The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks are the last two teams left standing in the Eastern Conference - but who will be going through to the NBA Finals?

While the Bucks survived a deluge of points from Kevin Durant to see off the Brooklyn Nets in a thrilling Game 7, the Hawks caused another upset as they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers on the road in a tense series decider.

There is little time for either to dwell on the past, however, as they meet in Game 1 on Wednesday at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Bucks have dominated against Atlanta, going 11-2, though a six-game winning streak came to an end on April 25 as they lost 111-104 at home in the regular season.

The Hawks have already knocked out higher seeds in both the New York Knicks and the 76ers, seeing them become just the fifth franchise since 1980 to reach the Conference Finals following a mid-season coaching change. The other four all went on to win the title, too.

Nate McMillan stepped up from his role as assistant to replace Lloyd Pierce following a 14-20 start to the season. He is now just four wins away from steering them to the NBA Finals for the first time since the franchise moved from St Louis in 1968.

Standing in the way are a Milwaukee roster who have made it this far for a second time in three years – they went 2-0 up on the Toronto Raptors in 2019, only to then lose four on the spin to the eventual champions.

While seeing off the Nets was impressive, Giannis Antetokounmpo made clear in the immediate aftermath that the focus must remain on the bigger picture, saying: "The job is not done. That's the message here and in the locker room, we've got to keep our heads in the game."

The Bucks start the series as overwhelming favourites, but the Hawks have shown they have no issues playing the role of dangerous underdogs during a postseason that has already thrown up plenty of surprises.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Khris Middleton 

Antetokounmpo became just the fifth player in NBA history to reach 40 points and have 10 or more rebounds in a Game 7, but it was by no means a one-man show in the battle against Brooklyn.

Middleton is averaging 23.3 points per game during the playoffs, a number boosted by scoring 38 in Game 6 against Brooklyn to help get Milwaukee back on level terms. He is also set to be part of the Team USA roster for this year's Olympic Games in Tokyo, alongside fellow Buck Jrue Holiday.

Atlanta Hawks - Kevin Huerter

Trae Young is undoubtedly the lead act for Atlanta, but Huerter stole the show in Game 7 in Philadelphia. 'Red Velvet' smoothly managed a team-high 27 points – his best performance in the postseason so far – as he went 10 for 18 shooting.

He had been shut out in Game 5 yet rediscovered his scoring touch when it mattered to help the Hawks progress, raising his postseason average to 11.6 points per outing.

KEY BATTLE – Young v Holiday in PG match-up

Both Young and Holiday had Game 7 outings to forget, despite their respective teams coming out on top. The former finished with 21 points but landed just five of his 23 shot attempts from the field, with two of those successful efforts coming from long range.

Still, the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft is averaging 29.1 points per game in these playoffs, making him the focus for the Bucks on defense. Holiday could well be charged with keeping quiet one of the frontrunners to be crowned the MVP of the playoffs.

HEAD TO HEAD

There is nothing to split the teams in terms of playoff meetings – they have each won 11 apiece. The most recent series came in the first round in 2010, with the Hawks coming out on top in Game 7 having at one stage been 3-2 in arrears.

Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan praised forward Kevin Huerter for his remarkable performance in the side's 103-96 Game 7 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

Huerter stepped up to score a team-high 27 points, while Trae Young erred with his shooting, as the Hawks booked a spot in the Eastern Conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 22-year-old had struggled for impact in the series but shone in the decider, shooting 10-from-18 from the field, including two three-pointers, with three assists and a steal.

"Kevin came out tonight and was very aggressive," McMillan said.

"We pretty much fed the hot hand. Our guards, Trae and Lou [Williams], did a good job of calling the game and keeping Kevin involved.

"He did a great job of making plays for us tonight. We needed that. He came through. He really struggled last game shooting the ball but we believe in him.

"We wanted those guys to stay aggressive. No hesitation. Tonight he came up big for us."

Young put up his worst display of the series in Game 7, only managing five-from-23 from the field, shooting at 21.7 per cent.

McMillan felt Young still contributed, ending with 10 assists but also hailed a side which does not rely on one player.

"Trusting in other guys and trusting in our game plan," he said. "Trae, we wanted him to be aggressive. His shot wasn’t falling but he got the ball to some other guys and they were able to make some plays.

