After fighting through a knee injury to start Sunday's game, Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis is in question for Game 5 against the Phoenix Suns. 

Davis injured his groin just before halftime of Game 4 and missed the second half of the Lakers' 100-92 loss that levelled the series at 2-2. 

Head coach Frank Vogel told reporters Monday that scans confirmed Davis suffered a strained groin. 

Davis as questionable for Tuesday's game in Phoenix, but Vogel said the eight-time All-Star will do everything he can to ensure he is on the court. 

"I mean, these guys, they're great competitors," Vogel said. 

"They're always going to say, 'I'm ignoring this. I'm going to be in there.' So, we'll just see.

"That's what his mindset is, like any competitor, but we'll see what the groin feels like tomorrow and we'll make a smart decision. But he's in good spirits."

Davis previously hurt his knee in Game 3, though he continued to play, and vowed to reporters that there was "no chance" he would miss the next game. 

The severity of his latest injury is unclear, but little-used forward Markieff Morris tweeted the word "opportunity" Monday, indicating he sees a chance for some court time after playing only 12 minutes in the first four games. 

Vogel declined to say what his plans might be should Davis not be able to play Tuesday. 

On the positive side, Vogel said he was "hopeful" guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will return to the lineup after missing Game 4 with a knee injury. 

One down, plenty more to go. While the opening round of the NBA playoffs has already produced plenty of drama, the Miami Heat's hopes of a repeat run have been extinguished.

The 2020 finalists fell at the first hurdle this time around, swept aside by a Milwaukee Bucks team now waiting to find out who they will face next. As for the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are finding the going tough against the Phoenix Suns, that series one of three in the Western Conference delicately balanced at 2-2 through four games.

In the East, the picture looks somewhat clearer. Still, as the Denver Nuggets demonstrated last year in the NBA's Florida bubble, no 3-1 series lead is safe in the playoffs.

As the contests keep coming thick and fast, Stats Perform takes a brief pause to review those stepping up in the the playoffs, as well as the players who could do with finding some form again.


RUNNING HOT

Ja Morant

Having helped the Memphis Grizzlies come through the play-in tournament, Morant has continued to dazzle in the series against the Utah Jazz. After 26 points in the opener, the second-year point guard has dropped 47 and 28 in the next two meetings, albeit on neither occasion were his efforts enough to secure his team a victory.

Still, he is averaging 33.7 points per game against Utah, a huge upturn from 19.1 in the regular season. So, just how good has he been? Well, in reaching a century of points through his first three playoff games in the NBA, Morant matched a feat previously only achieved by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

Derrick Rose

Rose has claimed the starting point guard spot from Elfrid Payton for the New York Knicks as they go up against the Atlanta Hawks, a series the latter now leads 3-1 after a 113-96 triumph on Saturday.

Elevated off the bench, Rose has managed a combined total of 48 points in back-to-back losses on the road, during which he landed five of his nine attempts from deep. Payton, meanwhile, has scored one point in just 13 minutes of court time during the playoffs and did not get off the bench at all the past two games after averaging 10.1 points per game in the regular season.

Kawhi Leonard

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out." Those were Leonard's words as the Los Angeles Clippers faced a 2-0 deficit as they headed to Dallas to continue their battle with the Mavericks.

It is safe to say the two-time NBA Finals MVP has done just that on his travels, helping his team fight back to level the series between the fourth and fifth seeds in the West. Across the past week, Leonard has averaged 35.7 points, aided by sinking 21 of his 23 attempts from the free-throw line, as well as contributing 24 rebounds. Playoff Kawhi means business this year.

GOING COLD

Shake Milton

Having averaged 13.0 points per outing in the regular season, Milton has endured a playoff slump for the Philadelphia 76ers as his minutes have been reduced. So far, the 24-year-old has managed nine points in a series that has seen his team hold control throughout.

