Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker says his side will revert back to a "0-0 mindset" despite taking a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 118-108 Game 2 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Booker starred with 31 points, including seven three-pointers, along with five rebounds and six assists in the victory.

Three of Booker's three-pointers were in the final quarter when the Bucks closed within five points.

The victory means the Suns become the 36th side to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals, with 31 of those previous 35 sides going on to lift the title.

Booker was not getting carried away as the series moves to Milwaukee for Game 3 on Saturday.

"It's a 0-0 mindset going into Game 3," Booker said post-game. "It's a Game 7 for us. Every game is a Game 7 at this stage of the season.

"We're locked in. We know it gets rowdy there in Milwaukee but we're ready for it."

Booker brushed off any individual plaudits at the post-game news conference, nor praise for keeping his cool with his fourth-quarter shooting.

"It's just team basketball," Booker said. "A few of them were open. We prepare for these moments. Nobody is running from any action or any moment.

"It's not just me, setting my man up Deandre [Ayton]. Setting a screen from Chris [Paul] to get me open, it's all a collective group.

"That's why I feel we've been successful for most of the year."

All five Phoenix starters finished with points in double digits, with Paul having 23 points as well as eight assists. Mikal Bridges had a personal playoffs high of 27 points.

The Suns' depth will be tested with Torrey Craig going down injured in the third quarter with a right knee contusion, with Dario Saric already ruled out of the NBA Finals after tearing his ACL in Game 1.

Booker played 44 minutes before sitting out the closing stages with the Suns in a strong position.

"Just preserving my body," he said. "I felt like we had it in a good place. We believe in our team. Two days to get right, then we're back in Milwaukee."

Booker won special praise from Paul, who has offered him a license to shoot.

"[He's] big time. He's trained and work his whole life for these moments," Paul said. "Our team all season long, you put the work in, they get the results. When Book's shooting, I expect it to go in, I get mad at him when he doesn’t shoot."

The Phoenix Suns have shot their way to a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 118-108 Game 2 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

The Suns drained 20 three-pointers, including eight in the first quarter, shooting at 50 per cent from beyond the arc on their way to victory, headlined by young guard Devin Booker with 31 points, five rebounds and six assists.

Booker hit seven-from-12 three-point attempts, while veteran Chris Paul scored three three-pointers in his 23 points for the game, along with eight assists.

Mikal Bridges scored a personal playoffs-high 27 points, while Deandre Ayton was slightly subdued in the paint, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, in his second game back from his knee hyperextension, was heroic for the Bucks with 42 points including a massive third period but could not inspire his side to victory.

The Greek forward shot at 68.2 per cent from the field, but only hit one from five beyond the arc. He also had 12 rebounds, three blocks and four assists.

But Antetokounmpo lacked support, with Khris Middleton struggling with 11 points shooting at 31.3 per cent from the field. Jrue Holiday managed 17 points but only shot seven from 21 from the field.

The Bucks started strong in the first quarter, scoring 20-0 in the paint and leading by as much as nine points, before Phoenix hit back with a 30-16 second quarter to open up an 11-point half-time lead.

Antetokounmpo scored 20 points in the third quarter to keep Milwaukee in the hunt, trailing by 10 points at the final change. The Greek's 20 was the most in an NBA Finals quarter since Michael Jordan's 22 against the Suns in 1993.

The Bucks got within five points in the last but the Suns always had the answers when challenged, with Booker and Paul knocking down crucial final quarter threes.

Booker was benched late, in order to preserve his body after playing 44 minutes, after Phoenix lost another player Torrey Craig to injury, to join Dario Saric on the sidelines after the Croatian tore his ACL in Game 1.

The Phoenix Suns and Chris Paul have ended their respective long waits for NBA Finals appearances after a 130-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers sealed their spot on Wednesday.

The Suns clinched the Western Conference Finals series 4-2, rounding out the triumph with an outstanding road win, with Phoenix back in the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years.

Suns' 36-year-old point guard Paul was exceptional with 41 points as he progresses to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career, after 13 playoffs campaigns.

