Post Up: Silent Assassin

Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs dominated the Clippers to take a 2-1 lead on Friday.
by April 25, 2015

Raptors 99, Wizards 106 (Wizards lead 3-0)

T. Dot can’t handle The Truth.

Paul Pierce (18 points) sank three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter — including the dagger with 16 seconds left — to lift Washington to a 3-0 series lead. After draining the second jumper, he turned to the crowd and yelled, “That’s why they brought me here!” Yes, indeed. Oh, and bite your words, Masai Ujiri. You lost $35,000 AND made yourself look like a complete idiot.

The Raptors led 35-33 after the first quarter, but the Wiz, just like in Games 1 and 2, outscored Toronto by a good margin in the second period. The home team took a 54-48 lead into the half, and the Raps cut the deficit in the third, trailing by just a single bucket heading into the final 12 minutes. Pierce, John Wall, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat closed out Washington’s third straight victory. While Pierce was the go-to man down the stretch, Game 3 was a full team effort from the Wiz. Gortat was a monster down low; the Polish Hammer shot 11-15 from the field for 24 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked 4 shots in 42 minutes of playing time.

Following a 26-point, 17-assist performance in Game 2, Wall went for 19 and 15 in 43 minutes. He was just too fast for the Raptors; whenever Toronto collapsed on one of his drives, he’d quickly find a teammate for an easy deuce. Wall even heard MVP chants while he was at the free throw line. Beal (16 points, 6 rebounds, 42 minutes of play) shot just 4-12 from the field but still managed a productive game.

Drew Gooden (12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Otto Porter (11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals) were the key contributors for Washington off the bench. Gooden drilled four 3-pointers in the first half, and Porter drained some huge shots in crunch time, including two 3-balls with under 4:30 remaining in regulation. The young’n out of Georgetown has been a big factor for the Wizards through three playoff games. At one point in last night’s affair, he swatted the shit out of DeMar DeRozan’s shot and proceeded to give him a murderous mean-mug. That’s the type of play Washington expected out of Otto when they drafted him with the third overall pick in the 2013 draft.

DeRozan dropped 20 points in the first quarter on 8-11 shooting, but he cooled off significantly the rest of the way. He finished 11-29 from the field for 32 points, pulled down 6 rebounds and dished out 6 dimes. After fouling out in Game 1 and getting injured in Game 2, Kyle Lowry had his first meaningful game of the series with 15 points and 7 assists in 38 minutes. But The Truth pierced any chances the Raps had at stealing a road win.

Washington will go for the sweep Sunday at 6:30 Eastern time.

Eli Schwadron

Rockets 130, Mavericks 128 (Rockets lead 3-0)

The Rockets MVP candidate only made four field goals in Game 1 and remained on the bench during his team’s critical fourth quarter run from Game 2. It was a different, more expected story Friday night.

James Harden (career-high 42 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 15-24 from the field) took over Game 3, scoring from all over the court while getting the shooter’s role on a late-game field goal. The Mavericks changed their defense in an attempt to take away other parts of the Rockets’ offense, but it allowed Harden’s game to completely open up and ignite.

Harden wasn’t alone in his career performance as Dwight Howard (13 points, 26 rebounds, 2 blocks) completely dominated Tyson Chandler (8 points, 8 rebounds) in the paint. Chandler gave plenty of effort all night, as was the case for the entire Dallas team. However, Howard was too athletic, strong and rough for any of the Mavericks to contain or control. D12’s 26 rebounds ties Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone for the franchise record in a playoff game.

The Mavs attempted some crazy matchups Friday night, such as Raymond Felton on Harden and Dirk Nowitzki on Trevor Ariza. For the most part, Carlisle tried his hardest to hide Dirk on defense, as his Big German just doesn’t have the same first step as he used to. And with the Mavs’ increased pace of play with Rajon Rondo out of the picture, Dirk looked completely gassed on defense most of the night.

