Few teams have ever entered the NBA playoffs with more uncertainty and intrigue than the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets.

On the surface, it's almost unfathomable to consider a team that finished just one game back of the conference's best record could have so many questions marks, but when their three star players appeared in just eight games together in the regular season – and only one (ONE!) contest since the middle of February – it's not difficult to see why there were so many unknowns.

During the regular season, the Nets' power trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving appeared on the court together for just over three and a half hours. By comparison, the last 'Big three' Durant was a part of – the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors – he, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson played over 23 hours together during the regular season. The Warriors' threesome reached the 200-minute mark before the calendar flipped to November, so the Durant-Harden-Irving trio are essentially in early season mode – and again, they only appeared in one game together over the season's final two months.

So with all eyes on Brooklyn in their first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, it took all of one game for the trio to find their chemistry.

The Nets got past a Celtics team playing without their second-leading scorer in Jaylen Brown in the playoff opener, though it wasn't exactly an offensive showcase. Brooklyn led by just three points five minutes into the fourth quarter before Durant, Harden and Irving scored 19 of the team's final 22 points to lead the Nets to a 104-93 win.

After passing their first test, the offense aced their last four in dispatching the Celtics in five games, with Boston needing an exceptional 50-point performance from Jayson Tatum in Game 3 to avoid being swept.

In the final four games of the series, the Nets averaged 143.3 points per 100 possessions when Durant, Irving and Harden were together on the court – a total of 105 minutes, 56 seconds. As a team, Brooklyn shot 56.8 per cent from the field and 52.1 from three-point range to go with an eFG percentage of 67.2 and a 28.7 assist rate when the three played together.

This came after their Game 1 tuneup as Brooklyn had an offensive rating of 113.4 in the 23 minutes 48 seconds the three were together on the court, shot 48.7 per cent from the floor, made five of 20 three-point attempts, had a 55.1 eFG percentage and 19.6 assist rate.

The offense has been playing on another level since then, averaging 128.3 points and a coveted 50-40-90 shooting percentage slash line – 51.6 per cent from the field, 47.4 from three-point range and 91.7 on free throws.

They are the first team since the advent of the three-pointer in the 1979-80 season to score at least 115 points, hit at least 15 3-point shots and make at least 20 free throws in four straight games. That's including the regular season, not just four straight games in a single playoff series or four games in a row in a single postseason – all games.

The Nets held an offensive clinic in a 141-126 Game 4 win on Sunday, shooting 57.8 per cent while making 17 of 27 shots from beyond the arc (59.3 per cent) and 29 of 30 foul shots (96.7). In the process, Durant scored 42 and made all 11 of his free throw attempts while Irving added 39 and converted all 11 of his foul shots, making them the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to score 35 or more points while going 10 of 10 or better from the free-throw line in a game – regular or postseason.

All Harden did in that one was dish out 18 assists – his most for any game, regular or postseason – and score 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

In the five games against Boston, Durant averaged 32.6 points, Harden 27.8 and Irving 24.8. Their combined average of 85.2 points is the most by any trio in any playoff series all-time – one more than Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Rudy LaRusso averaged for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1962 Western Division Finals.

With Durant, Harden and Irving together, Brooklyn is able to create scoring opportunities by spacing the floor, which is paying dividends for Harden.

In the last four playoff games, Harden made 51.5 per cent of the jump shots (17 of 33) he took from 15 feet or more from the hoop – the fifth highest rate in the league among the 35 players with a minimum of 25 such shots since May 25. He made just 37.1 per cent of such shots during the regular season to rank 125th out of 192 players with a minimum of 200 attempts..

The jump shot, meanwhile, has long been a friend of Durant, and he has been knocking down his jumpers at an astounding clip since Game 1.

Among those with a minimum of 25 jump shots attempted from 15 feet or more from the hoop since May 25, Durant leads all shooters by connecting on 61.4 per cent of his shots (27 of 44). His 6.8 made jump shots from 15 or more feet out are only just behind the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic at 7.0 for tops in the league since May 25. This came after Durant shot 46.9 per cent on these same jumpers and averaged 4.1 makes per game during the regular season.