Paul hit seven-from-eight three-pointers in a masterful shooting display, going at 66.7 per cent from the field, as well as eight assists, four rebounds and three steals with no turnovers.

Devin Booker contributed with 22 points, four assists and seven rebounds, Deandre Ayton had 17 rebounds along with 16 points, while Jae Crowder hit five three-pointers in his 19 points.

Phoenix are crowned Western Conference champions having gone 12-4 in the postseason, including 6-2 on the road, clinching all three series away.

The Suns become the first team in history to reach the NBA Finals having not made the playoffs in 10 or more years prior.

The Clippers could not muster one more memorable comeback after some dramatic performances this postseason, closing within seven points late in the third before Paul showed irrepressible poise.

Paul George managed 21 points with nine rebounds for the Clippers, while Marcus Morris Sr scored 26 points and had nine rebounds.

Patrick Beverley was ejected in the fourth quarter for a push on Paul as reality set in for LA, who were behind for the most part of Wednesday's Game 6.

Paul's shooting was clearly on early as the Suns opened up a 10-point half-time lead, with Phoenix shooting at 58.8 per cent from beyond the arc in the first half.

The Clippers had a 10-0 run to close within seven points late in the third quarter as the home crowd erupted after Nicolas Batum's three-pointer.

But Paul steadied for Phoenix with a long-range bucket immediately after the timeout, opening it up to 14 points at the final change and they would not relent, with the Suns veteran adding 17 fourth-quarter points.

 

Hawks at Bucks

Star pair Trae Young and Giannis Antetokounmpo are both likely to be out for the crucial Game 5 as the Milwaukee Bucks host the Atlanta Hawks with the series at 2-2.

Paul George posted a playoff career-high 41 points as the Los Angeles Clippers avoided elimination with a 116-102 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

George flexed his muscles away from home on Monday and in the absence of star team-mate Kawhi Leonard, scoring 30 second-half points to keep the series alive against the second-seeded Suns.

The win means the Clippers, who have come from behind to triumph in their past two playoffs series, trail the Suns 3-2 in the matchup ahead of Game 6 back in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

George and the Clippers had led at half-time for the first time in the series, up 59-52, but the Suns earned a 62-61 lead before the visitors launched a 10-0 run and never looked back.

Clippers star George entered the must-win game as the fourth player in NBA history to score 20-plus points in each of his first 17 games of a single postseason, joining Michael Jordan (1991, 1992, 1997, 1998), Kobe Bryant (2008) and Kevin Durant (2012 and 2018).

George also had 13 rebounds and six assists, dominating for the fourth-seeded Clippers, who were without injured pair Leonard and Ivica Zubac.

The Clippers continued their resilient playoff campaign, having trailed 2-0 against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round before winning 4-3, while they won four games in a row against the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semi-finals, having fallen 2-0 behind.

The Suns refused to surrender, with Devin Booker scoring 31 points and Chris Paul contributing 22 of his own, but the Clippers always had an answer to silence the home crowd.

George, who shot 15-from-20 from the field for the game, had good support from Reggie Jackson (23 points, including four three-pointers), while Marcus Morris Sr. finished with 22 points after scoring 20 in the first half.

The Clippers dominated with 34-8 first-half points in the paint and 58-32 for the game.

Suns center Deandre Ayton could not capitalise on Zubac's absence, only managing 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Paul missed all six three-point attempts for Phoenix, while he had eight assists.

 

Bucks at Hawks

The Milwaukee Bucks can claim a 3-1 lead over the Atlanta Hawks when they visit State Farm Arena for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday.

The Phoenix Suns have claimed a hard-fought road win to go 3-1 up in the Western Conference finals with an 84-80 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

DeAndre Ayton was dominant in the paint with 19 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks as the Suns triumphed, leading the whole way but having to withstand a late Clippers challenge.

Devin Booker, who took his protective face mask off in the second half, led all scorers for Phoenix with 25 points but fouled out with 1:05 to go, leaving veteran guard Chris Paul (18 points and seven assists) to finish the job with a series of late free throws.

