Spurs on brink of elimination after emotional loss to Warriors

...Embiid shines in play-off debut, Blazers on the brink

Saturday, April 21, 2018

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LOS ANGELES, United States (AFP) — Kevin Durant scored 26 points as the Golden State Warriors beat San Antonio 110-97 to take a 3-0 lead over the Spurs, who were playing with heavy hearts after the death of Gregg Popovich's wife.

Head Coach Popovich did not attend Thursday's game, which took place just a day after the passing of his wife Erin Popovich who died from a long-term illness. The couple had been married for four decades and had two children and two grandchildren.

San Antonio Assistant Coach Ettore Messina coached the team in Popovich's absence.

“Everybody did a really great job as players, as people working in the organisation, and as staff in trying to support each other and face this moment the way it should be faced — as friends,” Messina said.

LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 18 points, while 35-year-old Tony Parker delivered 16 points in a throwback performance.

Parker said this is an emotional time for the players and the coaching staff.

“It was [a] very tough [and] sad day, and tough to play basketball tonight,” said Parker.

Durant showed his versatility by adding nine rebounds and six assists for the Warriors, who can close out the first-round Western Conference series with a victory Sunday in San Antonio.

Asked if he would be coaching on Sunday Messina said, “We don't know, we will talk. We will see.”

Meanwhile, Joel Embiid scored 23 points in his post-season debut as the Philadelphia 76ers crushed the Miami Heat 128-108 to grab a 2-1 lead in their first-round play-off series.

Embiid, who wore a mask to protect a broken bone in his face, returned from a 10-game absence and helped seal the victory by scoring seven straight points for the Sixers down the stretch.

Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli combined to score 42 points while Ben Simmons finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Philadelphia in front of a crowd of 19,800 at Miami's American Airlines Arena.

Game four of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series is Saturday in Miami.

Embiid wasn't even supposed to play Thursday. Many thought he would be out of the line-up longer due to the severity of the injury. He had to get a doctor's clearance from the team, and league approval for the mask and goggle combination that sometimes slipped off his face.

The 76ers won for the 18th time in their last 19 games and reclaimed home court advantage in the series.

Goran Dragic scored 23 points, Justise Winslow had 19, and Josh Richardson scored 14 in the loss.

In New Orleans, Nikola Mirotic scored a career play-off-best 30 points and the Pelicans beat the Portland Trail Blazers 119-102 to take a stranglehold 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.

Anthony Davis had 28 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, who are hoping to reach the second round of the post-season for the first time since 2008.

They can achieve that goal with a win in game four on Saturday.

Mirotic, acquired in a mid-season trade after DeMarcus Cousins' season-ending injury, made 12 of 15 shots. He drained three-pointers, finished off fast-break layups, and made clutch dunks.

Damian Lillard led Portland with 20 points but also missed nine of 14 shots. CJ McCollum scored 22 and Al-Farouq Aminu added 21 in the loss.

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