With Harden proving to be a more efficient scorer away from the basket, defences now must respect his jump shot. The problem is, he's still as dangerous as ever to drive and either dish it out – his 17 assists to Durant are the second most by any one player to a team-mate this postseason behind Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo's 18 assists to Nickola Jokic – or finish at the rim.

Harden is connecting on 73.7 per cent of his 19 layup attempts this postseason after converting 58.4 per cent of them in the regular season. Like Harden, Irving is also successfully finishing at the hoop, making 60.9 per cent of his 23 layup attempts.

Brooklyn's Big three has quickly established a cohesiveness on the court and looks every bit of the offensive juggernaut many envisioned was possible when the team acquired Harden back in January.

One criticism against the Nets all season has been their defense – or lack thereof. The counterpoint to that is that it doesn't matter how many points you give up as long as you score more. And with Durant, Harden, Irving and the Brooklyn offense firing on all cylinders, the Nets certainly have the capability to pile up more points than anyone.

This theory will be put to the test Saturday when Brooklyn open their Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks – the only team to outscore the Nets in the regular season with a 120.1 scoring average.

Few teams have ever entered the NBA playoffs with more uncertainty and intrigue than the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets.

On the surface, it's almost unfathomable to consider a team that finished just one game back of the conference's best record could have so many questions marks, but when its three star players appeared in just eight games together in the regular season – and only one (ONE!) contest since the middle of February – it's not difficult to see why there were so many unknowns.

During the regular season, the Nets' power trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving appeared on the court together for just over three and a half hours. By comparison, the last 'Big 3' Durant was a part of – the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors – he, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson played over 23 hours together during the regular season. The Warriors' threesome reached the 200-minute mark before the calendar flipped to November, so the Durant-Harden-Irving trio are essentially in early season mode – and again, they only appeared in one game together over the season's final two months.

So with all eyes on Brooklyn in its first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, it took all of one game for the trio to find their chemistry.

The Nets got past a Celtics team playing without its second-leading scorer in Jaylen Brown in the playoff opener, though it wasn't exactly an offensive showcase. Brooklyn led by just three points five minutes into the fourth quarter before Durant, Harden and Irving scored 19 of the team's final 22 points to lead the Nets to a 104-93 win.

After passing their first test, the offense aced its last four in dispatching the Celtics in five games, with Boston needing an exceptional 50-point performance from Jayson Tatum in Game 3 to avoid being swept.

In the final four games of the series, the Nets averaged 143.3 points per 100 possessions when Durant, Irving and Harden were together on the court – a total of 105 minutes, 56 seconds. As a team, Brooklyn shot 56.8 per cent from the field and 52.1 from 3-point range to go with an eFG percentage of 67.2 and a 28.7 assist rate when the three played together.

This came after their Game 1 tuneup as Brooklyn had an offensive rating of 113.4 in the 23 minutes 48 seconds the three were together on the court, shot 48.7 per cent from the floor, made five of 20 3-point attempts, had a 55.1 eFG percentage and 19.6 assist rate.

The offense has been playing on another level since then, averaging 128.3 points and a coveted 50-40-90 shooting percentage slash line – 51.6 per cent from the field, 47.4 from 3-point range and 91.7 on free throws.

They are the first team since the advent of the 3-pointer in the 1979-80 season to score at least 115 points, hit at least 15 3-point shots and make at least 20 free throws in four straight games. That's including the regular season, not just four straight games in a single playoff series or four games in a row in a single postseason – all games.

The Nets held an offensive clinic in a 141-126 Game 4 win on Sunday, shooting 57.8 per cent while making 17 of 27 shots from beyond the arc (59.3 per cent) and 29 of 30 foul shots (96.7). In the process, Durant scored 42 and made all 11 of his free throw attempts while Irving added 39 and converted all 11 of his foul shots, making them the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to score 35 or more points while going 10 of 10 or better from the free-throw line in a game – regular or postseason.

All Harden did in that one was dish out 18 assists – his most for any game, regular or postseason – and score 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

In the five games against Boston, Durant averaged 32.6 points, Harden 27.8 and Irving 24.8. Their combined average of 85.2 points is the most by any trio in any playoff series all-time – one more than Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Rudy LaRusso averaged for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1962 Western Division Finals.

With Durant, Harden and Irving together, Brooklyn is able to create scoring opportunities by spacing the floor, which is paying dividends for Harden.

