Giannis Antetokounmpo knows the Milwaukee Bucks can beat the teams a variety of ways, and they had to take the hard road Saturday. 

The Miami Heat held the Bucks' top two scorers without a field goal in the first quarter of Game 4, but Milwaukee pushed through that early adversity and prevailed 120-103 to sweep the first-round NBA playoff series. 

Khris Middleton finally got on the board early in the second quarter and the Greek star went without a basket from the field until a dunk with one minute to play in the second quarter, but Antetokounmpo said his team never lost patience even when their shots failed to fall. 

"At the end of the day, nothing's going to be easy. It's a game that's win or go home for them," he said.

"Obviously they're going to play extremely hard, they're going to try to be physical, they're going to try to get us out of our spots.

"But at the end of the day, as players you're going to have games that you're going to come, you're going to score the ball right off the bat. There's going to be days that you're not going to do that.

"Today was one of those days that we couldn't score the ball right off the bat but at the end of the day we keep finding one another, keep facilitating, keep playing the right way. For me and for Khris, that's what we both did.

"Obviously they did a great job guarding us and just making it tough for us, but it did not really test our patience, because what we do, we keep playing the right way, we keep finding one another."

Antetokounmpo turned in a career-best 15 assists on the way to his first playoff triple-double, adding 20 points and 12 rebounds as the Bucks out-scored the Heat 64-39 in the second half. 

But he left most of the scoring load to others this time, as Brook Lopez led the way with 25 points, Middleton had 20, and Bryn Forbes scored 22 off the bench. 

"I try to affect the game in any way I can," Antetokounmpo said.

"I'm blessed enough that I can affect the game defensively, I can pass the ball.

"There's days I'm going to be dominant, and I'm mature enough to understand that there's days I'm going to be able to do it and there's days I'm not going to be able to do it."

Thanks to their first-round sweep, Milwaukee will have a week off before the next round, where they were eliminated 4-1 by the Bucks last season. 

Antetokounmpo and his teammates want more this year, and they know this was just the start. 

"We've got to keep getting better. We have a week now to recover and rest our bodies and get better," he said.

Obviously we don't know who we're playing yet. We're going to try to focus on ourselves as much as possible. 

"Not trying to take anything away from this moment -- obviously it's a great moment for us, winning 4-0 and beating the team that beat us last year. It feels good. But at the end of the day, we've got a long way to go. Gotta stay humble."

Trae Young helped the Atlanta Hawks regain the advantage in their first-round series against the New York Knicks, who saw Julius Randle endure another playoff outing to forget in Game 3.

Point guard Young led his team with 21 points as all five of Atlanta's starters reached double figures in a 105-94 triumph on Friday.

His eight-for-19 shooting performance was supplemented by 14 assists, making the 22-year-old just the third player since the merger with 80 or more points and at least 30 assists in his first three career playoff games, a feat also achieved by Kevin Johnson and Chris Paul.  

"I feel like I've prepared my whole life for these days, these moments," Young said after helping his team go 2-1 up in the best-of-seven series in the Eastern Conference.

However, it was the defensive effort that was the bedrock for Atlanta's victory, including keeping the struggling Knicks to just 13 points in the second quarter.

The visitors were unable to claw back the deficit after trailing 58-44 at half-time, not aided by Randle remaining cold on offense.

The 26-year-old made just two of his 15 attempts in total, with both successes coming from beyond the arc. He became the first Knick to go 0-for-eight or worse on two-point shots in a playoff game since Patrick Ewing did so 27 years ago.

Randle is now shooting 20.6 per cent on two-pointers across the series, making just seven of his 34 tries. It is the lowest success rate in a three-game span by any player with that many attempts in the past 30 postseasons.

His meagre offensive output is in stark contrast to his efforts in the regular season: Randle averaged a career-high 24.1 points per game to help the franchise end an eight-year playoff drought, while he became an All-Star for the first time.

For Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, the key is reacting to the situation on each possession, particularly as Atlanta's ploy of sending two and three players at Randle is leaving others open elsewhere.

"They loaded up on him pretty good. When a team does that, when they put two or three guys on you, you've got to make the play," Thibodeau said in his post-game media conference.

"You've either got to get easy buckets in transition, or off drive-and-kick, you've got to keep moving around.

"He's seen a lot of that this year, but when you have a second and a third guy, that can make it tough. But that should lead to rebounding and open threes on the back side, so we've got to trust the pass."

He added: "The big thing is to get rid of the ball and make plays early. When you do that, you can usually get high-percentage shots. When you get the second defender on the ball, their responsibility is to get rid of it and make plays for their team-mates."

Game 4 of the series takes place in Atlanta on Sunday.

Trae Young helped the Atlanta Hawks regain the advantage in their first-round series against the New York Knicks, who saw Julius Randle endure another playoff outing to forget in Game 3.

Point guard Young led his team with 21 points as all five of Atlanta's starters reached double figures in a 105-94 triumph on Friday.

His eight-for-19 shooting performance was supplemented by 14 assists, making the 22-year-old just the third player since the merger with 80 or more points and at least 30 assists in his first three career playoff games, a feat also achieved by Kevin Johnson and Chris Paul.  

"I feel like I've prepared my whole life for these days, these moments," Young said after helping his team go 2-1 up in the best-of-seven series in the Eastern Conference.

However, it was the defensive effort that was the bedrock for Atlanta's victory, including keeping the struggling Knicks to just 13 points in the second quarter.

The visitors were unable to claw back the deficit after trailing 58-44 at half-time, not aided by Randle remaining cold on offense.

The 26-year-old made just two of his 15 attempts in total, with both successes coming from beyond the arc. He became the first Knick to go 0-for-eight or worse on two-point shots in a playoff game since Patrick Ewing did so 27 years ago.

Randle is now shooting 20.6 per cent on two-pointers across the series, making just seven of his 34 tries. It is the lowest success rate in a three-game span by any player with that many attempts in the past 30 postseasons.

His meagre offensive output is in stark contrast to his efforts in the regular season: Randle averaged a career-high 24.1 points per game to help the franchise end an eight-year playoff drought, while he became an All-Star for the first time.

For Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, the key is reacting to the situation on each possession, particularly as Atlanta's ploy of sending two and three players at Randle is leaving others open elsewhere.

"They loaded up on him pretty good. When a team does that, when they put two or three guys on you, you've got to make the play," Thibodeau said in his post-game media conference.

"You've either got to get easy buckets in transition, or off drive-and-kick, you've got to keep moving around.

"He's seen a lot of that this year, but when you have a second and a third guy, that can make it tough. But that should lead to rebounding and open threes on the back side, so we've got to trust the pass."

He added: "The big thing is to get rid of the ball and make plays early. When you do that, you can usually get high-percentage shots. When you get the second defender on the ball, their responsibility is to get rid of it and make plays for their team-mates."

Game 4 of the series takes place in Atlanta on Sunday.

Jayson Tatum admitted to having "just one of those nights" after scoring 50 points to help the Boston Celtics strike back in their series against the Brooklyn Nets.

The Celtics found themselves in a 2-0 hole in the playoffs after successive defeats in Brooklyn, during which Tatum managed a combined total of 31 points.

His Game 2 contribution was cut short at 21 minutes after he suffered a poke in the eye, the injury ruling him out as the Nets prevailed 130-108 to double their advantage.

However, Tatum had no issues seeing the basket on Friday when the series switched to Boston, going 16-for-30 shooting from the floor as he reached a half-century of points in a 125-119 triumph.

"It's just one of those nights." Tatum said afterwards.

"A tough shooting night the first game and I didn't get to play much the last game because I got poked in the eye."

His performance makes him just the third Celtic to score 50 in a regulation playoff game, following in the footsteps of John Havlicek (54 in 1973) and Sam Jones (51 in 1967).

Isaiah Thomas was the previous Boston player to achieve the milestone in a playoff contest, managing 53 in an overtime victory over the Washington Wizards in May 2017.

For Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, it was just the latest example of Tatum's undoubted talent.

"He is so advanced for 23 years old; I’ve said the word 'special', and I don’t say that very often, obviously," Stevens told the media.

"But he just has a unique ability to score the ball, to slither through screens and find angles to score, but also the vision to make every right move.

"He was super tonight, but he's been like that a lot this year. He's special."

The game marked Kyrie Irving’s first appearance with fans present in Boston since his departure in 2019. The point guard was booed by the home crowd throughout proceedings as he finished with 16 points and six rebounds.

Irving left in free agency after two seasons with the franchise, opting to move closer to New Jersey for family reasons as he signed with the Nets.

"It's basketball. I've been in a few environments in my life," Irving said about the reaction he received.

"Like I said, as long as it's just strictly the nature of basketball out there and there's nothing extra, I'm cool with it."

James Harden led the way with 41 points for the Nets, while Kevin Durant had 39. Game 4 of the first-round series takes place in Boston on Sunday.

Jayson Tatum was the hero as the Boston Celtics bounced back against the star-studded Brooklyn Nets, winning 125-119 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference opening-round matchup.

Tatum posted a playoff career-high 50 points to thwart James Harden, Kevin Durant and the high-flying Nets in Boston on Friday.

The second-seeded Nets had seized control of the NBA playoff series following back-to-back wins in Brooklyn, but Tatum and the Celtics hit back on home court to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Tatum became the third Celtics player with 50-plus points in a regular playoff game, according to Stats Perform. The All-Star joined John Havlicek (54 in 1973) and Sam Jones (51 in 1967).

The 23-year-old Tatum also became the third youngest player in NBA history to post 50 or more points in a postseason contest. Ricky Barry (55 in 1967) and Michael Jordan (63 in 1986) are the only other players.

Big performances from former MVPs Harden (41 points and 10 assists) and Durant (39 points and nine rebounds) were not enough for the Nets.

Harden and Durant became the first pair of team-mates with 30-plus points in a playoff game since Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson in 2006.

 

Kawhi and George deliver in much-needed win

With their backs against the wall, the Los Angeles Clippers topped the Dallas Mavericks 118-108. Kawhi Leonard (36 points in 13-for-17 shooting) and Paul George (29 points) fuelled the fourth-ranked Clippers, who closed within 2-1 of the Mavericks in the Western Conference series. The Clippers spoiled the party in Dallas, where Luka Doncic produced a playoff career-high 44 points as the Mavs raced out to a 30-11 lead before the visitors rallied in front of 17,705 fans.

 

Randle fails to fire again

All-Star Julius Randle struggled as the New York Knicks lost 105-94 to the Atlanta Hawks, who claimed a 2-1 series lead in the east. Randle finished with a double-double of 14 points and 11 assists, but he was just two-for-15 shooting. Per Stats Perform, Randle became the first Knick to go 0 of eight or worse on two-pointers in a playoff game since Patrick Ewing (0 for 10) did so 27 years ago. Randle's 20.6 two-point percentage in the series is the lowest in a three-game span by any player with that many attempts in the last 30 postseasons.

While the Celtics won, Kemba Walker underwhelmed. He was just three-for-14 shooting as he finished with six points in 34 minutes.

 

Trae stars as Hawks soar

Trae Young was hot again for the Hawks after posting 21 points and 14 assists. The Hawks star joined Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kevin Johnson, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only players to record more than 30 assists in their first three career playoff games. Young recorded 10 assists in the first half – the first player to achieve the feat in a half of a playoff clash in their first postseason since Rajon Rondo in 2008. According to Stats Perform, Young is the third player since the merger with 80-plus points and 30-plus assists in his first three career playoff games, joining Johnson and Paul.

 

Friday's results

Atlanta Hawks 105-94 New York Knicks
Boston Celtics 125-119 Brooklyn Nets
Los Angeles Clippers 118-108 Dallas Mavericks

 

Bucks at Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks can seal a series sweep of the Miami Heat on Saturday. Eastern Conference rivals and top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers are also in action against the Washington Wizards, leading 2-0.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers insisted the team "have accomplished nothing" as they eye the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The top-seeded 76ers lead the Washington Wizards 2-0 in the opening round of their NBA playoff series following Wednesday's 120-95 rout.

Philadelphia – eyeing their first championship since 1983 – are in a commanding position as they head to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday.

The 76ers have not advanced to the NBA Finals since 2001, with Philadelphia failing to make it beyond the Conference semi-finals in 2003, 2012, 2018 and 2019, while they were swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics last season.

Rivers – a championship winner during his time in charge of the Celtics – is taking nothing for granted, with the 76ers desperate to end their title drought this season.

"We have done nothing," Rivers told reporters after Friday's practice.

"We have won two games, you don't get anything until you win four, so we have accomplished nothing as far as we're concerned."

The 76ers are featuring in the playoffs for the fourth successive season – the franchise's longest streak since making the postseason in five straight campaigns from 1999-2003.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (22 points apiece) combined to guide the 76ers past the Wizards in Philadelphia midweek.

It was Simmons' fourth career 20-plus point playoff game and his first since 2019, while it was Embiid's seventh consecutive 20-plus point playoff performance, dating back to 2019 – the streak tied with Allen Iverson for the 10th longest in Philadelphia postseason history.

Tobias Harris has also been a key contributor for the 76ers against the Wizards after backing up his playoff career-high 37 points in Game 1 with 19 points and nine assists on Wednesday.

"They have grown and that’s key for us," said Rivers. "I think, through the year, you just see so many different coverages on how they're going to defend Ben. Every night, they're going to defend Ben in a different way."

Rivers also attempted to allay fitness concerns over Harris and Seth Curry.

"Tobias, I think he'll be good," added Rivers. "He went through most of the stuff today. Seth didn't go through anything, but we think he'll be good, but we just don't know."

Milwaukee Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo will miss the remainder of the NBA playoffs due to an ankle injury, the franchise announced on Friday.

In a blow for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the championship-chasing Bucks, DiVincenzo suffered a torn ligament in his left ankle.

DiVincenzo sustained the injury in the second quarter of Thursday's 113-84 rout of the Miami Heat as the Bucks claimed a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

"It's a tough blow, but you have to kind of process and understand it's an unfortunate thing, but we have to prepare and get ready," said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. "Other guys will have opportunities."

In three playoff games (all starts), DiVincenzo averaged 2.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.0 steal in 23.3 minutes per game.

In 66 regular-season games (all starts), the 24-year-old averaged 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 27.5 minutes per game – all career-high totals.

"On an individual, personal level for Donte, it's really, really tough," added Budenholzer.

"But his mentality, his approach, any time Donte is thrown some adversity or thrown something that's difficult for himself or for everybody, the way he handles it just continues to be impressive."

Anthony Davis gave the Los Angeles Lakers an injury scare but vowed he would be ready for Game Four in the NBA playoffs series against the Phoenix Suns.

After posting 34 points and 11 rebounds in a 109-95 win on Thursday, Davis reflected on the moment in the second quarter when he made a chase-down block on Devin Booker but fell and hurt his knee.

The Lakers lead the series 2-1 and the next game comes on Sunday, with Davis optimistic he will be available to the Lakers for that one.

"We've got two days in between so I'm going to get it looked at, checked out," Davis said.

"I landed awkwardly and tried not to fall on Book, and I guess it's maybe hyperextended a little bit, but I was just keeping it warm, keeping it loose, and I just want to keep going.

"It felt fine the rest of the game, I really didn't have any problems with it. We'll see how I feel [on Friday], get some treatment Saturday and be ready for Sunday.

"I had a little discomfort but not enough to keep me out. I didn't think about it, I just kept playing, and just said in my mind that I've got two days to get it right, so leave it on the floor and fight through it. After the first couple of minutes of the third I didn't think about it, I was able to go out there and just play."

The reigning NBA champions were playing in front of a crowd of around 7,500 at Staples Center in their first home playoff game since 2013, with last year's postseason having been staged in Florida.

Booker was ejected for a two-handed push on Dennis Schroder, who was in full flight, and Davis described that incident as "a scary play", going beyond the spirit of the game.

"It was a physical game, all game guys chirping. But that's playoff basketball, guys are gonna chirp, guys are gonna talk," Davis said.

"But we can't allow plays like that to happen, just to push a guy out there with two hands, whether it was out of frustration or not.

"It's a scary play. Luckily, Dennis is all right, but sometimes it can end badly for a player. We don't want to let the chirping lead to something like that."

The Los Angeles Lakers issued a reminder of their quality as the reigning NBA champions outclassed the Phoenix Suns 109-95 to seize control in the Western Conference first-round series.

Injuries crippled the Lakers for most of the season as they slipped down to the play-in tournament and the seventh seed, but Anthony Davis and LeBron James starred at Staples Center on Thursday.

Davis posted a dominant double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds and James put up 21 points as the Lakers claimed a 2-1 series lead following back-to-back victories against the second seeds in the playoffs.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, meanwhile, are poised to sweep the Miami Heat after easing to a 113-84 win.

Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo posted 17 points and 17 rebounds to go with five assists, while Khris Middleton (team-high 22 points) and Jrue Holiday (19 points and 12 assists) contributed en route to a commanding 3-0 series lead.

The Bucks – who are eyeing their first championship since 1971 – can seal a sweep on Saturday.

 

Jokic inspires Nuggets

MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic was at his brilliant best as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Portland Trail Blazers 120-115 on the road. Jokic scored 36 points and collected 10 rebounds to guide the third-seeded Nuggets to a 2-1 series lead in the west. Damian Lillard's 37 points and Jusuf Nurkic's 13-point, 13-rebound double-double were not enough for the Trail Blazers.

Milwaukee's Holiday produced another impressive display against the Heat following his 15-assist performance in Game 2 as he became the first Bucks player with back-to-back 10-plus assist games in the playoffs since Sam Cassell in 2001. The 2013 All-Star was plus-37 in Game 2 and plus-42 in Game 3. According to Stats Perform, Holiday became the first NBA player to have a plus-minus of plus-37 or better in back-to-back games since Kobe Bryant in 2003.

 

Miami's shooting woes

The less said about the Heat's shooting on Thursday, the better. As a team, Miami were just 37.6 per cent from the field – making 32 of their 85 shots. From three-point range, the Heat were only 28.1 per cent (nine of 32). Goran Dragic (eight points) finished three-for-14 shooting in 29 minutes, while Duncan Robinson (two points) was one of six from the field, having missed all four three-pointers.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker were not at their usual high standards for the Suns. Paul, who hurt his shoulder in Game 2, was three-for-eight shooting for just seven points. All-Star team-mate Booker had 19 points, but it was on six-for-19 shooting from the field in 41 minutes. He only made one of four attempts from beyond the arc.

 

Rivers lights up fourth quarter

Denver's Austin Rivers was in red-hot form in the final period against the Blazers. Rivers scored 16 of his 21 points in the fourth to help the Nuggets to victory.

 

Thursday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 109-95 Phoenix Suns
Milwaukee Bucks 113-84 Miami Heat
Denver Nuggets 120-115 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Nets at Celtics

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets visit the Boston Celtics on Friday, leading the Eastern Conference first-round series 2-0.

The Milwaukee Bucks are on the cusp of advancing to the Eastern Conference semi-finals but Giannis Antetokounmpo warned "our job is not done" against the Miami Heat.

Milwaukee are one win away from sweeping reigning Eastern Conference champions Miami in the opening round of the NBA playoffs following Thursday's 113-84 rout in Game 3.

Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo posted 17 points and 17 rebounds to go with five assists, while Khris Middleton (team-high 22 points) and Jrue Holiday (19 points and 12 assists) contributed en route to a commanding 3-0 series lead.

The Bucks – who were eliminated by the Heat in last season's Conference semi-finals 4-1 – can seal a sweep on Saturday but two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo is taking nothing for granted.

"We are going to stay focused," Antetokounmpo told reporters as the Bucks attempt to win their first championship since 1971. "Our job is not done here."

"The last two games haven't been easy," Antetokounmpo said. "Obviously, we were up 30, but it's not easy.

"I'll say this: I'll say by us doing our job, I'm not surprised that we're able to win a game because once we focus on ourselves, play together, have fun and be tough, good things are going to happen. And in these three games, good things have happened for us."

Holiday – an All-Star in 2013 – was acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans in November as part of Milwaukee's title pursuit.

The 30-year-old produced another impressive display against the Heat following his 15-assist performance in Game 2 as he became the first Bucks player with back-to-back 10-plus assist games in the playoffs since Sam Cassell in 2001.

"We got better from last year," Antetokounmpo said. "We've had great additions to the team that help us do that."

PJ Tucker – another recruit after he was traded to the Bucks by the Houston Rockets in March – added: "We dogs. That's all we talk about. That's all I ever talk about.

"We gotta be dogs. People's perceptions of us and what people think in the past, we're erasing all of that."

The Los Angeles Clippers have their backs against the wall but head coach Tyronn Lue is confident the championship-chasing franchise will show their true colours in Game 3 of the Western Conference first round.

Expectations are high with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George leading the way in Los Angeles, however the Clippers trail the Dallas Mavericks 2-0 heading into Friday's showdown in the NBA playoffs after back-to-back defeats on home court.

The fourth-seeded Clippers are looking to banish the demons of last season, which saw the team sensationally surrender a 3-1 series lead in a 4-3 defeat to the Denver Nuggets in the Conference semi-finals under former coach Doc Rivers.

"I think when you're down 2-0 and you're coming into another team's arena, it shows what you're made of," Lue said on Thursday.

"Our toughness all year, just trust, sticking together, this is going to show us tomorrow who we are and what we are made of. So I'm excited to see [it]."

Lue added: "Urgency is the right word. Pressure or panic, I don't believe in that. ... [The Clippers have to] understand the urgency and understand what we are trying to do and basically everybody get on the same page.

"That's the biggest thing for me. But like I said, we are urgent and we are ready to go. We cleaned up some things we need to clean up."

The Clippers have lost five consecutive playoffs games since last winning in the postseason – Game 4 against the Nuggets in 2019-20.

"You can't hit back if you don't swing ... We've got to bring physicality to the game," Lue, who won the championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, said. "They've definitely been the more physical team, and I don't know why that is because we talk about that. So in order to throw a punch, you've got to swing."

"We have got to be more physical, we've got to swing and we have to come out punching and we can't keep getting behind the 8-ball in the first quarter. We have to be better defensively to start the game. We are well aware of that, and now we have to go out and execute it."

Paul George may have insisted it is not time to worry just yet but the Los Angeles Clippers face a critical Game 3 on the road against the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas returned home from LA with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that is a repeat of a first-round playoff clash in the NBA bubble from last season. On that occasion, the teams were locked together at 2-2 before the Clippers pulled clear to prevail.

This time around, the favoured team - though admittedly it is a meeting of the fourth and fifth seeds in the Western Conference - has plenty of work to do if they are to progress again.

Luka Doncic starred once more in a 127-121 triumph on Tuesday to help the Mavericks double their advantage, though George made clear in the aftermath that the Clippers can still dig themselves out of the early hole.

"It's a competition. We've got to rise to the occasion. The fact of the matter is if we don't, we're done for," he told the media.

"But it's no level of concern. We've just got to play our game. We've got to play through this. We've got to incorporate our defense.

"Luka's going to get his touches. We've just got to do a better job defensively of just quieting everybody else."

Doncic is certainly getting touches - the Slovenian has scored 70 points so far in the series, as well as contributing 18 assists. Now with home-court advantage, he has the chance to push Dallas' much-fancied opponents to the brink of an early elimination that will raise serious questions over their future.

With George and Kawhi Leonard paired together, the Clippers were tipped to contend in the 2019-20 season. A dramatic collapse when 3-1 up against the Denver Nuggets in the West semi-finals put paid to any title hopes, but an even earlier exit this year would be just as surprising.

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out," Leonard told the media. "Just like the regular season, you might lose two in a row and then go on a winning streak, so just having that same mentality.

"We're playing the same team; we know what they're doing. We've just got to stay focused and make sure we are keeping our eye on the prize."

A defeat in Dallas, however, and the Clippers should be seriously concerned about their predicament.

TOP PERFORMERS

Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks

In the previous series between these teams, Doncic dazzled in defeat. He averaged 31.0 points per game back then – but he is already up at 35 this time around. That number is helped by him shooting 41.7 per cent from deep, while the team itself are averaging a spectacular 50.0 per cent on their attempts from three-point range.

Paul George - Los Angeles Clippers

After averaging 23.3 points per game in the regular season, George has raised that number up to 25.5 at the start of the playoffs, despite landing just three of his 15 shots from beyond the arc. That level of production is pivotal for the Clippers, but so too is his ability to help get stops as they aim to slow Dallas' offensive production.

KEY BATTLE – TAKING AIM FROM DISTANCE

Can the Mavs remain hot from long range? Doncic was always likely to get points in the series, but the supporting cast have done an excellent job helping their star turn. Tim Hardaway Jr has been particularly impressive, averaging 24.5 points thanks to 11 made three-pointers. 

In contrast, LA have not lived up to their team average of 41.1 per cent on three in the regular season, which was the best in the league. It is not due to a lack of opportunities either, as they have had 10 more field-goal attempts than their rivals through the opening two games. 

HEAD TO HEAD

The franchises are locked together at four wins apiece when it comes to previous playoff meetings, but Dallas dominates the record in the regular season at 95-67. They won two out of three earlier in this campaign, but the solitary defeat did come at home.

In a mere eight games, Luka Doncic has established himself as an elite postseason performer. Need proof? Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who surely must be tired of his act by now.

The Dallas Mavericks superstar is already among the game's best players at 22 years old, but that he seems to be taking his game even further when it means the most bodes well for his inclusion as a player potentially on his way to legendary status. 

All eight of Doncic's playoff games have come against the Clippers, the first six last summer as part of the NBA bubble and two more this week at Staples Center. Dallas lost last season's series in six games despite stellar play from Doncic but has taken the first two games of this first-round series with more otherworldly efforts from the Slovenian wunderkind aided by a better supportive cast.

In the first two games of this series, Doncic has totalled 70 points on 27-of 53 shooting (50.9 percent) with 17 rebounds and 18 assists. He notched his second career 30-point triple double in the playoffs in Game 1, to go along with his 43-point performance in Game 4 against the Clippers last August. The only other active player to have a 30-point triple-double in the playoffs at age 22 or younger was LeBron James in 2006.

Doncic, who also had a triple-double in Game 3 of last season's series against Los Angeles, is the first player in NBA history with three triple-doubles in his first seven career playoff games. He is also the only player since at least 1984-85 to accumulate 250 points, 70 rebounds and 70 assists in his first eight postseason games.

Doncic's playoff scoring has him alongside basketball royalty at this early juncture of his career. Since the 1963-64 seasons, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (287), Michael Jordan (283), LeBron James (266), Bob McAdoo (261) and Anthony Davis (258) scored more points in the first eight playoff games of their NBA career than Doncic's 256.

Whichever defender has been sent his way in the first two games of this series, Doncic has had an answer. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George aren't just outstanding offensive players but also have reputations as excellent on the defensive end. Both have locked down star players in the past but neither has had much success in this series against Doncic. 

While Doncic's physical gifts are well-documented, his basketball IQ and calm demeanour are just as important parts of his basketball arsenal. Also working in Dallas' favour this time around is a supporting cast that has continued its strong play from the regular season. 

A more confident Kristaps Porzingis has scored 34 points in the first two games and Tim Hardaway Jr. has been an absolute revelation for the Mavericks with 49 points - including 11 of 17 from three-point range - on 17 of 27 overall from the field. Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber also have made key contributions. 

Conventional wisdom says double-teaming Doncic is the easiest way to slow him down, but that won't work if Hardaway continues to knock down shots with such regularity. 

If the Clippers' plan was to push Doncic further away from the basket, that may need to be reconsidered after he connected on 10 of 24 from long range in the first two games. 

Perhaps sending Doncic to the free throw line is the way to go since he has made just six of 14 in this series. Since sinking 14 of 15 from the stripe in his playoff debut last season, Doncic is just a 54.0 percent (34 of 63) free-throw shooter in seven postseason contests. 

The Clippers were the league's top three-point shooting team in the regular season at 41.1 per cent but have only made 24 of 73 (32.9 per cent) in this series. Dallas, meanwhile, has hit exactly half of its shots from beyond the arc (35 of 70) and is shooting a blistering 54.4 per cent (86 for 158) overall. Los Angeles needs that to change if it is to have any chance at coming back. 

There is not much more the Clippers' stars can do after Leonard poured in 41 points and George added 28 in Tuesday's Game 2 loss. It's almost hard to believe the Clippers are down 0-2 in this series heading to Dallas with Leonard and George combining for 118 points on 51.8 percent (43 of 83) from the field and 34 rebounds. 

The Mavericks haven't won a postseason series since Dirk Nowitzki led them over Miami in the 2011 Finals, losing all five of their series since then. They certainly weren't expected to win this one, and while there's still plenty of work to be done, history is on their side.

Since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, only four teams have won a series after losing the first two games at home: The 1993 Suns (Lakers), the 1994 Rockets (Suns), the 2005 Mavericks (Rockets) and the 2017 Celtics (Bulls). 

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant is not interested in records despite making history with 47 points in his side's 141-129 Game 2 defeat to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

The Jazz levelled their NBA first round playoffs series at 1-1 despite Morant's remarkable haul, with the 21-year-old having led the Grizzlies to victory in Game 1 with 26 points.

Morant became the second youngest player in playoffs history to score 45 or more points, behind only LeBron James in 2006 (45 points vs Washington).

It also meant Morant scored the most points all-time by a player aged 21 or younger in a playoff game, Stats Perform confirmed.

Asked about whether he takes anything from such records, Morant told a post-game news conference: "Not at all. I'm blessed to be in a position I'm in and to be able to play the game at the highest level, but that's not on my mind at all. We lost."

Utah led by 20 points at half-time on Wednesday but Morant and the Grizzlies fought back with a 43-29 third quarter, closing within two in the last, before falling short.

Morant was busy throughout, with 15-from-26 from the field, while he was fouled throughout including a few tangles with Jazz center Rudy Gobert, making 15-from-20 from the stripe.

"I'm not afraid," Morant said. "That's the job to protect the rim. My job when I'm attacking the rim is to go finish.

"He [Gobert] made a good block but as you'd seen throughout the game, I was right back in the paint."

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, who returned from an ankle injury with 25 points, was full of praise for Morant.

"Give credit to Ja, he had 50 [47]," Mitchell said post-game. "He's a hell of a player. I respect the hell out of his game.

"He fought but we fought. It's 1-1, they came here and stole one. We need to take care of business."

The series now moves to Memphis with back-to-back home games for the Grizzlies.

The Philadelphia 76ers are on track to advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals after easing past the Washington Wizards in Game 2 of their NBA playoff matchup.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid combined to guide the 76ers – eyeing a first championship since 1983 – to a 120-95 rout of the Wizards in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

All-Star pair Simmons and Embiid both posted 22 points apiece as the top-ranked 76ers claimed a 2-0 series lead midweek.

It was Simmons' fourth career 20-plus point playoff game and his first since 2019, while it was Embiid's seventh consecutive 20-plus point playoff performance, dating back to 2019 – the streak tied with Allen Iverson for the 10th longest in Philadelphia postseason history.

As for Philadelphia's Matisse Thybulle, he became the first player in NBA history with four steals and five blocks in 20 or fewer minutes of any game, regular season or playoffs.

The game was marred by an unruly fan showering popcorn on Wizards star Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook had to be restrained after a fan in Philadelphia dumped popcorn on the former MVP as he exited the court with a right ankle injury.

Washington's Westbrook – who finished with 10 points, 11 assists and six rebounds before appearing to roll his ankle inside the final 10 minutes – was left seething at Wells Fargo Center, where Bradley Beal led the Wizards with a game-high 33 points.

 

Morant makes history but Jazz bounce back

Ja Morant had 47 points – the most in franchise history – but the Memphis Grizzlies still lost 141-129 to the top-seeded Utah Jazz, who levelled the Western Conference opening-round series at 1-1. Morant's 47 points are the most in playoff history by a player aged under 22, while the Grizzlies sensation is the second youngest player in league history to score 45-plus points in a postseason contest (21 years and 289 days), only behind LeBron James (21 years and 124 days in 2006). Donovan Mitchell (25 points) fuelled the Jazz in his return from an ankle injury, while Mike Conley (20 points and 15 assists) and Rudy Gobert (21 points and 13 rebounds) contributed double-doubles.

The New York Knicks won their first playoff game since 2013 after rallying to beat the Atlanta Hawks 101-92 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference battle. Julius Randle's 15 points and 12 rebounds helped the Knicks level the series, despite 30 points from Hawks star Trae Young. Derrick Rose led the Knicks with 26 points off the bench.

 

Milton in game to forget

Usually a reliable contributor, Shake Milton struggled in Philadelphia's victory. Milton ended the game scoreless on 0-for-six shooting. He also had two turnovers off the bench.

 

Gobert says no!

There was no way past Jazz All-Star Gobert, who produced a monster block to thwart the Grizzlies in the second quarter.

 

Wednesday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 120-95 Washington Wizards
New York Knicks 101-92 Atlanta Hawks
Utah Jazz 141-129 Memphis Grizzlies

 

Suns at Lakers

Defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers will welcome the Phoenix Suns to Staples Center in LA on Thursday, with the Western Conference series locked at 1-1.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.