If you give away a game to the Spurs, they'll bury you at the first convenient moment as a punishing reminder.
Two days after seizing home-court advantage by escaping the Staples Center with an overtime win, the Spurs blew out the Clippers 100-73 in Game 3 at the AT&T Center to take a 2-1 series lead.
It was a night of routine brilliance for San Antonio, one that easily could have produced an even uglier result. Tim Duncan (four points, seven rebounds) was a non-factor offensively, Tony Parker moved well after dealing with an Achilles injury in Game 2 but was hardly an overwhelming force, and the Spurs let a flat Clippers squad hang around until the third quarter. Eventually, Kawhi Leonard got serious, outscoring the Clippers 13-11 by himself in the third quarter, on his way to a playoff career-high 32 points.
Leonard's overall offensive repertoire is still slept on, but nights like this will convert sleepers into believers. On a night Leonard received the Defensive Player of the Year trophy from Duncan, he dominated on the other end, slicing for layups, skying for a one-handed alley-oop dunk, pulling up from mid-range, spotting up from beyond the arc, taking off on the break, and shaking Matt Barnes with a vicious crossover.
The reigning Finals MVP needed just 18 shots to get his 32 points, and he singlehandedly outscored L.A.'s core trio of Chris Paul (seven points, four assists), Blake Griffin (14 points, 10 rebounds) and DeAndre Jordan (10 points, eight rebounds). He was a five-tool, one-man wrecking crew, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers responded by waving the white flag with nearly eight minutes remaining in regulation.
"He came out here tonight to show that he's more than just a defender," Duncan said of Leonard after the game. "He put on a show tonight."
[daily_cut.nba] L.A.'s mantra before the series, and after its Game 1 victory, was "resolve." The resolve dissolved in Game 3, raising familiar, stressful questions for Rivers and company. Can the Clippers stick with a deeper, more experienced opponent if Paul and Griffin don't have excellent nights? No. Will anyone from L.A.'s notoriously weak bench show up on the road to counteract the home-court boost enjoyed by Danny Green and San Antonio's other role players? No. Can L.A. match San Antonio's energy when playing in a hostile environment rather than at home? No, not even close. Will the Clippers be able to stay within striking range at the AT&T Center, where the Spurs went 11-2 and enjoyed a +14.3 point differential in last year's playoffs? No ... at least not yet.
"We got our butt kicked," Rivers sighed, adding that L.A.'s defensive intensity and focus started to lag in response to a 6-for-18 shooting performance in the first quarter. Griffin, similarly, had no answers, only laments. "They were better than us in every facet of the game," he said. "They just beat us in every way."
The terms of this series have shifted swiftly. San Antonio barely dodged an 0-2 hole on Wednesday and is now sitting pretty at 2-1. Two days ago, they were justifiably worried about facing the "bind" that comes with being the lower-seeded team that loses the first two games on the road. Now, the biggest concern is complacency.
"We’re not that good and they are not what you saw tonight without a doubt," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich warned. "We just had one heck of a night. That’s all it is, one night. You throw it out and you start all over again and they’ll do the same thing."
Spoken like a man who understands, better than anyone, that swift shifts can run in both directions.