On the other end of the floor, though, Dirk Nowitzki (34 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 10-19 from the field) turned into his former self down the stretch. He scored 14 of his 34 points in the final 12 minutes by calmly sinking his free throws, drilling 3-pointers and splashing fadeaway jumpers. It felt like déjà vu. Monta Ellis (34 points, 9 assists, 3 steals, 15-25 from the field) was just as good as his partner in crime and finally found his shooting touch. While Al-Farouq Aminu (15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks) and JJ Barea (11 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds) brought scoring and energy in spurts, Dirk and Ellis were almost the closers Friday night.

But the problem wasn’t scoring—it was stopping. In the fourth, the Mavs scored time and time again when they needed to, but then followed many of these possessions by giving up a basket. Josh Smith (18 points, 7-15 from the field) and Corey Brewer (15 points, 2-3 on 3-pointers) have epitomized what it means to be x-factors, even if you don’t like that term. While the heavyweights of Dirk, Ellis, Harden and Howard battled it out, Smith and Brewer gave the Rockets the edge in terms of role players.

Out of all these players, Harden showed why he is the team’s MVP and came through with the biggest shot of the night. After the Beard converted an and-one to put his team up 127-123 with 56.8 seconds, Dirk responded by making three free throws after Harden fouled him on a 3-point attempt. So with a slim 127-126 lead with 33.8 on the game clock, everyone knew where the ball was going. Harden received it, used a pick to switch Chandler onto him and stepped back for a jump shot that rattled home after a few friendly bounces.

Despite Rick Carlisle’s clear post-game frustration in regards to the lack of calls (he has good reason to be upset), the outcome of this game has nothing to do with the referees. The Rockets took every swinging punch the Mavs threw at them (there were a lot) and stood their ground. Finally, the Mavs fought like they did on a nightly basis before the Rondo trade. But with a determined Harden, healthy Howard and invested Smith, the Rockets are simply the better team and will soon be moving onto the second round.

Jay Wallis

Clippers 73, Spurs 100 (Spurs lead 2-1)

Last season, the Spurs faced their toughest test on their road to another NBA title in the first round, when the Mavericks somehow took them to seven games. While the Spurs may have treated the first round last year like an extended tune-up for the playoffs, things are a little bit different this time around.

The Spurs absolutely dissected the Clippers last night in a 100-73 victory to take a 2-1 series lead. It was a throwback to their total domination of the Heat in the 2014 Finals. Every rotation was perfect, every possession tactical, every cut precise, and by the end of it Spencer Hawes was flinging up turnaround hook shots trying to get the Clippers past the 60-point barrier.

The Spurs took an early 11-2 lead, and it was clear from the tip that the defensive intensity was going to be off the charts. The Clippers started off the game shooting 28%, and the Clipper bench started the game 1-12 from the field. The Spurs lead 46-38 at the half, but they still were in total control. Then Kawhi Leonard (32 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist) lost his mind.

The Defensive Player of the Year was honored before the game, and responded with his best offensive performance of his career. Leonard scored 13 of the Spurs’ first 15 points in the third to push the lead to 16. He also did this, which pretty much ended any hope of a Clippers comeback.

By the time the third quarter ended it was over. The Clippers had been held to a season-low 11 points and trailed 71-49. What’s terrifying is that Tim Duncan (4 points, 4 assists, 7 rebounds), Manu Ginobili (2 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds), and Tony Parker, who looked recovered from his Achilles injury and ended with 6 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds) combined for only 12 points. The Spurs got their production from the entire team, with Boris Diaw (15 points, 3 assists, 6 rebounds) and Danny Green (11 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds) both contributing. Everyone on the Spurs scored except for one person, and it was a total massacre from start to finish.

For the Clippers the only saving grace was that the starters didn’t have to play huge minutes. Chris Paul (7 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds) was horrendous, and Blake Griffin (14 points, 5 assists, 10 rebounds) was pretty much the only one who did anything. Once Doc Rivers goes to his deep bench you know it’s over, and the Clippers just had no shot in this one. If the Clippers can somehow turn things around Sunday then they’ll be right back into it, but this is looking more and more like San Antonio’s series to lose.

Russell Simon

Image via Getty