The Clippers, once again without the injured Kawhi Leonard, got within one point in the final quarter, including with 13.2 seconds to go, but never took the lead.

The result means Phoenix are one win away from qualifying for their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993. It would also be the first Finals appearance for 11-time All-Star Paul.

Phoenix had led by 14 points at half-time, but the Clippers stormed back into the game with a 30-19 third quarter.

Paul George fought hard for the Clippers with 23 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, while Reggie Jackson scored 20 points. Ivica Zubac was admirable with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

But the Clippers struggled from beyond the arc, shooting five from 31 (16.1 per cent), with Jackson hitting two-of-nine from three-point range, while George made one-from-nine.

The Suns did not fare much better from range, with Booker missing all five three-point attempts and Paul all three.

Phoenix's 84 points was the fewest in a win this season, regular or postseason.

The series returns to Phoenix on Monday, with the Suns chasing a close-out win.

Devin Booker refused to blame his broken nose for an ugly showing in the Phoenix Suns' Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The second-seeded Suns had stormed into a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals but saw that advantage cut in half with a 106-92 loss in LA on Thursday.

It was a tough outing for Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

That disjointed display came in the wake of Booker having been subjected to some painful treatment to put his nose back in place, but he did not want to use that as an excuse.

"The nose feels fine," Booker, who wore a face mask during the game, said in quotes reported by ESPN. "We just lost the game."

Booker had to undergo a quick fix before the Suns flew in to LA from Phoenix and it was not a pleasurable experience for the shooting guard.

"That was probably the worst part," he said.

"It's a procedure that they usually say they put you under [anaesthesia] for, but we had a flight out a couple hours later, so they just numbed it up all over the place, it felt like.

"Like eight shots to numb it up and then they go in there and put it back, they break it again. They break it back in place."

Despite the defeat, Booker is confident the Suns will put things right in the next game.

"The spirit is high," Booker said. "We move on to the next one. That's what type of team we are. We've been like that the whole season, so we'll stick with that.

"We'll come in tomorrow, go over film, regroup and get ready for Game 4."

Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol to post 15 points and 12 assists.

Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists.

Paul George dominated as the Los Angeles Clippers celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

Featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the Clippers found themselves in a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

Even in the ongoing absence of superstar Kawhi Leonard (knee), George picked up the slack with a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period – to lift the Clippers and help reduce the series deficit to 2-1.

Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol and posted 15 points and 12 assists.

Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists in the losing effort.

It was a tough outing for star team-mate Devin Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

 

Hawks at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will look to bounce back against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday. Trae Young and the Hawks claimed the opener in Milwaukee.

The initial reaction to Deandre Ayton's remarkable last-second dunk that gave the Phoenix Suns a 104-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday was disbelief, even from the man who made the shot. 

But Devin Booker knew Jae Crowder's inbounds lob to Booker that led to the game-winning basket with 0.7 seconds left was legal. 

He had seen Phoenix execute a similar play against the Memphis Grizzlies with 0.6 seconds remaining in a regular-season game in December 2017. 

"I think it's something that a lot of people don't know," Booker said. "Even talking to [the Clippers' Rajon] Rondo at half court after the game, he was like, 'It don't count,' and I was like, 'I've seen this movie before. It counts.'

"It's an incredible play, incredible execution on all ends, but Jae Crowder, that's a tough pass."

For his part in the drama, Ayton said he was just following instructions.

"I just trust my team-mates and my coaches," said the 22-year-old. "I just listened to what they told me to do and Jae made a great pass and I just finished. 

"I'm glad it counted. I didn't even know it counted. I wanted to hold in my celebration but my team-mates told me it counted and we just wanted to finish the game off strong." 

The Suns needed to defend one final attempt by the Clippers, and did so when Paul George could not get off a shot after a long inbounds pass. 

Now Phoenix will take a 2-0 series lead to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Thursday. 

