Kurt Helin

Watch Kawhi Leonard drop 32 on Memphis in latest win

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Memphis put up a fight. At home the grit and grind were in full force — well, as full as it can be considering all the injuries — and the Grizzlies made the Spurs work for this win.

But the Spurs have Kawhi Leonard, and the Grizzlies did not have anyone who could stop him. Leonard dropped 32 on Memphis leading San Antonio to a win and a 3-0 series lead.

This series will come to a merciful end on Sunday.

Five Things to Watch on Playoff Saturday: Will Damian Lillard find his jump shot?

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers has his shot blocked by Wesley Johnson #33 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center April 17, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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You can tell we are getting into the serious part of playoff series because the games are starting to get a little chippy. Expect more of that Saturday (and hopefully the referees let them play a little). He’s what to keep your eye on.

1) Back home in Portland, will Damian Lillard find his shot? And C.J. McCollum, too? 
Through the first two games against the Clippers, Lillard has averaged 19 points a game on 33.3 percent shooting, and 21.4 percent from three (down from 25.1 ppg on 41.9 and 37.5 percent in the regular season). Just check out his playoff shot chart.

Lillard shotchart

Add to that, C.J. McCollum is averaging 12.5 points a game on 32.1 percent shooting through two games. The Clippers are trapping and being aggressive, but after Game 2 Lillard owned up to just missing the clean looks they do get.

“Our coaching staff did a great job of watching film and putting myself and C.J. in different positions where they couldn’t really take a lot away from us,” Lillard said. “I just got to make the shots. I think that’s what it comes down to.”

We could talk about Portland’s need to play better defense on the Clippers guards, or pick-and-roll coverages, or a host of other potential adjustments, but unless the Blazers’ guard duo that carried them all season starts to deal better with the aggressive Clippers’ defense and hit their shots, it’s all moot. Lillard had better find his shot in Portland fast, or the Blazers will go down 0-3 and can start making tee times for next week.

2) Can Oklahoma City keep the pace up and run past the Mavericks? In the two Oklahoma City blowout wins in this series, the games averaged 97.9 possessions per game. The one loss it was 94.  In addition to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook knocking down their open looks (and Mavs fans should expect they will), the other determining factor in this series has been pace. Oklahoma City has the better, younger athletes and wants to get out and run. That isn’t brain surgery. If the pace is up again it will be easy buckets for the Thunder and another win, Dallas’ only hope is a slow, grinding game.

3) Can the Hornets overcome the loss of Nicolas Batum? The loss of Batum to a sprained ankle hits the Hornets where it hurts. (Where exactly do you hit a hornet to make it hurt?) They are going to miss his defense as an option to contain Dwyane Wade. They are going to miss his ability to hit the three and be a secondary playmaker on the offensive end. Coach Steve Clifford will either move Frank Kaminsky or Jeremy Lin into the starting lineup, but both are going to have to have big games for the Hornets to have a chance. I expect Courtney Lee will now draw the Wade assignment and he has to have a big game — Wade has averaged 22 points a game so far. Charlotte also has to do better dealing with the size of the Heat (which is why maybe the 7-footer Kaminsky gets the start). Charlotte was a much better team at home than on the road this season, they will need every bit of that — and a huge game from Kemba Walker — to avoid going down 0-3 in this series and it being all but over.

4) Can the Indiana Pacers contain Jonas Valanciunas? In Game 3 you can say that Valanciunas, battling foul trouble, wasn’t as big a factor with nine points and 14 rebounds — but he was +16. For the series, the Raptors are outscoring the Pacers by 3.9 points per 100 possessions when Valanciunas is on the court. Ian Mahinmi did better in Game 3, but the Pacers need to be able to contain him and Luis Scola on the boards (especially offensive) and make the Raptors bigs work harder on the defensive end. I wonder if Frank Vogel will start rookie Myles Turner (as he did in the second half of Game 3). For all his rookie mental lapses, Turner brings some offense and energy the Pacers need if this series is going to head back to Toronto 2-2. The Pacers need to handle the Raptors’ size.

5) Can somebody give Paul George a little help here? DeMarre Carroll had his best game by far these playoffs in Game 3, and it’s no coincidence that George was just 6-of-19 shooting in that game. George is still going to have to do a lot (he had 25 points and six assists in Game 3) but if Carroll is bodying up the Pacers’ No. 1 option then Monta Ellis, George Hill and the rest of them need to step up and knock down more shots. The Pacers could use more minutes and a big night from C.J. Miles. Indiana just needs to find more offense and it can’t all come from George.