"Kevin led us tonight. Galo [Daniro Gallinari] did a good job tonight. John Collins continues to be consistent. I thought Clint [Capela] did an outstanding job of guarding Embiid.

"It was a team effort. One guy didn’t shoot the ball well, but other guys we trusted. They came through for us."

The Hawks will take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the Conference finals starting on Wednesday.

"Giannis is a great player, two-time MVP," McMillan said. "We know what Milwaukee is all about, that's a really good team.

"Our focus has been on Philadelphia and right now we'll go enjoy this and we'll start preparing for Milwaukee tomorrow."

Doc Rivers said he is unsure whether Ben Simmons can play point guard on a championship team as the Philadelphia 76ers head coach casted doubt over the embattled All-Star's future following Sunday's NBA playoff exit.

Simmons and the 76ers were subjected to boos following their shock 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, who won Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

After another failed run at a first NBA title since 1983, Simmons was particularly in the firing line having attempted just four shots for five points in the series decider, while tallying 13 assists and eight rebounds.

The debate around Simmons – an elite defender and creator – centres on his offense or lack thereof, with the 76ers often handicapped by his unwillingness to shoot.

Asked if he thought Simmons could be a guard on a championship team, Rivers told reporters post-game: "I don't know the answer to that right now.

"I don't know. He struggled from the free throw line and that became a factor in the series. There's no doubt about that. Still believe in him.

"But, we have work to do. We're gonna have to get in the gym, put a lot of work in, and go from there."

It remains to be seen whether Simmons – who had at least eight assists in a half for the third time in his career, the most such performances by a 76ers player since 1996-97 – will still be in Philadelphia for the 2021-22 season.

Simmons was reportedly at the centre of trade talks in January as the 76ers tried to acquire James Harden from the Houston Rockets before Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets prised the former MVP to the Barclays Center.

Booed by 76ers fans, with videos circulating on social media of some supporters burning Simmons jerseys, the Australian said: "I love being in Philly. I love this organisation.

"The fans are great, great people. I had a bad series. I expect that. It's Philly."

Philadelphia team-mate Joel Embiid (31 points and 11 rebounds) also appeared to aim a jab at Simmons following the postseason elimination.

Simmons passed on a wide-open dunk during the closing stages against the Hawks, instead passing to Matisse Thybulle – who was fouled and made just one of the two free throws.

"I'll be honest," MVP runner-up Embiid said. "I thought the turning point was when we—I don't know how to say it—but I thought the turning point was just we had an open shot and we made one free throw.

"We didn't get a good possession on the other end and Trae [Young] came back and he made a three and then from there down four, it's on me. I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point."

Asked whether he would like to see the 76ers run it back next season, Embiid replied: "That's a tricky question".

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Clippers at Suns

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

Joel Embiid said the Philadelphia 76ers' ball movement was the key to avoiding another late collapse and elimination from the NBA playoffs after the top seeds beat the Atlanta Hawks 104-99.

The 76ers let slip double-digit leads late in both Game 4 and 5, but held their nerve in Game 6 on Friday to force a series decider in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, despite pressure from the Hawks and All-Star guard Trae Young – who finished with a game-high 34 points.

MVP runner-up Embiid was important for Philadelphia down the stretch, with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while 76ers team-mates Tobias Harris and Seth Curry both scored 24 points.

The 76ers rallied behind a 12-0 run early in the third quarter, eventually winning by five points to force a decider in Philadelphia on Sunday.

"There was a bunch of stuff, we moved the ball a little better," Embiid told reporters in a media conference after the game when asked what was different in Game 6.

"In Game 5 the rhythm was messed up because they kept fouling. In those situations when you lose your rhythm, it's on me to figure it out too… you're not getting possession offensively and you need to play defense, you don't get to share the ball, tonight we just moved the ball.

"Whether it was Ben [Simmons] when he came back in with two minutes left, Tyrese [Maxey] at the point, Tobias, as a team everybody did their job."

Two years ago, Philadelphia's Conference semi-final series against the Toronto Raptors went to a decider, eventually losing Game 7 by two points on the road in a significant moment in Embiid's career reminiscent of Sunday's upcoming game.

"This time around it's at home," Embiid said. "That's why we worked so hard this year, to get that home court advantage."

He added: "I know we blew that lead last home game, which we should never have done. Tonight we kept telling each other, 48 minutes, we've gotta be focused for 48 minutes. That's what we have to do."

