San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three

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


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.

51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.

LeBron says “get it done” message was for both Cavaliers, Thompson

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Everything LeBron James does and says gets magnified and scrutinized.

So when he put out this photo on Instagram standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tristan Thompson and the caption “get it done” it seemed a message to the Cavaliers.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron clarified that on Sunday, saying this has become a distraction, and the message was for both sides to bend, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN and Chris Haynes of the Plain Dealer.

When Thompson didn’t sign the qualifying offer he surrendered a lot of leverage, the Cavaliers don’t have to raise their five-year, $80 million offer — but reportedly they still would, a little. Thompson and his agent Rich Paul have pushed for a max contract, but that’s not happening.

At some point, the two sides will come to an agreement. For the Cavaliers, this is a distraction, their star is unhappy with that, and ultimately if they are going to make a title run they need the energy and rebounding Thompson brings (even if it is just off the bench). For Thompson, he can’t make up a year of lost salary, he has to come in and start getting paid at some point.

The two sides will get it done. Eventually. Likely before the season tips off.