Naomi Osaka has told Kyrie Irving there is "always room" after the NBA star asked if "hoopers" were welcome in her new agency.

The four-time grand slam winner – who withdrew from the Internazionali d'Italia this week due to an Achilles injury she suffered at the Madrid Open – announced on Wednesday she was leaving IMG to start her own agency, Evolve, with long-time agent Stuart Duguid.

Duguid told Reuters the venture will be a "small boutique and bespoke agency" that will only welcome athletes "who transcend their sports; or those with the potential to do so".

Irving is one of the leading players in the NBA, and the Brooklyn Nets star hinted at his interest on Twitter, messaging Osaka on Wednesday to ask: "yall got room over at your agency for hoopers. Just inquiring" with an emoji of two champagne flutes clinking together.

Osaka replied on Thursday simply saying: "always room" with the same champagne emoji as well as one of a basketball.

The 24-year-old said on Wednesday that the move was to make the "next step" in her journey "as an athlete and a businesswoman", telling Sportico: "I've spent my career doing things my way, even when people told me that it wasn't what was expected or traditional.

"Evolve is the natural next step in my journey as both an athlete and businesswoman, as well as a way to continue being myself and doing things my way."

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has said he is "extremely grateful" to work with Nikola Jokic after the Serbian was confirmed as the winner of the NBA's MVP award for the second successive season.

Malone, along with other representatives from the Nuggets, flew out to Sombor in Serbia to surprise Jokic at his stables with the award on Wednesday.

During the 2021-22 regular season, the center led the league in points/assists/rebounds per game with 48.7, which marked an improvement on his 2020-21 numbers, which saw him rack up 45.5 PAR per game.

Jokic becomes the 13th player in NBA history to win the MVP award in back-to-back years, following the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and LeBron James.

Unfortunately for Denver, Jokic's regular-season form did not translate to success in the postseason for the Nuggets, who lost 4-1 to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.

However, the Nuggets wanted to celebrate the 27-year-old's achievement, and presented him with the MVP award in his home city, with Malone saying: “I don’t know what else you can say about Nikola at this point.

"He's consistently improved his game, he's consistently proven people wrong when they doubt him and he's consistently the best player on the floor night in and night out.

"I've said it many times before, I'm extremely grateful to coach Nikola Jokic and just as grateful for the bond that we've built off the court in our seven years together."

Jokic was originally drafted to the Nuggets with the 41st pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, famously doing so during a commercial break.

His MVP win last season made him the player with the lowest draft position to win the award, and the first center to do so since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000.

Kenny Atkinson is expected to be interviewed for the role of head coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Atkinson is currently an assistant with the Golden State Warriors, who remain immersed in the postseason.

He has been given the go-ahead to talk to the Lakers about their vacancy, according to widespread reports.

The Lakers fired Frank Vogel after missing out on the playoffs and have since been linked with Atkinson's Warriors colleague Mike Brown, former Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham and Toronto Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin. Former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson is another reputedly under consideration.

Brown has since accepted an offer to become head coach of the Sacramento Kings, ruling him out of the running.

Former Brooklyn Nets head coach Atkinson had a spell in Los Angeles as assistant with the Clippers in the 2020-21 season before taking up his current post with Golden State.

The 54-year-old had a 118-190 record across his four seasons with the Nets, and they reached the postseason only once in that time, losing in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers.

In a disappointing 2021-22 season, the Lakers finished with a 33-49 record to miss out on the playoffs, two years after landing an NBA championship, despite having the likes of LeBron James and Russell Westbrook on their roster.

Giannis Antetokounmpo showed why many feel he is the best player in the world in the Milwaukee Bucks' 110-107 comeback win away against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.

The two-time MVP and reigning NBA Finals MVP was a dominant force in Boston, finishing with 40 points on 16-of-27 shooting, keeping his side in touch as they struggled in the first half, and making clutch plays down the stretch to help the Bucks win the fourth quarter 33-21.

It was a bright start in the first quarter for Milwaukee, with Antetokounmpo only scoring four points as role players hit shots and Jrue Holiday had nine early, but their star had to take over in the second quarter as the offense stalled.

Antetokounmpo had 15 of the Bucks' 19 second-quarter points as the Celtics threatened to pull away, leading 54-42 with two minutes remaining in the first half.

Both teams were clicking in the third quarter, but every time the Bucks closed the gap, the Celtics had an answer in front of their raucous home fans, with an Antetokounmpo pull-up three to end the quarter needed to trim the margin to an 86-77 Boston lead.

With 10 minutes to play, the Celtics led 93-79 – and then everything began to fall apart.

The once-fluid Boston offense devolved into a stagnant, turn-taking, isolation-heavy mess, consistently not even beginning to attack until there was less than 10 seconds on the shot clock, often resulting in tough, contested, long two-point jump shots by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Trailing 105-99 with two minutes remaining, Antetokounmpo drained a clutch three-pointer to make it a one-possession game, before Holiday tied it up via a long-ball with 42 seconds on the clock.

Two Tatum free throws put the Celtics back ahead, before Antetokounmpo earned two shots himself. 

He scored the first – with blood dripping down his face from a cut above his right eye – and missed the second, but Bobby Portis was able to come up with the offensive rebound in a scramble and put it back in to take a 108-107 lead with 11 seconds remaining.

The last 11 seconds was a chance for Holiday to make a statement. Widely considered the best defensive guard in the game, Holiday blocked the shot of Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, snatching the ball out of the air in the process to win possession.

After two successful free throws from Pat Connaughton, Holiday put the finishing touches on the game by picking Smart's pocket once again as he tried to bring the ball up for one last attempt at tying it, taking a 3-2 series lead, with Game 6 headed back to Milwaukee.

In NBA playoff history, when a series has been tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has won the series 82.2 per cent of the time (180-39).

If the Celtics can win Game 6, the Game 7 decider will head back to Boston.

 

No Ja, no worries for Memphis Grizzlies at home

With their season on the line, the Memphis Grizzlies dominated the Golden State Warriors 134-95 as nine players scored at least nine points each with star Ja Morant out injured.

The Grizzlies were expected to be competitive without Morant – going 20-5 in the 25 games he missed in the regular season – but they were far more than that, opening up a 119-67 lead at three-quarter time.

Illustrating the one-sided nature of the contest, the Warriors committed 22 turnovers compared to 10 for the Grizzlies, and grabbed just four offensive rebounds while the home side snatched down 18.

Overall, this meant the Grizzlies attempted 19 more field goals (47-of-99 compared to 36-of-80), as well as 17 more free throws (22-of-30 to nine-of-13).

Desmond Bane, Tyus Jones and Jaren Jackson Jr top-scored for Memphis with 21 points each, and all five Grizzlies starters finished with a plus/minus of at least plus 32.

Klay Thompson top-scored for the Warriors with 19 points on an efficient seven-of-12 shooting, but he had the worst plus/minus in the game at minus 45.

Game 6 will head back to Memphis, and if the Grizzlies can force a Game 7, it will be played in Golden State

Giannis Antetokounmpo never thought twice about putting up his clutch three-pointer, which was key in the Milwaukee Bucks coming back to beat the Boston Celtics 110-107 in Game 5.

The win gives the Bucks a 3-2 series lead, with Game 6 heading back to Milwaukee, and at times it was a one-man show as Antetokounmpo finished with a game-high 40 points on 16-of-27 shooting.

As the Celtics began to open up a sizeable lead, Antetokounmpo scored 15 of the Bucks' 19 second-quarter points to keep his side within touching distance, and hit an important three-pointer to close out the third quarter and trim the margin back to nine points.

With less than two minutes to play, trailing 105-99, and having shot the three poorly all playoffs (four-of-29, 13 per cent entering Game 5) Antetokounmpo nailed a clutch catch-and-shoot three to make it 105-102, before Jrue Holiday tied the game with another a minute later.

Speaking to the post-game media, the reigning NBA Finals MVP said the big moments are not for everyone, but he wanted the responsibility.

"In a play, when it's a close game and if you're not comfortable or confident enough to take that shot, for a person who is being criticised for his shooting, you don't take that shot," he said.

"You wait, you give the ball to the point guard and you have like a full play, set a pick-and-roll, make sure everybody touches the ball, drive-and-kick…but as I said, I worked on it.

"I felt good, the ball felt good in my hands and I was able to have the nerves and time to take that shot."

While Antetokounmpo was the driving force behind the win, Holiday was crucial in securing the result, becoming the first player in the past 25 years to have a steal and a block in the last 10 seconds of a playoff game.

Antetokounmpo made sure to credit Holiday and the Bucks defense, which held the Celtics to just nine points in the final eight minutes.

"Great block [by Holiday], and he was able to keep his balance then stay in the court," he said.

"Then at the end of the game he got that steal from Marcus Smart. Big-time plays down the stretch and that's what Jrue does.

"It's great. Some people take this for granted, but you can live or die with Jrue making decisions like that, going for a steal or putting his hands in there. We've won a lot of games with him doing that.

"[As a team] we just tried to keep guys in front of us, make them take that tough shot, being as active as we could – showing our bodies, showing our hands.

"Sometimes it's just luck, sometimes the ball just bounces our way and we were able to get some stops, but there was definitely effort behind it."

The passing of Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier prompted tributes from the Detroit Pistons and the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

Eight-time All-Star Lanier died on Tuesday following a short illness, the NBA said.

Commissioner Adam Silver described the popular former player, who was 73, as "among the most talented centers in the history of the NBA" but added: "His impact on the league went far beyond what he accomplished on the court."

After retiring on the Bucks in 1984 and briefly serving as a coach at the Golden State Warriors in the 1990s, Lanier was an NBA ambassador and a special assistant to both David Stern and Silver.

"I learned so much from Bob by simply watching how he connected with people," Silver said. "He was a close friend who I will miss dearly, as will so many of his colleagues across the NBA who were inspired by his generosity."

Lanier had his number 16 jersey retired by both the Pistons, where he spent nine and a half seasons, and the Bucks, finishing his career with four and a half years in Milwaukee.

He ranks third all-time for both points (15,488) and rebounds (8,063) as a Piston.

A Pistons statement read: "The Detroit Pistons organisation is deeply saddened by the passing of Bob Lanier, a true legend who meant so much to the city of Detroit and to generations of Pistons fans.

"As fierce and as dominant as Bob was on the court, he was equally kind and impactful in the community.

"As an ambassador for both the Pistons organisation and the NBA, he represented our league, our franchise and our fans with great passion and integrity."

The Bucks said: "Bob Lanier was an all-time great Milwaukee Buck and a Hall of Famer, whose retired number 16 hangs in the rafters at Fiserv Forum.

"In his five seasons in Milwaukee (1980-84), Bob led the Bucks to division titles each year and to two Eastern Conference Finals appearances in 1983 and 1984.

"But even more than his basketball success, which included his being an All-Star in 1982, Bob was one of the most popular players with Bucks fans and known throughout the community for his generosity and kindness.

"We send our deepest condolences to Bob's family and friends."

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra lavished praise on Jimmy Butler following his side's 120-85 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, labelling him the "ultimate competitor."

Without the injured Kyle Lowry, Butler led the Heat with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while keeping turnovers to a relatively low two despite higher usage.

After scoring 33 and 40 points respectively in losses on the road, Butler had more of a supporting crew in Game 5, as six other Heat players scored in double digits.

Spoelstra singled Butler out not only for his versatility, and how that drives the Heat, but his character.

"Jimmy is just such a stable, high IQ…he's got a great feel for what the team needs, and he does it on both ends and that's what's really kind of lost on young players coming into this league," Spoelstra said post-game.

"He has orchestrated so many things for us offensively, particularly with Kyle [Lowry] out, and he's been able to toggle between those roles seamlessly, and make it look a lot easier than it is."

Shots fell for the Heat as they took a 3-2 series lead, converting on 39.4 per cent of attempts from the perimeter and finishing with 26 assists as a team.

Butler finished Game 5 with an impressive defensive rating of 87.7, and Spoelstra believes his competitive spirit is transformative in both individual and collective senses.

"In terms of being just a scoring option tonight, he was that scoring option but also facilitating for us, he was kind of initiating offense for us quite a bit," he said. "You just feel our whole team has a great sense of confidence when the ball's in Jimmy's hands and we leave the decision up to him.

"He's a great competitor in his heart and his soul. He's an ultimate competitor and when you get into competition, he understands the whole deal. You have to be able to do it on both ends.

"That's what he's been doing for us for three years, really competing for us on both ends, but he's able to compete with a ferocity and do it with an incredibly stable mind."

Joel Embiid insists he is "not mad" after missing out on the NBA's MVP award again to Nikola Jokic but continues to show contempt at the award's voting process.

The Philadelphia 76ers center was runner-up to Jokic last year and according to ESPN the Denver Nuggets' big man will edge him again for this season's gong.

Embiid enjoyed arguably a career-best season, with a league-high 30.6 points per game with 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

"I'm not mad," Embiid told reporters, when speaking after the 76ers' 120-85 loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday.

"That's two years in a row I put myself in that position. It didn't happen. It is almost like, at this point, it is whatever. Whatever happens, happens.

"Last year, I campaigned about it. This year, I answered questions when I was asked, and in the next few years until I retire, it's almost like ... like I said, I wonder what else I have to do to win it, and to me, at this point, it's whatever.

"It's all about focusing, not that I wasn't focused on the bigger picture. It's really time to really put all my energy into the bigger picture, which is to win the whole thing."

Embiid's comments come with the 76ers on the brink of elimination after Tuesday's loss which leaves them 3-2 down in the Conference semi-finals to the Heat.

The 28-year-old Cameroonian added that there was no "right or wrong" answer for the MVP but continued to show derision towards the voting process, insisting he knew weeks ago he would not win.

"This is something that I knew weeks ago, even probably two weeks before the season ended, after those games against whether it was Denver and Milwaukee, and when [ESPN did its] straw poll or whatever. I just knew it wasn't gonna happen," Embiid said.

"Obviously, congrats to Nikola. He deserved it. He had an amazing season. There's no right or wrong. There was a lot of candidates.

"It could have gone either way. Giannis [Antetokounmpo], Devin Booker, being on the best team in the league, by far. I guess, every year is all about whatever you guys decide, whatever fits the narrative as far as who's gonna win."

The Miami Heat moved a step closer to progressing to the Eastern Conference Finals, rolling past the Philadelphia 76ers in a 120-85 win on Tuesday.

The Heat comfortably took a 3-2 series lead as the Sixers collapsed in the third quarter, going three-of-12 from the floor for the period aside from Joel Embiid.

While the Heat started strong, Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey were taken out with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Jimmy Butler was able to get to his spots on the floor, going nine-of-15 shooting on the way to 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the night.

As a team, Miami had a 20-point advantage (56-36) for points in the paint while seven players scored in double figures in the 35-point win, the joint largest margin of victory in the playoffs this season.

Suns surge in second-half to Game 5 win

The Phoenix Suns also claimed an important Game 5 victory on Tuesday, defeating the Dallas Mavericks 110-80.

Similar to the Philadelphia 76ers in the earlier game, the Mavericks started out ice cold and turned the ball over following the main break, giving up a double-digit lead to start the third quarter.

What was a one-point margin lead for the Suns at half-time quickly blew out to 17 by the middle of the third, when Deandre Ayton scored to make it 67-50.

The Western Conference's first seed did not look back from there, as Devin Booker finished the game with 28 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

Dribble penetration and offensive rebounding created good looks for the Suns, who shot 37.5 per cent from beyond the arc, while the Mavs conversely shot at 25 per cent.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers criticised his side for their toughness and playing too slow in Tuesday's blowout 120-85 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 5.

The defeat leaves the 76ers down 3-2 in the Conference semi-finals series with games in both Philadelphia and, if required, Miami to come.

The 76ers were never a threat in Game 5, trailing by 12 points at quarter time, with Miami eventually winning by 35 points; the equal biggest margin in the 2021-22 playoffs so far.

"They were just more physical. We didn't run our stuff very well," Rivers told reporters after the game.

"We played at a snail's pace. We had 85 shots, turned the ball over, everything they did tonight was harder and better.

"Their stuff was better than what we ran, their energy was better, their toughness was better, I haven't said that very often about us, and that's on all of us.

"That's on me to make sure they're ready and that's on them to be ready. Tonight, we were not."

The 76ers had squared up the series after being down 2-0 but Rivers was left bemused by their lack of effort in Game 5.

"Obviously, they just were so much more engaged, more physical, took us out of stuff, there was a lot of disappointment from all of us tonight," Rivers said.

Embiid had played in both Games 3 and 4 after a concussion and a fractured orbital bone, but struggled for impact in Game 5, managing only 17 points, five rebounds and two assists.

"We didn’t play defense," Embiid said. "We weren’t physical enough, we weren't locked in from the beginning, and they took advantage of it."

James Harden was kept to 14 points, six rebounds and four assists for Philadelphia.

"They got off to a good start," Harden said. "Being down 12 in the first quarter on the road against a really good team is difficult.

"We cannot allow that to happen. Especially, Game 5 and the two games where we just came off our home court playing well. It is difficult to come back and fight your way back and we just never got our pop."

Ja Morant is doubtful for the rest of the 2021-22 NBA playoffs in a huge blow to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The second-seeded Grizzlies were already facing a huge uphill battle to make the Western Conference Finals after falling 3-1 behind to the Golden State Warriors in their semi-final series.

Morant missed the Game 4 defeat to the Warriors due to a knee injury that he and the Grizzlies say was sustained in an incident involving Golden State guard Jordan Poole.

Poole grabbed Morant's knee in Game 3, before the league's Most Improved Player left the court in the fourth quarter of another defeat.

Now, the Grizzlies will likely have to win three consecutive games against the Warriors without Morant – who has a bruised knee bone – in order to advance.

A team statement on Tuesday read: "Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant exited during the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the Western Conference semi-finals on May 7 at Golden State with right knee soreness.

"Morant underwent an MRI, and subsequent evaluation has revealed a bone bruise in his right knee.

"Morant is doubtful for the remainder of the postseason but is expected to make a full recovery."

The Grizzlies performed well in the absence of the former second overall pick during the regular season, going 20-5 during the 25 games he missed.

But Memphis were held to under 100 points (98) for the first time in this postseason in Game 4, with Jaren Jackson's 21 points leading the team.

Morant had been averaging 38.3 points per game in this series, including tying his playoff career high with 47 in Game 2 – the Grizzlies' sole win so far.

The San Antonio Spurs will not be moving, says owner Peter J. Holt, staying in the city "por vida".

The Spurs moved from Dallas to San Antonio in 1973 and have remained there ever since, winning five NBA titles during Gregg Popovich's hugely successful tenure as coach.

However, fans have grown concerned by the latest rumours of potential relocation, ignited by the team's application to play two home games a season in Austin.

The Spurs reportedly defended the move, saying they want to expand their brand by hosting games at the Moody Center. Their G League team already play in Austin.

Holt sought to set the record straight on Tuesday, when the Spurs posted a statement from their owner on Twitter.

"Dear San Antonio," Holt wrote. "I love you. I love this city. A big city with a casual small-town feel and a great basketball team.

"I want to reassure you that the Spurs are in San Antonio to stay."

He added: "There are no Spurs without the city and the people of San Antonio. Your team, our team, together we are the silver and black.

"Spurs fans – we are here to stay. Por vida [for life]."

The Portland Trail Blazers are making interim general manager Joe Cronin their permanent appointment, according to reports.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski says Cronin, who has been in the role since December, is being given a four-year contract.

Cronin replaced Neil Olshey, who was fired following an investigation into complaints around the Blazers' "workplace environment".

Although Portland finished 13th in the West this season, missing out on the playoffs, Cronin has already had to make key decisions.

The Blazers traded guard CJ McCollum – a first-round pick in 2013 and key man thereafter – to the New Orleans Pelicans.

But Cronin plans to build around injured superstar Damian Lillard, McCollum's long-term team-mate.

Stephen Curry hailed Mike Brown's input after the Golden State Warriors moved 3-1 ahead in their Western Conference semi-final series duel with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Brown, who has agreed to become the Sacramento Kings' next head coach, is seeing out his final weeks as assistant with the Warriors and stepped up on Monday when Steve Kerr tested positive for COVID-19 and was ruled out of Game 4 duties.

Curry joked Brown was setting trends, after being made head coach of two teams in such quick succession.

The Warriors were held to just 38 points in the first half, but Curry stepped up, scoring 18 of his 32 points in the final quarter, including eight consecutive clutch free throws in the final minute as his team edged ahead and clung on to a narrow lead.

"It's been a wild day all round. You just had to figure it out on the fly," Curry said after the 101-98 win.

"We've been through this before. In '16-17 the coach had his back problems back in the day when he was out of the line-up but still had an influence, and Mike B stepped up.

"We didn't have a lot of time to react. We went out and tried to execute. We obviously didn't for three quarters. Defensively we were solid, but offensively we couldn't get anything going, and we gutted it out."

Curry became the first player to reach 500 three-pointers in NBA playoffs during the narrow win.

Brown's move to Sacramento was only agreed on Sunday and will take effect once the playoffs are over. With Warriors head coach Kerr sidelined, Brown kept the team moving closer to the Western Conference Finals.

"He had a lot of good words tonight," said Curry. "I don't know in history if anyone's been named head coach of two teams in 24 hours, so he's continued to set some trends.

"He's been through it all, been with us for this last six years, been interim coach for a little bit and made his presence felt, especially defensively."

Al Horford's career-best playoff haul of 30 points drew acclaim as the Boston Celtics secured Game 4 with a superb fourth quarter in a 116-108 road win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 35-year-old veteran and five-time NBA All-Star delivered 11-of-14 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists as Boston levelled the NBA Eastern Conference semi-final series at 2-2.

Horford rose to the occasion after a third-quarter dunk from Giannis Antetokounmpo left him smarting, and steered the visitors to a crucial win at the Fiserv Forum in Wisconsin.

The center returned the favour on his opponent in the final act, with both handed technical fouls, but it was the sheer energy of the Dominican that captured the attention.

"That was a hell of a play," team-mate Jayson Tatum said. "Especially anytime Al turns back the clock and he looks like his old self, it gets everybody off the bench.

"Al plays with so much passion. When Al is playing with passion like that, everybody else has to follow."

Marcus Smart also hailed Horford, in particular for his dunk, adding: "It's a big-time play in a big-time moment.

"It's a physical game. We were on the other end a couple of times, so it felt kind of good to have that one."

Horford himself admitted the Celtics were driven to victory by a desire to close out the game after the Bucks held on for a 103-101 win on Saturday in Game 3.

"We felt that at the end of Game 3 that we were in a position to win the game, and we didn't," he added. "I was just really locked in.

"I understood the moment and what we needed to do as a group. Just come out and we were gonna do whatever it took tonight. It was one of those types of nights."

The two sides return to Massachusetts now, and will contest Game 5 at the TD Garden on Wednesday.

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