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers was expressive post-game when he spoke to Embiid and later explained what he said to his star center.

"I told him 'we'd win'. I said 'I told you'. I kept saying that," Rivers told the reporters via a post-game video conference.

"These guys are young, they need to believe that. I don’t know if they did or didn't. I thought they did, you can tell in the way they played.

"But we have another game. It was more about getting his head ready for the next game. That's what I talked about. I said 'I told you, but we're not done'. and we're not."

Rivers earned his 98th career playoff victory, tying former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan for the sixth-most postseason wins in NBA history.

Philadelphia's Rivers added he felt his side handled the early pressure from the Hawks and saw out the win strongly after their recent late fades.

"They just hung in there," Rivers said. "You lose two leads, the lead the other night was such a tough loss.

"For them to jump on us, honestly I anticipated that, I believed if we could weather the storm a lot of energy would be spent. From that point on, we controlled the game."

The Los Angeles Clippers overturned a 25-point deficit to sensationally eliminate the Utah Jazz en route to their first Western Conference Final, stunning the top seeds 131-119 on Friday.

Despite the absence of star Kawhi Leonard and a large third-quarter deficit against the Jazz, the Clipper produced a miraculous comeback to advance to a Conference Final for the first time in the franchise's 51-year history.

The Clippers had trailed 2-0 in the NBA playoff series but rallied to close out the second-round matchup 4-2 against the side with the best regular-season record in 2020-21 as the Phoenix Suns await, starting on Sunday.

Seeded fourth, the Clippers – who also rallied from 2-0 down against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, having squandered a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets' in last season's Western Conference semi-finals, were fuelled by Terance Mann.

Terance Mann posted a career-high 39 points with seven-from-10 three-pointers, including five in the second half.

Mann had never scored more than 25 points in an NBA game previously. According to Stats Perform, the last player to have 14-plus points in a playoff game than his previous career high was Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in his NBA-record 63-point game in 1986.

Paul George was outstanding with 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while Reggie Jackson finished with 27 points and 10 assists to guide the Clippers.

It was a disappointing end for the Jazz, who were excellent throughout the regular season and had started strongly in Game 6, leading 72-50 at half-time.

Donovan Mitchell scored 39 points, with nine rebounds and nine assists for Utah as the Jazz became the first team in NBA history to win a postseason clash by double digits after trailing by 20-plus points at half-time, per Stats Perform.

Earlier on Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers responded after letting big leads slip in Game 4 and 5 to force an Eastern Conference semi-final decider with a 104-99 win away to the Atlanta Hawks.

Seth Curry, who made six of his nine three-point attempts, and Tobias Harris both scored 24 points for the top-seeded 76ers – who levelled the second-round series at 3-3, forcing a Game 7 in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Atlanta had started strong to compound the pressure on the 76ers, but Philadelphia withstood the early storm, with a 12-0 run after half-time before holding their nerve in the last quarter.

All-Star and MVP runner-up Joel Embiid finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while rookie Tyrese Maxey had an influential final quarter, scoring 16 points for the game, after Ben Simmons was benched plagued by his shooting woes.

Hawks All-Star Trae Young had a game-high 34 points, shooting five-from-10 from three-point range, along with 12 assists, five rebounds and three steals.

 

Bucks at Nets

The gripping Eastern Conference semi-final series between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks will be decided at Barclays Center on Saturday. Hosts the Nets will be missing Kyrie Irving due to an ankle injury as James Harden battles for mobility after re-injuring his hamstring in Game 1.

After trailing nearly the entire game, the Atlanta Hawks completed a staggering comeback to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 109-106 and take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semi-final series. 

Hawks star Trae Young led all scorers with 39 points and added seven assists, making 17 of 19 from the free-throw line to offset a 10-of-23 showing from the field. 

Though Atlanta trailed by 22 with one minute remaining in the third quarter, the Hawks shot their way back into the game as just about every 76ers player but Seth Curry went cold in the final quarter. 

Philadelphia still led by 10 after Ben Simmons made a pair of free throws with 4:23 to play, but the 76ers made only one shot the rest of the game -- a meaningless jumper from Curry just before the buzzer. 

In between, they came up empty on all six attempts from the field and Simmons and Joel Embiid missed two free throws each. 

Embiid finished with 37 points and 13 rebounds, while Curry scored 36 as they were the only two 76ers to score from the field in the second half.