"Hats off to the Clippers, they're a tough team, but once we stay together and we do what we have to do, we're a real strong unit, and that's what we did today," Ayton said. 

Deandre Ayton's dunk with less than one second to play gave the Phoenix Suns a stunning 104-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. 

Ayton was the Suns' most reliable player throughout a back-and-forth affair and came up huge in the end, soaring to catch an inbounds pass from Jae Crowder over the rim and slam it home for the final margin. 

After the last in a series of lengthy video reviews in the final two minutes, the officials put 0.7 seconds on the clock for the Clippers, but Paul George could not get off a shot before the buzzer expired. 

With the Suns missing team leader Chris Paul due to COVID-19 protocols and their star Devin Booker having a difficult night, it was Ayton who came up huge Tuesday. 

The big man scored 12 points in the first quarter on the way to a 24-point night on 12-of-15 shooting in addition to grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds. 

On a night that saw Booker make only five of 16 shots from the field and turn the ball over seven times, Paul's replacement Cam Payne was a huge factor for Phoenix. 

Payne, whose previous career playoff scoring high was 19 points, scored 29 in 37 minutes on a memorable night in Phoenix. 

The Clippers were also missing a star as Kawhi Leonard sat out a fourth consecutive game with a knee injury, and George could not lift Los Angeles to victory by himself. 

The veteran led the Clippers with 26 points but made just 10 of 23 shots and missed two critical free throws in the closing seconds to give the Suns a chance to win it. 

The series shifts to Los Angeles on Thursday with the Clippers looking to bounce back at home. 

The matchups are set for the NBA's Conference Finals – and few would have predicted these four teams would still be in the running at the start of the year.

In the East, the Brooklyn Nets' superstars fell to the Milwaukee Bucks while the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Philadelphia 76ers.

Western Conference leaders the Utah Jazz became the latest team to give up a lead to the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Clippers on Sunday lost Game 1 of their series with the Phoenix Suns, who had been resting since sweeping the Denver Nuggets.

So, which big names were key to deciding these unpredictable battles? Stats Perform takes a look in the latest edition of NBA Heat Check...
 

RUNNING HOT...

Paul George

Clippers superstar George understandably took a lot of criticism for his playoff performances last season, when he shot 39.8 per cent from the field and scored 10 points or fewer as many times as he reached 30.

But just as Kawhi Leonard went down against the Jazz with a knee injury, for which he has no return date, George found his scoring touch again.

Across four straight wins over Utah – three were last week – George contributed 31, 31, 37 and 28 points. His 37, along with 16 rebounds, came on the road in Game 5, putting the Clippers up for the first time in the series while Leonard sat out.

Even as a surely tired LA team lost to Phoenix on Sunday, George kept them in contention with 34 points to end the week averaging 32.5 per outing, as well as 9.5 rebounds (up from 23.3 and 6.7 respectively in the regular season).

Khris Middleton

Middleton is another impressive regular season performer who has been scrutinised for his postseason displays – and far more recently than last season.

Across the first five games of the Nets series, the wildly inconsistent Bucks forward shot 38.1 per cent from the field. He had 35 points and 15 rebounds in Game 3 but had gone six-for-23 in Game 1, making none of his five three-point attempts.

Yet Middleton's 38 points won Game 6, as he and Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as the only team-mates in NBA history to each have 30 points and 10 rebounds in the same game twice in the same playoff campaign.

With a key role again in the series decider, Middleton became the first player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in consecutive postseason games since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

Devin Booker

Booker played just once last week but put in a performance that cannot go unmentioned. Without veteran Chris Paul to help him, the sixth-year guard weighed in with a 40-point triple-double against the Clippers (also 13 rebounds and 11 assists).

Only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age in the playoffs than the 24-year-old, while Steve Nash – another Hall of Famer – was the previous Suns player to score a postseason triple of any kind back in 2005.

Kevin Durant

Another player whose contributions must be highlighted, even with his team now out of the playoffs, is Durant. With 43.0 points per game last week, he showed the greatest improvement in the league from his regular season performances – up 16.1 on 26.9.

