LeBron James returned from injury but could not prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from suffering their third straight defeat going down 130-108 to the Boston Celtics.

Jayson Tatum starred for the Celtics with 37 points, 11 rebounds and two assists, while Marcus Smart was excellent with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

James had 23 points, six rebounds and two assists on his return from an abdominal strain, while Anthony Davis top scored for the Lakers with 31 points.

The four-time MVP showed no signs of injury in the first quarter, helping the Lakers to a strong start, combining with Davis for 22 points, which was their second most in an opening period in the past two seasons.

The Lakers held the lead at half-time but the Celtics hit back in the third quarter with an 8-0 run, opening up an 11-point lead at the final change after a 33-21 period.

The defeat means the 2020 NBA champions have lost seven of their past 10 games and slip to an 8-9 record, while the Celtics improve to 8-8.

 

Suns' hot streak continues

Chris Paul had 18 points and 14 assists as the Phoenix Suns secured their 11th straight win, triumphing 112-104 over the Dallas Mavericks, who were without Luka Doncic due to knee and ankle injuries.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 21 points and 19 rebounds in the Milwaukee Bucks' 96-89 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, as Khris Middleton passed Ray Allen for most three-pointers made in franchise history (1,052), hitting three triples in his 16 points.

The Golden State Warriors won without Stephen Curry (bruised hip) and Draymond Green (bruised thigh), with Jordan Poole stepping up with 32 points including four three-pointers in a 105-102 win over the Detroit Pistons.

James Harden shot seven of 25 from the field and had six turnovers but finished with 36 points,10 rebounds and eight assists in Kevin Durant's absence ot lead the Brooklyn Nets past the Orlando Magic 115-113.

Zach LaVine scored 36 points in the Chicago Bulls 114-108 win over the Denver Nuggets who were missing Nikola Jokic, while LaMelo Ball starred with 32 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the Charlotte Hornets' 121-118 victory against the Indiana Pacers.

 

Pelicans clip wayward George 

Paul George shot eight of 26 from the field as the Los Angeles Clippers went down to the New Orleans Pelicans 94-81.

Stephen Curry led the Golden State Warriors' fourth-quarter charge and registered his fourth 40-point game of the season in a 104-89 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

Curry had been listed as "questionable" for the game due to a hip complaint but overcame that to post 40 points including nine three-pointers for the Warriors who improve to 13-2.

Golden State had trailed by 13 points early in the final quarter, before going on a 17-0 initiated by three consecutive Curry triples.

Curry had 13 points during the 17-0 run and 20 for the final quarter, as the Warriors flicked the switch with a 36-8 last period.

Draymond Green played a strong deputy hand with 14 assists for the Warriors, while Darius Garland had 25 points for the Cavs.

Curry also broke his own record for the most triples made by a player in the first 15 games of season, overtaking his 2018-19 haul of 80 and moving his 2021-22 tally to 85.

 

Sixers snap five-game skid

Guards Seth Curry (20 points, six rebounds and five assists) and Tyrese Maxey (22 points, five rebounds and four assists) helped the Philadelphia 76ers end their five-game skid with a 103-89 win over the Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic had 22 points in the first half but finished with 30 for the game, along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Jimmy Butler had 32 points, five assists and four steals while Kyle Lowry dished off 12 assists as the Miami Heat downed the Washington Wizards 112-97, despite Bradley Beal's 30 points.

Ja Morant starred with 28 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Memphis Grizzlies in a 120-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, with Paul George managing 23 points, including five from beyond the arc.

 

Murray loses his radar

Dejounte Murray only managed seven points, shooting at 17 percent from the field, missing all four three-point attempts in the San Antonio Spurs' 115-90 defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Stephen Curry and the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors sent a message after crushing the championship-chasing Brooklyn Nets 117-99 on Tuesday.

Boasting Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets are dreaming big in their pursuit of a maiden title, but the star-studded franchise were reminded how far they must go after Curry torched Brooklyn with 37 points on the road.

