Spurs take care of business against injured Lakers, lead series 3-0

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LOS ANGELES — This is what good teams do. They take care of business.

With injuries forcing the Lakers into lineups without any guards you can name — unless you’re a big D-League fan — the Spurs looked every bit the contender, racing out to an early double-digit lead, never letting up and cruising to a 120-89 win Friday night over the Lakers in Los Angeles. They were professional, cold and efficient all night long. They were the Spurs.

San Antonio is now up 3-0 in the series and will likely close it out Sunday in Los Angeles with a similar performance. Will the Lakers put up much of a fight?

“It’s hard to determine,” Pau Gasol said in a postgame moment of honesty. “We’ll see Sunday how much fight we have in us in order to give ourselves a chance and not have a 30 point loss at home.”

It was 31 points, which is the worst home loss in Lakers playoff history. The Lakers fans who stuck around for the end of the game chanted “we want Phil” but when you look at who is left on the Lakers’ roster Phil Jackson likely would pass.

There were no real surprises here. The Lakers stood no chance Friday night with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks all wearing suits on the bench due to injury (well, Kobe stayed in the locker room). The Lakers started Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock as their guards. Plus, Metta World Peace just had his knee drained, wasn’t moving well, went 0-for-6 shooting in the first half and didn’t play in the second.

“It’s difficult because we have lineups out there that we’re not accustomed to and it’s hard to get on the same page right away,” Gasol said. “So as much as everybody is trying, tonight there was too many breakdowns.”

Those breakdowns largely came on the defensive end, which has been the Lakers weak link all season anyway. The Spurs shot 61.2 percent for the game, and they got 56 points in the paint on 28-of-39 shooting. The Spurs averaged 123 points per 100 possessions (their season average was 105.9).

Tim Duncan and Tony Parker ate the Lakers defense up. Duncan had 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting, knocking down midrange face-ups, driving around guys and even finishing an alley-oop one handed.

Parker started to look like his old self, the one that played at an MVP level for a stretch of the season. He had 20 points on 9-of-14 shots and carved up the Lakers.

This was a slow and steady march by San Antonio that started early — the Lakers led 6-3 and then the Spurs went on a 14-2 run. It was 30-18 San Antonio after one quarter, 12 minutes in which the Spurs shot 61.1 percent. Meanwhile the Lakers shot 34.8 percent, with Morris and Goudelock shooting 1-of-6. As it has been all season, Pau Gasol and Howard shot a combined 5-9, rest of Lakers 3-14.

Howard finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds, but after the game he was clearly frustrated by the Spurs strategy of fouling him hard nearly every time he went up for a shot. He took 15 free throws on the night, making 7. Morris added 24 points, Goudelock 20 and Gasol 11.

The only bad news for the Spurs was Tiago Splitter going down in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle. He left the building on crutches but Popovich said that the X-rays were negative. Popovich said don’t expect him to play on Sunday. Expect to see a lot DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner Sunday in Game 4.

If the Spurs close out the series Sunday — and it’s hard to imagine any other outcome — Splitter could have a week to get right. That’s how long the first round of the NBA playoffs go. Duncan was okay with that.

“We’re an older team and we could use all the rest we can get,” Duncan said.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.