According to Stats Perform, this is the first time in the last 15 postseasons two players have made all of their team's baskets in one half. 

A second-half rally was also on the cards in Salt Lake City as the Los Angeles Clippers withstood an early onslaught of three-pointers from the Utah Jazz and returned home with a 119-111 victory and a 3-2 series lead. 

Bojan Bogdanovic made six three-pointers in the opening quarter and Utah had 17 threes in the first half, one shy of the NBA record for the most in any half of a playoff game, to give the Jazz a 65-60 advantage at the break. 

But the Clippers, playing without the injured Kawhi Leonard, out-scored the Jazz 32-18 in the third quarter and held on for the win as Paul George scored 37 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. 

Marcus Morris added 25 points and Reggie Jackson 22 for the Clippers, who can close out the series at home on Friday. 

Bogdanovic finished with 32 points and Donovan Mitchell 21 for Utah, though Mitchell made only six of 19 shots from the field.

Utah made just three of 24 three-pointers in the second half. 

 

Nets at Bucks

The Brooklyn Nets will look to close out their Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks as they take a 3-2 lead into Game 6.

Trae Young says the Atlanta Hawks have taken an "underdog mentality" into their series against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, and their approach certainly seems to be working. 

The Hawks mounted an impressive comeback for the second consecutive game to stun the Sixers 109-106 in Philadelphia on Wednesday and take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semi-final series. 

Trailing by as many as 26 points in the third quarter in Game 5 after fighting back from 18 down to win Game 4, the Hawks never think they are out of a game. 

"You talk about an underdog -- for a team that has no All-Stars, no All-Defensive players, no All-NBA players, this team is fighting," said Young, who led all scorers with 39 points. 

"We're in the second round of the playoffs and I think we've just had that chip on our shoulder all year. ... We're playing with that underdog mentality."

A year after finishing at 20-47, the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks are now one win away from a spot in the conference finals. 

"We haven't finished the job yet. We've still got one more game we've got to do," said Young. 

"Thankfully we're going back home playing in front of our fans and on our court. It's going to be fun."

Added Atlanta's interim head coach Nate McMillan, who replaced the fired Lloyd Pierce on March 1: "If you don't believe, you better believe now." 

On the other side, the 76ers were trying to maintain their belief after a second consecutive disappointment. 

Ben Simmons told reporters he believed the team got "too comfortable" with their second-half lead and slowed the game down too much. 

"We weren't pushing the ball as much, weren't moving as much. We've got to be consistent," he said.

"Even if we do get that lead, we can't be happy with that. We've got to keep going, we've got to act like the game's 0-0."

Still, Simmons said, the 76ers know the series is far from over. 

This one stings, this one hurts, but we've got to do our job and get the win in Atlanta," he said. 

"We're obviously capable of doing that; we know what we're capable of as a team. We've just got to go do it."

The Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks are locked together at 2-2 in the NBA playoffs as their battle to reach the Eastern Conference Finals continues on Wednesday.

After losing the opener at home, the 76ers appeared to assume control by taking the next two games to forge ahead.

However, with Joel Embiid enduring a second half to forget, the Hawks hit back on Monday, a 103-100 triumph leaving the situation delicately poised as the series switches back to Philadelphia for Game 5.

For a franchise linked with the catchphrase "trust the process", the key for the 76ers – who are the top seeds in the East – is believing in each other, according to head coach Doc Rivers.

Asked for the reason behind his team's loss in Atlanta, he said: "We stopped passing. I thought we started the game that way, then got back into ball movement, then went to hero basketball.

"Basically, everybody wanted to be the hero, rather than trusting the team and trusting each other.

"If you do that, you usually lose, especially when the other team outworks you the whole game, and that's what they did."

Embiid – a player who arrived via the draft amid a patient rebuild that prioritised long-term planning over immediate results – endured a difficult outing in Atalanta, going 4-for-20 as he missed all 12 of his shots in the second half. That run included an unsuccessful lay-up in the closing seconds that would have put his team ahead.

Bothered by a knee injury suffered in the opening round against the Washington Wizards, Embiid saw his offensive production drop dramatically.

A temporary blip or a greater cause for concern? Only time will tell, but the 76ers will not want to fall behind knowing they have to travel to Atlanta for Game 6.


PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Tobias Harris – Philadelphia 76ers

Harris is averaging 23.2 points per game in the playoffs, easily a career high. He is shooting at 40 per cent from deep too, becoming a consistent contributor for his team on offense. However, with Embiid not at full power, the 28-year-old may have to ease the strain on his ailing team-mate by taking on an even greater workload.

Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks

Young created NBA history in Game 4, becoming the youngest player to have 18 or more assists in a postseason game. He also scored 25 points, with his fifth double-double of the playoffs demonstrating his importance to this Hawks outfit. No individual had managed both 25 points and 18 assists in a playoff outing since Tim Hardaway back in May 1991.

KEY BATTLE – Embiid against his ailing knee

"I'm just trying to do the best I can," Embiid said when talking to the media after Game 4. The center – runner-up to fellow big Nikola Jokic in the MVP race – is having to deal with a partially torn meniscus at just the wrong time in the season.

He sat out Game 5 against the Wizards as the 76ers sealed a semi-final spot, but with this series so delicately balanced there is little time to take a break.

The Hawks, who have won only three of 24 best-of-seven series in which they found themselves 2-1 down – will sense the chance to strike on the road as they aim to reach the Conference Finals for the first time since 2015.

HEAD TO HEAD

This is the third playoff series between the teams, with the 76ers progressing in both 1980 and 1982. They also won two of the three meeting in the regular season, though the Hawks have already prevailed once in this series in Philadelphia.

Joel Embiid said he was bothered by his knee problem after struggling on the floor as the Philadelphia 76ers squandered a lead in their 103-100 loss against the Atlanta Hawks.

Embiid appeared to be hampered by the meniscus strain he sustained in the Eastern Conference first-round win over the Washington Wizards, missing a close-range layup 8.8 seconds from the end with the 76ers trailing the Hawks 101-100 on Monday.

NBA MVP runner-up Embiid went 0-for-12 shooting the second half, having spent some time in the locker room, as the Hawks – overturning an 18-point lead – rallied past the top-seeded 76ers to level the Eastern Conference semi-final matchup.

Embiid, who finished with 17 points and a playoff career-high 21 rebounds, told reporters post-game: "Great look. Great look. I just didn't have the lift.

"Thought I got fouled, too. But usually I would go up, especially for a bucket like that, try to dunk it.

"Try to get fouled and get an and-one. But ... not being able to jump for obvious reasons. ... It's tough."

Philadelphia's Embiid sustained a small meniscus tear in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Wizards, returning for the semi-final opener with the fifth-seeded Hawks.

"I guess it's already known," Embiid – the first Sixers player to have 20 or more rebounds in a postseason game since Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo in 2001 – said. "Don't need to explain ... I'm just trying to do the best I can.

"I thought in the beginning of the game, when I went back to the locker room, I just felt like I didn't have it tonight," added Embiid, who became the eighth 76ers player ever with at least 20 career double-doubles in the playoffs.

 

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard led the way as the Los Angeles Clippers topped the Utah Jazz 118-104 in Game 4 to level the Western Conference semi-final series.

George and Leonard posted 31 points each to lead the fourth-seeded Clippers past the Jazz in Los Angeles on Monday.

Entering the contest, George and Leonard were the only pair of Clippers team-mates to score 30-plus points in the same playoff game more than once (Game 3 and Game 5 of the first round in 2020).

George and Leonard combined again to see off the top-ranked Jazz – a win fuelled by a 30-13 blowout in the opening quarter at Staples Center.

Marcus Morris Sr. was the only other Clippers player with double-digit points as the Phoenix Suns await the winner of this series in the Western Conference Finals.

The Jazz – who had their six-game winning streak snapped in Game 3, a run which tied the second longest in franchise history – were led by Donovan Mitchell's game-high 37 points on the road.

Game 5 of the series will be held in Utah on Wednesday, with the Jazz seeking to reclaim the lead.

Trae Young was the inspiration behind the Atlanta Hawks' series-tying 103-100 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

After a cold start, Young finished with 25 points to lead the Hawks' rally as Atlanta upstaged the top-seeded 76ers in Game 4 at home.

The 76ers blew an 18-point lead and the series advantage, with the matchup now deadlock at 2-2 following Young's performance.

Young became the first player to record at least 25 points and 18 assists in a playoff game since Tim Hardaway in 1991, while the all-Star is the youngest player in NBA history to have 18-plus assists in a postseason contest – surpassing Spud Webb (1986).

