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Grizzlies eliminate Spurs in defensive battle in play-in tournament

Play-In Tournament - San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 19: Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Memphis Grizzlies and Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrate during the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament on May 19, 2021 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas positioned himself to go up for the opening tipoff with his right hand then slyly used his left hand – while hooking Spurs center Jonas Valanciunas with his right hand – to bat the ball to Memphis’ side.

The Grizzlies were a step ahead of San Antonio nearly all night, winning the 9-10 play-in game 100-96 Wednesday at home.

Memphis will travel to face the loser of Lakers-Warriors on Friday to determine the No. 8 seed. The Grizzlies are gaining major experience in these single-elimination play-in games, having lost to the Trail Blazers last year.

Combining strength with his cleverness, Valanciunas (23 points on 10-of-16 shooting, 23 rebounds and three blocks) controlled the interior against the Spurs. The Grizzlies…

  • With Valanciunas: +26 in 38 minutes
  • Without Valanciunas: -22 in 10 minutes

Memphis held San Antonio to just two fastbreak points (to the Grizzlies’ 18), and Valanciunas asserted himself defensively in the halfcourt. That left the Spurs taking – and missing – a lot of mid-range shots. Even more than they’re accustomed to.

San Antonio shot just 13-of-51 on 2-pointers outside the restricted area (25%). For perspective, the Spurs shot 43% from that range in the regular season and the NBA-worst Rockets shot 35%.

Dillon Brooks frustrated DeMar DeRozan (20 points on 5-of-21 shooting). Brooks also had a few big late buckets – while San Antonio concentrated on Valanciunas – and finished with 24 points.

Ja Morant added 20 points and six assists, as Memphis mustered just enough offense following a hot start that quickly cooled.

The Grizzlies built a 21-point lead just seven minutes into the game. The Spurs responded with a 17-0 run in the second quarter.

But aside from a couple blips, Memphis held its lead throughout the game.

San Antonio has missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. Prior to these last two years, the Spurs had either made the playoffs or drafted a multi-time All-Star in all 43 of their NBA seasons.

With Gregg Popovich now 72… DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills approaching unrestricted free agency… Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker and Devin Vassell readying for bigger roles… San Antonio could be ready to turn a page this offseason. The last two years were pretty unsatisfying for a franchise accustomed to so much success,

The Grizzlies, on the other hand, gave yet another reason to believe they’re trending in the right direction – though their next game in California will be a far stiffer test.