By Clay Bailey/The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The best season in franchise history ended with a resounding thud for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Memphis saw its first Western Conference final finish with a 93-86 loss to San Antonio on Monday night, capping a 4-0 sweep that was the first in a conference final since 2003 when the New Jersey Nets defeated the Detroit Pistons.
This loss ends a season where the Grizzlies won a franchise-best 56 games and went deeper into the postseason than ever before. That was hard to remember after being dominated by the Spurs throughout this series.
“Winning feels good. Obviously, being swept doesn’t,” guard Tony Allen said. “But we know where we need to be and we know what we want to fight for.
“(The Spurs) showed us they were a veteran ball club. They showed they are champions. The came in here and beat us fair and square.”
Game 4 was similar to the rest of the series where Memphis struggled to control the Spurs’ methodical pick-and-roll offense. The Grizzlies watched as Tony Parker scored 37 points — his high for this postseason — connecting on 15 of 21 shots and all six of his free throws. He also had six assists.
A rude awakening for a team whose defense was considered one of the best in the NBA.
“He was in a zone,” said Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who had part of the duties trying to stop Parker. “They play so well together that any adjustment we’d make, they’d make another one. We’d play them well for about 18 seconds on the shot clock and then he’s make a play. You know, that’s why he’s one of the best, and they’re headed to the finals.”
Quincy Pondexter, who emerged as the team’s 3-point specialist in the postseason, led Memphis with 22 points, while Marc Gasol added 14 points. Zach Randolph continued to struggle in the series, managing 13 points on 4 of 13 shooting. Memphis, which prides itself on its inside play, was limited to 12 of 33 from its front-line starters.
The Spurs shot 51.3 percent (39 of 76) from the floor and outscored Memphis 52-32 in the paint, even though the Grizzlies had a 41-34 edge on the boards. Memphis led only briefly and the last at 6-4 as the Spurs took control early. The Grizzlies stayed close only by getting to the free throw line, making more shots there (17 of 24) than San Antonio took (12 of 13).
“It’s difficult.” Randolph said. “I don’t know what to say. They beat us. . It’s disappointing. We lost the series, got swept or whatever.”
The difference was the Spurs’ postseason experience and precision. With Tim Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili as the core, San Antonio won its fifth Western Conference title in reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. Memphis struggled offensively as the Spurs continually ran their offense, freeing Parker for layup and mid-range jumpers.
“I just think we learned that winning isn’t easy, and winning championships is one of the hardest things you can possibly do,” Pondexter said. “I think our guys really dug deep to get as far as we did. San Antonio is a tremendous team and we’re going to take a couple of pages out of their book and move on.”
The Grizzlies made one last run and got within three one last time when Gasol scored on a runner in the lane with 48.7 seconds left at 89-86. But Parker hit four free throws in the final 29.7 seconds to seal the victory.
“He was outstanding the whole series, and he controlled the series with his penetration,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said of Parker. “He made shots, made plays. One game he has 18 assists, today he has 37 points. He was huge. But their team played well. You’ve got to give them credit.”
Duncan hugged Ginobili before heading off the court, celebrating the chance at a title that slipped away a year ago when the Spurs blew a 2-0 lead to Oklahoma City losing four straight. The 37-year-old Duncan finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Kawhi Leonard added 11.
“We want to get back there,” Duncan said of making the finals. “We’ve had some really close years where we fell right on the verge of getting back. It feels like forever since we’ve been there.”
Now the Grizzlies insist they feel even more motivated to work harder to improve for next season after being taught a lesson by the Spurs, the same team that swept Memphis out of its first postseason appearance back in 2004.
“We’re going to be better because we played against, to me, one of the greatest teams there’s been in the past 15 years,” Gasol said.
Notes: Memphis sold out its 17th straight postseason game. … The Grizzlies had allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent or better here only five other games during the regular season and postseason combined. … Owner Robert Pera was in the arena for only his second home game since taking over the team in November. … Parker’s previous best this postseason came in Game 3 when he had 32 points against Golden State in the semifinals. … Teams are now 108-0 when leading a series 3-0. … The Spurs now are 11-1 in closeout games since their last title in 2007.