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Game 3 of the Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies first-round playoff series took place Thursday night at FedEx Forum, one of the NBA’s most hostile environments for visiting teams under any circumstance. Not for naught is it referred to by Grizzlies loyalists as “the grind house.”
The urgency of an 0-2 deficit in the best-of-seven series combined with perceived injustice, stoked by Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s postgame rant about unfair officiating during San Antonio’s victory in Game 2, turned the venue into a howling house of horrors for the Spurs in Game 3.
Many Grizzlies fans wore T-shirts emblazoned with Fizdale’s closing line from his tirade about the officiating of Game 2: “Take that for data.” When the league fined him $30,000 for his criticism of the referees, his players promised to pay it for him. More importantly, they dedicated themselves to defending their home court.
The result was a 105-94 Grizzlies victory that sets up a pivotal Game 4 on Saturday night at FedEx, where the Spurs have yet to win this season. It was the Grizzlies’ first playoff win over the Spurs after 10 straight losses in three previous post-season match ups, in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
It gave them a badly needed jolt of confidence for the remainder of the series after losing Game 1 by 29 points and Game 2 by 14.
“We see that we can do it,” said Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley during a postgame interview shown on the TNT-TV telecast of the game. “It gives our guys confidence and allows all of us to believe, and we’re a team that’s built on that, built on passion, built on faith. So, we’ll go out there and continue to get better.”
If Fizdale expected his Game 2 rant, viewed more than one million times online, would influence Thursday’s referees – veteran James Capers, Pat Fraher, and Courtney Kirkland – the data taken from the game showed otherwise. The Spurs shot 28 free throws; the Grizzlies, 20.
More impactful than his angry words: Fizdale’s decision to insert veteran power forward Zach Randolph back into his starting lineup. The hero of Memphis’ first-round playoff upset of the Spurs in 2011, the 35-year-old veteran made 9-of-16 shots, scored a game-high 21 points, and grabbed eight rebounds.
Spurs scoring star Kawhi Leonard, who scored 69 points in Games 1 and 2, scored only 18 points Thursday, limited to 30 minutes of court after Gregg Popovich sat his starters for most of the fourth quarter when the Grizzlies pushed their lead to 20 points.
Spurs point guard Tony Parker’s drop off was even more dramatic. After scoring 33 points in Games 1 and 2, he was scoreless in just under 19 minutes in Game 3.