His 12.3 rebounds per game put the two-time Finals MVP second in improvement in that regard, too, but it was not quite enough.

A toe on the three-point line meant Durant's late leveller in Game 7 against the Bucks was not a game-winner, before the Nets lost in overtime despite his 48 points – one short of a heroic Game 5 tally and two shy of his career postseason best.
 

GOING COLD...

James Harden

That Durant was asked to do so much was due to injuries to both the other members of Brooklyn's 'Big Three'. Kyrie Irving did not play after Game 4 against the Bucks due to an ankle sprain, while Harden returned in Game 5 after missing the previous three.

To anyone watching, though, it was clear Harden was not healthy.

One of the league's great scorers, he made one of 10 field goals in his first game back, with five points in 45 minutes. Harden had never previously scored as few as five in half an hour of play or more.

His form did improve slightly with returns of 16 and 22 points, but Milwaukee won both, with Harden shooting 29.4 per cent from the field as he proved more of a hindrance than a help to Durant with their season on the line.

Ben Simmons

When Harden moved to Brooklyn, Philadelphia was seen as the potential alternative destination, although that would likely have meant the 76ers reluctantly giving up Simmons. After the defeat to Atlanta, Simmons may now leave regardless.

An outstanding defender, the guard's offense has long been a concern and so it proved again as he averaged 7.5 points last week, significantly down on his modest regular season (14.3).

Simmons made single figures in three straight games, twice shooting only four times from the field despite being on the floor for 38 and 35 minutes respectively.

His eight-point effort on Wednesday included going four-of-14 when shooting from the foul line.

Rudy Gobert

This is the first time since 1994 that both top seeds have failed to make the Conference Finals. The Jazz, just like the Sixers, needed more from their second star.

Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year but looked a liability as the Clippers went small in Game 6, when his plus/minus was a dismal -24.

The Frenchman's output was down in all three defeats last week as he averaged 9.3 rebounds per game, having put up 13.5 in the regular season.

The Philadelphia 76ers' crashed out of the NBA playoffs amid a chorus of boos after the top seeds were sensationally upstaged by the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Back on home court for the series decider, the 76ers were tipped to close out the matchup at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, but the fifth-seeded Hawks had other ideas following a stunning 103-96 victory.

Despite Trae Young's off night (21 points on just five-for-23 shooting), the Hawks still managed to conquer Joel Embiid and the 76ers thanks to unheralded guard Kevin Huerter.

Huerter had a team-high 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists as the Hawks returned to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2015, setting up a showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was a topsy-turvy battle in Philadelphia, where the 76ers trailed 76-71 at the start of the fourth quarter before rallying to lead by as many as four points in the final period.

However, the Hawks refused to surrender and pounced on the sloppy 76ers, who finished with 17 turnovers en route to bowing out of the postseason.

Double-doubles from MVP runner-up Embiid (31 points and 11 rebounds) and Tobias Harris (24 points and 14 rebounds) were not enough for the 76ers, with Ben Simmons (five points, 13 assists and eight rebounds) the subject of boos in his home arena after attempting just four shots throughout.

With Atlanta's victory, it is the first time since 1994 both number one seeds in the playoffs failed to make the Conference Finals after the Utah Jazz were ousted by the Los Angeles Clippers, according to Stats Perform.

Earlier in the day, the Phoenix Suns were 120-114 winners over the Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Devin Booker recorded his first career triple-double, posting 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for the second-seeded Suns in the absence of Chris Paul (COVID-19 health and safety protocols).

Booker – in the midst of his maiden NBA playoffs campaign – became the first Suns player to register a triple-double in the postseason since Hall of Famer Steve Nash in 2005.

The 24-year-old also became the third youngest player in NBA history to record a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs – only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age.

The Clippers – featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in their history – were without star Kawhi Leonard for a third consecutive game due to a knee injury.

Paul George (34 points) and Reggie Jackson (24 points) tried to inspire the fourth seeds on the road in the series opener.

