-4 and hasn’t scored a point. Yet the fans at the AT&T Center are loudly cheering on that bid for his first bucket as a Spur.

“It’s great; a great feeling to know you have 18,000 people supportive of me and wanting to see me do well,” he said.

“I didn’t notice it the first time I got in, but people were telling me about it — ‘Did you hear the reception you were getting every time you touched the ball?’ — but, no, because I’m so locked in when I got it.

“But I got in [Sunday] and really noticed. It was something special.”

It’s not lost on McGrady that he entered the NBA in the same 1997 Draft with his new teammate, Duncan, though their roles, of course, are now vastly different.

“I came to terms of my situation and I got it,” he said. “It wasn’t in the cards for me to continue the health like Kobe and some of my peers I competed against when I was playing at the highest level. It just wasn’t in the cards for me. I had to go through a lot of stuff to realize the opportunities that I had. Things happen for a reason. The man above takes us through things we sometimes can’t understand but, later on in life, we realize some of the stuff we had to go through.

“This is a promotion for me. For so many years I tried to compete and take a team out of the first round. It just didn’t happen. Then I had to go through some things with my injury that were frustrating but I’m sitting at home – and I live by faith, not by sight – and [coach Gregg Popovich] called me out of the blue and here I am.”

Popovich reached out just before the start of the playoffs, 1 1/2 months after McGrady finished a season with the Qindao Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association, in what could be the latest chapter in Pop’s very own personal outreach program to unfulfilled NBA veterans:

— In 1999, ex-Blazers star Jerome Kersey hooked on with the Spurs and won the only championship of his 17 NBA seasons.

— In 2003, former Hawks All-Star Kevin Willis set down in San Antonio and claimed his only NBA title in 21 seasons.

— In 2005, it was Glenn Robinson, well past his “Big Dog” days as a No. 1 draft choice and superstar in Milwaukee, who came off the bench in the last of his 11 NBA seasons to win it all with the Spurs.

— In 2007, it was ex-Maverick All-Star Michael Finley’s turn as the 16-year pro won the only ring of his career.

It seems each championship season the Spurs have brought an old pro along for the ride. Now it’s McGrady in the ceremonial seat in his 17th season.

“It’s possible,” said T-Mac, “I can be a champion before I leave this game.”

When a guy gets out of the first round, he dreams bigger.

Z-Bo’s Play Leaves Grizzlies Feeling Empty

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SAN ANTONIO — It was early in the third quarter when Zach Randolph simply did the kind of thing that he does.

Mike Conley had driven into the teeth of the Spurs defense and had his layup attempt pop out. So there was Randolph, all 260 pounds and city-block wide of him of him, rising up out of the crowd in the paint to tap the ball back into the basket. It was notable only because Randolph had taken seven previous shots and not made a single one.

Z-Bo had been Z-B000000.

When itwas  finally over, Randolph had just those two points to his name, which meant that he was outscored by all but two players on the Spurs’ 12-man active roster  — and that’s using the term quite loosely, since Tracy McGrady hasn’t truly been relevant in half a decade. It took Aussie Patty Mills, cuddly as a koala, just 66 seconds off the bench to pop in a 3-pointer and move ahead of Randolph on the day’s scoring list.

All of which goes a long way toward explaining the ugly 105-83 thumping the Grizzlies took from the Spurs and why Randolph chose to enter the post-game locker room and express regrets to his teammates.

“He tried to apologize first off, and we wouldn’t accept that,” said the point guard Conley. “We said, it’s not you, it’s all of us.”

There were so many things wrong with how the Grizzlies came out and played the opener of the first Western Conference finals game in franchise history that Z-Bo might as well have been holding a bucket to catch the water when the dam broke.

Tony Parker merely took the ball almost from the opening tip and drove it anyplace he wanted toward the Memphis basket, finishing at the rim and stabbing in mid-range jumpers. The Spurs’ wing men set up residence in either corner and all they had to do was wait for the ball to find them for open shots. The Spurs finished the day making 14 of their 29 attempts from deep, setting a franchise playoff record for 3-pointers. It was hardly the kind of performance you might have expected from the No. 1-rated defense in the NBA during regular season and more like playing a game of keep-away with a class of kindergartners.

“We didn’t play well,” said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. “I mean, it’s not anything specific.”