In the last four playoff games, Harden made 51.5 per cent of the jump shots (17 of 33) he took from 15 feet or more from the hoop – the fifth highest rate in the league among the 35 players with a minimum of 25 such shots since May 25. He made just 37.1 per cent of such shots during the regular season to rank 125th out of 192 players with a minimum of 200 attempts..

The jump shot, meanwhile, has long been a friend of Durant, and he has been knocking down his jumpers at an astounding clip since Game 1.

Among those with a minimum of 25 jump shots attempted from 15 feet or more from the hoop since May 25, Durant leads all shooters by connecting on 61.4 per cent of his shots (27 of 44). His 6.8 made jump shots from 15 or more feet out are only just behind the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic at 7.0 for tops in the league since May 25. This came after Durant shot 46.9 per cent on these same jumpers and averaged 4.1 makes per game during the regular season.

With Harden proving to be a more efficient scorer away from the basket, defences now must respect his jump shot. The problem is, he's still as dangerous as ever to drive and either dish it out – his 17 assists to Durant are the second most by any one player to a team-mate this postseason behind Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo's 18 assists to Nickola Jokic – or finish at the rim.

Harden is connecting on 73.7 per cent of his 19 layup attempts this postseason after converting 58.4 per cent of them in the regular season. Like Harden, Irving is also successfully finishing at the hoop, making 60.9 per cent of his 23 layup attempts.

Brooklyn's Big 3 has quickly established a cohesiveness on the court and looks every bit of the offensive juggernaut many envisioned was possible when the team acquired Harden back in January.

One criticism against the Nets all season has been their defense – or lack thereof. The counterpoint to that is that it doesn't matter how many points you give up as long as you score more. And with Durant, Harden, Irving and the Brooklyn offense firing on all cylinders, the Nets certainly have the capability to pile up more points than anyone.

This theory will be put to the test Saturday when Brooklyn opens its Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Milwaukee Bucks – the only team to outscore the Nets in the regular season with a 120.1 scoring average.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers hailed the "absolutely amazing" defensive improvement made by Tyrese Maxey following the rookie guard's starring role in his side's progression to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Maxey laid on 13 points, six rebounds, two assists and claimed one steal during his 26 minutes on the court in Wednesday's 129-112 series-closing win against the Washington Wizards.

The 20-year-old has posted double digits in successive playoff games, but Rivers was more impressed by the other aspect of the youngster's performance against the Wizards.

"I think he is a hell of a player," Rivers said. "I think he has found himself. He figures out now how we need him to play. 

"That makes not only him a good player, but everybody else good on the floor when he is on the floor."

With star man Joel Embiid again absent for Game 5 due to a knee problem, Maxey has stepped up for the 76ers when needed after struggling during the regular season on defense.

"He was our worst defender and it wasn't close – the numbers said that to you," Rivers added. 

"The last month he has turned a corner defensively. He made so many little plays defensively – rebounds, digs, getting steals. Obviously, the offensive energy was there but watching him grow defensively for this team has been absolutely amazing."

Seth Curry's playoff career-high 30 points, a triple-double from Ben Simmons and a 28-point showing courtesy of Tobias Harris helped the 76ers past the Wizards.

The Atlanta Hawks await in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and Rivers is hopeful Embiid will be back in contention for Game 1 on Sunday.

"He's a competitor. The fact that he's not playing tonight or whenever he can't play, it bothers him," Rivers said. "He's really not in a great place that way, but he's good. He'll be fine.

"I don't know exactly when he will be back. At least I'm hopeful. I think that's be a better way of putting it. He's going do his treatment, and we're going to assess the day-to-day and see when we can get him."

Trae Young relished his starring role as the Atlanta Hawks beat the New York Knicks 103-89 to secure progression to the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Wednesday.

Young had been targeted by fans throughout the first-round playoff series, even being spat on by one of them during Game 2.

He was given a frosty reception again at Madison Square Garden this time around, with certain chants aimed at the 22-year-old, but Young had the last laugh.

In the final minute as Knicks fans rose to give their team one last ovation with Hawks cruising to a comfortable win that ultimately eliminated the hosts, Young sunk a three-pointer before bowing at the centre of the court and waving goodbye to the crowd.

The cheers quickly turned back to jeers.

"I know where we are. I know it's a bunch of shows around this city," Young said afterwards. "And I know what they do when the show is over.

"It feels good. Like I said since the beginning of the season, I feel like I've worked my whole life for this moment, to play in the playoffs on the biggest stage.

"I put in a lot of work. A lot of the guys who have been here have done the same. It feels good to win it. It feels good to win the series. Now we get to focus on the second round."

Young played a leading role for the Hawks, his 36 points and nine assists both highs for the match.

On top of that, his consistency throughout the series has undoubtedly been important for the Hawks, with Young averaging 29.2 points and 9.8 assists each game, while also getting the winning points in Game 1.

He ends the series with 146 points, which is the seventh-best playoff hall in the NBA since the 1976-77 ABA-NBA merger, and his team-mate John Collins suggested the Knicks crowd chose the wrong man to pick on.

"Trae loves this stuff," he said. "He's in the gym grinding. You see him pandering and playing to the crowd.

"Certain guys get motivated and find their reason and extra motivation to play based off the crowd. The crowd does give you energy.

"Trae loves to use that negative energy and use it as fuel for him. For whatever fans who want to keep antagonising that man, please go right ahead. It's not going to bother him, and we've got his back as well."

The Hawks will face top seeds Philadelphia 76ers in the next round.

Donovan Mitchell led the way as number one seeds the Utah Jazz progressed to the Western Conference second round, while the top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers also booked their spot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Mitchell posted 26 of his 30 points in the first half to fuel the Jazz to a 126-110 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, sealing a 4-1 series victory in the NBA playoffs on Wednesday.

The Jazz All-Star tallied 10 assists and six rebounds, joining Deron Williams and John Stockton as the only Utah players with 30-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason clash.

With five three-pointers made, Mitchell also became the first jazz player in franchise history to finish with 30 points, 10 assists and five threes in a playoff encounter.

Mitchell was assisted by Jordan Clarkson (24 points) and Rudy Gobert (23 points and 15 rebounds) as the Jazz await the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers-Dallas Mavericks matchup.

Grizzlies sensation Ja Morant impressed again with 27 points and 11 assists as he finished his first playoff series averaging 30.2 points and 8.2 assists while shooting 48.7 per cent from the field – the highest ever points per game average by a Memphis player in a single postseason.

All three teams that had a chance to clinch a series midweek, won by 14-plus points following the success of the Jazz, 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. According to Stats Perform, it is the first time three franchises have claimed a series with double-digit victories on the same day since May 1, 2003.

 

Simmons flexes muscles as 76ers advance without Embiid

Despite the absence of MVP finalist Joel Embiid due to a meniscus tear, the 76ers still reached the second round thanks to a 129-112 rout of the Washington Wizards. Ben Simmons inspired the 76ers in Philadelphia, where he had a triple-double of 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. It was Simmons' third career playoff triple-double, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Charles Barkley to move into second place on the all-time list in Philadelphia history – behind only Wilt Chamberlain (eight). Seth Curry (playoffs career-high 30 points) and Tobias Harris (28 points) also starred as the 76ers defeated the Wizards 4-1. Wizards pair Bradley Beal (32 points) and Russell Westbrook (24 points and 10 assists) combined for 56 points, however, it was not enough at Wells Fargo Center.

Next up for the 76ers are the fifth-seeded Hawks, who saw off the New York Knicks 4-1 behind a 103-89 success. Trae Young silenced fourth seeds the Knicks with a postseason career-high 36 points in New York. Julius Randle's 23 points and 13 rebounds were not enough for the Knicks.

Luka Doncic put on a show as the Mavericks withstood the Clippers 105-100 for a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference first-round series. Doncic went off for 42 points and a playoff career-high 14 assists to take down the Clippers in Los Angeles. The All-Star became the second player in NBA history to record a game with 42-plus points, eight-plus rebounds and 14-plus assists in the postseason, joining LeBron James (2018).

 

Rose struggles

In the starting five, veteran and former MVP Derrick Rose failed to make an impact. In 27 minutes, Rose was three-for-11 shooting for only six points as the Knicks bowed out.

While Kawhi Leonard had 20 points, it was not an efficient display. The Clippers star finished seven-for-19 shooting – making just one of his seven three-point attempts. He also had five turnovers.

 

Ice Trae!

Young bowed to the Madison Square Garden crowd, happy after putting the icing on the cake with a long-range three as the Hawks sent hosts the Knicks packing.

 

Wednesday's results

Utah Jazz 126-106 Memphis Grizzlies
Philadelphia 76ers 129-112 Washington Wizards
Atlanta Hawks 103-89 New York Knicks
Dallas Mavericks 105-100 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Suns at Lakers

It is make or break for defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers, who will host the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 on Thursday. The Lakers trail the second-seeded Suns 3-2 in the Western Conference first round and face elimination.

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis is hoping to be available for the must-win showdown with the Phoenix Suns in the NBA playoffs, though the team's medical staff will decide his Game 6 status.

Davis has been sidelined since half-time of Game 4 due to a groin injury as defending champions the Lakers face first-round elimination at the hands of the Suns.

In the absence of Davis – who was dealing with a knee injury following Game 3 – the Lakers fell 3-2 behind in the Western Conference series following a 115-85 rout against the second-seeded Suns in Game 5.

Looking ahead to Thursday's crucial clash at Staples Center, Davis told reporters: "Hopefully all the rehab and treatment that I'm doing pays off and the doctors clear me to go. That's what we want.

"So, getting more treatment tonight, tomorrow [Thursday] and kind of talk to the doctors before the game -- before and after I shoot -- and hopefully everything comes back good where they clear me.

"That's what we're hoping for."

"It's tough," Davis said. "Especially [Tuesday] night, watching the game and not being able to help the team on the floor.

"It's the toughest part, knowing that I couldn't contribute. My body just wouldn't allow me to."

Davis added: "The groin happened because of the tightness in the knee from the hyperextension. I was feeling the knee kind of the whole game.

"Even the first couple plays, was feeling it. And just went up to try to lay the ball up, and as soon as I went up, I just felt it from my knee just shoot up into my groin. That was kind of the end of it."

"I just wasn't able to really move," Davis continued. "And every move that we make, it starts with the groin. Any other injury, the knee and all that, you can kind of finagle a way to move, but the groin is a tough place. So I just wasn't able to do it last night."

Davis, who had back-to-back 34-point double-doubles in Games 2 and 3, added: "There's still a Game 6. You don't win with three wins.

"We've still got a game tomorrow, which is Game 6. Whether we win by 30 or lose by 30, there's still another game.

"And same way for tomorrow -- you get tomorrow and there's a Game 7. You don't win three games in a playoff series and win a series."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers does not know when Joel Embiid will return after the All-Star was diagnosed with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in a huge blow for the NBA championship contenders.

The top-seeded 76ers were eagerly awaiting the results of an MRI following Monday's 122-114 Game 4 loss to the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference opening round.

Embiid hobbled off the court midway through the first quarter in Washington after landing awkwardly and the MVP finalist did not return, having grimaced in pain.

Now, Embiid – considered day-to-day – will sit out Wednesday's Game 5 against the Wizards due to a small tear, with the injury to be managed with a physical therapy and a treatment program.

Asked about Embiid as the 76ers, who lead the playoff series 3-1, look to seal a spot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, Rivers told reporters: "I have no expectation other than I hope for him to be back.

"I can't give you a timeline. I can just tell you he's willing to go through whatever it takes to get back on the floor.

"He's a warrior. And if there's a way for him to get back on the floor, he will find his way."

It is another setback for Embiid and the 76ers after the four-time All-Star missed 10 games in the regular season due to bone bruising in his left leg.

It has been a stellar season for Embiid, who has averaged career highs for points (28.5), field-goal percentage (41.3), three-point percentage (37.7) and free-throw percentage (85.9).

The 27-year-old has also been averaging 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and a career-best 0.98 steals per game to lead the 76ers to their first Eastern Conference championship since 2001.

"He couldn't be in better shape," Rivers added. "For this to happen at this point, going through the whole year, it's really difficult."

"We've talked a couple of times. He is what you think he would be. He's a competitor. The fact that he's not playing tonight or whenever he can't play, it bothers him. He's really not in a great place that way, but he's good. He'll be fine."

The Los Angeles Lakers face the prospect of a first-round playoff exit as they head into a must-win Game 6 of their series against the Phoenix Suns.

Back-to-back defeats have left the defending champions with no more wiggle room if they hope to have a chance of making the last four in the Western Conference.