Milton has managed to land only two of his 12 shot attempts, including missing all six in Game 2. In the following outing, head coach Doc Rivers opted to use Tyrese Maxey ahead of his team-mate off the bench, a move that may become a regular feature as the 76ers look set to move on to round two.

Enes Kanter

For the Portland Trail Blazers in the regular season, Kanter averaged 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, however, it has been a different story for the veteran center.

After playing over 32 minutes across the first two games against the Denver Nuggets, Kanter has now figured in a little over nine in the following two. During his limited opportunities, there have been no points, two rebounds and a solitary blocked shot. Up against Nikola Jokic, the Blazers have opted to go with alternative options when starting center Jusuf Nurkic is taking a seat on the bench.

Montrezl Harrell

Make no mistake, the Lakers are locked in a battle with the Suns. Phoenix were impressive in taking Game 4 on the road on Saturday to draw level, during which the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year was finally called into action again by head coach Frank Vogel.

However, Harrell's appearance was fleeting. Having averaged 13.5 points during the regular season when playing just under 23 minutes per outing, he has been a non-factor in the playoffs. After not even making it onto the court in the previous two games, his brief cameo at the weekend saw him fail to muster a shot as LA lost at home. Across the past week, he has not scored a single point.

Luka Doncic refused to blame his injury for what he described as a "terrible" performance in the Dallas Mavericks' 106-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Mavs were pegged back to 2-2 in the series, having led 2-0, with Kawhi Leonard's efficient double-double of 29 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and 10 rebounds inspiring 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.

Doncic was cleared to play despite a neck strain and put up 19 points, but the Mavs star was just nine-for-24 shooting in Dallas, where he frequently showed signs of pain as he grimaced his way through proceedings.

He did not want to use it as an excuse, though.

"I don't think that matters right now," Doncic said. "We lost. Injuries are part of basketball, but I was 100 per cent. I played terrible, so we've just got to move on to the next one.

"The pain is like neck and then the nerve down. I don't really know how to explain that. It felt way better today morning than yesterday.

"I'll just keep doing massages, ice it down and then be ready for Wednesday."

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is hopeful Doncic will be free of the symptoms of his injury by Game 5.

"He's in pain," he said. "It appeared to me that he couldn't turn left, couldn't look to his left. He couldn't turn his neck to his left, and that's difficult for a guy that relies on peripheral vision and basically has played his whole life with his head on a swivel.

"We've got to hope in the next couple of days that he can get better, hopefully substantially better. There is a two-day break between games, which is a positive in this case."

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.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he is ready to carry the load after Anthony Davis suffered a groin injury as the NBA champions lost to the Phoenix Suns.

Davis sat out the second half of the Lakers' 100-92 defeat to the Suns, who levelled the Western Conference first-round series at 2-2 on Sunday.

Lakers star Davis clutched his groin area after missing a layup during the final minute of the second quarter in Los Angeles, where he is reportedly day-to-day following the injury concern.

James posted 25 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a losing effort for the Lakers and he insisted he is ready to lead the way should Davis miss game time.

"For me, it's putting our team in position to be successful," James said afterwards.

"It starts with my approach. It starts with my accountability and trickles down to everybody else.

"These shoulders were built for a reason and if it takes for me to put more on top of it then so be it.

"Win, lose or draw, I'm ready for the challenge."

Davis, who has been hampered by injuries this season – having missed 30 regular-season games, had six points, four rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes before hobbling out of the game.

A knee injury sustained in Game 3 already had Davis under an injury cloud.

"I thought he was labouring a little bit even before the groin injury," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel.

"He was saying that his knee was sore, but there was no way that he was not going to play. I thought he gave a heck of a run at it, trying to compete through pain."

Vogel added: "You know, he's one of the best players in the world, so you have to adjust.

"And I thought we gave great effort trying to overcome that loss, but it certainly wasn't enough."

Game 5 will be held in Phoenix on Tuesday.

