San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three

Spurs take commanding 3-0 lead over Grizzlies with overtime win in Game 3

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The Grizzlies had been here before.

After falling behind two games to none in the first round of the playoffs against the Clippers, first by losing big in Game 1 and then by losing at the buzzer in Game 2, Memphis learned what it would take to crawl out of that hole and make the necessary adjustments by reclaiming its strength in the next two games of the series via home court advantage.

To open Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals facing a similar 2-0 deficit against the Spurs, the Grizzlies came out with the energy and aggression necessary to knock their opponent on their heels, on the way to jumping out to a first quarter lead of as many as 18 points.

But this veteran Spurs team knows that each game is a marathon as opposed to a sprint, and San Antonio was able to weather the early storm by coming back with a balanced and sustained methodical attack to force the game into overtime, where the Spurs eventually prevailed 104-93 to take a commanding three games to none lead in the series.

The Memphis attack was as formidable as it was blistering to start, where the Grizzlies forced seven turnovers inside of the game’s first seven minutes. The Grizzlies went up 16-5 to open the game, and in a rare moment of visible frustration, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich subbed out all five members of his starting lineup with his team trailing by 11 just 7:07 into the game.

It didn’t help much initially, as Memphis extended its lead before the quarter was through. But after the initial burst wore off, the Spurs began to play their game, and erased almost all of the lead before halftime, thanks to Tony Parker and Tim Duncan playing an efficient brand of offense, while the Spurs defensively limited the Grizzlies to just 30.4 percent shooting in the second period.

The teams played largely even in the second half, but once we got to the overtime session, it was all Spurs.

San Antonio played with a precision and confidence offensively in the extra frame that Memphis was simply unable to match. The Spurs attacked and expected to score on every possession, while the Grizzlies seemed to hope they could defend well enough to extend the game, while scoring only when absolutely necessary. That was the reason the Spurs were able to put up 18 points in five minutes to seal the victory, while the Grizzlies, as they did for most of the game, struggled to score with any sense of ease.

Memphis hung its hat on the “grit and grind” label all season long, but we know now that more than anything else, that was simply a code for “smoke and mirrors.” It was a fun way of saying that while less talented, Memphis would somehow drag its opponents down to its level, and use its defense to slug out a grimy possession-by-possession based contest in hopes that the style and not the substance would wear down most opponents.

It worked for much of the season, and was especially effective in the playoffs until this point. But the Grizzlies have stalled against a Spurs team that values offensive execution above all else.

It’s true that Memphis has been here before, but they haven’t faced a team anywhere close to the quality of the Spurs in these playoffs; the Clippers were flawed, and the Thunder were at less than full strength. Now facing a deficit of 3-0 in the series, the Grizzlies are just a game away from seeing their magical run come to an end at the hands of a team that displays true grit on the court, instead of simply printing it on a t-shirt.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.