 

Clippers at Suns

After a day off, the playoffs resume with the Suns hosting the Clippers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.

Devin Booker recorded his first career triple-double but the Phoenix Suns All-Star insisted he is purely focused on winning after guiding the franchise past the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Booker was the star of the show with 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists as the second-seeded Suns drew first blood against the Clippers 120-114 in Phoenix on Sunday.

With star team-mate Chris Paul (COVID-19 health and safety protocols) sidelined, Booker – in the midst of his first NBA playoffs campaign – became the first Suns player to register a triple-double in the postseason since Hall of Famer Steve Nash in 2005.

Booker also became the third youngest player in NBA history to record a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs – only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age.

"I'll let you guys do the rankings," Booker said. "I'm just going out there to win every game possible.

"I've been saying this since the start of the playoffs — every next game is the biggest game."

Suns team-mate Jae Crowder said: "I don't understand why everyone's acting surprised at this point.

"This is his first time on this stage but he's capable. He's more than capable. He's more than ready. He prepares like no other."

The Clippers – featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in their history – were without star Kawhi Leonard for a third consecutive game due to a knee injury.

Paul George (34 points) and Reggie Jackson (24 points) tried to inspire the fourth seeds on the road in the series opener.

"I have no excuse," Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. "I thought we played hard and competed. A little credit — they were making shots and we didn't. But I loved our fight. I loved what I saw."

George added: "We got to figure out how to counter, which we will, figure out another game plan. I think this was a good feel-out game to see adjustments. We have been great at adjusting."

Devin Booker insisted the Phoenix Suns are keeping their eye on the prize after tying a franchise record with a sixth successive playoff victory on Friday, pushing them a step closer to a series sweep over the Denver Nuggets.

Having won back-to-back outings at home already, the Suns travelled to Denver for Game 3, which saw Nuggets star Nikola Jokic presented with the NBA MVP award prior to tip-off.

However, the visitors ruined the celebrations with an impressive 116-102 triumph, putting them 3-0 up in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 takes place at the Ball Arena on Sunday.

Booker led the way with 28 points while back-court partner Chris Paul had 27, the duo helping the Suns win a fifth outing in row by a double-digit margin. No team in NBA history has managed such a feat having missed the playoffs in the previous season.

"We are having fun with it, playing for each other," Booker told the media.

"When things get tough, we come together even more. Just little things that we have worked on and talked about through the regular season are coming true right now.

"We are still sticking with it – we have a close-out game on Sunday that we are looking forward to. We keep our eyes on the prize."

Jokic scored 32 points in 40 minutes, as well having 20 rebounds and 10 assists. However, his stellar individual performance was not enough to help the Nuggets get back into the series, meaning they stand on the brink of elimination.

"We knew this was going to be an emotional game for them, what with Jokic being presented with the MVP trophy beforehand," Paul said in his post-game press conference.

"We just kept talking about trying to withstand their runs. That team plays hard the entire game, so it's a good win."

Paul landed nine of his 16 shot attempts, including two of three from deep. He was quick to praise the efforts of Deandre Ayton, though, as the center played his part in a road triumph that has a place in the Western Conference Finals within touching distance.

"All those jump shots I hit towards the end of the game don't happen without him, without him setting the screen, setting the pace with rebounds," Paul said of Ayton, who had 10 points and 15 rebounds. "He's so selfless, man. We owe him a lot."

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic showed MVP form once again, but the Phoenix Suns used a balanced attack to take a 123-98 victory and a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semi-final series. 

Jokic scored the first basket of the game Wednesday, but that was the only lead the Nuggets held as Phoenix took control and never let go in what became an easy win as their home crowd chanted "Suns in four" late in the game. 

Chris Paul controlled the game for the Suns, scoring 17 points and dishing out 15 assists without a turnover in his 30 minutes of play -- the third time he has had at least 15 assists with no turnovers in a playoff game.

The 36-year-old Paul now has 72 assists and just 10 turnovers in eight playoff games this season. 

