The San Antonio Spurs entered this first-round matchup with a five-game winning streak over the Memphis Grizzlies, and many assumed it would rather easily grow to nine with a nice little break heading into the Western Conference semifinals.
That should come true Sunday in Memphis as the Spurs try for a third sweep in the teams' fourth all-time playoff series after getting through an uninspiring Game 3 performance with a victory.
After two blowouts in San Antonio, the series shifted to Memphis on Friday and things got closer with the Spurs winning 96-87. The Grizzlies led by a point heading into the fourth quarter, but Kawhi Leonard scored 13 of his series-high 32 points in the final 12 minutes.
"I thought we were a little disjointed at times, mostly because of their pressure and physical toughness," coach Gregg Popovich said. "But we fought through it."
On the eight-game overall skid against San Antonio, Memphis has scored at least 90 points once, and the offensive shortcomings have been even more exposed in the playoffs. The Spurs swept the Grizzlies in 2004 and '13 - Memphis did win a six-game series in '11 - and the seven straight playoff wins have come by a 98.7-82.9 margin with Memphis shooting 37.9 percent.
For this series, the Grizzlies are averaging 76.3 points and shooting 37.7 percent. San Antonio is 10 percent better than that from 3-point range after hitting just 23.5 in its last four regular-season contests.
Leonard has been a big part of all of those numbers and matched a career postseason scoring high in Game 3, hitting 6 of 9 from beyond the arc to single-handedly better Memphis (4 of 18) in half the attempts.
"He just keeps getting better and better," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said of the repeat Defensive Player of the Year. "He's been terrific all series, and he's also a bailout player for them ... They can run all their stuff, and it's hard to defend, and he can go get a shot when the shot clock is going down."
Tim Duncan played only 13:32 after averaging just over 24 minutes in the first two games. He's tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third in career playoff victories with 154 and can match former teammate Robert Horry with another. Derek Fisher's league-record 161 would be in reach if the Spurs make the conference finals.
Memphis, which is 1-13 since March 21, is playing the series without two of its top three scorers in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley in a season defined by makeshift starting fives. What's left of the trio - Zach Randolph - had 20 points and 11 rebounds in Game 3 after being limited to 8.5 points on 26.7 percent shooting in the first two games.
Rookie forward Jarell Martin is the latest to succumb to injury after missing Game 3 with a left foot ailment and isn't expected to return anytime soon.
The Grizzlies elected to go with a smaller lineup in Game 3, moving Tony Allen into the starting five while Chris Andersen came off the bench. The results were an improvement - just not enough to add any intrigue to the series.
Joerger summarized his team's part with a true statement of the overmatched.
"You're going to go down swinging," he said. "You know, Matt (Barnes) sort of summed it up the other night, and that's kind of what we try to do. Guys who have been in the league a long time, all of our guys, are playing with a lot of heart."