Jimmy Butler feels the Miami Heat eased up after Giannis Antetokounmpo was forced off injured as the Milwaukee Bucks staved off NBA playoff elimination with a 118-115 overtime win on Sunday.

Antetokounmpo was cleared to play late in the day having suffered an ankle sprain in Game 3 of the series, but he appeared to be moving well in the warm-up.

He was sent tumbling by Heat forward Andre Iguodala in the second quarter of Game 4, instantly clutching his ankle after he was left in a heap.

Although the NBA's reigning MVP managed to come back on for a pair of free throws, Antetokounmpo went off again straight after, with the Bucks ruling him out at half-time.

Despite such a blow, the Bucks went on to seal an overtime victory that keeps them alive in the series, having lost each of their first three clashes, and the Heat's Butler thinks they underestimated their opponents once Antetokounmpo had gone.

"Well, it shouldn't affect ours, but I think that we relaxed a little bit," the All-Star said when asked if Antetokounmpo's exit impacted the Heat's mentality.

"We stopped playing basketball the right way. We stopped guarding. We stopped living by our defensive principles. We weren't getting 50-50 balls. We were getting out-rebounded. It was just all bad."

Bam Adebayo added: "I feel like we played like we were up 3-0. That's not giving enough effort, not sacrificing our body, and we ended up losing because we were up 3-0.

"They're a good team, so at the end of the day, we should have played like we were in Game 1, Game 2 and Game 3 ... I feel like we didn't play a maximum effort the whole game."

Khris Middleton became the Bucks' inspiration in Antetokounmpo's absence, ending up with 36 points, eight assists and eight rebounds in 48 minutes on court, while he also sealed the victory with 6.9 seconds left of overtime with a three-pointer.

But he focused on the Greek star, lauding him for even getting on court in the first place.

"We know he was laying it out on the line out there for us," he said.

"His ankle was already in bad shape, and he still went out there in the first quarter in the minutes that, in the first and second quarter, however long he was out there, he gave it his all, and as a team you couldn't do nothing but respect your team-mate for giving his all out there.

"So, we had to have his back tonight, and hopefully we'll have him back again for the next game, but if not, we still have to play as hard as we can.

"We've got to fight every night to keep on playing."

"Trust the Process" but where to now for the Philadelphia 76ers?

That mantra has become synonymous with the team's culture and identity since former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie started a drastic rebuild of Philadelphia's roster and psyche in 2013.

The long-term vision, in pursuit of a first NBA championship since 1983, has delivered stars Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and two trips to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

However, the 76ers find themselves looking for a head coach after Brett Brown – who was at the helm as Philadelphia tanked out and started from the bottom seven years ago – was sacked following a first-ever series sweep at the hands of rivals the Boston Celtics.

While the 76ers were forced to face the Celtics without Simmons due to injury, Philadelphia's failure has only raised further questions as to whether they should trade the Australian or Embiid amid ongoing doubts over the All-Star pair's compatibility.

Jimmy Butler also came and went, while the Al Horford experiment has proved to be an expensive mistake so far.

As GM Elton Brand tries to get the 76ers back on track, with the likes of Tyronn Lue and Jason Kidd linked to the coaching vacancy, we look at the issues facing the team heading into 2020-21 using STATS data.

 

Keeping Embiid and Simmons fit

One of the main issues for the 76ers has been the health of big man Embiid and guard Simmons – franchise pillars.

While much has been made of Embiid and Simmons' chemistry, with spacing the floor a problem for Brown, their fitness issues mean they have only played in 184 of 345 games since the latter was drafted first by the 76ers in 2016.

When Embiid and Simmons play, the 76ers boast a 119-65 win-loss record. But without one or both, they greatly suffer (67-94), Embiid's physicality in the paint and Simmons' superior defensive skills vital in Philadelphia.

The 76ers average 111.7 points, 107.5 opposition points, 47.4 rebounds and 26.4 assists per game with Embiid and Simmons involved, a clear improvement compared to when one or both miss a game – 106.7 points, 109.4 opposition points, 44.5 rebounds and 25.0 assists.