The Lakers progressing past this point seemed highly likely when they went 2-1 up. However, since then they have slipped up at home and then suffered a blow-out loss on the road.

LeBron James did not hang around to watch the end of Tuesday's 115-85 loss in Phoenix, heading to the locker room late during the fourth quarter.

James scored 24 points but the absence of the injured Anthony Davis left the four-time MVP fighting a lone hand, albeit the contest looked over by half-time with the Suns well clear after holding their opponents to just 10 points in the second quarter.

The final margin of victory marked the first time in NBA history that the reigning champions had lost by 30 or more points in the opening round.

The only concern for Phoenix was Chris Paul's  shoulder, the point guard aggravating the injury he suffered back in Game 1. They will hope he is fit to feature on Thursday, though the second seeds in the West have two opportunities to close the series out.

As for the Lakers, they will hope Davis' groin issue is cleared up to a point that he can at least be involved at the Staples Center.

James, however, is focusing on the prospect of being without his team-mate once more, making sure he is ready for the worst-case scenario of knowing he will once more have to carry the majority of the offensive workload without the eight-time All-Star in the line-up.

"My mindset is that he's not going be able to play in Game 6. That's my mindset," James told the media after Game 5. "And if something changes, then we go from there. But I'm preparing as if he's not."

Something needs to change for the Lakers, or else their 2020-21 season is over far earlier than they hoped.

TOP PERFORMERS

Devin Booker - Phoenix Suns

After two quiet games by his usual standards, Booker burst back into life with 30 points in Game 5. The shooting guard is at a lowly 28.2 per cent success rate from three-point range in the series but is still averaging 26.2 points per outing. With Paul potentially out or at best still not fully fit, Booker's role becomes even more crucial.

Dennis Schroder - Los Angeles Lakers

James needs help or else the Lakers' hopes of a repeat are over. Schroder went 0-for-9 shooting last time out, as well as failing to have an attempt from the free-throw line. After 58 points combined through the first three meetings with the Suns, he has managed eight points in the past two.

KEY BATTLE - A case for the defense, perhaps?

The Lakers finished the regular season with the best defense in the NBA. That honour came despite both Davis and James missing considerable time, while several members of the supporting cast also sat out games due to injuries and the NBA's health and safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the recent lack of offense is obviously a concern for Vogel and his staff, so too will be the manner in which Phoenix were allowed to score with ease to pull clear in the first half on Tuesday.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Lakers hold a 40-27 lead in playoffs in meetings with the Suns. Still, the only number that concerns Phoenix is one, as that is how many wins they now require to seal a place in round two.

Danny Ainge has announced he is retiring as president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics, with head coach Brad Stevens promoted to the role.

Ainge is the only person to win NBA championships as both a player and general manager with the Celtics, who confirmed his departure on Wednesday.

The 62-year-old was at the helm of Boston's last title-winning team, back in 2008, and hired Stevens from Butler University to replace Doc Rivers.

However, after a tough season for the Celtics came to an end with a 4-1 series defeat to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, Ainge has decided to leave his post.

Stevens, who has been the coach for the past eight seasons, will move up to take over from Ainge in the front office, meaning he will oversee hiring his own replacement to lead the team on the bench.

"Helping guide this organisation has been the thrill of a lifetime, and having worked side-by-side with him since he's been here, I know we couldn't be in better hands than with Brad guiding the team going forward," said Ainge in a statement released by the Celtics.

"I'm grateful to ownership, all of my Celtics colleagues, and the best fans in basketball for being part of the journey."

During Ainge's 18-year stint managing the Celtics, Boston made 15 playoff appearances and reached the Eastern Conference Finals seven times.

Their championship triumph in 2008 was one of two trips to the NBA Finals, while it was their first title since 1986. Since that successful season, Boston have won more playoff games than any other NBA franchise.

Danny Ainge announced today that he is retiring from his role as President of Basketball Operations. Brad Stevens has been promoted to the team’s President of Basketball Operations.https://t.co/XfGfMVkMkq

— Boston Celtics (@celtics) June 2, 2021

Michael Malone described Damian Lillard's staggering record-breaking performance as "superhuman" in the Portland Trail Blazers' dramatic playoffs defeat to the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets took a 3-2 series lead at Ball Arena on Tuesday after edging a double-overtime thriller 147-140.