Curry tallied his fifth career game with 35-plus points in less than 30 minutes – the most by any player since the three-point era (1980).

The two-time MVP reached 2,900 career three-pointers after making nine shots from beyond the arc at Barclays Center.

 

It marked Curry's 37th career game with nine three-pointers or more – no other player is in the 10-36 range as the high-flying Warriors improved to 12-2.

In his reunion with former team the Warriors, where he won two titles, Durant put up a season-low 19 points.

It was the first time this season Durant did not score at least 20 points in a game, shooting six-of-19 from the field as Harden led the Nets (10-5) with 24 points.

 

George dazzles in LA

Paul George maintained his red-hot form in the absence of injured star team-mate Kawhi Leonard, scoring 34 points and collecting nine rebounds to go with four assists and two steals as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 106-92. San Antonio's Dejounte Murray (26 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists) narrowly missed out on a triple-double.

 

Philadelphia's slide continues

The Philadelphia 76ers were left to pick up the pieces following a fifth consecutive defeat, a 120-85 rout at the Utah Jazz (9-5). Missing MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, the 76ers were simply no match for the Jazz in Utah as last season's Eastern Conference top seeds slipped to 8-7. Philadelphia have lost five straight games for the first time since December 2017.

Los Angeles Clippers coach Ty Lue welcomed the contributions of his supporting players as they helped Paul George lead the team to a sixth straight win.

The Clippers beat the Miami Heat 112-109 on Thursday to continue their streak. They have also now won six in a row against the Heat, their longest such sequence in this matchup since the teams' first meeting in 1988.

With Kawhi Leonard still on the sidelines, fellow All-Star George has been the Clippers' main man this season, with his usage rate up to 34.3 per cent.

He is averaging 26.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game – his best marks outside of his All-NBA First Team season in 2018-19. His 5.4 assists per game are a new high.

George had 27 points against Miami, again leading the team, but he also had a negative plus/minus (-1) for the first time in this winning run.

While the forward's 38 minutes ensured he remains the Clippers' most used player this year (388 mins), there were signs of fatigue and Lue called his man back to the bench in the third quarter.

Crucially, however, the Clippers had a positive point differential of four in the 10 minutes George sat in this game, prompting the coach to laud a team effort.

George was one of five players to score double-figures and one of three to pass 20 – also Reggie Jackson (22) and Eric Bledsoe (21).

"In that third quarter, PG was a little tired, so we had to get him out early," Lue said.

"That group we had on the floor increased the lead, so it bought him more time. It was just a total team win. We did a lot of great things."

Leonard's absence with an ACL tear represents a big blow to the Clippers, but they are now 7-4 this year as George excels.

However, when Leonard went down halfway through last season's playoff campaign, George improved from averaging 24.9 points per game to 29.6.

Indeed, since the pair joined the team together in 2019, George has 26.8 points across the regular season and postseason when Leonard is missing, versus 21.7 when his team-mate is also in the lineup.

This responsibility may suit George this year then, and asked how he was coping with the strain, he simply replied: "I'm still going, still going."

The Philadelphia 76ers suffered a third consecutive defeat in the NBA, this time upstaged 115-109 by the visiting Toronto Raptors.

While 2020-21 MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle remain sidelined due to the league's health and safety protocol, last season's Eastern Conference top seeds the 76ers welcomed back star Tobias Harris and Seth Curry.

Tyrese Maxey also scored 33 points in back-to-back 30-point games, but it was not enough for the 76ers (8-5) at home to the Raptors in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Maxey became the first 76er in either his first or second season with consecutive 30-plus point games since Embiid in 2017.

 

But Eastern Conference rivals the Raptors (7-6) silenced Wells Fargo Center thanks to Fred VanVleet (32 points), Gary Trent Jr. (20 points) and Og Anunoby (20 points).

VanVleet and Trent hit back-to-back three-pointers over the final 1:10 to lift the Raptors, who had lost three games in a row.

