By Jeff McDonald
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As the final buzzer sounded at FedEx Forum on Sunday night, signaling the first three-game losing streak of the Spurs’ season, point guard Tony Parker bowed his head and walked off the court and through the tunnel toward the locker room.
Another fourth-quarter lead had given way to another defeat, this one 111-104 at the hands of the relentless Grizzlies, and now the L.A. Lakers were one step closer to catching the Spurs atop the Western Conference leaderboard.
Had, at that moment, Parker taken stock of his blessings, the list would have begun with this: At least he was able to walk upright.
With Tim Duncan already out with a sprained left ankle, and Manu Ginobili perhaps poised to join him in street clothes after knocking knees with Marc Gasol, Parker has suddenly become the last of the Big Three standing.
“A lot of things aren’t going our way,” Parker said. “We just have to keep pounding on that rock and keep playing.”
For the first time in what has been a blessed season for the Spurs, it feels as if the rock is pounding them.
Zach Randolph scored 11 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and totaled 11 rebounds, while Tony Allen also scored 23 and missed just one of 10 shots, as the Grizzlies provided the Spurs with a fitting end to a ruinous road trip.
The Spurs (57-16) will not want to keep the postcards from this particular excursion.
There was the fizzled finish at Denver, when a double-digit lead became a three-point loss. There was that preposterousness in Portland, when the Spurs gave up an 8-0 run in the final 72 seconds, felled by Nicolas Batum’s high-jump at the horn.
Then there was Sunday, when the Spurs’ longest losing streak since Jan. 20-25 of last season gave the Lakers the opportunity to climb within four games.
“All three games, we had a chance,” Parker said. “We were up.”
The latest pinprick to the silver-and-black voodoo doll came just before halftime Sunday, when Gasol charged to trap Ginobili near the sideline. The Spurs’ leading scorer never saw his mug coming.
When Ginobili turned, Gasol’s knee dug into his left quadriceps, sending the Argentine guard flailing. Ginobili left the game immediately, and an attempt to return in the second half was aborted after 5 minutes and 50 seconds. He was diagnosed with a left quad contusion, and his availability for tonight’s rematch with Portland at the ATT Center is uncertain.
The play ultimately cost the Spurs not only their starting shooting guard, but also their head coach. Incensed no foul was called, Gregg Popovich became the recipient of two quick technicals and an ejection from official Jason Phillips.
Without their top scorer, their team captain, or their head coach, the Spurs hung around in the second half.
George Hill was rolling, on his way to matching a career high with 30 points. Parker, sensing someone else had to score too, found his way to 20. Assistant Mike Budenholzer was channeling Popovich, in play calls if not demeanor.
“I was proud of our guys,” Popovich said.
A 13-3 run to start the fourth staked the Spurs to a 90-84 lead, their largest since the first quarter. Then, Randolph put on his hard hat and went to work.
A sample: With Memphis down 97-95 with less than four minutes left, Antonio McDyess fought Randolph for the extent of the shot clock, denying him position. When O.J. Mayo missed, Randolph freed a paw to swat the ball to the perimeter, where Allen scooped it up and tied the game with a layup.
One possession later, Randolph banked in a running hook over McDyess, and Memphis (41-33) never trailed again.
Unlike in Portland, the Spurs left Memphis neither dazed nor confused. Despite their season’s longest losing streak, they aren’t convinced much is wrong with their team an upright Big Three wouldn’t repair.
“We can’t make excuses,” Hill said. “At the same time, we’re in a tough spot right now. Just have to get through it.”