Will Boston’s Isaiah Thomas draw fine (or more) for hit on Dennis Schroder?

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Game 3 between Boston and Atlanta felt like a real NBA playoff game. So yes, it got a little chippy.

To which the referees leaned in and called three Flagrant 1 fouls — all of which were borderline at best, in my opinion. Clearly the league has sent out a memo emphasizing their position that any blow to the head is a flagrant, because these were the kinds of fouls that come in physical playoff games (in my eyes) but the refs consistently called it too tight.

Which brings us to Isaiah Thomas‘ first-quarter shot to Dennis Schroder (video above). To me, I’d say “Welcome to playoff basketball” and move along. However, with the way things were called in this game, don’t be shocked if Thomas draws a fine from the league for that hit. That should be it at most, but as the league’s fines/suspensions come with the consistency of roulette to me, who knows? Maybe he gets more. But I would hope not.

Boston’s Marcus Smart with ridiculous, hysterical flop (that should draw a fine)

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Marcus Smart has a reputation for flopping to try and draw calls. But this one is hysterical.

Jae Crowder is shooting the corner three, and Smart tries to slide in baseline on the opposite side looking for a rebound. Kyle Korver is doing his job on the weak side as the shot goes up putting a body on Celtics looking for an offensive board. The second he touches Smart the Celtics’ guard goes down like the sniper in the grassy knoll shot him.

The league has slowed down handing out flopping warnings during the season (they would tell you their program of publicizing them has worked) but during the playoffs the warnings are gone and the first violation is a $5,000 fine. Smart has earned that, and we should see it come down soon.

Spurs take 3-0 series lead, beating shorthanded Grizzlies 96-87

San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan, left, and guard Tony Parker, right, watch during the second half of Game 3 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, April 22, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. The Spurs won 96-87. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 32 points, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Memphis Grizzlies 96-87 on Friday night to take a 3-0 lead in their Western Conference first-round series.

The Spurs are a win away from their ninth postseason series sweep and third against Memphis. They finished the game on a 13-6 run in the final 3:41, and Leonard, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, scored 13 points in the quarter as he shot 11 of 22 for the game and 6 of 9 from 3-point range.

LaMarcus Aldridge added 16 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green and Manu Ginobili each added 11 points for San Antonio.

Zach Randolph led Memphis with 20 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-21 shooting. Matt Barnes added 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Vince Carter had 11 and JaMychal Green was 5 of 5 for 10 points.

Game 4 is Sunday.

Data curated by PointAfter

With Jarell Martin out with an injured left foot, Memphis had only 10 players available, and the 6-foot-7 Barnes jumped the opening tipoff at center. A fan summed up the Grizzlies’ season by holding up a towel with the slogan: “So proud of my team … All 28 of you” in honor of the NBA-record number of players Memphis used this season.

The Spurs so dominated the first two games in San Antonio that Memphis led only once, by a point and for 25 seconds. This time, the teams swapped the lead eight times with seven ties. Memphis not only took its second lead of this series, the Grizzlies also won consecutive quarters, outscoring San Antonio 25-18 in the second to trail only 44-43 at halftime and 28-26 in the third.

Memphis coach Dave Joerger stuck with his starters much of the game, with Barnes leading the Grizzlies with more than 41 minutes and Randolph on the court more than 39. Leonard played a game-high 42 minutes, 23 seconds.

The Grizzlies led for more than 2 minutes in the third quarter, taking their biggest lead at 51-48 after a 3-pointer from Carter and a pair of free throws by Tony Allen. That set up a taut quarter where neither team led by more than three, and Memphis led 71-70 going into the fourth.

Boris Diaw scored as the shot clock was running down to put the Spurs ahead to stay with 7:47 left, starting the 7-0 run. Memphis last got within 83-81 on a tip-in by Barnes. Leonard hit a free throw off a defensive 3-second call on Allen with 3:41 to go, and the Spurs finished off the win forcing five turnovers in the quarter.

TIP-INS

Spurs: With this win, Duncan tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third in career playoff victories with 154. Duncan trails Robert Horry (155) and Derek Fisher (161). Duncan already tied Horry for second with 244 postseason appearances. Fisher also leads that category with 259 playoff games. … Kevin Martin did not play because of illness. … The Spurs had a 17-12 advantage in fast-break points.

Grizzlies: Memphis went 4 of 18 beyond the arc, outshot by Leonard individually and the Spurs, who went 12 of 26. … The Grizzlies outrebounded the Spurs 48-39 and outscored them 44-28 in the paint. … They also had an 18-1 edge in second-chance points, taking advantage of 15 offensive rebounds.