Tracy McGrady turns 34 on Friday, and most would probably assume that the best possible gift he could receive during his birthday week would be his first made basket as a San Antonio Spur. The seven-time All-Star has played just over 15 minutes in total since signing with the team just before the regular season ended, and he’s missed all four shots of his from the field during mostly garbage time spent coming off of the San Antonio bench.
So, the guy has to be itching to get back on the scoreboard, right? To showcase some of that all-around ability that made him one of the NBA’s greats? To make his mark on what could be one last championship run for these Spurs?
Nah, says T-Mac. He just wants to contribute when called upon, doing whatever Spurs coach Gregg Popovich asks. From the San Antonio Express-News:
“It's very different, a championship-caliber organization,” he said.
McGrady discovered the difference in that out-of-the-blue phone call from Spurs coach and president of basketball Gregg Popovich in mid-April.
“A lot of people in the past would tell me one thing, but their actions don't speak what their words were telling me,” he said. “I had a very transparent conversation with Pop. I understood the situation and respected that. It was a great thing, and it was up to me to take that opportunity.
“He said, 'I might play you; I might not, and I need to know if you're cool with that.'
“For him to put that out on Front Street in our first conversation, I said, 'Pop, I'm cool with that. I understand. If called on, I'll be ready; if not, I'll support the guys while I'm here.'”
Monroe, one of the greats in this business, went on to report that McGrady is eight pounds lighter than when he showed up to the Spurs in mid-April, clearly taking advantage of the time off following the regular season, and relative pittance of just 11 Spurs games since their postseason tipped off on April 21.
The comparison to make in the wake of a revelation like this is too easy, but it’s the appropriate one. McGrady was signed to provide wing depth in the absence of the disgruntled and ultimately waived Stephen Jackson. Jackson refused to admit that certain Spurs wings – Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard – were better players than him at this stage of Jackson’s career; and honestly there’s nothing wrong with that. Confidence is key, especially in this league.
What is wrong is rocking the boat, as Jackson apparently was. There weren’t many on record indications of Jackson’s frustrations prior to his release, but he was clearly destructive enough that the Spurs decided to let him go without receiving any compensation in return, less than a year after Jackson’s defense and clutch shooting (however smallish the sample size was) helped the team stay afloat in its Conference finals defeat against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With Manu’s talents, Green’s shooting, and Leonard’s ascension, Jackson was probably going to receive McGrady-styled minute allotments in the playoffs as it was, even if the Thunder (had the team stayed healthy, sadly) made it to a third round rematch.
In the meantime, between those short bursts, McGrady remains “cool” with it all. Fans tend to perk up when the onetime MVP candidate enters during the ends of one-sided games, but the cheering you hear doesn’t have anything to do with novelty. Fans – knowledgeable Spurs fans, especially – are mindful of McGrady’s past, his gifts, and how a series of bad injuries and bad luck with teammates kept him out of the later stages of the playoffs.
You’d think, at least on the inside, McGrady would be chomping at the bit to lead a 12-2 Spurs run to finish the first quarter. The Spurs don’t work that way, though. McGrady wouldn’t even be on this team if he had designs on bit-chomping, which makes this a perfect pairing.
(We’re chomping at the bit, though. Give Tracy McGrady a bit more playing time, Coach Pop. Be “cool” with it.)
The San Antonio Spurs won their second round series with the Golden State Warriors last Thursday, the night after it learned it would be playing the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals. By the looks of San Antonio’s 105-83 Game 1 win on Sunday, though, it appears as if the Spurs have been preparing for this matchup for over two years.
It was over two years ago that the Grizzlies shocked the Spurs by topping the longtime contender in their opening round series. And though both rosters have changed somewhat in the years since, the core of both teams’ value system (talking and movement for San Antonio, rugged low post and defensive play for Memphis) remains the same. Because the Spurs pulled out early against Golden State, though, and the Oklahoma City Thunder never really looked like a contender against Memphis in the second round, you get the feeling that the Spurs coaching staff was multitasking throughout last week, mindful of its eventual showdown with Memphis.
It showed throughout Game 1, as there was no letup from San Antonio. The Spurs absolutely refused to let the Grizzlies make a sound entry pass, taking away the most productive part of a Memphis offense that sometimes struggles to score even with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol going all out. On the other end, San Antonio made the West’s best defense look undisciplined and downright amateurish at times, flooding the lane with drives and taking advantage of a Grizzlies team that for some reason kept leaving shooters open in the corner. The Spurs capitalized by hitting 14-29 three-pointers on the afternoon.
It was somewhat shocking. The Spurs are to be respected, but for the entire season the Grizzlies have done well to communicate defensively and stay on the same page. And yet throughout Game 1 Memphis’ defensive spacing was way off; even when the team connected on shots, allowing it to steady its half-court D.
Memphis just had no answers for Tony Parker who not only was able to spearhead that drive and dish game, but he routinely embarrassed both Grizzlies guards and big men with his step-back jumpers on the left side. Parker finished with 20 points and nine assists in just under 33 minutes, needing only 14 shots to do his damage. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Matt Bonner had far too easy a time setting up for three-pointers in both the corner and up top. Tim Duncan missed six of nine shots, but his defense was superb, and the Spurs offense produced 28 points on 40 field goal makes. It was a clinic, done in the face of the best of the West.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, just could not adapt.
Unable to get good position or even the ball at times, Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph missed seven of eight shots and didn’t attempt a free throw, failing to score until the 9:29 mark of the fourth quarter. Center Marc Gasol was able to get more shots off, but he was reduced to improvisational forays around the hoop, and missed nine of 16 in Game 1.
Mike Conley paired his bad defense with four of the team’s 12 turnovers, Tony Allen was caught ball watching and gambling defensively a few times, and the Grizzlies only made their run (working the deficit down to six midway through the third quarter) based on the hot touch of Quincy Pondexter (17 points off the bench), and Jerryd Bayless. Not exactly the duo you’d trust to lead you to the NBA Finals.
The execution was just too much for Memphis. The Spurs clearly had the right amount of rest, rhythm, and (especially) preparation in place to be ready for whatever the Grizzlies threw at Gregg Popovich’s team, and Memphis just could not adapt. They’ll have time to counter that punch, in the hours before Tuesday’s Game 2, but what happens when the Spurs anticipate those counters ahead of time? Does Memphis hit the mat, again?
This series was always going to be a struggle. It’s surprising that its first outing was only a struggle for one side, though. San Antonio sure did its homework.
Kevin Durant is helping to lead the way in Oklahoma City's recovery from the tornado disaster.
To help those affected by the May 20th tornado, you can donate to the Red Cross via redcross.com or by texting REDCROSS to 90999.
We take a look at some of the players' exit interviews to get a sense of where the Thunder are headed in the near future.
We submit our final season awards to the Thunder in the wake of their 2nd round playoff series.
Remember- You can donate to the Red Cross via redcross.com or by texting REDCROSS to 90999.
Let us know by submitting a url: