The San Antonio Spurs quietly dismantled the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday night in the first game of the best of seven series to the tune of a 106-74 drubbing of their division rivals. The now two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard finished with 20 points and four steals on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor to help the Spurs claim the early 1-0 series lead and continue their dominance at home.
The game was competitive for most of the first half but the Spurs managed to end both quarters with sizable runs that allowed them to hold a 48-37 lead heading into the second half. The Spurs showcased a masterful handling of quarter-ending closeouts, registering a 31-4 advantage in that department spreading across the games first three quarters. The Grizzlies started Chris Anderson and Jordan Farmer in place of the injured Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, who both have been ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs due to injury.
Off-season acquisition and All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge finished the game with 17 points and two blocks, while a resurgent Tony Parker added 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor. Tim Duncan was also effective in his 21 minutes on the floor Sunday night, scoring seven points and finishing with 11 rebounds and two blocks. The Spurs led by 30 points at the end of the third quarter and did not have to play a single starter in the fourth quarter as coach Gregg Popovich took advantage of the insurmountable lead and opted to rest his players for the remainder of the game.
Memphis relied on former North Carolina Tar Heel alum and 39-year-old Vince Carter to score during the game. Carter finished game one with a team-leading 16 points in his brief 19 minutes on the floor. Lance Stephenson was the only other Grizzle who finished in double figures with 14 points, however he was seen becoming visibly frustrated by Leonard’s suffocating defense. Zach Randolph struggled mightily having to deal with the likes of the Spurs talented interior play and it was reflected in both his defensive and offensive struggles on the floor. He finished with six points and five rebounds on on 3-of-13 shooting from the floor in his 28 minutes of playing time. Look for him and the rest of the depleted Memphis line-up to continue its struggles against the Spurs unrelenting defense.
After having been named the 2015-16 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and beating out contenders Deandre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside among others for the award, Leonard continues to add to his already impressive resume early on in his career. In addition to being the proud owner of two back to back Defensive Player of the Year awards, he started and played in his first All-Star game earlier this season and has a finals MVP from the Spurs 2014 title run under his belt to boot. Leonard has continued to develop himself into one of the best two-guards in the league and will likely continue to make the case for his inclusion on this year’s All-NBA first team over either LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
Moving forward, the San Antonio Spurs look to have the clear advantage in their opening series match-up against Memphis and look for that to continue with Leonard leading the way on both ends of the floor. If Kawhi continues to play at such a high level and the Spurs manage to get by potential matchups against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, and Cleveland Cavaliers; he could likely walk away from this post-season with a legitimate argument for being the best if not one of the best players in the league. I join the San Antonio Spurs fan base and the rest of the NBA in congratulating Kawhi on another well-deserved Defensive Player of the Year award!