He also became the first Hawks player with 15-plus points and 15-plus assists in a playoff game since Doc Rivers – now head coach of the 76ers – tallied 16 points and 18 assists in 1988.

John Collins (14 points and 12 rebounds) and Clint Capela (12 points and 13 rebounds) added double-doubles, while Bogdan Bogdanovic contributed 22 points.

Joel Embiid – who looked far from his best after going 0-for-12 shooting in the second half – missed an open lay-up in the dying stages, before Seth Curry's unsuccessful buzzer-beating three-point attempt to force overtime.

Embiid, appearing to be hampered by his ongoing meniscus issue, had a playoff career-high 21 rebounds to go with 17 points.

The series heads back to Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for Game 5 midweek.

 

Bucks at Nets

The Brooklyn Nets will be without Kyrie Irving and James Harden for Tuesday's visit of the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which is level at 2-2.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers slammed his side for playing "hero basketball" as the Eastern Conference top seeds surrendered their lead against the Atlanta Hawks in the semi-finals.

The 76ers squandered a 13-point advantage in Atlanta, where the Hawks rallied to a 103-100 victory in Game 4 in the NBA playoffs on Monday.

Atlanta levelled the second-round matchup at 2-2 after 76ers All-Star and MVP finalist Joel Embiid missed an open lay-up in the dying stages, before Seth Curry's unsuccessful buzzer-beating three-point attempt to force overtime.

The 76ers saw their lead whittled away as the Hawks overpowered the visitors, irritating Rivers post-game.

"We stopped passing. I thought we started the game off that way," Rivers told reporters. "Then we got back into the ball movement and went back to hero basketball. Basically everybody wanted to be the hero instead of trusting the team, trusting each other.

"When you do that you usually lose especially when the other team outworks you the whole f****** game and that's what they did today."

Embiid, who has been battling knee issues during the playoffs, finished with 17 points and a playoff career-high 21 rebounds, yet appeared hampered.

Philadelphia's Embiid sustained a small meniscus tear in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Washington Wizards, returning for the semi-final opener with the fifth-seeded Hawks.

Rivers was unable to provide an update on Embiid's injury status.

"I don't know. He went in the back [to the locker room]," Rivers said. "I know something was bothering him but I'm not sure what it was."

Rivers refused to criticise Embiid for his late miss at 101-100, nor his side's final play for Curry's tough shot on the buzzer.

"To me the game should never have come to that point," Rivers said. "We missed so many opportunities. My eyes told me we blew a golden opportunity tonight."

On the final play, Rivers added: "It's seven seconds, you've got to go the length of the floor.

"That's what we drew up but anybody could have been open. We got a decent shot, Seth had a decent look, thought he'd made it."

Rivers felt the Hawks were the "more physical and tougher team".

The two sides meet again in Game 5 in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

The Phoenix Suns moved 3-0 up in their Conference semi-final series with a 116-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets despite MVP Nikola Jokic's triple-double on Friday.

Veteran Suns guard Chris Paul was exceptional with 27 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals to spark Monty Williams' side.

Young shooting guard Devin Booker scored a team-high 28 points, while center Deandre Ayton had 15 rebounds along with his 10 points.

Jae Crowder shot four-from-six beyond the arc, adding 14 points for the Suns, who opened up a 10-point lead at quarter-time and were never headed.

Denver center Jokic finished with 32 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists, while Monte Morris came off the bench to add 21 points. But they lacked support with Jamal Murray out with long-term injury.

Michael Porter Jr was below his best with 15 points for the game, shooting at 38.3 per cent from the field.

The Suns are one win away from securing their spot in the Western Conference finals where they will face either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

Joel Embiid starred as the Philadelphia 76ers claimed a 2-1 lead in their Conference semi-final series with a road win over the Atlanta Hawks 127-111.

Embiid finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, helping the Sixers run away with the game in the third quarter when they outscored the Hawks by 15.

Atlanta's Trae Young scored 28 points and had eight assists but was quelled by the Philadelphia defence led by Ben Simmons, with the Hawks guard shooting at 52.9 per cent from the field.

Simmons scored 18 points, with four rebounds, one steal and seven assists - including a spectacular lobbed pass for an Embiid dunk - while Tobias Harris added 22 points shooting at 62.5 per cent from the field, with eight rebounds and five assists.

The 76ers led by five points at half-time but blew away the Hawks with a 34-19 third quarter and controlled the better part of the second half.

