Spurs have hot shooting first half, hustle plays late to pick up comfortable win in Miami


San Antonio started off this game shooting hotter than any team in NBA Finals history had for a half (75.8 percent). They were back to being the dominant Spurs and the Heat looked shell shocked.

Yet even when the Spurs pushed the lead up to 25, the entire American Airlines Arena — and anyone who has seen the Heat play before — knew a run was coming. The Heat were going to try and force chaos on the game, where Miami thrives.

They did. It got all the way to 7 points in the third quarter.

Then the Spurs restored order.

Led by as good a game as Kawhi Leonard has ever played — 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting, and he was better on the defensive end on LeBron James — the San Antonio Spurs won 111-96 on the road and took Game 3.

The Spurs took a 2-1 series lead and that makes Thursday’s Game 4 pretty much a must win for the Heat. That said the Spurs won Game 3 of last year’s NBA Finals handily as well, this still feels like a series that will go long.

“They came out at a different gear than what we were playing at, and it just seemed we were on our heels the most part of the first half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “And then when we started to get to a different gear in the third quarter, it was just tough to change the energy of the game.”

“They beat us and really we didn’t bring an urgency to this game tonight,” Ray Allen said in the Heat locker room. “We were just too casual.”

What has to make the Spurs feel good is they won this game on a night Tim Duncan had 14 points and Tony Parker had 15 on 4-of-10 shooting — it was the role players, and their exquisite ball movement, that keyed the offense.

San Antonio took charge from the opening tip when they shot 86.7 percent in the first quarter — they started out 19-of-21 shooting, they were 7-of-10 from three, and Boris Diaw, inserted into the starting lineup for Tiago Splitter, was +22 in the first half. The Spurs first quarter was insane as they hit 9-of-10 inside 8 feet, 4-of-4 from three, and missed their only shot from the midrange (remember the Heat forced the Spurs into 23 midrange shots in Game 2, but the Spurs were getting to the rim again in Game 3).

Kawhi Leonard, who had not stood out in the first two games, had 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first half (his 29 for the game is the most he has scored since high school).

“We just wanted (Leonard) to be who he’s been the whole year, in the regular season and in the playoffs,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I think the foul situations the first two games really he overreacted to them and became very cautious, and he doesn’t play like that.  He’s got to be real active at both ends, and so he figured it out.”

Danny Green added 13 after starting 6-of-6 shooting in the first half, he finished with 15.

The result was a 71-50 San Antonio lead at the half, which had been as much as 25 at one point. That is even more impressive when you remember San Antonio did that on the road against a Heat team that had not last at home all playoffs.

The Heat made their expected run in the third quarter, outscoring the Spurs 25-15 and holding San Antonio to 31.6 percent shooting. The Heat had a 10-0 run and cut the lead to seven with just more than two minutes left in the third. They were pressuring the ball and forcing misses.

But then the Spurs got back to crisp ball movement out of the pressure, plus they just won the hustle plays (such as Leonard chasing down Ray Allen on a breakaway and forcing a miss). The Spurs won the fourth quarter 25-17 and shot 58 percent in the Final frame.

The desperate Spurs played harder, more physical and smarter basketball all night. They earned the win and put the pressure on the Heat.

Grizzlies snap 19-game skid with 101-94 win vs Nuggets

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, Tyreke Evans added 20 and the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Wayne Selden scored 16 points for Memphis by hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from outside the arc. Marc Gasol added 14 points as Memphis won for the first time since Jan. 29.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Denver shot just 37 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Denver entered the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, a game out of the playoff race. Denver played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is expected to miss the next few games with a right knee sprain suffered against Detroit on Thursday.

The Nuggets struggled through a miserable first half of shooting, connecting on 22 percent in the first quarter. Memphis stretched its lead to 21 early in the second quarter before Denver cut it to 53-48 at halftime.

Brooks hit four 3-pointers to start the second half and keep Memphis ahead.

For more NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39 points lead Spurs past Wolves, 117-101

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) – LaMarcus Aldridge had 39 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a sluggish start to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-101 on Saturday night.

San Antonio won its third straight to move into fifth in the Western Conference five days after dropping to 10th and out of playoff position.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped to sixth in the West.

The Spurs had lost three straight and nine of 11 but are now unbeaten halfway through a six-game homestand.

San Antonio shot 84 percent in the second quarter, their best shooting quarter since 2010.

Two nights after battling New Orleans’ Anthony Davis on both ends, Aldridge had to take on another All-Star in Towns. Aldridge responded by leading the Spurs in scoring for the 49th time this season while helping keep Towns in check.

Aldridge scored 18 of 21 points during a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, including 12 straight. He capped the run by coming from the weak side to swat Towns’ floater deep into the seats.

Minnesota started quickly, shooting 78 percent from the floor in the first 5 1/2 minutes while San Antonio floundered at 17 percent. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called timeout, only to watch the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague steal the ball once play resumed.

The Spurs responded behind veteran reserves Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. San Antonio went on a 16-4 run bridging the first and second quarters to take a 29-26 lead.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for Minnesota and Teague had 16.


Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.