"We kept on fighting back and got stops after stop after stop and still made it a game," James said. "But they played well. I tip my hat to them.

"They came in, played extremely well. And it's going to be a big-time Game 5 come Tuesday."

A commitment from Donovan Mitchell to be less "exuberant" on the court helped the Utah Jazz take a 2-1 lead over the Memphis Grizzlies in their first-round playoff series.

Mitchell played just the second game of his return from injury on Saturday as Utah took the series lead with a 121-111 victory in Game 3.

After scoring 25 points on his return in Game 2, which came after a 17-game absence due to an ankle sprain, the 24-year-old shot 9-of-23 from the field to lead the scoring with 29 points.

Ten of those points came in a fourth quarter in which Memphis edged into a two-point lead for the first time in the contest with five minutes on the clock.

Mitchell, who scored two three-pointers in a strong Jazz finish, felt the benefit of having conserved some energy for the decisive moments.

"It's a long game," he said. "It's been a while and just getting back into it. That's really it.

"Understanding that trying to save your energy as much as possible, not needing to be as exuberant, I think that's the right word to use, but I think just not being as loud and kind of demonstrative in my movements."

Head coach Quin Snyder thought Mitchell's influence waned little despite his quieter approach.

"When you have a guy that has that much belief in his team-mates and that competitive fire, you know he's going to make some things happen," said Snyder.

"He's not going to be successful in every possession, but he was not going to be deterred either."

The Grizzlies edged the scoring 89-87 after the first quarter, but it was not enough to counter a poor start in front of more than 12,000 fans at their first home playoff game since April 2017.

"They made the plays down the stretch," coach Taylor Jenkins said. "Couldn't get the stops.

"The first quarter, we just didn't have the discipline. Too many breakdowns and they made us pay."

Game 4 is at FedExForum on Tuesday.

Joel Embiid heard the opposing fans jeering him when he missed a dunk in the second quarter Saturday, so the Philadelphia 76ers star made sure to savour the response that followed. 

Embiid was dominant in a 132-103 Sixers rout of the Washington Wizards that gave Philadelphia a 3-0 series lead. 

His signature play in a 36-point night was an emphatic dunk with 1:10 to play in the first half, after which he cupped his hands to his ears to taunt the Washington crowd that had let him have it after he missed a dunk two possessions earlier. 

"They started booing, they started cheering just because I missed a dunk, and I had another opportunity where I actually made a dunk, so that's why I went over to them," Embiid told reporters afterward.

"I wanted to hear more boos because it gets me going. I like it. 

"I just love playing on the road. I love playing up to the boos or fans talking trash. It gets me going."

Wizards fans did not have much to cheer about when it came to their own team, as Embiid scored 25 in the first half on the way to setting a new career playoff scoring high even though he sat out the fourth quarter.  

After a while, the Philadephia fans in attendance won out, and "MVP!" chants echoed through the arena as the Sixers pushed Washington to the brink of elimination. 

Embiid was 14 of 18 from the field, attempting -- and making -- six more shot than he had in the equally comfortable Game 2 win in Philadelphia. 

He said he feels like the game has slowed down and he does not have to force anything, leaving him comfortable no matter how the Wizards choose to defend him. 

"I always want the ball because I feel like it is hard to stop me, whether you send a double-team or not," he said. 

"And if you do send a double-team I'm going to make the right play."

More often than not Saturday, the right play ended up being Embiid handling matters himself. 

Now the Eastern Conference's top seed is on the verge of advancing, though Embiid was not ready to discuss the possibility. 

"There's nothing to be happy about," he said. "The job's not done.

"We've got to close out the series. We've got to get one more win and then worry about the rest later."

Joel Embiid's career night led the Philadelphia 76ers to a 132-103 rout of the Washington Wizards, pushing the top seed in the Eastern Conference to the brink of a series sweep. 

Embiid established a new playoff career high with 36 points in just 28 minutes, making 14 of 18 shots from the floor and adding eight rebounds. 