Philadelphia also have a superior field goal percentage (46.9) when Embiid and Simmons both play, with the 76ers shooting just 45.3 per cent. Opposition numbers also go up in their absence – field goal percentage (44.3 to 46.2) and three-point percentage (34.1 to 35.5).

 

Simmons and his shooting woes

Simmons is an elite defender and creator with unrivalled pace, but his shooting struggles have left him stuck between a star and superstar.

There have been signs of a shooter behind all of his usual brilliance, however Simmons' jump-shot is too few and far between.

Previously compared to LeBron James, Simmons does not shoot threes or free throws well – his career free-throw percentage of 59.3 is the worst in NBA history by a guard with at least 1,000 attempts.

And his career three-point percentage (two-for-24, 8.3) is the lowest among all guards who debuted in the NBA in 2000 or later (minimum 20 attempts).

Simmons, 24, also signed a five-year, $170million max contract prior to the 2019-20 campaign.

 

Embiid not so clutch?

The third pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Embiid has established himself as one of the best big men in the league but he has still been criticised for his lack of consistency and poor fitness at times. Nicknamed 'The Process', the 26-year-old knows there is room for improvement.

Embiid wanted to carry the 76ers in the absence of Simmons and while averaging 30.0 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in the playoffs – an increase on his regular-season averages of 23.0 points and 11.6 rebounds, which were a dip on his 2018-19 numbers – and he looked worn out.

There could be some concern that he does not play well at the end of close games. In his career – regular season and playoffs – Embiid has had 17 potential game-tying or go-ahead shots in the last 30 seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime, and he is just one-for-17.

The only shot he made was a dunk against the Cleveland Cavaliers in November 2019.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis flexed their muscles with double-doubles as the Los Angeles Lakers levelled their NBA playoff series by topping the Houston Rockets 117-109.

After losing Game 1 in the Western Conference semi-finals, the top-seeded Lakers responded thanks to James' 28 points and 11 rebounds at Walt Disney World Resort, where he finished just one assist shy of a triple-double on Sunday.

Fellow All-Star Davis posted 34 points and 10 rebounds to take down the Rockets in Orlando, Florida.

The Rockets, led by James Harden's 27 points and double-doubles from Russell Westbrook (10 points and 13 rebounds) and P.J. Tucker (18 points and 11 rebounds), outscored the Lakers 41-23 in the third quarter but a 27-17 final period in favour of the Lakers saw Houston fall.

Eastern Conference top seeds the Milwaukee Bucks, meanwhile, stayed alive thanks to a 118-115 overtime win against the Miami Heat in Game 4.

Facing a series sweep and with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo forced to exit the game due to an ankle injury, the Bucks prolonged their postseason campaign as Khris Middleton put up 36 points.

 

LeBron moves up

The three-time champion and four-time MVP improved to second on the all-time playoffs list for three-pointers made. James now has 386 threes, only behind Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry (470).

Rajon Rondo has struggled for fitness, but the veteran produced an efficient display for the Lakers. He had 10 points, nine assists and five steals against the Rockets off the bench.

Bam Adebayo recorded 26 points and 12 rebounds for the beaten Heat.

 

Giannis cause for concern

Antetokounmpo was already in doubt for Sunday's do-or-die showdown due to his ankle and his availability for Tuesday's Game 5 is up in the air. The Bucks star lasted less than 12 minutes after re-injuring his ankle.

While Westbrook had a double-double, the Rockets star was just four of 15 from the field, while he only made one of his seven three-point attempts.

 

Celtics face Raptors

Can the Toronto Raptors make it three straight wins for a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals? The defending champions are in action against the Boston Celtics on Monday. The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets also meet in Game 3 of their Western Conference semi matchup.

Mike Budenholzer was unsure if Giannis Antetokounmpo would be fit for Game 5 against the Miami Heat, but the Milwaukee Bucks head coach's heart stopped when the star hurt his ankle.

Antetokounmpo left Sunday's 118-115 overtime victory in the second quarter after re-injuring his ankle in the NBA playoffs.

The reigning MVP had posted 19 points in less than 12 minutes before Khris Middleton inspired the Bucks with 36 points as they stayed alive in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

But there is no guarantee Antetokounmpo will be back for Game 5 on Tuesday, with the Heat still leading 3-1 at Walt Disney World Resort.

