By Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Whatever Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said to his team at halftime worked very, very well.
The eighth-seeded Grizzlies outscored San Antonio 30-15 in the third quarter, turning a 2-point halftime deficit into a 104-86 rout Monday night of the Spurs for a commanding 3-1 lead in their opening series.
“It was an incredible performance in the third and fourth quarter,” Hollins said. “We outscored them 30-15 and from the second quarter on, our defense just kept getting better and better.”
San Antonio led 50-48 at halftime, and Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo said Hollins lit such a fire in his team with telling them exactly what he wanted them to do that they couldn’t wait to get onto the court.
“We’re not playing too well in so many words,” Mayo said. “That’s the clean version. And we need to get it together, and play with a lot of energy and play like we’re a desperate team. All year he’s been preaching that the desperate team usually wins, and we didn’t look very desperate that first half.”
The Grizzlies already had made franchise history by winning their first playoff game in Game 1 and added their first playoff win at home. Now they are a game away from becoming the second eighth seed to knock off a No. 1 seed since the NBA expanded to a best-of-seven series and join the 2007 Golden State Warriors.
“I know a lot of people didn’t expect us to be here,” Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said. “It’s not like we were expected to be up 3-1 at this point. In our locker room, we’re just playing it game by game. We want to come into San Antonio looking to end it there. We’re focused and want to be able to move onto the next round.”
Conley had 15 points and seven assists. Darrell Arthur added 14 points off the bench for Memphis. Tony Allen had 12, Randolph and Mayo 11 apiece.
These are the same Spurs that won 61 games in the regular season. They opened up very energetic, shooting well and even had their first halftime lead in this series.
They finished the game with their starters on the bench for the final 5:43 with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich trying to rest them for Game 5 on Wednesday night in San Antonio. Now the Spurs will be trying to avoid their second 4-1 opening series loss in three seasons.
“Obviously, the whole team is very frustrated,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “I mean we go through a whole season and get that first seed, and now we’re just one game away to be eliminated so it’s most important for us to focus on Game 5. That’s the most important thing to get Game 5 and try to get another chance to get a win here.”
Parker led the Spurs with 23 points with only four in the second half. He also had seven turnovers. Manu Ginobili had 14, Gary Neal 11, and George Hill and Tiago Splitter 10 each. Splitter, a rookie from Brazil, had not played previously in this series.
Tim Duncan had six points on his 35th birthday.
The first three games had been tight with Memphis winning by no more than three points. The Spurs won Game 2 by six.
This time it was a rout once the Grizzlies took control by outscoring the Spurs 30-15 in the third quarter for the first time in this series.
Ginobili called the loss surprising and disappointing. He expected the Spurs to bounce back both emotionally and physically after losing Game 3 but saw the Grizzlies have that edge, especially in the second half. Ginobili said he didn’t see the fire to come back after the Spurs fell behind by double digits.
“We looked bad. They are a young squad. They are playing at home … for many of them the first time playing in the playoffs, so they had all the juice and we didn’t,” Ginobili said.
Memphis opened the second half with a 14-0 run with Gasol’s two free throws at 11:04 putting the Grizzlies ahead to stay at 52-50. Sam Young’s dunk capped the run at 7:41 of the third for a 62-50 lead. The Spurs, who shot 55.3 percent in the first half, missed their first five shots and were 6 of 15 from the floor. They also had seven turnovers in the quarter.
The Grizzlies had every fan up and waving the rally towels handed out, cranking up the noise with every Spurs’ missed shot or mistake. Arthur ended the quarter by hitting a pair of jumpers to put Memphis up 78-65 at the end of the third.
When Arthur dunked at 10:13 of the fourth putting Memphis up 83-67, Popovich took a timeout. It didn’t help as Arthur hit a shot at 8:51 pushing the lead to 85-67.
The Grizzlies went up 94-74 on a 3 by Shane Battier who was wide open in the right corner with 5:43 left. The celebration began in earnest in Memphis.
Popovich credited the Grizzlies with staying aggressive and physical. But he said Memphis played all 48 minutes, while his Spurs played only the first 24. In the third quarter, the Spurs imploded turning the ball over seven times and fouling way too much to give Memphis its first edge at the free throw line in this series.
“They put their foot on our neck and they never let up,” Popovich said. “They did a great job.”
Memphis already had become only the seventh No. 8 seed to go up 2-1 in the NBA playoffs since the league expanded the postseason to 16 teams in 1983-84, and the Grizzlies are just the third team to do it since the first round expanded to best-of-seven for the 2003 playoffs.
Battier said he’d feel better about being up 3-1 if it were against someone other than the Spurs.
“They are very capable of winning three straight in a playoff series. All we’ve done is held homecourt. Now, these guys should expect the toughest game of their career, come Wednesday,” Battier said.
The Grizzlies had another electric crowd, just their sixth sellout of the season, and fans buzzed with a sense of expectation instead of mere hope for a win that surrounded this team when the Spurs swept them out of the playoffs in their first postseason trip in 2004.
The Spurs opened the game by hitting eight of their first 10 led by Parker who scored eight of the first 10 points. Memphis came out forgetting its strength is going inside to Randolph and Gasol, and Randolph set that tone by taking a long jumper as the Grizzlies’ first shot. He missed, and they wound up outscored 16-6 in the paint for the quarter.
San Antonio led 26-21 after 12 minutes, the first time in this series the Spurs had outscored Memphis in the first quarter.
Greivis Vasquez had an ugly turnover at the end of the first quarter, just losing the ball. Hill took it and scored to make it 26-19. Vasquez, the second-year pro out of Maryland, rebounded by hitting his next three shots to start a 9-2 run. Mayo capped it with a fast-break layup for a 30-28 lead in the second.
Parker came into the game 15-of-44, and he hit all seven shots in the first half and his four free throws in helping the Spurs lead 50-48 at halftime. But he missed his first shot in the third quarter, a 3-pointer, at 9:58.
NOTES: The Spurs now have lost 15 of their last 18 postseason road games dating back to Game 4 against Phoenix in 2008. … The Spurs are 0-5 in series with Duncan when they trail 3-1. … The Grizzlies led the NBA in forced turnovers with 16.5 per game and steals with 9.40 per game. In this game, they had their best performance of this series forcing the Spurs into 17 turnovers that they turned into 20 points. Memphis also had eight steals, three by Allen. … The Grizzlies went 23-3 in the regular season when holding opponents to 90 points or fewer.