MEMPHIS (Tennessee) • Despite lopsided wins by San Antonio Spurs in the first two games of the Western Conference opening-round play-off series against the injury-depleted Memphis Grizzlies, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili knew that Friday night would be different.
The Grizzlies - who began losing players at an alarming rate with 30 games left in the regular season - refused to go quietly in their first home game in the series, which was played before a sell-out crowd of 18,119.
The Spurs led by only two points with 4min 38sec to go, but finished strongly behind Kawhi Leonard for a 96-87 victory at the FedExForum.
Leonard scored 32 points and LaMarcus Aldridge added 16 for the Spurs, who can clinch the best-of-seven series with a win today, also at the FedExForum.
"Game 3 is always huge (in a play-off series) and they knew it," Ginobili said. "They were aggressive. They went to the boards."
After being dominated by the Spurs in the first two games of the series - losses of 32 and 26 points in San Antonio - the Grizzlies competed from the outset. They trailed by only one at the half and led 71-70 entering the fourth quarter.
A JaMychal Green lay-up, off an alley-oop pass from Xavier Munford, gave the Grizzlies a 73-70 lead to start the final quarter, but the Spurs recovered.
San Antonio scored nine straight points for a 79-73 advantage with 8:03 left and never trailed again.
When Memphis trimmed the lead to 83-81 on a Matt Barnes tip-in with 4:38 left, the Spurs used an 8-2 run - capped by a short turnaround by Leonard - to pull away. Leonard had five points during the run.
"I give them a lot of credit," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
"The purpose they came with, the pride they showed and the mental toughness (the Grizzlies displayed) for 48 minutes. I thought their game plan was great and I thought their effort was even better."
At The Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined for 66 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers took a 3-0 lead over the Detroit Pistons with a 101-91 play-off win.
The top-seeded Cavaliers can close out the Eastern Conference series in game four in Detroit against the Pistons today.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE