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.

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.

Kyrie Irving called out "underlying racism" and a "human zoo" environment in the NBA after a Boston Celtics fan threw a water bottle in the direction of the Brooklyn Nets star.

The Nets topped the Celtics 141-126 in Game 4 on Sunday for a commanding 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series, but it was overshadowed by another unruly incident.

Ex-Celtics star Irving posted 39 points and 11 rebounds to help fuel the Nets at TD Garden in Boston, where a fan appeared to throw a bottle at the 2016 NBA champion as he left the court.

It comes after former MVP and Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook was showered in popcorn during a defeat away to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 2, while a New York Knicks fan spat on Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young in Game 1.

Following the latest incident in a worrying trend of fan behaviour across the league, Irving – who spent two years with the Celtics from 2017 to 2019 – told reporters: "You're seeing a lot of old ways come up.

"It has been that way in history in terms of entertainment, performers and sports for a long period of time and just underlying racism and just treating people like they're in a human zoo.

"Throwing stuff at people, saying things. There is a certain point where it gets to be too much."

Irving added: "You can see that people just feel very entitled out here. They paid for their tickets -- great, I'm grateful that they're coming in to watch a great performance.

"But we're not at the theatre. We're not throwing tomatoes and other random stuff at the people that are performing."

"Fans got to grow up at some point," Durant said. "I know that being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic got a lot of people on edge, got a lot of people stressed out, but when you come to these games, you have to realise these men are human.

"We are not animals; we are not in the circus. You coming to the game is not all about you as a fan. So, have some respect for the game. Have some respect for the human beings, and have some respect for yourself. Your mother wouldn't be proud of you throwing water bottles at basketball players or spitting on players or tossing popcorn. So, grow the f*** up, and enjoy the game. It's bigger than you."

On the court, the second-seeded Nets flexed their muscles to move within one win of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

A game-high 42 points from Durant, and double-doubles from Irving and Harden (23 points and a playoff career-high 18 assists) inspired the Nets.

Durant, Irving and Harden tied the playoffs record for most points scored by three team-mates (104), after John Havlicek (54), Jo Jo White (34), Dave Cowens (16) in 1973 and Dominique Wilkins (50), Randy Wittman (35), Spud Webb (19) in 1986.

Brooklyn duo Durant and Irving also became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each score 35-plus points while going 10-for-10 shooting or better from the free-throw line in the same game, according to Stats Perform.

On Irving's performance, Nets head coach Steve Nash said: "It's Kyrie Irving. He didn't have a great game last time out. My money's on him any time after a performance he had. I loved his will, to take some of this adversity and have a great game."

Harden – on what was most satisfying about the victory – added: "Defensively. That's going to be our key every single game. Offensively, that should be the last thing we're worried about because we have so many weapons, so many guys that can get it going.

"Defensively, we have to be engaged, to be locked in possession by possession. I think in Game 3 we weren't consistently locked in on the defensive effort and it showed. Tonight was a lot better and obviously offensively we're wrecking when we come down, the ball moves, and we play with pace.

"Defensively, our effort, and then our rebounding was great too. Ky did an unbelievable job with 11 rebounds. That's elite right there. That's winning basketball."

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets are on the cusp of the Eastern Conference semi-finals after Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden helped take down the Boston Celtics 141-126 in Game 4.

Durant, Irving and Harden led the way to silence the Celtics crowd in Boston, where the second-seeded Nets claimed a commanding 3-1 lead in the opening-round series following a franchise playoff scoring record.

A game-high 42 points from Durant, and double-doubles from Irving (39 points and 11 rebounds) and Harden (23 points and 18 assists) fuelled the Nets at TD Garden on Sunday.

Durant, Irving and Harden tied the playoffs record for most points scored by three team-mates (104), after John Havlicek (54), Jo Jo White (34), Dave Cowens (16) in 1973 and Dominique Wilkins (50), Randy Wittman (35), Spud Webb (19) in 1986.

Brooklyn duo Durant and Irving also became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each score 35-plus points while going 10-for-10 shooting or better from the free-throw line in the same game, according to Stats Perform.

After his mammoth 50-point haul in Game 3, Jayson Tatum followed up with 40 points, seven rebounds and five assists but it was not enough for the Celtics, who are facing elimination.

 

Clippers fightback

After dropping the opening two games, the Los Angeles Clippers are now level with the Dallas Mavericks at 2-2 in the west following their 106-81 rout. Kawhi Leonard's efficient double-double of 29 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and 10 rebounds inspired the Clippers on the road. Paul George added 20 points as the Clippers became the first team in league history to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home and then win the next two on the road by a combined 35-plus points, per Stats Perform.

The Atlanta Hawks relied on their usual stars to get past the New York Knicks 113-96 and move within one win of the second round of the playoffs. Trae Young had 27 points and John Collins chipped in with 22 of his own as the Hawks earned a 3-1 advantage.

 

Davis injury caps Lakers loss

The Los Angeles Lakers lost 100-92 to the Phoenix Suns, who levelled the matchup in the west. Anthony Davis' injury headlined the defeat as the Suns capitalised on his second-half absence. Davis suffered a groin injury late in the second quarter and did not return for reigning champions the Lakers in Los Angeles. 

Luka Doncic was cleared to play against the Clippers, despite a neck strain. While he put up 19 points, the Mavs star was just nine-for-24 shooting in Dallas. Doncic also had little support on the court after starters Tim Hardaway Jr. (four points on one-for-eight shooting), Dorian Finney-Smith (eight points on three-for-nine shooting) and Maxi Kleber (0 points on 0-for-three shooting) struggled.

 

Caruso-LeBron combo

The Lakers lost but Alex Caruso and LeBron James still produced a highlight moment in the second quarter. Caruso lobbed the ball to James off the backboard and the latter finished emphatically. James registered 25 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Sunday's results

Atlanta Hawks 113-96 New York Knicks
Phoenix Suns 100-92 Los Angeles Lakers
Brooklyn Nets 141-126 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Clippers 106-81 Dallas Mavericks

 

76ers at Wizards

Eastern Conference top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers can seal a 4-0 series sweep of the Washington Wizards in DC on Monday.

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.

Anthony Davis responded after his poor Game 1 by leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 109-102 win over the Phoenix Suns to square their NBA playoffs first round series on Tuesday.

Davis was self-critical after their Game 1 loss, stating "this is on me", and responded with a double-double with 34 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and seven assists.

LeBron James was brilliant with 23 points, including a final quarter threein the final minute which was the nail in the coffin. James also had nine assists and four rebounds.

The Lakers led by seven at the final change but Phoenix came hard at them, albeit largely without Chris Paul who played limited minutes in the last quarter due to a shoulder issue which hampered him all game.

But the reigning champions rallied, with a Davis block followed by a three-pointer pressing them ahead in the final minutes.

For the Lakers, Dennis Schroder had 24 points, while Andre Drummond had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Paul only managed six points from 23 minutes in a major worry for the Suns moving forward, while Devin Booker impressed with 31 points.

 

KD gets it done, Mavs down Clippers

Kevin Durant got it done at both ends as the Brooklyn Nets claimed a 2-0 series lead against the Boston Celtics with a 130-108 win.

Durant was dominant with a game-high 26 points as well as five assists, eight rebounds and four blocks for the Nets who led by 24 points at half-time.

Joe Harris shot a playoffs career-high seven three-pointers among his 25 points, including 22 in the first half, while James Harden added an impressive 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists for the Nets.

Blake Griffin made two big dunks for the Nets, having not attempted one in his final 25 games for the Detroit Pistons before his move.

Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard traded blows with massive individual performances but the Dallas Mavericks claimed a 2-0 lead in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers with a 127-121 win on the road.

Doncic scored 39 points with seven rebounds and seven assists, with able assistance from Tim Hardaway Jr who made six three-pointers among his 28 points, with Dallas moving ahead in a 30-19 third quarter.

Leonard had 41 points, six rebounds, two steals and four assists, while Paul George scored 28 points with 12 rebounds and six assists for the Clippers, who face an uphill task to turn around the series in Texas.

 

CP3 and Tatum injuries

Injuries to both Paul and Celtics forward Jason Tatum denied spectators the best contest possible, with the former barely entering the court in the last with his shoulder issue which remains an issue for the rest of the series. Tatum left the game in the third quarter after a poke to the eye from Durant. He only managed nine points from 21 minutes, shooting at 25 per cent from the field.

 

Harden's three-point playoffs feat

Harden went past Reggie Miller into sixth on the all-time NBA playoffs three-pointers made list, scoring four-from-eight beyond the arc in the Nets' win over the Celtics. The 31-year-old has 321 playoffs three-pointers, behind Stephen Curry (470), LeBron James (417), Ray Allen (385), Klay Thompson (374) and Manu Ginobili (324).

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 130-108 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Lakers 109-102 Phoenix Suns
Dallas Mavericks 127-121 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Grizzlies at Jazz

Western Conference top seed Utah Jazz will look to square their series against the Memphis Grizzlies after their upset defeat in Game 1.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash is happy with the continued progress of their 'big three' after Tuesday's 130-108 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of their NBA playoffs first round series.

The Nets opened up a 2-0 lead with the comfortable victory, which comes after the 'big three' contributed 82 points in their 104-93 Game 1 win.

Kevin Durant starred with 26 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four blocks on Tuesday.

James Harden had 20 points, including four three-pointers along with five rebounds and seven assists, while Kyrie Irving added 15 points, six rebounds and six assists.

"It's about that time together on the floor, time together to understand, to gel, to make those connections that will afford us more down the line," Nash said post-game.

"It's the time and mindset we need to improve. I keep saying, we're not a team that's running this back three-four-five. We're trying to figure it out as we go.

"Each night is important, not only on the scoreboard but our development."

The Nets are 8-2 with the 'big three' in their line-up this season, but the contribution of Joe Harris, who had 22 points by half-time, to finish with 25 including seven three-pointers, cannot be underestimated.

"It's a nice luxury to have when he’s banging three balls like that and getting the crowd going," Nash said.

Boston lost star forward Jayson Tatum in the third quarter after copping a poke to the eye.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said they needed to be much better all over the court.

"We've got to be way better. We've go to get down the floor quicker, we've got to execute faster, we have to be more detailed and better in our defense," he said.

"I was disappointed in how we played versus the other night."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash insisted his star-studded team must remain humble in their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

The second-seeded Nets drew first blood in the NBA playoff series, winning Game 1 104-93 on Saturday.

Boasting Kevin Durant (32 points and 12 rebounds), James Harden (21 points) and Kyrie Irving (29 points), the Nets starred offensively, but they were particularly impressive on defense against the Celtics.

The Celtics carried a six-point lead into half-time but the Nets – behind a strong defensive display – powered past the seventh-ranked Celtics in the second half in Brooklyn.

As the Nets – eyeing their maiden championship – prepare for Tuesday's Game 2, Nash warned against overconfidence on the defensive side.

"If we think that we're the greatest defensive team of all time we're probably asking for a butt-kicking in Game 2," said Nash following Monday's practice.

"If we're humble and hungry and try to stick to our details and our game plan maybe we have a chance to make it difficult for them."

Durant, Harden and Irving combined for 82 of Brooklyn's total points against Boston in Game 1 – 78.8 per cent of the scoring, including 28 of 31 in the third quarter and 48 of 57 in the second half.

"I think that's something that we have the luxury of having those guys that are so difficult to defend in iso situations," Nash added. "But that's not necessarily the way we want to go.

"We were probably more iso heavy the first game because it's all so new, and in default, and Boston switched a lot of stuff. I think that pushed us towards more isos. But it will be interesting to see, it's just all so new that we, like I don't know, if that's going to be something that we dominate the direction we go in or if we're going to be able to get away from that more so and run more action.

"We've got to figure this out as we go so it's hard to answer that question relative to small experience. The luxury is they all are incredible isolation players and it's not the worst thing in the world, but I would like us to get more to where we’re playing off one another."

James Harden said the Brooklyn Nets took "a huge step" by shaking off sketchy offensive form to overcome the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of their playoff series.

Brookyln's big three scraped together sufficient points to make it comfortable enough in the end, the home team grabbing a 104-93 win, having trailed 53-47 at halftime.

Kevin Durant had 32 points and 12 rebounds, Kyrie Irving added 29 points and Harden weighed in with 21 as the Nets proved too strong for a Celtics side who had 22 points on six-of-20 shooting from Jayson Tatum.

Harden said: "We just engaged. Everybody that steps on the floor is engaged and pretty much knows what they have to do. So everybody had each other's back.

"No matter what happens offensively, defensively is where we show some improvement and tonight was a huge step for us."

With fans back in Barclays Center, Harden suggested their presence may have been a slight distraction, as might the pressure of starting a playoffs tilt.

But ultimately he settled on it being the players' failure to convert opportunities as the reason the Nets took so long to get going.

"We just didn't make shots. I'm sure if we made shots it would be a different conversation," he said.

Asked about Tatum, Harden said: "He's going to be better in Game 2 and we will too."

Durant reached a similar conclusion to Harden.

"We couldn't make shots, I felt like," Durant said. "When we tried to bust the game open seven or eight points, we got open threes we didn't make. We got our scorers in position, but I know I missed a lot of bunnies that felt good leaving my hand.

"But we stuck with our defense. We didn't let that get in the way of what we wanted to do out there. We helped each other and boxed out well. We've got to keep that same effort going into Game 2."

From 82-79 up, the Nets went on a scoring surge and pulled 99-82 ahead in the fourth quarter, before easing to victory.

Irving, prominent in that dominant run, said: "I just think we needed a little separation, just to settle in for the rest of the game. Fourth quarter, we've had the tendency of taking our foot off the gas pedal, of stopping attacking the rim or settling for jump shots or just not swinging the ball around and making easy plays for one another.

"Obviously we know we have all-world one-on-one players, but we make it a little easy when teams can just load up and our one-on-one game isn't working. You can see anything can happen at the end of the game. Kemba [Walker] hits two big threes, we get a flagrant foul. Anything can happen, especially against the Celtics.

"That lucky Irishman is always around the Celtics, so we've just got to be aware of anything against the Celtics. And I think we did a good job of kind of withstanding their runs down the stretch."

A strong second half sent the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers to a 123-109 victory over the third-seeded Denver Nuggets as the NBA playoffs began Saturday. 

Portland outscored Denver 65-48 after the break as Damian Lillard had 34 points and 13 assists for the visitors, who made 18 of 19 free throw attempts to just four of eight for the Nuggets. 

CJ McCollum added 21 points and Carmelo Anthony scored 18 in just 22 minutes off the bench for Portland, who beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their playoff opener last season only to lose the next four to the eventual champions. 

Their efforts overcame a 34-point, 15-rebound game from Nikola Jokic and 25 points from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter made all 11 of his two-point field goal attempts Saturday but was just one of 10 from three-point range. 

Game 2 is Monday in Denver. 

 

Brooklyn's big three carry Nets

Big games from the big three carried the Brooklyn Nets to a 104-93 series-opening win over the Boston Celtics. Kevin Durant had 32 points and 12 rebounds while Kyrie Irving added 29 points and James Harden 21 as the Nets stifled the Celtics, who got 22 points on just six of 20 shooting from Jayson Tatum in a losing effort. 

Luka Doncic had his third triple-double in seven career playoff games, scoring 31 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists as the Dallas Mavericks pulled out a 113-103 road win at the Los Angeles Clippers to open their series. Tim Hardaway Jr added 21 points on eight of 13 shooting for the fifth-seeded Mavericks, while Kawhi Leonard had 26 points and Paul George 23 to lead the Clippers. 

 

Butler cannot find the range

Jimmy Butler came close to recording a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the Miami Heat's 109-107 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but the five-time All-Star made only four of 22 shots from the field. 

 

Middleton gives Bucks win

Khris Middleton's contested jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining in overtime gave the Bucks the Game 1 win at home. Middleton's 27 points led the Bucks, with Giannis Antetokounmpo adding 26 points and 18 rebounds. 

 

Saturday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 109-107 Miami Heat (OT)
Dallas Mavericks 113-103 Los Angeles Clippers
Brooklyn Nets 104-93 Boston Celtics
Portland Trail Blazers 123-109 Denver Nuggets

 

Lakers face Suns

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers got the win they needed in the play-in tournament and they will open the playoffs proper with Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against the second-seeded Suns in Phoenix. 

The NBA playoffs are here!

After some tense one-off play-in games, we can now look forward to thrilling back-and-forth series.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant and all the usual big names will be backed to deliver, but some of their contemporaries have previously found life a little tricky in the postseason.

For five players in particular, it may be do or die as they aim to bolster their reputations or secure their futures.

With the aid of Stats Perform data, we look at the issues this high-profile quartet have encountered in the past...
 

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO

In consecutive seasons, Antetokounmpo won the MVP award on a Milwaukee Bucks team with the best record in the NBA. Then, in the playoffs, the 'Greak Freak' failed to inspire a suddenly one-dimensional side.

Those freakish regular season performances were back again in 2020-21, but Antetokounmpo and the Bucks might have run out of excuses if there is no evidence of postseason improvement.

Last year's approach evidently did not work. Antetokounmpo was on a strict minutes restriction across the campaign, averaging 30.4 minutes per game, but he was still unable to make the difference in the playoffs.

As in all but one of his playoff campaigns, the forward's points return was down on the rest of the season – 29.5 to 26.7 – while the Bucks superstar's shaky shooting came to the fore as he made just 58.0 per cent of his free throws, the worst rate of any of the 23 players to visit the foul line more than 50 times.

Now with additional support in the form of Jrue Holiday, Antetokounmpo simply must deliver this year – and Milwaukee start against the Miami Heat team that beat them in five in round two in 2020.
 

JAMES HARDEN

The man Antetokounmpo followed as MVP has too often had the same problem. Harden is a regular season great, but his career to date has been tarnished by playoff failings.

Although Harden had a big role from the bench as the Oklahoma City Thunder reached the 2012 NBA Finals, he averaged just 12.4 points on 37.5 per cent shooting in that 4-1 series defeat to the Heat.

The dominant scorer has never returned to that stage, subsequently joining the Houston Rockets and repeatedly finding the Golden State Warriors a step too far.

The closest Harden and the Rockets came was in 2018, up 3-2 against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before letting big leads slip in both Game 6 and Game 7 – the latter seeing Houston's star man shoot two-of-13 from beyond the arc as his team missed a record-breaking 27 consecutive threes.

Now on the Brooklyn Nets, the 31-year-old will at least have former champions Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to turn to if he needs help, although the guard – still battling a hamstring problem – will no doubt be determined to succeed himself and alter his legacy for the better.
 

PAUL GEORGE

Without ever coming close to a title, despite losing back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals with the Indiana Pacers, George has regularly put up impressive numbers in the postseason. There have also been occasions on which he has looked lost on the big stage, however.

George's career playoff average has been kept to 20.1 by some alarming single-digit displays, notably contributing only five points in 45 minutes on two-of-16 shooting in a decisive Game 6 defeat to the Utah Jazz while with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And despite joining a talented Los Angeles Clippers team, George's woes were only magnified in the 2020 'bubble', where he later revealed he was in a "dark place" and "checked out".

The forward shot 25 per cent or lower from the field in four of 11 games, including the Game 7 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Back on song and playing in something approaching normal conditions, George has the opportunity to answer his critics, starting against a Dallas Mavericks team he struggled to master last year. The Clippers will need him in a competitive West.
 

CHRIS PAUL

There has generally been little wrong with the level of Paul's performance in the playoffs, his points average climbing to 20.9 from a career regular season mark of 18.3.

However, his deepest run was on Harden's 2018 Houston team as a hamstring kept him out of those painful last two defeats. For Paul, team success this year outweighs any individual achievements.

In his 16th season, he is entering a 13th postseason campaign but still waiting on a first Finals appearance more than 4,000 minutes in.

One of the great point guards of the modern NBA, Paul will be acutely aware of what a title would do for his legacy. He has helped transform the Phoenix Suns into a real force.

The Lakers in round one represent a daunting start for the Suns – especially having secured the number two seed – but fitness issues throughout the West might make this Paul's best and last chance to get to the Finals.
 

BEN SIMMONS

The Philadelphia 76ers ended the season with the best-rated defense in the East (105.1), but will that be enough in the playoffs? It might have to be.

On offense, Joel Embiid led the team by far with 28.5 points, with Simmons, the Sixers' second superstar, only able to contribute 14.3 – low even by his modest standards at that end of the floor.

Those numbers are unlikely to be able to hang with the Nets' 'big three' or a high-scoring Bucks team unless Philly come up with some significant stops.

Embiid, Simmons and Matisse Thybulle were among five 76ers players counted in the 22 best individual defensive ratings this year, but the pressure will ramp up in the postseason.

Simmons, a former first overall pick and the subject of trade rumours this year, is therefore required to become a playoff difference-maker, whether through improvement on offense or series-turning defensive contributions.

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