Cham­pi­ons show poise down stretch

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Brod­er­ick Turner brod­er­ick.turner@la­ Twit­ter: @BA_Turner

The cham­pi­ons are still stand­ing tall, need­ing to de­liver just one more blow to ad­vance to the next round of the West­ern Con­fer­ence play­offs.

San An­to­nio is in this po­si­tion be­cause of a 111-107 victory over the Clip­pers on Tues­day night at Sta­ples Cen­ter that left the de­fend­ing NBA cham­pi­ons with a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven se­ries.

All the Spurs have to do is win Game 6 on Thurs­day night in San An­to­nio and they will ad­vance to the sec­ond round to meet the Hous­ton Rock­ets.

San An­to­nio has won 11 of 14 best-of-seven se­ries when tied 2-2.

The Spurs es­caped only af­ter the Clip­pers’ De­An­dre Jor­dan was called for bas­ket in­ter­fer­ence with 4.9 sec­onds left on a Blake Grif­fin run­ner, leav­ing San An­to­nio with a one-point lead.

Danny Green made one of two free throws and Kawhi Leonard (18 points) made two free throws for the fi­nal mar­gin.

Tim Dun­can had 21 points and 11 re­bounds to help the Spurs bounce back from their Game 4 loss at home.

The Spurs were go­ing to be forced to show their poise be­cause the Clip­pers kept com­ing even af­ter San An­to­nio built a seven-point lead in the fourth.

When San An­to­nio’s lead was sliced to 107-105 with 1:31 left, the Spurs called time out.

Out of the time­out, Green missed a jumper.

But Dun­can blocked Grif­fin down low. Af­ter Grif­fin got the ball back, Boris Diaw stripped the ball away.

Tony Parker was fouled, but he made just one of two free throws for a 108-105 Spurs ad­van­tage with 48.5 sec­onds left.

Then af­ter Grif­fin missed two free throws with 39.9 sec­onds left, the Spurs failed to get the re­bound.

Matt Barnes was fouled and made two free throws to cut San An­to­nio’s lead to 108107 with 30.8 sec­onds left.

But the Spurs stayed strong and never let the Clip­pers score again. Leonard is Spurs’ star

At some point, the Spurs have main­tained, San An­to­nio will tran­si­tion into Leonard’s team.

The changeover ap­pears to have taken shape in the play­offs.

For the most part, Leonard has car­ried the Spurs, show­cas­ing his im­mense skills as one of the NBA’s top two-way play­ers.

He has given the Clip­pers fits in the first four games, drop­ping a ca­reer play­off high 32 points in Game 3.

Be­fore Game 5 Tues­day night, Leonard was lead­ing the Spurs in scor­ing in the play­offs, av­er­ag­ing 24.8 points per game, eighthbest among play­ers in the post­sea­son.

He was shoot­ing 60% from the field, 56.3% from three-point range.

Leonard has been given more of­fen­sive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in play­offs, do­ing his best to strike a bal­ance be­tween tak­ing over the game and mov­ing the ball in San An­to­nio’s pace of­fense.

“Ob­vi­ously, he’s do­ing a good job,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said.

“A player as tal­ented as him, he’s cer­tainly some­one that we want to see get his touches and that sort of thing. But if he’s got an op­por­tu­nity to score, we want him to do it.”

Paul Buck EPA

SPURS’ Kawhi Leonard, de­fended by Ja­mal Craw­ford, is his team’s fu­ture.

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