 

Streaking Clippers cool Heat

The Los Angeles Clippers (7-4) posted their sixth successive victory after outlasting the Miami Heat 112-109. Paul George scored 27 points and Reggie Jackson registered all his 22 points in the second half as the Clippers overturned a 17-point deficit. Bam Adebayo's season-high 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Heat (7-5), who dropped their third straight game and fourth of five.

 

Jazz beaten at home

For the first time this season, the Utah Jazz (8-4) lost at home following a surprise 111-100 defeat against the Indiana Pacers. All-Star pair Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were ejected in the fourth quarter, along with team-mate Joe Ingles and Indiana's Myles Turner. The Pacers (5-8) were led by Malcolm Brogdon's season-high 30 points.

The Los Angeles Clippers trailed by 20 at one point in Friday's game at the Minnesota Timberwolves and their best player missed 80 per cent of the shots he attempted, yet they still managed to run away with their third straight victory. 

Confidence is growing for a team that started the season in a 1-4 slump, and Friday's stunning 104-84 defeat of the Timberwolves was the latest building block. 

The Clippers outscored Minnesota 57-27 after half-time, the fewest points by any team in a half so far this season, as they became the fourth team in the last 25 years to trail by 20 before winning by 20. 

"To be down 20 on the road and come back and win by 20, just shows a lot about our team – about our character, our resilience, not giving up," Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue told reporters. "We could’ve easily gave in by winning Wednesday’s game and kind of giving into this game, but our guys kept fighting and kept competing, and that’s what you love to see."

On the heels of a 126-115 win in Minnesota on Wednesday, the Clippers got by on a poor shooting night by making sure the Timberwolves shot even worse. 

Los Angeles limited the home team to 34.8 per cent shooting from the field, including a stunning 17 of 52 (32.7 per cent) showing from three-point range, while out-rebounding Minnesota 62-42 and forcing 21 turnovers. 

In a normal game, stats like that would have produced a far more lopsided win, but the Clippers needed every bit of that defending Friday. 

Paul George made just four of 20 from the field and the Clippers knocked down only six of 28 shots from three-point range (21.4 per cent). 

George and his team-mates ended up doing most of their damage from the free-throw line, where they had 32 attempts to Minnesota's seven. George made 13 of 14 from the line to account for the bulk of his 21 points. 

"My guys, they get all the credit tonight," George said. "They kept us alive, they kept me going, it was a group effort."

Reggie Jackson added 20 points and Ivica Zubac contributed 14 points and 14 rebounds for Los Angeles.

"I thought Big Zu was a force down low in the paint tonight," Lue said. "I thought Zu was phenomenal."

The Clippers (4-4) return home to face the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday. 

Undeterred by a dreadful first quarter, the New York Knicks stormed back for a 113-98 road win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. 

Trailing the defending NBA champions 38-19 after the opening period, the Knicks found their rhythm behind Julius Randle's game-high 32 points. 

Derrick Rose came off the bench to score 23 and RJ Barrett added 22 for the Knicks as they improved to 6-3 overall and 4-1 on the road.

"Obviously, you don't want to get down like we did, but we did," Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters. "It's a long game. You've got to keep fighting and get it to a manageable number. Once we got going a little bit and we made a couple hustle plays, it galvanized us and gave us energy."

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points and Grayson Allen 22 for the Bucks, but Milwaukee's other three starters combined for just 15 points as the champs shot 40.2 per cent from the field and were out-rebounded 59-37. 

The Bucks (4-5) have lost four of their last five games and are 1-4 at home. 

 

Clippers fight back to down Timberwolves

The Los Angeles Clippers mounted an impressive comeback of their own, trailing the Minnesota Timberwolves by 21 at one point before rallying for a 104-84 victory. Paul George had 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists to lead the Clippers (4-4), while Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points and eight rebounds for Minnesota (3-5).

Kevin Durant's 29 points and 10 rebounds lifted the Brooklyn Nets (6-3) to a 96-90 road win against the Detroit Pistons (1-8). First overall draft pick Cade Cunningham's shooting woes continued as he went six-for-17 from the field but the rookie led the Pistons with 17. 

