September 28, 2023


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Derrick White returns in impressive fashion, but Spurs fall 129-112 to Grizzlies

Playing the second game of a back-to-back Saturday night, the Spurs couldn’t keep up with a short-handed but well-rested opponent.

De’Anthony Melton had a season-high 20 points off the bench and Ja Morant recorded a 19-point, 11-assist double-double as the Memphis Grizzlies celebrated their return to action with a 129-112 victory over the Spurs at the AT&T Center.

It was a come-down-to-earth outing for a team that logged consecutive wins last week over two teams that reached the conference finals last season, Boston and Denver.

But there was a silver lining for the Spurs. Playing in his first game after missing the last 14 with a fractured left second toe, Derrick White came off the bench to log an efficient 22 minutes that included scoring a team-high 18 points on 6 of 11.

“I thought he did very, very well for having been gone for so long,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Speaking of being “gone for so long,” it was the Grizzlies’ first game since Jan. 18. Contact tracing under the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols forced the 12-day break, which ended with Jonas Valanciunas and Grayson Allen still out because of the protocols.

The Spurs, meanwhile, were coming off a spirited 119-109 win over the Nuggets on Friday night. They pulled within five points with under five minutes left against Memphis but ultimately couldn’t recover after falling behind by 18 in the third.

Still, Popovich refused to make excuses for his team, which fell to 11-9 overall, 5-6 at home and 0-3 in the second game of back-to-backs after having its three-game winning streak snapped by a Grizzlies team that improved to 8-6 by winning its sixth in a row.

“Everybody plays back-to-backs, and it probably showed a little bit on us,” Popovich said. “But everybody goes through it, you just have to play. We got outplayed tonight. That’s the bottom line.”

The Spurs get another shot against the Grizzlies at home on Monday night. Until then, here are three takeaways from Saturday’s loss:

Derrick White is still Derrick White

White flashed his subtle sense of humor when asked how he felt after playing his first game since Jan. 1.

“I am feeling good. Don’t have a broken toe at this time, so that’s cool,” said White, who had offseason surgery on the same toe he broke against the Lakers on New Year’s Day.

In addition to pacing the Spurs in scoring on a night when leading scorer DeMar DeRozan finished with a season-low five points, White had a couple of steals, grabbed two rebounds, forced two turnovers by drawing a pair of charging fouls and dished out an assist.

He was also 3 of 6 from 3-point range.

“He’s not warming up, he’s ready right now,” Lonnie Walker IV said.

It was the kind of all-around performance the Spurs have come to expect from White.

“I was just trying to get my legs underneath me,” he said. “Feels like I hadn’t played in a while.”

Defense can’t produce an encore

The Spurs knocked off the Nuggets the night before with a strong defensive outing highlighted by holding Nikola Jokic and Co. to just 23 points in the fourth quarter.

But that effort couldn’t be duplicated against the fresh Grizzlies, who came within a point of matching the season high for points scored by a Spurs opponent and outscored the Spurs 29-22 in the fourth.

“They were just up in us, making us uncomfortable,” Walker said. “They played good offensively and defensively, knocking down a lot of floaters and open corner threes from the weak side.”

The Grizzlies shot a season-best 48.6 percent (17 of 35) from 3-point range for 51 points, the second-most the Spurs have allowed this season from beyond the arc. Melton was 4 of 7 from downtown.

The Grizzlies also dominated inside, outscoring the Spurs 56-42 in the paint.

We just got to pick it up as a team,” Walker said. “Every single one of us has got to play harder, play smarter and pretty much equalize their tempo on both sides of the court.”

“Slo Mo” comes back to haunt former team

The Grizzlies had seven players score in double figures, including former Spur Kyle Anderson, who had 16.

Popovich liked to call Anderson the Spurs “utility infielder” during his four seasons with the team from 2014 through 2018, and the UCLA product indeed did a little bit of everything for the Grizzlies. In addition to hitting 6 of 8 shots in 21 minutes, he also had five rebounds and a season-high three steals.

Anderson is in his third season with Memphis after signing as a free agent.

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Twitter: @tom_orsborn

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