That was despite an incredible display from Lillard, who scored 55 points – including a playoffs-record 12 three-pointers – from only 24 shots.

Lillard's points haul was his best in the post-season and the third-highest in a defeat in playoff history behind Michael Jordan's 63 against the Boston Celtics in 1986 and Donovan Mitchell's 57 versus the Nuggets last year.

The point guard also provided 10 assists and Nuggets coach Malone saluted his exploits.

Malone said: "Damian Lillard was superhuman tonight."

Nikola Jokic led the way for the Nuggets with 38 points as they got their noses in front in the series.

The center was full of admiration for Lillard and warned the Nuggets must try and find a way to stop the six-time NBA All-Star from making such an impact.

Jokic said: "He was incredible. He made some top shots, he put his team on his back and he was just carrying in.

"We tried, but we need to be better just to take the ball off his hands, especially later in the game, but it was kind of a pleasure to be on the court to witness that."

The Phoenix Suns are hopeful but unsure about Chris Paul's availability for Game 6 after he injured his shoulder again in Tuesday's 115-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Suns took a 3-2 series lead over the Lakers with a victory that was soured by Paul's injury, which leaves his availability for Game 6 on Thursday in doubt.

The 36-year-old went down in pain, clutching his right shoulder halfway through the third quarter after a minor collision with Laker Wesley Matthews.

Paul left the court and did not return to action, although he sat on the bench in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, with coach Monty Williams revealing he said he still had strength in the shoulder which has troubled him all series.

Williams preferred not to offer any official update, instead stating the Suns medical staff will assess Paul on Wednesday.

"He went in the back and got some treatment," Williams said. "When I talked with him when he came back out, he said he still had his strength.

"He seems to be okay but we want to wait until tomorrow after he wakes up and our medical team can make an assessment."

Paul, who played almost 23 minutes and scored nine points to go with six assists, said that the injury felt "very uncomfortable", leaving him "helpless".

"It scared me," Paul said during his post-match video conference. "It was just a very uncomfortable feeling. I felt helpless. When it happened, I was looking up and didn’t know what happened with Wes.

"But after I'd seen it I came back out on the court and I told Wes it was a clean play and it was unfortunate my neck and arm snapped again like it did."

The Lakers were missing their own star, with forward Anthony Davis absent due to a left groin strain.

Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James said he was preparing for Game 6 without Davis being available.

"My mindset is as if AD won't be in the game in Game 6, if something changes we go from there," James said post-match. "I'm preparing as if he's not."

The Phoenix Suns moved 3-2 ahead in their NBA first round playoffs series against the Los Angeles Lakers with a 115-85 victory but star guard Chris Paul went down after re-injuring his shoulder.

Devin Booker top scored for the Suns with 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Suns move within one win of knocking out the reigning champions.

The Suns, however, will be sweating on Paul's fitness ahead of Game 6 after going down clutching his sore right shoulder, having played 23 minutes, with nine points and six assists.

Phoenix blew the game open with a remarkable 32-10 second quarter, opening up a 32-point half-time lead which the Lakers, who were without Anthony Davis, never threatened in the second half.

LeBron James top scored with 24 points including six three-pointers along with five rebounds and seven assists, while Andre Drummond had seven points and 13 rebounds.

The series returns to Los Angeles for Game 6, before the final match in Arizona if required.

 

Nugs win in double over-time, Nets progress

Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard traded blows as the Denver Nuggets edged the Portland Trail Blazers 147-140 in a double over-time thriller.

Jokic finished with 38 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, while Michael Porter Jr had 26 points, including a clutch late three-pointer along with 12 rebounds and three assists.

Lillard remarkably scored 55 points for the defeated Blazers, along with six rebounds and 10 assists, although he may regret passing to CJ McCollum with nine seconds left at 143-140 down. McCollum mis-controlled and stepped out of play, forcing the decisive turnover.

In a back-and-forth encounter, McCollum had earlier drained a three-pointer to send the game into over-time.

The Brooklyn Nets finished the job in their first round series against the Boston Celtics with James Harden starring in a 123-109 win which completed a 4-1 victory.

Harden produced a triple-double, scoring 34 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Nets.