"As far as for Game 5, they're evaluating him now," Bucks Budenholzer told a news conference.

"He'll get treatment through the night and we'll just see how he does over the next 24-48 hours and no, there was no consideration about him coming back today."

While it was Middleton who ended up keeping the top-seeded Bucks alive, Antetokounmpo was in fine form before his injury.

Budenholzer praised Antetokounmpo and said the injury was a scary moment for the Bucks.

"You feel for Giannis. I hope it's not lost what he did in those first 10 or 12 minutes on an ankle that is not fully 100 per cent," he said.

"He was phenomenal to start the game and gave us a huge boost. I think they threw a big punch early and Giannis was able to keep us afloat and when he went down, all our hearts just stopped for a second."

Heat star Jimmy Butler, who finished with 17 points, felt Miami fell away after Antetokounmpo's injury.

"We relaxed a little bit. We stopped playing basketball the right way. We stopped guarding. We stopped living by our defensive principles," he said.

"We weren't getting 50-50 balls, we were getting outrebounded, it was just all bad."

Giannis Antetokounmpo was ruled out of the rest of Game 4 between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat due to a right ankle sprain in the NBA playoffs.

Bucks star Antetokounmpo sustained the injury by tangling with Andre Iguodala with 10 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the second period and left the game after shooting two free throws at Walt Disney World Resort on Sunday.

Milwaukee confirmed during half-time that the reigning MVP would not return to the floor for the rest of the Eastern Conference semi-finals clash.

Antetokounmpo appeared to be struggling with a right ankle injury during Game 3, which ended in a 115-100 defeat for the Bucks that sent them 3-0 down in the series.

The top-seeded Bucks needed to win on Sunday to keep their hopes of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals alive.

Antetokounmpo had started the game strongly in Orlando, scoring 19 points on eight-of-10 shooting to go with four rebounds and one steal.

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse did not feel "especially satisfied" despite the defending NBA champions beating the Boston Celtic 100-93 to level their series at 2-2.

Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry starred for the Raptors in the Eastern Conference semi-final playoff, leading them to a crucial Game 4 win on Saturday.

Siakam posted 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Lowry claimed a double-double of his own with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

The Raptors had suffered back-to-back losses at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, in the first two matches of the series, but following their buzzer-beating win in Game 3, they are back on level terms.

But Nurse was not getting carried away and he wants more from the Raptors as they look to take charge of the series.

"We don't think we're defending a title," said Nurse. "We're just trying to get this team to do what they can do at as high a level as they can.

"And that, to me, is the job. I don't feel especially satisfied about winning this game tonight or how we played.

"I think that's what we're supposed to do and this is what we're working for – to get these guys to play as hard as they can and play together to get the result, and just go back to work and try to do it a little better again tomorrow."

While the Raptors were grateful to tie the series, there was more than a hint of rueful thinking from the Celtics, particularly Kemba Walker.

The four-time NBA All-Star finished with 15 points and eight assists, but he shot just nine times and successfully converted one of six from three-point range as the Celtics routinely faltered from beyond the arc.

"I got to be more aggressive, I wasn't aggressive enough," he reflected. "That's unacceptable on my behalf, to be honest. There's no way I can just be taking nine shots. That's unacceptable.

"Honestly, man, I thought we had great looks. I thought we had great looks throughout the whole game.

"We just really missed. We missed a lot of open ones that we know we can make. Like I said, we've got to make them. We have to make shots. When guys get shots, when guys are open, we've got to knock those shots down.

"We'll do better. We'll do better."

Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone was delighted to see his side produce a vastly improved display to level up their second-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Nuggets triumphed 110-101 on Saturday to mark a drastic turnaround from their 120-97 loss in Game 1.

Jamal Murray put up 27 points, while team-mate Nikola Jokic finished with 26 points and 18 rebounds.

And Malone hailed his players' display, saying: "I thought we were a noticeably different team than we were in Game 1.

"Our defense, our activity and the fact that we were willing to help each other.

"The big point of emphasis coming out of Game 1 was as the game wore on, we stood, the ball didn't move, the bodies didn't move.

