By Jeff McDonald
Blame the Los Angeles Clippers for whiffing twice in their bid to close out the Memphis Grizzlies. Blame the Grizzlies for their stubborn and steadfast refusal to go quietly.
Blame the Utah Jazz for putting up all the resistance of soaked newsprint in their first-round series with the Spurs. Blame the Spurs for the ruthless efficiency with which they swept away the Jazz.
Whoever is to blame for the Spurs’ prolonged break between playoff rounds — and there is plenty to go around — this is what is most important now:
The end, thank goodness, is nigh.
“I think everybody pretty much wants to get back on the floor and play,” Spurs guard Danny Green said.
Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals is set for Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. at the ATT Center. All that is missing now is an opponent.
By dinnertime tonight, that devilish detail should be finalized, too. Either the Grizzlies or the Clippers will win Game 7 in Memphis, slated for a noon tipoff, then will not pass “Go” en route to San Antonio for the start of the next round.
“I really don’t care who we play,” Spurs captain Tim Duncan said. “Whatever it might be, they’re going to figure it out themselves. We’re just going to be here waiting.”
When the Spurs finally take the floor again for Game 1, it will have been eight days since finishing off the sweep in Utah.
With such a long layoff, the Spurs are at least certain to start the next round completely healthy, afflicted by no malady save for cabin fever.
To pass the time, coach Gregg Popovich has staged a pair of full-squad scrimmages in the team’s practice gym, complete with referees. After the Grizzlies and Clippers dispense with their series this afternoon, the Spurs will reconvene for their first opponent-specific practice of the break.
“I think guys are getting a little excited to see who’s going to be next up,” Green said. “Playoffs are a big deal. We want to get back to them as quick as we can.”
By the time the Spurs returned from Utah early Tuesday morning, the fifth-seeded Clippers had forged a surprising 3-1 lead in their series. There was hope among Spurs players and coaches that the second round might be soon in the offing.
But the Clippers have since squandered two chances to finish the fourth-seeded Grizzlies — including once in Los Angeles in Game 6 — pushing the series to the limit.
Now that their two potential opponents have arrived at a do-or-die seventh game, the Spurs have expressed no public preference for which they prefer.
A matchup with Memphis would bring a rematch of last year’s first-round series, when the Grizzlies — then a No. 8 seed — stunned the top-seeded Spurs. A meeting with the Clippers would summon a pair of Western Conference All-Star starters to the second-round stage in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
In the regular season, the Spurs went 4-0 against Memphis and 2-1 against the Clippers, who on March 9 became one of only five visitors this year to win at the ATT Center.
“But both teams play very hard, good defensively, good defense on the bigs,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “Whoever we play will be really tough.”
At long last, the Spurs can fill in that last remaining blank this afternoon.
“It’s going to be nice to get back on the floor so we can get back in the flow of things,” Green said. “It’s the playoffs. Nobody wants to be sitting at home watching games. We want to be part of it.”
SPURS VS. CLIPPERS OR GRIZZLIES
Game 1: @Spurs, Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., TNT
Game 2: @Spurs, Thursday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: @Clippers or Grizzlies, Saturday, 2:30 pm., ABC
Game 4: @Clippers or Grizzlies, Sunday, 9:30 p.m. or 7 p.m., TNT
*Game 5: @Spurs, May 22 (Tuesday), TNT
*Game 6: @Clippers or Grizzlies, May 24 (Thursday), ESPN
*Game 7: @Spurs, May 27 (Sunday), TNT
* if necessary