5 things to watch for in the NBA Finals’ Game 3

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The series is tied, and teams are 11-0 when winning the third game of a 2-3-2 series tied 1-1. The Heat have looked unstoppable and then collapsed. The Mavericks have looked overwhelmed and then charged back to victory. Anyone who thought this series was going to be quick or easy has had a lesson in the realities of just how good these two teams are. This thing is more than likely going the distance, but whoever wins Game 3 will have a huge leg up in the series.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch for in the NBA Finals’ Game 3.

1. Inside Men

LeBron James admitted Saturday that he needs to attack more. He and Wade went into hero mode early in the fourth quarter and the result was a stalled offense for the Heat that allowed the comeback. Wade’s one drive inside five minutes did net points off of free throws. James has to be more aggressive. He made a lot of noise Saturday about how Shawn Marion can’t guard him one-on-one. James needs to prove that to be the case in Game 3 by staying aggressive. Then again, you could replace Marion with just about any defender in the league and you have the same situation that always exists with LeBron. Needing to be aggressive. Too often being passive.

2. A Swift Kick in the Glass

Whichever team won the offensive rebounding battle in this series has taken the game. Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler came out much more active on the glass in Game 2 and it paid off. The Heat need those extra possessions. In particular, Joel Anthony needs to make his presence felt. Anthony is known as the “no-stats All-Star” on the Heat, but he needs to actually fill up the box score with rebounds on both ends. Udonis Haslem has too many responsibilities and James and Wade have too much attention on them. Anthony needs to contribute with effort and know-how.

3. Whoa, Boy

Take out the fourth quarter of the Mavericks and you have a disappointing loss on the backs of a game filled with missed opportunities. The Mavericks had an ungodly amount of turnovers in Game 2 and it very nearly cost them. As much as offensive rebounding was the correction Rick Carlisle talked about before Game 2, turnovers are his sticking point before Game 3. The Mavericks were able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and get away with it in Game 2, but that won’t happen again. They have to cut down on mental mistakes and make smarter passes. As the series goes along, both teams are starting to attack the dribble and passing lanes more. Whoever can outsmart the opponent’s attack while not forcing things too much will have an advantage that could tip the series. In particular the Mavericks in the fourth quarter started being aggressive on the perimeter in gambling and attacking passing lanes on the drive and kick. The Heat have their own turnover issues to worry about.

4. For the Love of God, Double Dirk

The Heat chose not to double Dirk Nowitzki at the end of Game 2… or did they? Dwyane Wade bailed out his teammate Chris Bosh by saying the Heat “screwed up” their rotations, which means that someone was supposed to come help. Dirk Nowitzki even said he was surprised to find himself open when he spun around Chris Bosh like he was standing still (as he was standing still). If the situation repeats itself, Udonis Haslem told reporters he didn’t know if they would necessarily double Dirk. If that actually happens again and we have a repeat of Game 2, I’m going to write up a pink slip for Erik Spoelstra just in case Pat Riley needs it, despite the fact that Spoelstra’s done a remarkable job in the postseason. They have to double Dirk Nowitzki and live with the consequences.

5. The Totally Reliable Unreliable 3-point Shooters

Jason Kidd and Mario Chalmers all of a sudden are having a shooting contest. Who saw that happening? We keep waiting to see when Kidd’s 3-point attack is going to stall, but he really has worked to add that part to his game and he’s making defenses pay when they, as above, double Dirk. Mario Chalmers has been the Heat’s zone buster. And had the Heat managed to survive Game 2 in overtime, he would have been a hero for his clutch 3-pointer. All of a sudden this series has become about which set of unreliable shooters gets hot. A key thing to watch will be if one team is cold and gets in a deficit if they keep going for the 3-pointer in the hopes of the home-run ball. The Mavericks did that for three quarters in Game 2 and it almost cost them. The Heat did that for the majority of the fourth quarter and it did cost them. Whoever can adjust gets the cookie in Game 3.

Hayward, Johnson, good ball movement lift Jazz past Clippers 98-94, Utah up 3-2

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LOS ANGELES — Chris Paul is the best player on the floor in the Los Angeles vs. Utah first round series. He’s also the best playmaker on either team, a guy who can survey the court and quickly decide whether he should score or what teammate he can set up. He also gets the Clippers points and plays solid defense.

However, for lengthy stretches of the game, he’s the only playmaker on the court for the Clippers. He has to be Mr. Everything.

Utah has multiple guys they can lean on to create looks — George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson — and with that has come better team ball movement and open shots.

It also came with a crucial Game 5 win over Utah, 98-94, putting the Jazz up 3-2 heading to Utah for Game 6 on Friday night. Utah has the chance to advance past the first round for the first time since 2010, when Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer were at their peaks, and Jerry Sloan was still patrolling the sidelines.

Gordon Hayward is Utah’s big star now, and he returned from missing Game 4 with food poisoning. This time he made the Clippers sick, with 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting, plus he made the little plays like a tip-out offensive rebound to Johnson late in the game that turned into a key made three for the Jazz.

“Hayward killed us early,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought Hayward set the tone tonight in the first six or seven minutes of the game (Gordon had 11 first quarter points on 4-of-6 shooting).”

The Clippers often use Blake Griffin as a secondary playmaker, because he has good handles and is a strong passer. However, with Griffin out for the rest of the series with a foot injury that will require surgery, the Clippers are stuck. Backup point guard Austin Rivers returned to the Clipper lineup, but he could only play 16 minutes. Too much of the time it felt like CP3 against the world to create shots for the Clippers. That’s rough against a long, disciplined Jazz defense.