Stephen Curry made just five of 15 shots from the field, all but two of those attempts coming from three-point range, but the Golden State Warriors (7-1) still rolled to a 126-85 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans (1-9) thanks to 26 points from Jordan Poole. 

 

Morant misfires in loss to Wizards

Ja Morant has been one of the NBA's most effective scorers so far this season but the Washington Wizards (6-3) shut down the Memphis star in a 115-87 rout of the Grizzlies (5-4). Morant entered the game averaging 27.0 points and shooting 52.2 per cent from the field but made just four of 17 shots Friday on the way to an 11-point night. 

Paul George believes the only way is up for the Los Angeles Clippers after he turned on the style in Monday night's clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Clippers had lost four of their opening five games but snatched victory from the brink of defeat as they clinched a 99-94 victory.

George had topped 40 points twice early in the season, and this time his 32-point haul came in tandem with four team-mates also hitting double figures.

After making just one of nine shots from the field in the first half, George hit 10 of 15 in the second.

"It's my job to go out there and play hard," George said in a post-game news conference. "My team needed me and I just tried to step up for them."

The Clippers turned a 91-82 deficit into a 95-92 lead as Reggie Jackson landed a jump shot that clinched the game, earning an embrace from George.

After a rocky run of form, George is hoping this outcome means the Clippers might be turning a corner.

"I just told him this is the worst that the team can shoot – obviously we could shoot worse than this, but in the real picture this is the worst we can shoot," George said.

"That shot can change [Jackson's] rhythm. That shot right there was really the biggest shot of the night. That could be all the confidence he needs going into the next game to make a shot when we needed him to.

"It was a great moment for me and him. We've both been struggling tonight so to end the game on that note was a good moment."

Coach Tyronn Lue hailed the "miraculous shots" from George, while Nicolas Batum enjoyed the "ugly win".

Batum, who finished with 14 points, was relieved to see the Clippers find their stride.

"I've never seen that before, the whole team getting cold for five games," said the French forward. "The thing is, we're not playing that bad actually.

"We keep playing defense, trying to move the ball, trying to find a way, but we just don't make shots, but we kept fighting, we kept grinding.

"It was just finding a way to win a game tonight. We didn't lose confidence. PG [George] was great in the second half and took us home.

"It was an ugly win, but I'd take an ugly win compared to beautiful losses."

 

Assessing another standout display from George, Batum said: "We've got to help him out. The last game [a 111-92 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers] was unacceptable as a team.

"He got 42 and he got 50 per cent of the points. We've got four guys in double figures tonight and that's how we have to do it every night. We can't rely on him to get 30-40 points every night."

The reigning NBA champions got back on track Saturday, as Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to a 121-111 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs. 

Two days after a 42-point blowout loss to the Miami Heat, the Bucks looked more like their usual selves in San Antonio, though the Spurs kept the game tight and pulled within four points with 4:24 to play. 

Middleton had 28 points to lead the Bucks, while Antetokounmpo added 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. 

Middleton, who is beginning his ninth season with the Bucks, passed Ray Allen to move into 10th on Milwaukee's all-time scoring list with 9,704 points for the team.

Doug McDermott scored 25 to lead Milwaukee, making seven of 11 from three-point range. 

 

Grizzlies hand Clippers another loss

Despite 41 points from Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers lost their second straight game to open the season, falling 120-114 to the Memphis Grizzlies. While George poured in the points, a balanced Memphis attack led by Ja Morant's 28 points and eight assists secured another win for the visitors. 

In Portland, CJ McCollum scored 28 points and Damian Lillard had 19 as the Trail Blazers rolled past the Phoenix Suns 134-105. Devin Booker had 21 points, the only Phoenix player to score more than 14. 

Luka Doncic had a game-high 27 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks rallied from a six-point half-time deficit to defeat the Raptors 103-95 in Toronto for their first victory under new head coach Jason Kidd. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 25 points and Kristaps Porzingis had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Mavericks, while OG Anunoby led Toronto with 23. 

