Three Things to Watch preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors

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This was the series we have been waiting for these playoffs (well, at least before the Finals). Golden State’s small ball, high-scoring attack against San Antonio’s league-best defense where the goal is to play big. A clash of styles. A clash of the teams with the two best regular-season records. After the first round, we need this. Here are three things to watch for.

1) Spurs big lineup vs. the Warriors’ death lineup.
San Antonio can carry some optimism about this into this series from the last round against Houston, San Antonio was able to slow the game down and won thanks to their big lineups. They defended the arc well — the Spurs contested 34 of 40 Rockets three-point attempts in Game 6 — and had success taking away drives to the rim by planting Pau Gasol and/or LaMarcus Aldridge near the rim and daring James Harden or anyone else to come all the way in and shoot over them. It worked.

It’s also going to be much harder to do against the Warriors. For one, there is not Clint Capella hanging out at the rim — Gasol and Aldrige are going to have to come out to the arc because Draymond Green and Kevin Durant will drill the three if left open. Beyond that, the Warriors run an array of actions — back door cuts, split actions, screens off the ball, and much more — that will be hard to defend. Golden State’s offense is more diversified than Houston’s, and it simply has better shooters — some days it doesn’t matter if you contest Klay Thompson. Also, on just a very basic level, the Spurs dared the Rockets to beat them from them from the midrange, and Houston would not take the bait (Mike D’Antoni wants threes or shots at the rim). Do that to the Spurs and Durant/Thompson/David West and others will destroy the Spurs from the midrange.

On the other end, the Spurs will need to pound on the Warriors inside. The Warriors have some size to throw at them — JaVale McGee/Zaza Pachulia/West have been a strong trio at the five — but Spurs have to dominate inside in this series. The thing is, a lot of teams have tried that against the Warriors in recent years and it doesn’t go well. Draymond Green makes things difficult — he is the key to the Warriors playing small and still defending inside.

2) Kawhi Leonard vs. Kevin Durant. This matchup is one to watch on both ends. There are few players with the strength and length to hang with Kevin Durant, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is one of those guys. Leonard has to handle Durant and not let him be the guy who takes over on the nights Stephen Curry is not on fire from deep (with Danny Green draped all over him). The thing that makes these Warriors more dangerous than the last couple years is on the nights the threes are not falling, the nights that the Curry/Thompson backcourt isn’t dominating, Durant can take over. Remove Durant from the equation and the Warriors are just who they have been the past couple of seasons (a team that made the Finals both years and won a title, but still). The thing is, Durant has had success against Leonard in the past.

Just as interesting, Durant’s length can make things challenging for the guy who is the fulcrum of the Spurs offense. If the Spurs are to have any chance in this series, Leonard has to win this battle and be phenomenal. It’s a lot to ask, but he can do it.

3) Mike Brown, you up for this?
At some point during this series, Gregg Popovich is going to make a clever adjustment that the Warriors were not expecting, and with it some Spur we weren’t expecting is going to be a put in a position to succeed. Popovich is the best coach in the game, maybe the best coach ever, for good reason. Steve Kerr would counter, likely with something else unorthodox.

Mike Brown, are you ready for this stage? He’s essentially the renter in the home Kerr built, just trying not to stain the carpet so he gets his security deposit back. Brown has coached teams in this situation before, but he tends to be conventional, do the expected. In this series that may be enough, but it is the toughest coaching job he will have in the playoffs. He is going to have to have his moment in this round.

Prediction: Warriors in 5. The Spurs are the second or third best team in the NBA (them vs. the Cavaliers would be a fascinating series in its own right), but this is just a rough matchup for them. The Warriors have more and better counters to everything the Spurs will try this round. San Antonio may slow the Warriors, but they are going to struggle to score enough to win.

Watch Lakers’ fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

Three things to know: Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks in 76ers win

The 76ers went 3-1 with Joel Embiid sidelined by a left mid-foot sprain, but they are so much more a dangerous team with him.

Embiid scored the 76ers’ final 11 points of the game against the Hawks, including the go-ahead 10-foot jumper with 18.6 seconds left, to cap a 30-point night and lift the Sixers past the Hawks 104-101.

Embiid was making critical defensive plays down the stretch as well.

Embiid finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. That’s five straight 30+ point games for Embiid, who picked up right where he left off before the injury.

Well, not exactly pick up at the start as Embiid was 1-of-7 shooting to open the game, and he wasn’t the only Sixers rusty at the start. Embiid seemed focused on sharing the ball early but settled into an offensive balance as the game went on. Philly was saved by a solid defensive night.

The 76ers continue to pick up wins with James Harden and Tyrese Maxey out, which is a good sign going forward.

That’s three-straight losses for the Hawks, a loss that stings because they should have been able to dominate the shorthanded 76ers backcourt and get the win.

2) Karl-Anthony Towns goes down with concerning leg injury

Let’s hope the optimistic report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is right and this isn’t as severe as it looked. Because it looked bad.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony simply was pushing off to run back upcourt when he fell to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf.

Towns was helped back to the locker room and did not return, with the Timberwolves officially saying he was out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A calf strain would be the best possible outcome. An MRI Monday will tell us more.

Towns’ stats are down this season as he adjusts to the odd fit of playing next to Rudy Gobert, but he is still averaging 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.

The Wizards got a monster night from Kristaps Porzingis — a career-high 41 points — on their way to a 142-127 victory. When Porzingis is on this Washington team is tough to beat.

3) Big shots fall at Lakers’ game

Two big shots defined the night at the crypto.com arena Monday.

First, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 with a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

The second one hurt the Lakers more. Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

The Lakers got lost in the scramble. On the initial action, Russell Westbrook doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner, which left the screen setter Myles Turner open at the top for a clean look at a 3 — but he was short and came off the front of the rim. Tyrese Haliburton out-hustled everyone to the rebound and tried to create his own shot but saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West.

The Lakers had won 5-of-6 against a soft part of the schedule but that is about to change and over the next few weeks we will get a sense of where this 7-12 team really stands.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.