Embiid had 25 points and seven rebounds at the interval as Philadelphia built a comfortable lead before pulling away in the second half. 

Embiid's previous playoff career high was 34 against the Boston Celtics last season. 

Tobias Harris added 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, while Ben Simmons had 14 points and nine assists for the Sixers. 

Philadelphia made an impressive 58.6 per cent of their shots from the field (51 of 87) while limiting Washington to 38 of 96 shooting (39.6 per cent). 

Russell Westbrook led the Wizards with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists while Bradley Beal scored 25. 

Game 4 is Monday in Washington. 

 

Giannis, Bucks sweep out Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks avenged last season's loss to Miami in the conference semi-finals by completing a four-game sweep of the Heat with a 120-103 victory. Milwaukee outscored Miami 64-39 in the second half to wrap up the series and will next face the winner of the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series. Giannis Antetokounmpo had his first playoff triple-double for the Bucks with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists, while Jimmy Butler turned in a quieter triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a losing effort. It was the first playoff series since 2014 in which Butler failed to reach 20 points in at least one game. 

Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley paced the top-seeded Utah Jazz to a 121-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, holding off a second-half surge from the underdogs. Mitchell scored 29 points and Conley had 27 points, six rebounds and eight assists for Utah as they took a 2-1 series lead. 

Norman Powell's 29 points led the Portland Trail Blazers past the Denver Nuggets 115-95 to level their series at 2-2. 

 

Nuggets' shooters nowhere to be found

The Nuggets had a rough shooting night all the way around in their loss to Portland. Denver made only 32 of 94 shots from the field (34 per cent), including just 13 of 44 (29.5 per cent) from three-point range, and Nikola Jokic led the scoring with just 16 points on seven of 18 shooting. 

 

Morant spins it in

Ja Morant put on a show in a losing effort for the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring 28 points to give him 101 in the series. Morant is the fourth player in NBA history to score at least 100 points over his first three playoff appearances and the first since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970. Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan are the other two. 

 

Saturday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 120-103 Miami Heat
Portland Trail Blazers 115-95 Denver Nuggets
Philadelphia 76ers 132-103 Washington Wizards
Utah Jazz 121-111 Memphis Grizzlies

 

Suns at Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers look for a commanding 3-1 lead in their series against the Phoenix Suns after winning the last two games. 

Anthony Davis managed to finish Game 3 for the Los Angeles Lakers despite injuring his left knee during the contest, and he has no intention of sitting out Game 4. 

Davis said Saturday there is "no chance" he will miss Sunday's matchup against the Phoenix Suns even though he has experienced swelling in the knee since hyperextending it Thursday. 

Davis and the Lakers can take a 3-1 series lead on the Suns with a win in Los Angeles. 

"There's no chance that I don't play tomorrow," Davis told reporters Saturday.

"As a player, I've wanted to be in this moment. You want to be in the playoffs and help contribute to my team's success. I want to be out there.

"So in my eyes, for me as a competitor, I think I'll be out there [Sunday]."

The Lakers listed Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who also hurt his knee in Game 3, as questionable, but head coach Frank Vogel said he hopes both will play. 

Davis hurt his knee in the second quarter while landing after chasing down Devin Booker for a block. 

He told reporters after that game he did not really think about his knee once he got through the opening minutes of the second half. 

Davis ended up playing 40 minutes and contributing 34 points and 11 rebounds in the 109-95 Los Angeles win. 

Now he wants to make sure the Lakers keep pushing and send the Suns to the brink of elimination. 

"It's going to be probably the biggest game of the series, I think, besides if Game 7 happens," he said.

"We're going in, want to protect home court ... We know they're going to come out and play desperate, in a sense."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kawhi and George deliver in much-needed win

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

 

Randle fails to fire again

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

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

 

Trae stars as Hawks soar

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

 

Friday's results

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

 

Bucks at Heat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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