Stephen Curry scored 45 points including two clutch three-pointers down the stretch as the Golden State Warriors won 115-113 over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

Curry, who hit an equal career-high 25 points in the first quarter, was central to the Warriors win, which follows their opening night victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

After a wayward shooting display against Lakers that Curry described as "trash", the point guard nailed his first 10 field goal attempts for the game, finishing 16-from-25 including eight-from-13 from beyond the arc.

Curry also had 10 rebounds for the game, supported well by Andrew Wiggins with 17 points and six rebounds. Draymond Green battled throughout but had 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

The Warriors led by as much as 19 points but the Clippers clawed it back to a one-point game by half-time with Paul George excelling with 29 points along with 11 rebounds and six assists.

The game came down to the final minutes, with the Clippers leading by two points with less than two-and-a-half minutes to go after Marcus Morris Sr's three-pointer before Curry responded with two of his own.

 

Heat blow away Bucks

Reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks were humbled 137-95 by the Miami Heat in Kyle Lowry's debut for his new team, although he only managed five points and six assists as he laboured with an ankle issue.

The Heat blew the Bucks apart early, opening up a 22-3 lead, with Tyler Herro top scoring with 27 points including a first-quarter buzzer beater from range after Max Strus' block.

Giannis Antetokounmpo top scored for the Bucks, who were without Jrue Holiday, with 15 points and 10 rebounds, shooting at 36.4 per cent from the field. Bucks forward Khris Middleton shot only four-from-14 from the field.

 

Young leads Hawks over Doncic's Mavs

Trae Young got the better of Luka Doncic as the Atlanta Hawks won 113-87 over the Dallas Mavericks.

Young finished the game with 19 points and 14 assists, which was the most by a Hawks player in a season opener since Mookie Blaylock in 1993. Clint Capela was excellent in the paint with 12 points and 13 rebounds, while Cam Reddish top scored off the bench with 20 points.

Doncic had his radar off, shooting six-from-17 for 18 points, along with 11 rebounds and seven assists. The Slovenian also gave up five turnovers.

There was disappointment but no regret for the Los Angeles Clippers after their season came to an end Wednesday.

Though head coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged there was a sense of "shock" in his locker room following a 130-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, he and his players were proud of what they accomplished. 

After rallying from 0-2 deficits to win their first two series against the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, the Clippers could not do the same against the Suns with injured star Kawhi Leonard sitting out the entire series. 

Despite falling short of winning their first championship, they took solace in completing the franchise's deepest postseason run. 

"I'm proud of our guys," Lue told reporters. "We've been through a lot this season, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of injuries, but our guys stayed the course. 

"We did something special this year. Even though we didn't complete what we wanted to complete, I thought we did a great job of doing something special, doing something this franchise has never done before.

"Like I told those guys in the locker room, I love those guys and I'd go to war with them any time. I'm just proud of them. Even though we came up short, it was a great run, despite everything we had to go through."

Atop that list in the playoffs was the loss of Leonard, the two-time NBA champion who was averaging 30.4 points per game in the playoffs when he went down with a knee injury in Game 4 of the Jazz series. 

Leonard missed all eight of the Clippers' remaining games, leaving the burden of carrying the team to Paul George. 

"I thought this team squeezed everything we could out of what we had," George said. "We squeezed everything out of one another and I thought we got stronger and better as the season went on." 

Proud as George was, the 31-year-old once again missed out on making his first trip to the NBA Finals. 

"It is what it is -- I came up short again," he said.

"I wasn't out to prove nothing to nobody, but to show up as a leader for this team, put us in a position to get to where we got to. Came up short. Our good wasn't enough." 

Though the odds certainly were stacked against them late given Leonard's absence, Lue said there was an air of disbelief their their season was actually finished. 

"I think it's a shock to a lot of guys in that locker room, and that tells you a lot about the team," he said.