However, it can specifically be said that Grizzlies will be done if Randolph doesn’t even bother to show up. Z-Bo and his partner Marc Gasol punished the Spurs with their inside game two years ago when the Grizzlies became just the second No. 8 seed in history to knock off a No. 1 seed.

But that was a different Spurs team, one that was not as healthy, not nearly as deep and not as remotely capable of coming at Randolph with the overwhelming force of a tsunami.

“They were disrupting my rhythm,” Randolph said. “It was just one of those nights. I played like I did against the Clippers in L.A.” (more…)

Grizzlies GM Envisioned A Future With Marc Gasol As A League Laughed

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Memphis Grizzlies’ six-year rise from bottom-of-the-barrel in the West to playing for the conference crown is a story of intuition, perseverance, patience and, some might rightfully say, vindication for general manager Chris Wallace.

“I never looked for vindication. That’s not something that motivates me,” Wallace said. “Winning takes care of all issues in this league. We felt we had to take chances.”

Hired by former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley to remake a 22-win team that was of no competition, popularity-wise, for John Calipari‘s Memphis Tigers, Wallace put his vision in motion. When the team takes the court Sunday afternoon to begin the Western  Conference finals against the old standby San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis roster will include not one player from the day Wallace took control.

Rudy Gay, the last survivor, was dealt to Toronto in late January.

The first move for Wallace back in 2007 was drafting Mike Conley, now considered one of the most underrated point guards in the league. Conley was the No. 4 overall draft pick after Portland selected Greg Oden and Kevin Durant fell into Seattle’s lap and Atlanta tapped Al Horford.

The next move came on Feb. 1, 2008 and will go down as the franchise’s moment of truth. At that moment, however, it was perceived more like the moment of ultimate doom.

Wallace agreed to a trade that unleashed shockwaves of ridicule from, yes, the media, but also shockingly from within the league. The backlash, Wallace said, was so fierce that it damaged the team’s ability to conduct business in its own city as it set out to sell critical sponsorships and arena suites for the following season.

“People [potential clients] would list off all the big-name people [in the NBA] that had ridiculed us,” Wallace said. “It was like running the 100-meter dash with a 20-pound leg weight.”

Everyone knows the deal: Pau Gasol to the Lakers for his chubby, unheralded younger brother Marc Gasol, bust Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and a couple first-round draft picks. Stunning criticism crushed Wallace for getting fleeced while being backhandedly credited for handing the post-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers the keys to certain championships.

“I expect the media to shoot from the hip and not study the deal. That’s to be expected,” Wallace said. “I just shook my head. I had never seen that kind of response from inside the league. I don’t deny that was the assist for two Lakers championships, but we had to shake things up. We had never won a playoff game. We had been in the 20s [wins] and there was complete apathy in our market. Calipari and the Tigers were roaring at the time.

“When we went around the league, we weren’t going to get a tit-for-tat deal. We wanted to bring our salary structure down, get assets and draft picks. And no one else had a Marc Gasol.”

Marc Gasol attended high school in Memphis as Pau was becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. At 18, he returned to Spain to begin his professional career in the Spanish ACB league, largely considered the world’s second-most competitive league. In 2007-08 he was tearing it up.

“He was trending up so much at the time. He was on pace to be the ACB MVP,” Wallace said. “I said it at the time, I felt like the little boy crying wolf. There was no question Pau was going to flourish next to Kobe and could win several titles, but this deal couldn’t be judged for several years.”

Wallace said what puzzled him most about the barrage of criticism was the lack of knowledge among media and league insiders regarding the 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol, who went on to become the MVP.

“It’s not like he was playing in Mongolia,” Wallace said. “He was playing in the ACB.”

Gasol, about 20 pounds lighter these days at 260, blossomed into a 2012 All-Star and is the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s become an offensive force, honing a dangerous post game with an old-school mid-range set shot. He’s averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.9 rpg while averaging 40.3 mpg during the franchise’s most successful postseason run.

Gasol’s low-post partner Zach Randolph came next in a deal in 2009. Wallace was in the right place at the right time, nabbing Randolph for Quentin Richardson. Randolph, who had had his issues at previous stops,had become expendable after just 39 games with the Clippers because L.A. was set to draft Blake Griffin with the No. 1 pick and wanted to clear out the power forward position.