Devin Booker added 18 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix, while Deandre Ayton had 15 points and 10 rebounds. 

Jokic left the game late in the third quarter with the Nuggets trailing by 20 and did not return, finishing with 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in 29 minutes. 

Denver did not give him much help, as the rest of their starting lineup made just nine of 32 shots from the field (28.1 per cent). 

Michael Porter Jr. was the only other starter to reach double figures, scoring 11 on three of 13 shooting -- including two of nine from three-point range. 

The Nuggets made only 14 of 43 (32.6 per cent) from beyond the arc overall, compared to 18 of 38 (47.4 per cent) for Phoenix. 

Game 3 of the series is Friday in Denver.

Nets at Bucks

The Brooklyn Nets look for a 3-0 lead on the Bucks as their Eastern Conference semi-final series shifts to Milwaukee on Thursday.  

A new generation of NBA superstars established themselves as the playoffs continued last week.

The first round concluded as a talented, young (with the exception of Chris Paul) Phoenix Suns team defeated LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Atlanta Hawks quickly gained an upper hand against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, too.

And although Kawhi Leonard led the Los Angeles Clippers through to round two, they also suffered at the hand of an emerging talent, as Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check shows.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Devin Booker

Booker was dominant across the board for the Suns, earning praise from James after getting the better of the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

When comparing last week's performances with regular season returns, Booker ranked third for scoring improvement, second for rebounding improvement and second for three-point makes improvement. This was a staggering show of strength.

Playing in his sixth year, it is easy to forget this was a debut postseason series for Booker, who finished with 47 points at Staples Center and will back himself to deliver again against the Denver Nuggets.

Trae Young

The biggest potential upset of the second round is already under way after the Hawks took Game 1 against the 76ers in Philly despite Joel Embiid's return to fitness.

Young – another playoff debutant – was predictably at the centre of their success, following up 36 points in Game 5 against the New York Knicks with 35 in this opener.

He had 25 in the first half on Sunday on eight-of-13 shooting as Atlanta scored 74, the most ever by a road team in a Game 1. Considering the way the Sixers battled back to make the encounter close, Young might have to be similarly outstanding again in the forthcoming meetings.

Luka Doncic

Young was traded to the Hawks as part of the deal that saw Doncic go the other way to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night in 2018. But the Slovenian will play no further part in the playoffs after Sunday's Game 7 defeat to the Clippers.

Doncic has undoubtedly proven his class in the postseason, though, even if he is yet to win a series. Already one of the league's outstanding offensive stars, his career playoff average of 33.5 points per game is the best of any player to appear in 13 or more games – surpassing Michael Jordan's 33.4.

The Mavs ace reached that mark thanks to an outstanding week that included two 40-point performances despite Dallas' eventual series defeat.

Doncic's performances through 13 career playoff games are a match for the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Only Rick Barry, Bob McAdoo and Jordan have topped his 436 total points at this stage since 1963-64. He was certainly not to blame on Sunday...
 

GOING COLD...

Kristaps Porzingis

Expensive team-mate Porzingis may well have to take some responsibility for the Mavs' failings, although he was not alone. Among the players with the largest declines in scoring over the past week from their regular season outputs, three Dallas players were in the top seven.

Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson were also in there, but Porzingis' presence should be of the most concern.

Although the big man put up 16 points and 11 rebounds – his second-most in a postseason game – on Sunday, his failure to make a single one of his five three-point attempts left Doncic short of help.

Enes Kanter

Doncic was not the only superstar left high and dry as he exited the first round. Damian Lillard did all he could to try to carry the Portland Trail Blazers past the Nuggets last week, averaging 41.5 points, but could not advance alone.

CJ McCollum underwhelmed, despite contributing 20.7 points across the series, yet it was the absence of effective defense that meant Nikola Jokic was always able to match Lillard.

Jusuf Nurkic had a combined plus/minus of 45 but fouled out of three of the six games, meaning poor Kanter had to guard Jokic on occasion and ended the series with a -34 plus/minus across only 56 minutes.

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