Kyrie Irving added 25 points, while Kevin Durant contributed 24, including four three-pointers shooting at 66 per cent from beyond the arc.

The Nets will next face the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

 

Wayward Tatum's radar off

Jayson Tatum was a lone hand for the Celtics, managing 32 points, although he shot poorly, albeit regularly under intense heat, at 12-from-27 from the field and 36.4 per cent from beyond the arc.

 

History-making haul in losing cause

Lillard's 55 points came in a losing cause, making history as the third most in a defeat in NBA playoffs history behind Michael Jordan's 63 against the Celtics in 1986 and Donovan Mitchell's 57 against the Nuggets in 2020. He also had a record 12 threes.

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 123-109 Boston Celtics
Denver Nuggets 147-140 (OT) Portland Trail Blazers
Phoenix Suns 115-85 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Hawks at Knicks

The New York Knicks will look to stay alive as their first round playoffs series returns to Madison Square Garden against the Atlanta Hawks trailing 3-1.

James Harden says the Brooklyn Nets are a "very, very special group" after securing a 4-1 NBA first round playoffs series win over the Boston Celtics with a 123-109 win on Tuesday.

The Nets progress to the Eastern Conference semi-finals where they will face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks who swept the Miami Heat 4-0.

Harden had a 34-point triple-double as the Nets' 'big three' got more game-time together, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving having 24 and 25 points respectively.

"We're a special group especially when we lock in defensively," Harden told ESPN post-game.

"When we can get three-four stops in a row, we're a very, very special group. Offensively we can get it going, we've got that much firepower."

Harden was also delighted to get more minutes alongside Durant and Irving, having missed 18 games late in the season with a hamstring injury.

"We've had so much adversity, injuries, COVID protocol, whatever it may be, we've dealt with a lot of adversity throughout the regular season so it felt good to get some meaningful games in," Harden said about the Boston series.

"Obviously in playoffs you don’t want to lose. It helped us out in the sense that it's time to lock in now.

"Tonight was a really good job. They're a really good ball team. They were down a few players but they kept fighting."

Boston Celtics pair Kemba Walker and Rob Williams have both been ruled out of Game 5 on Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets with their NBA first round playoffs series on the line.

The Nets lead 3-1, having won 141-126 on Sunday in Game 4 over the Celtics who were without Walker (knee) and Williams (ankle).

Point guard Walker had played in Friday's 125-119 Game 3 win but is battling bone bruising in his left knee and coach Brad Stevens confirmed he would not take his place on Tuesday.

Bigman Williams only managed six minutes in Game 3 due to a sprained left ankle.

Boston are already without forward Jaylen Brown for the rest of the season due to a wrist injury, leaving a heavy burden on star Jayson Tatum.

Brooklyn can wrap up the series on Tuesday with victory and were aided by their 'big three' firing in Game 4.

Kevin Durant scored 42 points had four rebounds and five assists, while Kyrie Irving added 39 points and 11 rebounds and James Harden had 23 points and 18 assists in the win.

Memphis Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins insisted only the finest of margins separate his team from the NBA's best after a 120-113 loss to the Utah Jazz in Game 4 of their playoff series.

Donovan Mitchell had 30 points and eight assists to lead the top-seeded Jazz to the brink of the conference semi-finals.

The Jazz survived another spirited effort by the eighth seeds to take a 3-1 series lead and can advance with a win in Game 5 on Wednesday. 

But Jenkins believes the Grizzlies are still in with a shot.

"We are right there," Jenkins said. "We are literally going toe-to-toe with the best team in the NBA.

"We are doing a lot of things great. We gotta find ways to do more. 

"This season isn't over."

Ja Morant scored 23 points and had 12 assists but made just one of seven three-pointers for Memphis, who were 10 of 35 from distance as a team. 

Jenkins acknowledged that, while the Grizzlies fell short in some areas, they were close to perfection.

"You are never going to play a perfect game," he said. "We have to play a perfect game against this team, and we are so close.

"Two games in a row it comes down to the last couple of minutes. I would not say I am frustrated. I am so encouraged.

"All we gotta do is go and win one game on the road. We have won there before.

"Our mentality all season long is to continue to fight, be the most competitive team, the most together team.

"I have the utmost faith in this group that when we go out and get on a plane tomorrow, we will be ready for Game 5."

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