Tony Allen was picked up in the summer of 2010. Darrell Arthur has been a constant presence off the bench since being acquired on draft day in 2008. Greivous Vasquez, the 28th pick in 2010, was flipped for key reserve Quincy Pondexter. Sixth man Jerryd Bayless was signed as a free agent last summer.

“We were winning 20 games a year just four or five seasons ago,” Conley said. “Management did a great job getting guys in, guys that care. We’ve worked every day, kind of fell down the radar and now we’re here.”

So much has gone right leading to this historic moment for the Grizzlies franchise that it would seem clear-cut that Wallace has a long-term home with Memphis. But with new ownership having taken over at the start of the season, both Wallace and coach Lionel Hollins — a raging success story in his own right as he’s developed an initially young group of players into a hard-working defensive juggernaut emblematic of the city itself — are uncertain of their futures.

Hollins has coached all season on the final year of his deal. Wallace said he has years left, but has no guarantees.

“I hope to be able to stay here,” Wallace said.

Spurs-Grizzlies Means No Apologies


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SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan sat down heavily and breathed a sigh of someone who had just been asked to lift the back end of a school bus off the ground.

“It’s not going to be pretty,” he said. “Sorry.”

But the playoffs mean never having to say you’re sorry.

So when the Spurs and Grizzlies open the Western Conference finals on Sunday night, there will be no apologies offered.

Only elbows and hips, pushes and shoves, pulls and grabs and tugs and slaps and takedowns that could turn seven games into one gigantic bruise.

Having already dealt with the front-line size of the Lakers Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and the aggressive play of the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut, Carl Landry and Festus Ezeli, the Spurs realized it was all just a warmup to the tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, for whom grit and grind is more than a slogan.

“If you thought (the Golden State series) was physical, it’s going to turn up about 10 notches,” Duncan said.

It’s possible the Spurs might still have a few black and blue marks left over from their run-in with the Grizzlies in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. San Antonio entered that series as the prohibitive favorite and wound up becoming only the second No. 1 seed in history to lose to a No. 8 seed in a best-of-seven series.

By the time the series was over, the Spurs were as bludgeoned as they were beaten by Memphis’ inside game. Duncan, who played with a sprained ankle, and Manu Ginobili, who played with a fractured elbow, were exhausted and exposed.

Now though, the Spurs are feeling like a team that is much more equipped to deal with the Grizzlies’ size and force, having added Tiago Splitter to their starting lineup and Boris Diaw to their bench.

“It’s going to be a big-man series,” Duncan said. “I think the size definitely helps us. We’re a different team than when we faced them a couple years ago.”

The 6-foot-11 Splitter was a rookie in 2011 and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did not feel confident using him two seasons ago, choosing to go with 6-9 veteran Antonio McDyess in his final NBA season. Splitter played just 51 minutes in the entire season and did not set foot onto the court until Game 4.

“Of course, you always want to play, because you believe that you can help,” Splitter said. “That’s the part of you that is the competitor. But that is the past and now I feel good.”

In the four regular season meetings this season, Splitter averaged 10.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and was able to stand his ground against the low-post relentlessness of Randolph.

“Its just nonstop fighting,” Splitter said. “He’s a warrior over there with the rebounding and positioning.”

The experience two years ago gave the Spurs a head start on the rest of the league in recognizing the Grizzlies as powerful, growing championship contenders.

“I’ve seen them as a major threat for years now,” Duncan said. “Obviously, they beat us in the first round when we were the top seed. They’ve been a very solid team, a very good team. They have always played us really tough. We respect them and their capabilities and we’re not surprised they’re here.”

Popovich rates the Grizzlies with Miami and Indiana as the top defensive teams in the league. But the Spurs themselves turned around the battle against the Warriors and put the clamps on the backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with a defensive job that was aggressive, thorough and a throwback to their old championship ways and days.

Now it’s toe-to-toe, elbow-to-elbow, hip-check to bump-and-grind with the Grizzlies at a time when the 37-year-old Duncan can see the finish line.

“This run this year is extremely special to me,” he said. “People continue to count us out, year in and year out, and we continue to make runs deep into the playoffs. This is a special one.”

And certainly no reason to say you’re sorry.