Meanwhile, the Jazz were moving the ball and getting better looks — if guys such as Joe Ingles (0-of-4 from three) or George Hill (1-of-7) had knocked down their shots, this game may have been decided much earlier. Utah’s drive-and-kick game was in full force, and with Griffin out the Jazz have nobody who can check Joe Johnson effectively.

“That’s beating us off the dribble way too much and making us rotate,” Rivers said. “Also, we did a good job — we took the ball out of Joe (Johnson’s) hands… by doing that they’re going to get open threes. And listen, we were fortunate tonight with them being on the road, their role players didn’t make some of those.”

That’s what the first half felt like. The Jazz pushed the pace at times, moved the ball well in the half court, exploited mismatches, and largely got better looks than the Clippers, but missed enough good shots that the game was always close. It was 21-19 Clippers after one, led by six points from Paul Pierce nailing a couple open threes. By the half the Jazz had a small 46-43 lead behind 14 from Hayward on 5-of-8 shooting. But neither team was able to take control.

The third quarter was just ugly basketball — it was slow, physical, and Utah missed shot after shot. So did both teams — Utah “won” the quarter 18-15 to have at 64-58 lead after three. Still, it just felt like Utah was playing better and just missing looks.

Utah pushed the lead to 11 in the fourth after some threes started to fall, but the Clippers went on their own 11-0 run sparked by Paul to tie the game up 69-69. Staples Center was getting loud. But out of a time out the Jazz scored five quick points off well-designed plays, and order was restored (as far as Utah was concerned). From there Utah just held on.

Hayward finished with 27 to lead the Jazz, followed by Rodney Hood who came off the bench with 10. Utah had six players in double figures.

There was little pretty about this game, or for that matter the series. It’s become slowed down and grinding. It’s not a style the Clippers thrive in, but they’re going to have to find a way — or pick up the pace — by Friday night, or their season will come to an end. Then the questions will begin.

Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley get weak double techs for trash talking (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley had no love lost during Tuesday night. The Houston Rockets closed out the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-99, but that didn’t stop Brodie and Beverley from getting one of the weakest double technical foul calls we’ve seen during these playoffs.

The two squared off midway through the fourth quarter, with both players seemingly OK and a bit incredulous after getting techs for what amounted to trash talk.

I’ll let you be the judge for yourself whether it was worth of a tech.

Via Twitter:

The double technical foul is definitely one of the dumbest calls in the NBA.

Houston goes on to face the winner of the series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills lead Spurs by Grizzlies for 3-2 series lead

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) Kawhi Leonard had 28 points and the San Antonio Spurs rebounded from two discouraging road losses to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 116-103 on Tuesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.

San Antonio shot 14 for 28 on 3-point attempts, two off its postseason record, including 5-for-7 shooting by Patty Mills.

Mills finished with 20 points and Tony Parker added 16.

Mike Conley had 26 points and Marc Gasol added 17 for the Grizzlies, who have lost nine straight postseason games in San Antonio.

With each team winning on its homecourt, Game 6 is Thursday night in Memphis.

The Spurs went on an 11-0 run shortly after switching Leonard onto Conley defensively, holding the Grizzlies scoreless for 2:46 midway through the first quarter.

But it was the few times either team had success defensively.

San Antonio shot 53 percent from the field and Memphis shot 52 percent in a surprisingly explosive game between teams renowned for their defense.

Conley had seven points during a 17-3 run bridging the third and fourth quarters to pull Memphis within 87-83 with 9 minutes remaining.

The teams exchanged baskets over a 3-minute span before consecutive 3-pointers by Mills helped break the game open for San Antonio.

After failing to score in the first four games, Manu Ginobili had six points in 33 seconds in the first quarter and finished with 10 points.

James Ennis III had 11 points and Andrew Harrison added nine, as both took advantage of Leonard leaving them to help defensively during the second and third quarters.

TIP-INS

Grizzlies: Conley and Gasol are the only Memphis players to score in double figures in all four games. . Zach Randolph had nine points and six rebounds Tuesday after averaging 17 points and 9.7 rebounds in the previous three games. Randolph was held to six points and three rebounds in Game 1. . Tony Allen remained out with an injury to his right leg after being kicked in the calf during Memphis’ regular-season finale against Dallas. . Ennis was 4 for 9 from the field in scoring 11 points after averaging 7.0 points in the previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio’s franchise record for 3-pointers made is 16 against Miami in the 2013 NBA Finals. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 25 straight playoff games, the longest streak in franchise history since Tim Duncan had 26 from 2011-2013. . The Spurs have lost three straight only once this season, dropping their final three games of the regular season after clinching the second seed. They have lost two straight on four occasions, including back-to-back losses in Memphis in this series. . Dewayne Dedmon returned after missing Game 4 due to an illness. . Ginobili’s eight points in the opening quarter are the most he scored in any quarter of a playoff game since scoring nine in the 2014 NBA Finals.

Watch Houston’s Eric Gordon yam it down over Thunder forward Jerami Grant (VIDEO)

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Eric Gordon is a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate for the Houston Rockets for one reason: he can shoot the lights out.

But that didn’t stop Gordon from surprising a few folks during Tuesday night’s closeout Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Gordon scored just eight points in Houston’s 105-99 win, but two of those points came on a thunderous dunk over Oklahoma City’s Jerami Grant.

Via Twitter:

Wasn’t expecting him to get up like that.

Houston will go on to play the winner of the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies series.