MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Go ahead and call the San Antonio Spurs old. They’re also experienced enough to know what to do only a win away from their first NBA Finals berth since 2007.
Finish off the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” Spurs center Tim Duncan said Sunday before a short practice. “We know they’re not going to lay down. We’re going to have to beat them. We understand what we have going here, and we understand that we want to finish is as quickly as we can.”
The Spurs wasted a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference final a year ago, when Oklahoma City won four straight games.
They know time is running out for their current Big Three, featuring the 37-year-old Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili along with coach Gregg Popovich. The franchise is in its 16th straight postseason has four NBA titles but hasn’t played in the Finals since 2007 at a time when Ginobili recalls the Spurs were being called old even then.
San Antonio is up 3-0 after rallying from an 18-point deficit in the first quarter Saturday night and winning 104-93 in overtime. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili took turns scoring points in the fourth quarter and beyond after the Spurs played so ugly in the first 12 minutes that Ginobili said Sunday he still wasn’t sure how they won.
It certainly didn’t hurt that the Spurs had a three-day layoff between Games 2 and 3 with both going to overtime. If they win Game 4 on Monday night and sweep the Grizzlies on out of the postseason, the Spurs can rest up until Game 1 of the NBA Finals tips off June 6.
“We want to finish as soon as we can for a lot of different reasons,” Parker said. “I think that we should give them no hope, and it’s always sweet to win on the road. I’m pretty sure the whole team understands that we have to keep taking nothing for granted and keep playing our game and try to finish tomorrow.
The Grizzlies find themselves in the exact same position as this franchise’s first postseason in 2004 — trying to avoid being swept by the Spurs. San Antonio finished off that sweep, and history shows all 107 teams leading 3-0 in a best-of-seven series have never lost.
But Memphis is the first team in NBA history to fall behind 0-2 and win four straight by double digits.
The Grizzlies did just that in the first round in knocking off the Clippers, then ousted the West’s No. 1 seed in Oklahoma City. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins played for Portland when the Trail Blazers fell behind 0-2 against Philadelphia in the 1977 NBA Finals and won four straight for the title.
“My hope though is for us to not listen to you guys and say that it’s never been done before, that it’s just a matter of time before the series is over and to reach down in their soul and dig for something that they didn’t know they had because that’s what you have to do to win a championship,” Hollins said.
The Grizzlies know they easily could be up 2-1 right now if they just finished in regulation each of the past two games. Guard Mike Conley missed the basket on a drive at the buzzer when Memphis had the ball last Saturday night. The team that set the NBA record once losing its first 12 playoff games hasn’t been swept in the postseason since 2006.
“We have a lot of pride in this team, in this city,” Conley said. “It’s more than just basketball here, and we owe it to ourselves, owe it to the fans to not get swept and get embarrassed on our home court.”
The Grizzlies’ biggest challenge is shooting better, both overall and at the free throw line.
They shot only 39.2 percent (38 of 97) Saturday night and would not have needed overtime if they hadn’t gone 10 of 18 at the free throw line. Zach Randolph is only 7 of 16 at the line after not even getting a free throw attempt in Game 1.
Randolph has an NBA-best seven double-doubles this postseason but isn’t scoring as he did against the Clippers or Thunder. Randolph went 1 of 4 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined Saturday night.
“We ain’t been down like this, 0-3, so it’s a different mindset,” Randolph said. “It’s now do or die. We’ve got to come out tomorrow and come out like we came out last game and just sustain it and not break down towards the end of the game.”
The Spurs have been able to frustrate Randolph down low and limit his easy putbacks. The Grizzlies got 19 offensive rebounds but only converted those into 21 points.
With Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner helping defend Randolph, Duncan looked much more like the two-time MVP of 2002 and 2003. He played 44 minutes, scored the first five points in overtime and finished with a double-double on 24 points and 10 rebounds. He also had five assists and two blocks.
“Timmy has been a consummate professional from the day he got into the league,” Popovich said. “This isn’t anything new for him, playing with the passion he’s playing with. He loves basketball, he loves his teammates, and he decided again he needed to be more aggressive when the overtime period came.”
The same Spurs who scored only 13 points in the first quarter outscored the Grizzlies 18-7 in overtime with Duncan scoring seven. That puts San Antonio on the verge of getting Duncan back to the Finals possibly for the last time in his career.
“That’d be unbelievable,” Parker said. “It’d be amazing, and hopefully I can talk about it more after we win tomorrow. Let’s focus on tomorrow, and then we got what, 10 days to talk about that?”
Workers got busy as soon as Game 3 wrapped up Saturday night taking down equipment, flipping the basketball arena to be ready for a concert by Paul McCartney on Sunday night. They had much of the stage in place as the Grizzlies began practice, but they will have to flip everything back for Monday’s morning shootaround with Game 4 on Monday night.