"No matter who's playing, we still feel like every night we have a chance to win. I thought we ran out of gas."

Paul George says he "can't worry" about critics after his masterful Game 5 display against the Phoenix Suns kept the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA playoffs.

George was the star of the show in a resounding 116-102 victory at Phoenix Suns Arena on Monday.

The seven-time NBA All-Star scored a career postseason-high 41 points, including 30 in the second half, to reduce the Suns' lead to 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals.

George became the first player in NBA history to score 40 points or more with at least 75 per cent field goals, 50 per cent three-pointers and a perfect record with free-throws.

The shooting guard feels he has been harshly singled out, but will pay little attention to those who continue to point the finger at him.

Asked if he feels he has been criticised more than other NBA stars, he said: "I do. And it's the honest truth. It's a fact.

"But I can't worry about that. It comes with the job, I guess. I still try to go and dominate and so I'm beyond that, you know what I mean. I am who I am. I wish I could shoot 80 per cent, 75 per cent, on a nightly basis, but it's not realistic."

He added: "What I can do is do everything else. They can judge me on what they want to. That part don't matter to me. I'm going to go out there and hoop and give it everything I got."

 

George has put up at least 20 points in all 18 games he has played during this postseason. The only other players in NBA history to score at 20 or more points in their first 18 games of a single NBA playoffs are Michael Jordan (1992, 1997, 1998), Kobe Bryant (2008) and Kevin Durant (2012, 2018).

George becomes the third player since the 1996-97 season to score 30-plus points on 80 per cent shooting or better in the second half of a postseason game, joining Anthony Davis (2020) and Dwyane Wade (2010).

Clippers coach Ty Lue has been baffled by criticism of George.

"PG has been great for us all year and I just don't understand why it's magnified so much when he doesn't play well,” said Lue.

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue does not understand the criticism of Paul George after the star helped the team avoid elimination from the NBA playoffs with a 116-102 win over the Phoenix Suns.

George scored a career postseason-high 41 points, including 30 in the second half, in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals as the Clippers stayed alive in the postseason series on Monday.

The 31-year-old stepped up when the Clippers were challenged in the third quarter, with second-seeded Phoenix hitting the lead briefly, as George hit back with 20 third-quarter points.

George became the first player in Clippers history to record 40-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in a postseason game, while also becoming the first player in NBA history to have 40-plus points on at least 75 per cent field-goal shooting, 50 per cent three-point shooting and 100 free-throw shooting in a playoff contest.

HE is also the third player since the 1996-97 since to score 30-plus points on 80 per cent shooting or better in the second half of a postseason game, joining Anthony Davis (2020) and Dwyane Wade (2010).

George has been criticised in the past and has missed some key free-throws against the Suns, but he has been the Clippers' top scorer in all five games this series in the absence of Kawhi Leonard (knee), while he led all three categories – points, rebounds and assists, for the second successive game for the fourth seeds.

"I just don't understand why it's magnified so much when he has a bad game, when he doesn't play well," Lue said during his post-game news conference.

"A lot of people play bad. Like I said, I'm just happy he came back, played a great game, we needed every bit of it."

George has put up at least 20 points in all 18 games he has played this season. The only other players in NBA history to have at least 20 points in their first 18 games of a single playoff campaign are Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

Lue added: "That's what great players do. You always bounce back, if you have a rough game.

"Our team needed it… We fed off Marcus' [Morris Snr] momentum in the first half. Every time they made a run, we responded."

The Clippers have already come from behind to win two series this postseason, triumphing 4-3 over the Dallas Mavericks after trailing 2-0, while they won four straight games against the top-seeded Utah Jazz, having been down 2-0.

Lue and the Clippers would need to win three straight games to overcome the Suns, having trailed 3-1 but they can level the series in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

A championship-winning coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lue moved to a 10-2 coaching record when his side is facing elimination, but preferred to focus on his players who he labelled "resilient".

"It's been all season long," Lue said. "Guys have been out, different guys are stepping up and playing well.

