Published December 26, 2011
SAN ANTONIO – Manu Ginobili scored 24 points and the San Antonio Spurs got some payback after their stunning playoff collapse last season, beating the Memphis Grizzlies 95-82 on Monday night.
San Antonio began what could be Tim Duncan's final season with a satisfying win after Memphis upset the 61-win Spurs in the first round last season. Tony Parker added 15 points and seven assists.
Rudy Gay led Memphis with 19 points and 10 rebounds in his first game in nearly 10 months. Gay missed the end of last season with a bad left shoulder, including when Memphis knocked out the top-seeded Spurs.
The Grizzlies remained winless on opening night since the franchise left Vancouver in 2001, and this blowout surely wasn't he NBA's breakout team of last season had in mind.
Zach Randolph, who utterly bullied the Spurs in that playoff series, had just 10 points and six rebounds this time. Marc Gasol had 13 points and also couldn't dominate San Antonio's undersized front line like he and Randolph easily did last April.
And it's not like the Spurs got any bigger.
DeJuan Blair, the 6-foot-7 center deemed too ineffective by coach Gregg Popovich to even play Games 5 and 6 against Memphis, was back in the starting lineup. The Spurs have precious few alternatives: forward Antonio McDyess officially retired in training camp, and they haven't added a big man to replace him.
Mike Conley had 11 points and seven assists for the Grizzlies. Memphis led by one at halftime but were blown out in the third quarter after shooting just 29 percent from the floor.
Richard Jefferson, once thought to be a goner in San Antonio under the NBA's new amnesty clause, added 14 points for the Spurs. Duncan had 10 points in 22 minutes as the challenge of rationing the 35-year-old's minutes in a compressed, grueling schedule began.
Duncan is playing in the final year of his contract but hasn't said whether this will be his last run for a fifth title.
If Duncan and the Spurs have one last championship run left in them, there was no better first test than Memphis. The bigger and quicker Grizzlies gave the aging Spurs fits in the playoffs last April even without Gay, who had been Memphis' second-leading scorer.
For opening night, at least, San Antonio showed it can still keep up.
Leonard can take some credit for that. The 15th overall pick brought a jolt off the bench in the third quarter when the Spurs opened up a 19-point lead despite trailing at halftime. Leonard had six points during the stretch and earned animated approval from Duncan, who came into the league when Leonard was barely out of kindergarten.
Leonard is the centerpiece of what the Spurs are calling their youth movement — seven of their 13 players have fewer three years of experience. But the face and fortunes of the franchise still firmly belong to Parker, Ginobili and Duncan, who started their 10th season together.
Notes: Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III watched the game with some of his Baylor teammates. The Bears are in town to play Washington in the Alamo Bowl on Thursday...Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones, who owns a home in San Antonio, sat courtside with Spurs owner Peter Holt. ...The Spurs remain without G Gary Neal after the second-year backup had his appendix removed during training camp.