SAN ANTONIO -- The victory to be found for the Memphis Grizzlies in their second loss in as many Western Conference finals games came from this small detail: The San Antonio Spurs had to beat them; the Grizzlies didn't beat themselves.
It was enough to replace doubt with hope, to give the Grizzlies reason to believe they can bring the series back to San Antonio not once but twice if need be.
This game had no business going to overtime, where it was eventually decided.
The Grizzlies were on the path to self-defeat through the first two and a half quarters Tuesday night. The evidence was in the scowls and sagging shoulders. Zach Randolph missed a free throw, shook his head at least five times, then missed another free throw. Marc Gasol slammed the ball to the ground in frustration -- and that was after a foul was called on the Spurs.
And then there was the cap to the roughest sequence of the night. It wasn't that Tony Allen got his shot blocked from behind by Kawhi Leonard on a driving layup attempt. Or that Allen missed after he gathered the ball and went up for another shot. Or that he missed a tip-in. Or that Randolph then missed a shot from the right side and a shot from the left side. Or that Tony Wroten missed a putback attempt. It was what came next, after Tim Duncan grabbed the rebound of the sixth missed shot of the sequence: Allen shoved him out of bounds with two hands, a blatant foul, a play that said Allen had enough.
"I think that just comes from wanting to make the home run play, wanting to make the game-winning play," Allen said. "I think it's got to boil down to just relaxing and letting it come to me."
The Grizzlies experienced the downside of being a defensive-oriented team: When their defense is getting shredded the way the Spurs cut them up throughout most of the first six quarters of this series, there's no outlet, no release valve. They're not going to stay loose and keep tossing up 3-pointers like, say, the Houston Rockets. They're going to start questioning themselves. The aggravation mounts.
"They were getting easy stuff, and that always frustrates a defensive team like us," Gasol said. "They were picking us apart, getting to the paint, driving and kicking, driving and kicking, until they found the shot they wanted to take."
The Spurs, led by a brilliant floor game from Tony Parker, led by 18 points late in the third quarter.
Coach Lionel Hollins gave his team a lesson that sounded like one from Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own."
"I just told them there's no quitting," Hollins said. "It's never going to be easy, and we just have to keep fighting and see what happens. We have to make our own breaks."
There were small signs of progress, including a defensive stand that involved the Grizzlies running the Spurs off shots on both sides of the half-court set, a triumph of effort throughout the shot clock.
Jerryd Bayless provided a necessary offensive boost, scoring 18 points, flourishing in a smaller lineup alongside Mike Conley and Quincy Pondexter. Randolph was far more productive than his near-no-show in Game 1, with 15 points, 18 rebounds and a critical three-point play when the Grizzlies trailed by seven points in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
Allen got the hero play he wanted, racing ahead to grab an outlet pass and drawing a flagrant foul on Manu Ginobili, with Allen selling it by grabbing his head in agony even though his head was struck neither by Ginobili nor on the floor. Allen's free throws and a basket by Conley on the ensuing possession tied the score and sent the game to overtime.
But it was a change in attitude that enabled the Grizzlies to be in that position. It stems from an attribute Hollins talked about before the game, when asked why the team was comfortable trailing after the initial game in the previous two playoff series. Hollins said good teams know they can win games and series despite playing from behind, and the Grizzlies understand they're a good team.
"We looked at the scoreboard and said, 'We've been here before,'" Conley said. "We've been down 16. If we get a couple of stops ... one, two, three stops in a row, we'll get a chance to win. We started getting stops, we started getting in transition, the pace improved and everybody got a bit of momentum from it."
And now it feels as though they have a little momentum heading into Game 3, even though they lost. They get two games at home, where they're undefeated in five playoff games this year.
They've established in their minds and in the Spurs' heads that this series will be a fight. They extracted so much from the Spurs physically as well. Matt Bonner was too drained from guarding Randolph to make a shot in the second half. Parker had to do so much dribbling to get in position to set up his teammates early on that he grew tired and wobbled down the stretch as well, missing seven of nine shots in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Grizzlies outrebounded the Spurs 60-46, including 19-4 on the offensive boards.
Even in defeat, the Grizzlies found something in the second half: themselves.
"We were more Memphis Grizzlies," Gasol said. "We were more us."
It brings back memories of their first-round series, in which the Clippers won the first two games but the Grizzlies looked noticeably better in Game 2 ... and went on to win the series in six. The Spurs aren't liable to head south as quickly as the Clippers did, but we likely will see a much more consistent effort from the Grizzlies at home.
"I don't like going into the past or nothing like that, but for the most part, we showed signs of what we do," Allen said.