By Jeff McDonald
Spurs forward Matt Bonner never saw the decisive 3-pointer leave Shane Battier’s hand, much less it ripping through the net.
“I had Zach Randolph’s elbow in my mouth at the time,” Bonner said.
Bonner had a better view of 3-point tries from George Hill and Richard Jefferson that could have salvaged Sunday’s Game 1 against Memphis for the Spurs.
“Both looked good,” Bonner said.
Both bounced off.
The difference in the Spurs’ 101-98 playoff-opening loss to Memphis at the ATT Center was the difference in a lot of games and a lot of series.
Three players toed the 3-point stripe in the final 30 seconds. One of them made the shot. The others didn’t.
Battier’s 3-pointer with 23.9 seconds left provided the go-ahead points for eighth-seeded Memphis, which earned the first playoff win in club history.
In defeat, the Spurs became the first No. 1 seed to lose Game 1 of a first-round series since the 2007 Dallas Mavericks, who later in that opening matchup with Golden State became the only top seed in the best-of-7 era to be bounced in the first round.
“We didn’t do enough down the stretch,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds. “That was the game right there.”
Playing without guard Manu Ginobili, out with a sprained right elbow, the Spurs faced the rare task of needing to steal Game 1 on their home floor.
Had it not been for Battier, they might have.
Randolph had 25 points and 14 rebounds for Memphis, 0-12 in playoff games before Sunday, while Marc Gasol had 24 points and nine rebounds.
But the game’s biggest shot came from the guy they call “Granddaddy Shane.” Battier, a 32-year-old original Memphis Grizzlie who returned in a February trade from Houston, knows what the win meant to fans back home.
“I know Beale Street will be a fun place tonight,” Battier said.
Meanwhile, back in San Antonio, they might has well shut down the Riverwalk until Game 2 on Wednesday.
The Spurs, at least, have been here before. They have now lost six straight Game 1s, rallying to win two of the previous five series.
Last season, the Spurs recovered from a Game 1 loss at Dallas to win that first-round series in six games.
“We understand the challenges that are in front of us,” said Jefferson, who had 13 points and six rebounds. “To get where we want to get, it’s not going to be easy.”
Much went right for the Spurs in Game 1, which — depending on perspective — made the loss more or less palatable to them.
They outrebounded the Grizzlies 40-38, including an 11-5 edge on the offensive glass, won the second-chance battle 15-5 and attempted 47 foul shots (though, in another story, they missed 11).
Given all that, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t see a crying need for sweeping changes heading into Game 2.
“It wasn’t like we got beat by 25,” Popovich said.
Tony Parker finished with 20 points to lead the Spurs but was 4 of 16 from the field. It was his defensive error that freed Battier long enough to swish the deciding 3-pointer.
Before Battier could break the Spurs’ hearts, he watched Bonner nearly do the same to the Grizzlies.
Channeling his inner Robert Horry, Bonner nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Spurs a 96-94 lead with 1:28 to go.
“You were like going, ‘Uh-oh, here we go again,’ ” Battier said. “How many times have the Spurs done that in big games in this facility?”
Hill made a pair of free throws to push the Spurs ahead by four with 1:06 to play and suddenly, the Spurs seemed poised to do to the Grizzlies what the East’s top seed, Chicago, did to eighth-seeded Indiana the day before.
Down the stretch, however, it was the team without a playoff victory to its name — and not the team that had hung four banners in the rafters — that locked down the game.
After Battier’s 3-pointer put Memphis ahead 99-98, Hill missed an open look in the right corner. After a pair of Tony Allen foul shots pushed the Grizzlies’ edge to three points, Jefferson back-rimmed a shot from the top of the key as time expired.
“I had a great look,” Jefferson said. “Just didn’t knock it down.”
Hill framed his own misfire, part of a 2-for-7 outing, in similar terms.
“It felt good,” he said, “but it didn’t go my way.”
Three players lined up 3-pointers late Sunday afternoon. Only one of them went down. And the Grizzlies have a 1-0 series lead because of it.