"We just came down and settled. We didn't make their defense work at all.

"I felt tonight there was a marked difference in our approach, our energy, our movement. And we made ourselves a lot harder to guard."

Malone is hopeful the Nuggets can maintain those high levels heading into the next game.

"Our group believes in themselves," he said.

"We've shown we're a resilient group that can execute and find ways to win in close games down the stretch.

"It's great to be able to tie the series up and have that life and belief going into the next game."

Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry starred as defending champions the Toronto Raptors topped the Boston Celtics 100-93 to level their Eastern Conference semi-final series in the NBA playoffs.

Siakam posted 23 points and 11 rebounds and Lowry had a double-double of his own with 22 points and 11 rebounds to help the Raptors take down the Celtics in Game 4 on Saturday.

After back-to-back defeats, the Raptors have managed to level the series 2-2 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida following their buzzer-beating victory in Game 3.

The Denver Nuggets also levelled their second-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers via a 110-101 triumph in the Western Conference.

In Game 2, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic led the way for the Nuggets, who led by as many as 23 points against the second-seeded Clippers.

 

Murray, Jokic fuel Nuggets

Following a subdued display in the series opener, Murray put up 27 points for the Nuggets. Team-mate Jokic finished with 26 points and 18 rebounds.

Jayson Tatum recorded 24 points and 10 rebounds for the beaten Celtics.

 

Leonard struggles against Nuggets

It was a rare off night for Kawhi Leonard offensively. The two-time NBA champion, who had at least 29 points in all seven playoff games this season, posted 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. He shot just four for 17 from the field.

The Celtics were just seven for 35 (20 per cent) from three-point range. Brown missed his first nine attempts from beyond the arc and finished two for 11. Boston team-mates Tatum, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart were all one for six on three-pointers.

 

Filthy Murray

Nuggets star Murray left Leonard scrambling following this move.

 

Bucks face Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks will look to stay alive and avoid a series sweep when they meet the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Sunday. In the west, the Los Angeles Lakers can bounce back from their opening-game loss to the Houston Rockets.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is questionable for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Miami Heat due to a right ankle sprain.

The top-seeded Bucks trail 3-0 and are facing a stunning series sweep at the hands of the Heat in the NBA playoffs heading into Sunday's crucial clash at Walt Disney World Resort.

Antetokounmpo rolled his ankle in the first half of Milwaukee's 115-100 Game 3 loss to Miami in Orlando, Florida on Friday.

The reigning MVP still posted 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists for the struggling Bucks.

No NBA team have overturned a 3-0 series deficit as the Bucks – eyeing their first championship since 1971 – fight to stay alive in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo believes NBA history is within the reach of the Milwaukee Bucks despite them falling 3-0 behind to the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs.

The Heat moved within a game of progressing to the Eastern Conference finals with a 115-100 win over the top-seeded Bucks on Friday.

Milwaukee led by 12 points going into the final quarter but were incredibly outscored 40-13 in the final 12 minutes of Game 3 of the semifinals.

The Bucks will attempt to keep their season alive with victory in Game 4 on Sunday.

And reigning MVP Antetokounmpo, who tweaked his ankle in the first quarter but still had 21 points with 16 rebounds and nine assists, knows Milwaukee cannot afford another fourth-quarter slump.

"We played well for three quarters, we just got to be able to do that for four quarters," said Antetokounmpo.

"You've got to play hard for 48 minutes. We've got to play harder, we've got to play better."

No NBA team has overturned a 3-0 series deficit but Antetokounmpo added: "Mentally, we're in a good place. If there's a team that can beat a team four straight it can be us.

"We've just got to believe in ourselves. We can do it. We've done things before where nobody believed in us."

LeBron James was impressed by the sheer speed of the Houston Rockets after they dished out a 112-97 defeat to his Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Rockets star James Harden went 12-of-20 from the field for a game-high 36 points as the Lakers were outplayed and overrun on Friday.

It was an eye-opener for James and his team-mates, who will at least be better prepared for the task awaiting them in Game 2.

Assessing what had made the Rockets so dominant, James said: "I think it's the speed.

