Spurs seal Jazz series, Clippers on the verge

The San Antonio Spurs swept into the second round of the NBA play-offs with an 87-81 win over the Utah Jazz, erasing bitter memories of last year's embarrassing first-round exit.


San Antonio will next play the Los Angeles Clippers or Memphis Grizzlies in the next round and it is looking likely that it will be the Clippers after they seized a 3-1 lead in their first-round series on Monday.

Western Conference top seeds San Antonio, who were stunned by Memphis in last year's playoffs, sealed the best-of-seven series against Utah 4-0 with their 14th consecutive win.

Manu Ginobili scored 17 points while Tony Parker and Tim Duncan played sparingly, finishing with 11 points apiece.

“"Last year was frustrating," Ginobili told reporters. "“But like I said many times, last year the Grizzlies played better than us. I think we played better this year."

Utah raised the home crowd's hopes of avoiding the sweep by climbing out of a 21-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter, but San Antonio moved up a gear and put the Jazz away.

While the defeat marked the end of Utah's season, their youthful roster have gained valuable playoff experience. Al Jefferson led them in scoring on Monday with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz shook things up by inserting second-year player Derrick Favors into the lineup. He tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds to help Utah out-rebound the visitors 57-43, but it was far from enough.

Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich was able to guide his team to the best record in the conference this season while still managing to rest his core of veteran standouts.

Popovich continued to manage his players accordingly as his reserves made up the difference with 47 bench points.

"Looking at it from the beginning of the game I thought that our guys showed a lot of class as they have done all year - just continued to fight," said Utah coach Tyrone Corbin. "Our backs were up against the wall right from the beginning."

In Los Angeles Blake Griffin scored a game-high 30 points to help the LA Clippers push the Memphis Grizzlies to the brink of elimination with a 101-97 overtime victory in their Western Conference quarter-final.

While forward Griffin also contributed seven assists, All-Star point guard Chris Paul weighed in with 27 points and nine rebounds as the Clippers took a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Griffin stole a layup with a crucial offensive rebound to put the Clippers ahead 95-89 before fouling out and the ever-reliable Paul poured in four jump shots in overtime to ensure that the home team stayed narrowly in front.

"It was a fight today," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.

"They gave us problems with their offensive rebound again but we were able to do a little bit of a better job at the free throw line and make some plays down the stretch.

"Chris took over the game when he needed to and Blake was big. I'm happy we found a way to execute when we needed to defensively, getting some stops. It's about putting yourself in that situation and responding."

Guard Mike Conley top-scored with 25 points for the Grizzlies, who twice led by a point early in the fourth quarter and piled on late pressure with an 11-1 run to tie the game at 85-85 with 35.5 seconds left.

Paul put the Clippers ahead 87-85 with a darting drive and layup and Zach Randolph responded with two free throws to level the score at 87-87 before Paul failed to score on the last play of regulation.

"The worst mistake I probably made in the game was not getting that shot at the end of regulation," said Paul. "But you've got to get through it. I have team mates that have confidence in me. Everything that we do is a team win."

For Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, Paul made the difference on the night.

"The guy made three straight jumpers, got to the basket, got fouled," Hollins said. "I mean, come on. He won the game for them down the stretch. He's the problem, and we've got to solve the problem."

Game Five is in Memphis on Wednesday.

The Grizzlies made a fast start to Game Four, racing 10-2 up after a Rudy Gay driving layup before the Clippers fought back to lead 32-26 after the first quarter.

Helped by Griffin's dazzling form, which included twisting drives and an alley-oop slam dunk off an assist by Mo Williams, the home team maintained control as they reached halftime 51-45 ahead.

The sell-out crowd of 19,167 at Staples Center roared the Clippers on in the third quarter, chants of "MVP MVP" echoing in the rafters as five-time All-Star Paul poured in two free throws to put his team 62-55 up.

However, the Grizzlies stayed close, trimming the deficit to 69-68 early in the fourth quarter with a put-back dunk by Gay, then going ahead with a free throw by Gay followed by another by Hamed Haddadi.

The lead swiftly changed hands three times before a Nick Young three-point jump shot gave the Clippers welcome breathing room with a 77-72 advantage and just over six minutes remaining.

Two free throws from Griffin earned Los Angeles a 10-point cushion with just over four minutes left before the gritty Grizzlies delivered their late flourish to send the game into overtime.

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