"I keep saying the same word resilient but this group is. We got a gritty win without three starters, we gotta do it again two more times."

He added: "It is fun. I was just talking to our team about not winning three games but winning each quarter. The journey is too long if you think about three games, six days. I thought our guys came out with that mindset, we won three of four quarters."

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.

We could soon know who will be fighting it out for the NBA title, with both Conference Finals in danger of being decided emphatically.

The Phoenix Suns have surged into a 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers, while title favourites the Milwaukee Bucks have recovered from a Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks to lead 2-1.

The coming week will decide who will face off for the Larry O'Brien Trophy and, in this edition of Heat Check, Stats Perform looks at which players are on form heading into the decisive matchups, as well as those who need to step up.


RUNNING HOT

Reggie Jackson - Los Angeles Clippers

With Kawhi Leonard showing no sign of making a return from a knee injury that has kept him out for the past six games, the Clippers need players to improve if they are to save their season.

Los Angeles face an elimination game on Monday in the Western Conference Finals, but they can take heart from what Jackson has done in Leonard's absence.

Jackson has scored at least 20 points in five of the last six games, including a 27-point performance in the Game 7 win over the Utah Jazz.

He averaged 20.67 points per game last week, exactly 10 points more than he did in the regular season. The Clippers must have another big effort from him in Game 5.

Deandre Ayton - Phoenix Suns

Ayton enjoyed one of the defining moments of these playoffs with his game-winning alley-oop in Game 2 of the Conference Finals. He is blossoming into the star center the Suns thought they were getting when Phoenix selected him first overall in 2018.

His dramatic final basket in the second game capped a superb performance in which he produced 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Not content with just one double-double, Ayton produced another in Game 4, putting up 19 points and tallying 22 rebounds.

Over the course of the three matchups last week, Ayton recorded 20.33 points and 15 rebounds per game, both significant increases on his averages of 14.15 points and 10.54 rebounds in the regular season. No wonder Ayton has received such effusive praise from team-mate Chris Paul.

Trae Young - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks' hopes of upsetting the odds once more against the Bucks hang in the balance with star point guard Trae Young having been diagnosed with a bone bruise, making him questionable for Game 4.

If he is ruled out, it will be a great shame as Young has played phenomenally in the playoffs, including making a superb start to the Eastern Conference Finals.

He began the series last week by scoring an astonishing 48 points as the Hawks took Game 1 in Milwaukee.

Young was held to 15 in Game 2 but bounced back with 35 in the third game, going six for 14 from three-point range, taking his points per game for the week to 32.67, way up on his already impressive average of 25.3 from the regular season.

GOING COLD...

Bogdan Bogdanovic - Atlanta Hawks

Young's presence is even more important given one of Atlanta's secondary scoring threats is having to fight through a knee injury.

Bogdanovic has continued to battle knee soreness and the impact on his play has been obvious.

He averaged over 16 points a game in the regular season, but has put up only 6.67 so far in this series.

The Hawks may need him to produce more amid the pain to improve their odds of stunning the Bucks.

Clint Capela - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks also haven't quite got the desired production they desire from center Capela.

That may be a slightly unfair statement given that Capela has tallied double-digit rebounds in two of the three games in the series, including a double-double in the Hawks' opening win.

Yet in terms of putting up points, his output has disappointed in comparison with his regular-season numbers. Tallies of 12, two and eight give him a per-game average of 7.33 that is in stark contrast to the 15.17 he delivered in helping the Hawks clinch the fifth seed in the East.

In a series with a Bucks team whose leading lights are firing on all cylinders, that isn't going to cut it.

Paul George - Los Angeles Clippers

With the Clippers competing in a place in their first Finals without Leonard, it is a bad time for George to go cold from deep.

Having made 3.17 threes per game in the regular season, George was off the mark from beyond the arc in three games against the Suns last week.

He made an average of 1.67 threes per game, hitting on one triple in two contests, including the Game 4 loss that has put the Clippers on the brink of elimination.

George simply must rediscover his aim to keep their season alive.

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