Author: Kurt Helin

Kawhi Leonard

Behind 32 points from Kawhi Leonard, Spurs rout Clippers to take 2-1 series lead

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For two games, the Clippers and Spurs had played each other tight, with the little things swinging games. Yet at the end of Game 2, it felt like the Spurs were starting to figure things out. They had seen this Clippers defense a lot in recent years — it’s basically what LeBron’s Heat played — and were beginning to make the plays to beat it.

Friday night they looked like they figured it all out.

The Spurs held the Clippers to 34.1 percent shooting and got 32 points from Kawhi Leonard to pull away in the second half and win handily, 100-73.

The Spurs now have a 2-1 series lead, with Game 4 Sunday in San Antonio.

“I just think it was one of those nights,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “We had a great night shooting; they had a real difficult night shooting, and that’s a bad combination. They get a loss. We’re not that good, and they’re not what you saw tonight, without a doubt. We had a heck of a night.”

Leonard had a heck of a night at both ends for the Spurs. On defense, the just named defensive player of the year took J.J. Redick out of the game at points, then made plays on anyone he switched on to. On offense, he exposed the Clippers long-standing issues about wing defense, Matt Barnes had no answers for him.

The problem for Doc Rivers and the Clippers is they don’t have the depth to try much else if option No. 1 doesn’t work. The Clippers bench remained an issue, shooting just 11-of-41 on the night (and that looks better thanks to some garbage time buckets).

The Spurs depth was on display all game — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 12 points. This was about everyone else, such as Leonard (32) and Boris Diaw, who added 15.

The Spurs led from the start, racing out to a 25-13 lead early and keeping a comfortable lead through the first half, then they blew it open in the third quarter. The Clippers scored just 11 points in the third quarter as the Spurs defense was simply fantastic. Duncan may be turning 39 this weekend, but he can still quarterback a defense with the best of them.

We can break down the details of the game, but Popovich may be right, this may just be a one-off in a tight series where the Clippers were cold on a night the Spurs were hot. Certainly Sunday’s Game 4 should see a much more desperate Clippers squad and a closer game. More like the first couple in the series.

But it feels like San Antonio has figured Los Angeles out, and we see which way the series is trending.

The Truth (and Marcin Gortat) will set Washington free, up 3-0 on Toronto after win

Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards- Game Three
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When the game was hanging in the balance, Paul Pierce hit back-to-back three pointers, then ran around the phone booth — what is officially the Verizon Center in our nation’s capital — high fiving the fans and yelling, “That’s why I am here.”

For more than three quarters, it was Marcin Gortat (24 points, 13 rebounds) and the John Wall focused Wizards making enough plays to keep the Raptors just in the rear view mirror. But in the end it was a pair of Otto Porter threes followed by a pair of Pierce threes — “That’s why I am here” — that lifted the Wizards past the Raptors 106-99.

Washington is now up 3-0 in the series and can close it out Sunday at home. No team in NBA history has come from 3-0 down to win a series. And this is the first time in Wizards’ franchise history they have been up 3-0 in a series.

Once again, the Raptors were the aggressor early, with DeMar DeRozan putting up 20 points in the first quarter and Toronto going up by 10.

And once again the Raptors defense could not hold that lead. The Wizards battled back to lead in the second quarter then held on until the fourth quarter based on a lot of Gortat and John Wall (who had 19 points on 5-of15).

The Raptors would not go quietly, and behind 32 from DeRozan and 15 from Kyle Lowry on the night they battled back to take the lead. That said, those two combined for 51 of the Raptors 99 shots on the night, and for the Wizards they will live with those two taking more than half the Raptors’ shots.

But in the end it was consecutive threes from Otto Porter followed by consecutive threes from Pierce that proved to be too much. Pierce had 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.

The Wizards had impressive stretches behind their quality defense during the regular season, but they could not sustain it, mostly because their conventional offense was defendable. It was two bigs inside and a lot of Wall. In the playoffs, Randy Whittman has finally started to play Porter and Pierce together, with Pierce as the four, and that has given the Wizards great spacing and shooting. Toronto has had no answer.

Come Sunday, Raptors fans will gather in Jurrasic Park in Toronto, and one of the best fan bases in the NBA will cheer on their team.

But it likely will be for the final time this season.

The Wizards are moving on. That’s the Truth.

PBT Extra: Great playoff series to come in later rounds

Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers
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ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin discusses the disappointing first round playoff series and looks ahead to the more exciting matchups that will play out in the second round.

Lakers to send Byron Scott to NBA Draft lottery

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers
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The Lakers are a proud franchise that is not used to figuring out who to send to the NBA Draft Lottery. They expect to still be playing this time of year.

Not this year.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was Los Angeles sports icon Fred Roggin’s radio show on The Beast 980 in Los Angeles (the Clippers flagship station) that coach Byron Scott will represent the Lakers at the draft lottery.

In recent years, the Lakers have sent team owner Jeannie Buss and legend James Worthy to represent the team. We’ll see if Scott can bring the Lakers better luck, although based on his offense I would just expect whatever is most conventional.

Los Angeles had the fourth worst record in the NBA, their odds of keeping their pick is 82.8 percent — if they fall outside the top five the pick reverts to the Philadelphia 76ers (via the Phoenix Suns, part of the Steve Nash trade). Their odds of each of the top five spots: 1st pick 11.9 percent, 2nd pick 12.6 percent, 3rd pick 13.3 percent, 4th pick 9.9% percent, 5th pick 35.1 percent. Yes Lakers fans, the most likely outcome (basically one-in-three) is that you fall to the five spot.

The Lakers did well last season in the draft, getting Julius Randle in the first round and finding a potential gem in Jordan Clarkson in the second round. They need another draft like that (or three) to avoid being in this position again.

Gregg Popovich’s main adjustment: Hope his guys just shoot better

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Two
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LOS ANGELES — Gregg Popovich made adjustments to how his Spurs defended and attacked the Clippers between Games 1 and 2 of what is now a tied series 1-1 heading to San Antonio for Game 3 Friday.

For example, he tweaked how they defended that double high pick-and-roll the Clippers have gone heavily to (and still are having success with despite the adjustments). On offense, you see the Spurs using a lot of what they did against Miami in the Finals last year (because the Clippers’ defense is similar), coming off the high pick then passing back to the middle of the floor.

But his main adjustment — hope his guys just shot better.

Seriously. For all the talk of an Xs and Os chess match, Popovich said before Game 2 that the real key was just that the Spurs do what they do best better than in Game 1.

“It always gets overplayed, when you lose you need to make an adjustment or two, and if you win you just go with the flow,” Popovich said. “You have to do what you do well. For instance, we can change pick-and-roll defense and do something different on Blake (Griffin), but I’m not sure that’s going to make us shoot better. We would like to shoot better tonight, we’d like to actually get back in transition D like it mattered. So if you do that it’s got nothing to do with Os and Xs and strategy things that you do. You’ve got to get back on defense or you’re in trouble. You’ve got to make shots or you’re in trouble. You can’t turn it over or you’re in trouble. Don’t do those things and the adjustments don’t mean a whole lot. We’ll make adjustments, so you guys think I’m doing something, but I’m hoping we do that stuff better.”

They did.

The Spurs shot 36.6 percent in Game 1, 46.2 percent in Game 2. Their eFG% (which accounts for the bump from made threes) jumped from 41.9 percent to 50.5 percent. The Spurs adjustments and ball movement got them seven more uncontested looks in Game 2 (40 to 33) and they hit a higher percentage of them (45 percent to 39.4 percent). The Spurs also did a much better job of getting back in transition and taking away some of the Clippers’ easy buckets.

This isn’t just a sound bite for Popovich. Doing what they do better was a core part of his message to the team. Look at what Patty Mills said after the Spurs Game 2 win.

“That was a game of grit, and grind and competitiveness,” Mills said. “We showed competitiveness at the toughest times, which is good. We lacked that in the first game so we knew that before any Xs and Os in this game we needed to show we could come out and compete for 48 minutes — and even more tonight.”

Doc Rivers and Popovich will both make adjustments heading into Game 3, and those tweaks will have an impact on the outcome.

But so will the answer to this simple question: Which team can do what it does best, better?