"They play with a lot of speed both offensively and defensively. And you can watch it on film and you can see it on film; until you get out there and get a feel for it [you cannot comprehend it].

"That's what we did tonight. We got a feel for their speed, and we should be fully aware of that going into Game 2."

The Lakers will attempt to level the series on Sunday and James, who put up 20 points, added: "How do you adjust to a team's speed? You understand that it's not just about the legs moving; it's about the hands moving as well.

"They're great with their hands. You understand that if you have the turnover, you can't really react; you have to get back, quick twitch. Quick-twitch plays, because they're very, extremely fast.

"You adjust to that by playing against it. It was, 'Okay, we need to play them again'.

"There's no way you can simulate that speed."

 

The Milwaukee Bucks are on the verge of exiting the NBA playoffs, while the Los Angeles Lakers fell in Game 1 against the Houston Rockets.

The top seeds in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks are 3-0 down to the Miami Heat in the semi-finals after Friday's 115-100 loss.

Miami incredibly outscored the Bucks 40-13 in the fourth quarter at the Walt Disney World Resort.

The Bucks led for most of the contest, including by 14 late in the third, but fell apart late.

Jimmy Butler (30 points, seven rebounds and six assists) put Miami on the verge of a shock series win, with 17 of his points coming in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers were beaten 112-97 by the Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

Rockets star James Harden went 12-of-20 from the field for a game-high 36 points.

 

Awesome Adebayo, Westbrook in fine form

Bam Adebayo had a double-double of 20 points and 16 rebounds in Miami's win. He was seven-of-eight from the field.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo managed 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists, but he went seven-of-21 from the field.

Russell Westbrook also struggled with his shot, going 10-of-24, but he had 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a Rockets win.

Eric Gordon also contributed 23 points for Houston.

For the Lakers, Anthony Davis posted a double-double of 25 points and 14 rebounds, while LeBron James had 20 points.

 

Bledsoe struggles

Eric Bledsoe battled badly for Milwaukee. He was two-of-nine from the field for just eight points in nearly 30 minutes.

 

Hot Harden

Harden was in spectacular form for the Rockets.

Raptors face Celtics

Following their incredible Game 3 win, the Toronto Raptors will look to level their Eastern Conference semi-final against the Boston Celtics at 2-2 on Saturday.

Lionel Messi is staying at Barcelona, but will he regret it?

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner last month announced his intention to leave his only senior club after a dismal 2019-20 season.

But with Barca insisting either Messi or any suitor would be required to pay his €700milllion release clause, their captain will instead remain at Camp Nou.

Messi is far from the first sports star to perform a U-turn when considering his future, though...
 

CRISTIANO RONALDO

Messi's great rival similarly tried to force a move in 2008, albeit Ronaldo was on a high after winning the Champions League with Manchester United.

The Portuguese had his heart set on a transfer to Real Madrid and made his desire clear as he publicly agreed with Sepp Blatter's claim keeping a player at a club against his will was like "modern slavery".

United would not budge, though, and Ronaldo stayed for another year and returned to the Champions League final, this time losing to Messi's Barca before finally getting his dream move to Madrid.

LUIS SUAREZ

Suarez, one of Messi's closest friends and a Barca team-mate, followed Ronaldo in attempting to leave a year before getting a big switch.

In 2013, the Liverpool forward announced his intention to depart Anfield, complaining of the media attention he received in England amid racism and biting scandals. Arsenal made a bid which appeared to activate a £40m release clause, but Liverpool insisted Suarez must stay.

As with Ronaldo, Suarez only stuck around for another season but was inspirational as the Reds came agonisingly close to the Premier League title. He then belatedly left to link up with Messi at Camp Nou.

KOBE BRYANT

Messi is not the first one-team man to come close to a move before backtracking. Lakers great Bryant, who would end his career with five titles in Los Angeles, briefly pushed for a trade in 2007.

Bryant had won three championships at that stage, but none since the final year of their three-peat in 2002, and openly discussed his frustration at the direction of the franchise while fuming at claims he was behind Shaquille O'Neal's exit from the team.

These issues came to a head as Bryant told the media he wanted a trade, but his U-turn proved far swifter than Messi's, quickly continuing his historic Lakers career.

BRETT FAVRE

Messi's return to the Barca fold has at least already proven more successful than Favre's attempted U-turn in 2008. After 17 seasons in the NFL, including 16 with the Green Bay Packers, the quarterback announced he was retiring.

But Favre then decided before the start of the new season he wanted to return to the Packers, who had by now been preparing with Aaron Rodgers – previously his understudy – in the role.

Barca may not have a ready-made Messi replacement, but Rodgers was more than capable of stepping up, meaning Favre had no job to return to. The veteran was instead sent to the New York Jets and failed to make the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard prefers to help keep his team-mates in the here and now rather than reflect on past experiences after helping the Los Angeles Clippers to a resounding Game One win over the Denver Nuggets.

The Clippers routed the Nuggets 120-97 in the opener of the Western Conference semi-finals series in Orlando, with Leonard putting up a game-high 29 points.

Leonard was an NBA champion with the Toronto Raptors last season, adding to the ring he won with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, and is aiming to repeat the feat with a new team this time around.

When asked how he uses his experiences to help his team-mates, Leonard replied: "You know, I'm not a guy that talks about what I've done on different teams. It's just about now. 

"But just giving them some thoughts, like when things do come up, it's about this year and how we can be better as this year's team.

"I guess just taking from what I've seen in the past and just trying to make us be as consistent as we could be and just trying to keep our focus and just having us be relaxed out there."

The Clippers restricted Nuggets dangermen Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to just 27 points between them and Leonard is wary of a backlash from a team that went to Game 7 in their opening playoff series with the Utah Jazz.

"It was just about trying to contest their shots, staying in front of them. I thought we did a great job of that and the other defenders as well, who wasn't in the action, they were on help-side defense, just that's it," Leonard added.

"But that team went through a seven-game series, and I'm sure they will come back more prepared for Game 2."

The Clippers were boosted by the return of Patrick Beverley from a calf injury, marking just the 13th time throughout this season the team have had their first-choice rotation available.

Beverley – who missed five straight games and 10 of the previous 11 – played just 12 minutes but his willingness to bark out instructions and make his voice heard on the court was felt.

"When you're out with an injury, just watching it, I was humbled," said Beverley. "I'm just fortunate to be out there.

"You can't take health for granted. It's really important. But it was good going out there with my brothers, man, competing, playing the type of ball we do. It was fun tonight, for sure.

"I take my role very seriously. Obviously, I'm the point guard, getting guys put in places offensively and make sure I'm doing my job defensively.

"Sitting out with this injury has definitely humbled me, man. I appreciate the game a lot more, for sure."

Fred VanVleet aimed a shot at the Brooklyn Nets after the Toronto Raptors halved the deficit in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series with the Boston Celtics.

OG Anunoby's buzzer-beating three-pointer gave the Raptors a 104-103 victory over the Celtics on Thursday, seeing the defending champions narrowly avoid falling 3-0 behind.

Toronto had a week off after sweeping the Nets in the first round of the playoffs and the start of their series with Boston, which was delayed by teams refusing to take the court in protest against racial injustice and police brutality after Jacob Blake was shot in the back several times by an officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

VanVleet felt the uncertainty of that situation coupled with the minimal challenge posed by the Nets – who were without long-term absentees Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as well as Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan after they opted out of playing in the NBA bubble – made it tough for the Raptors to start strongly in the semi-finals.

Asked why he said Toronto had experienced "a rough couple of days", VanVleet explained: "I think it's everything. With all due respect to Brooklyn, I don't think that got us ready to play at the level we needed to be ready for Game 1.

"I think the transgressions of those few days, whether we were gonna sit, whether we were gonna play, coupled with laying that egg in Game 1, that was a lot. And then we played our butts off in Game 2 and didn't come out with the win, so it's disappointing.

"We expect a lot of ourselves and so to be down 0-2, we know it wasn't over, but nobody was happy. People were p***** off, the mood wasn't great, and all we needed was one to get the juice back. A little magic, a little luck to get the momentum going on your side. Now we've got to try to tie this thing up on Saturday."

VanVleet had 25 points on 9-of-22 shooting from the field, while he was 5-of-13 from beyond the arc in Game 3.

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