delivered a victory in overtime for the second straight game. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Spurs defeated the Grizzlies 104-93 in overtime to take Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday. San Antonio now holds a 3-0 series lead.
• Still old, still dominant. Here are the ages of the 10 players who took the court at the start of overtime once the Spurs and Grizzlies finished regulation with 86 points apiece: 21, 25, 28, 28, 31, 31, 31, 33, 35 and 37. The last two numbers in that sequence, of course, belong to the ageless Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, who helped San Antonio overcome a dreadful start and outlast a Memphis team that was in make-or-break mode. The second-oldest on the list, Ginobili, scored the Spurs' final four points in regulation, craftily beating a great defense to create points out of thin air.
The oldest, Duncan, owned the extra period for the second straight game, scoring seven of his 24 points in overtime after scoring six of his 17 points in Game 2's overtime period. Playing 44 minutes, the most time he's logged in a game since April 2010, Duncan added 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks and shot 58 percent from the field (his second-best mark this postseason) against a younger, hungry, desperate, talented front line that's among the league's best. He was the last man standing for the second time in this series and for about the 60-billionth time of his career.
"We've been 'old' probably for eight years now," Ginobili joked to reporters after the game. "I remember in 2007, our last championship, they were saying that we were old."
In a series defined by an insanely high level of defensive intensity and execution and the long stretches of offensive struggles the quality defense has produced, Duncan again looked like the freshest player on the court in the game's biggest moments. His and-one basket, achieved by going straight through Marc Gasol, launched a 12-3 overtime run that essentially buried the Grizzlies' hopes in this series. If that wasn't splendid enough, he followed it up with a no-look touch pass to Tiago Splitter for a layup moments later. Finally, a patented soft-touch finish at the rim to gently plunge the dagger.
"He was huge the other night in overtime and got it done for us and he did it again tonight," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "That's why he is considered as great as he has been for the last 17 years. He's been unbelievable, he feels the responsibility to carry us."
Then, like the rest of us, Popovich ran out of words to describe Duncan's reliable, commanding excellence. "I don't know what else to say," he shrugged.
Although both Game 2 and Game 3 ended with San Antonio dominating in overtime, the two games had inverted plots. In Game 2, the Spurs' offense went dead in the fourth quarter; in Game 3, the Spurs committed eight turnovers and managed just four baskets in a 13-point first-quarter. Popovich actually pulled all five of his starters simultaneously in apparent disgust at a flat start that followed three off days since Game 2.
"It looked like those five guys had been asleep since Tuesday," Popovich said. "We might as well get five guys out there to start to compete. ... It was one of the worst starts I've ever seen."
Memphis will regret its inability to pull away then and there, as the Spurs closed the deficit from 18 points to just four by halftime, before taking their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies' predicament here was much the same as it has been: all the effort, heart and guts in the world isn't translating to efficient scoring. Memphis shot below 44 percent for the third straight game in the series; a team-high 20 points from an aggressive Mike Conley, 14 points and 15 rebounds from a re-engaged Zach Randolph and another solid performance from reserve Quincy Pondexter, who added 15 points, all went for naught as Duncan went to work in overtime, knocking down his mid-range shot, plowing through the paint, touch-passing to Splitter, and all the rest of it.
"One of the best wins I've witnessed being a Spur," said Ginobili, who, in addition to being old for eight years, is now in his 11th season in San Antonio. "It really looked ugly, [The Grizzlies were] really inspired, all over us. It wasn't looking good. We come down, we started to do what we do, we started to take care of the ball, things started to change."
San Antonio is now one win away from its first Finals trip since 2007. If they can pull off the sweep in Game 4 on Monday, the Spurs will enjoy a ridiculous nine full days of rest before The Finals open on June 6. Man, just think about how old they'll be once they get around to playing for the fifth title of the Duncan era.
• The possession that got away. Barring an unprecedented miracle comeback from a 3-0 series deficit, the Grizzlies will look back at their final play in regulation as the moment their 2012-13 season slipped away.
With the game tied and the shot clock turned off, Mike Conley milked the clock before entering the ball to Gasol at the high post and running to the weakside, where he bunched up with Jerryd Bayless and Zach Randolph. Conley then darted out of the pile, using screens from both of his teammates to free himself as he curled back toward Gasol for a running hand-off. The action worked well enough, as Tiago Splitter was forced to leave Gasol and switch onto Conley as he curled towards the paint.
Splitter took a nice defensive angle that prevented Conley from totally turning the corner to get to the rim and, with the clock ticking down, the Grizzlies point guard settled for a fairly wild runner going to his right (off hand) that banked off the backboard and over the rim entirely. A rushed Randolph putback attempt was no good.
"We just drew up a play to try to get into the paint and let me make a play," Conley said."I think I got a little bit too deep so I had to take the shot. It was a good drawn up play; we just didn't execute it as well as we thought."
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said he thought perhaps Conley could have fed the ball back to Gasol, who was stationed at the top of the key.
"I tried to get him going to the basket," Hollins said. "Marc was open back at the free throw line, [but] he had already committed to the shot. They crowded the paint and it was a tough shot."
Passing to Tayshaun Prince, stationed in the near corner, was also a possibility once Ginobili flashed at Conley as he drove. Was there time for Conley to settle himself a little better? Should he have taken a harder line towards the rim with the goal of generating contact? Even though this wasn't technically the game-deciding play, as the two teams proceeded to overtime, it certainly felt like Memphis' best chance had been squandered.
• Turnovers, period. Popovich was up to his in-game interview tricks on Saturday. The timing was perfect -- or terrible, depending on whether you enjoy his angsty antics -- because he was forced to take questions on the broadcast following his team's awful start. All he could do was muster two words in response. Well, actually, one word, repeated twice.
What went wrong on offense?
What went wrong on defense?
This was Popovich at his briefest -- but not necessarily his angriest or rudest. After the Spurs pulled off the comeback, he noted that he was actually more critical of his team in the second half.
"The first half, I was grandfatherly," he said. "The second half -- what word can I say -- I was ugly. I wasn't going to watch [the turnovers] again. ... It was a real test of their character to continue to pound and pound and pound. I'm really proud, not really their effort so much, but their ability to mentally hang in and stick with each other and play."