In theory, the Milwaukee Bucks appeared to be the biggest obstacle on the Brooklyn Nets' path to an NBA championship.

To stand a chance of winning a seven-game series against the NBA’s premier trio of team-mates – Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving – you've got to be able to score points, and a whole lot of them.

Despite a recurring run of injuries that often rendered their Big Three to a Big Two – or many times a lonely One – the Nets were a remarkable 27-2 when allowing 112 or fewer points in a game during a regular season which they finished as a de facto 1A to the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

The true magic number when it comes to facing Brooklyn, however, is 120, as the Nets were a pedestrian 8-13 when opponents scored above that mark. So, how many teams averaged 120 points per game this season?

Just one, as a matter of fact. That would be the Bucks.

And what team had the most games this season totalling 120 or more points? Again, the answer is Milwaukee, whose 39 games hitting the mark was six more than the next closest competitor – which, you guessed it, would be the Nets.

Well, after two games of the most anticipated series of this year's conference semifinals, Brooklyn's perceived greatest threat had offered no challenge whatsoever.

After comfortably winning Game 1, even with Harden playing a mere 43 seconds after aggravating a previous hamstring injury, the Nets unequivocally justified their status as the favourites to claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy with a 125-86 Game 2 thrashing that came with Harden cheering on his fellow well-paid team-mates in street clothes.

In hindsight, those results were ones we maybe could have seen coming. Sure, the Bucks effortlessly disposed of the reigning East champion Miami Heat with a first-round sweep, but it came without their offense performing at its usually potent level.

Milwaukee shot just 32.7 per cent from three-point range for the series, well below their 38.9 per cent success rate for the season, and they had at least 15 turnovers in three of the wins. The Bucks advanced mostly on good defense, coupled with an unquestionably abysmal shooting performance from the Heat over the four games.

In the Brooklyn series, the Bucks haven't been able to hit water from a boat, going into Game 3, having shot a paltry 24.6 per cent from beyond the arc over the first two clashes.

The early stages of the series also exposed Milwaukee's greatest weakness during what was otherwise another splendid regular season under Mike Budenholzer – an inability to adequately defend the three. The Bucks permitted opponents to make 38.4 per cent of their trey attempts over the 72-game schedule, with only the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves yielding a higher percentage.

Against a locked-in team like the Nets, that can be – and has been – a recipe for disaster. The first team in league history to make 15 or more three-pointers in six straight games during a single postseason, Brooklyn have connected at an incredible 43 per cent rate from long distance so far in these playoffs, going into Thursday evening's third clash with the Bucks.

If the Nets could even come close to keeping that pace the rest of the way, that likely spells doom for the rest of the NBA. The three-point shot has been a strong indicator of success in this postseason, as teams have won at a 70 per cent clip (35-15) when recording a higher three-point percentage than their opponents and are 25-7 when hitting 15 or more triples in a game.

Moreover, teams that have shot better than 40 per cent from three-point range are 24-5 this postseason, and the five teams that lost each faced an opponent that also eclipsed the 40 per cent mark in that game.

So, assuming the Nets don't do the unthinkable and somehow lose this series, is it a fait accompli they'll represent the East in the Finals?

They did lose two of their three match-ups with the 76ers during the regular season, though it's hard to put much stock in those outcomes considering Brooklyn were without at least two of Durant, Harden and Irving in all of those games.

Philadelphia getting past the upstart Atlanta Hawks cannot be considered an absolute given either, but the Sixers will provide an interesting test provided they do get past their pesky second-round foes.

They have the lowest ratio of three-point attempts to total field-goal attempts of any of the eight remaining teams, not too surprising for an offense centred around MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and the perimeter-averse Ben Simmons. But while the Sixers generally aren't bombing away with the same frequency as those still left standing, it could be argued that outside shooting may be the single biggest factor in determining how far they ultimately go this summer.

Next to Embiid's ever-present fitness concerns, Seth Curry might just be the X-factor when it comes to determining whether the 76ers can end a 20-year Finals absence. When Curry is going well and Embiid is healthy, Philadelphia are awfully difficult to beat. And Steph's little brother is certainly doing just that right now, having averaged 24 points while shooting 61.9 per cent (13 of 19) from three-point range over his last three games.

The 76ers went 20-3 during the regular season when Curry made three or more three-pointers in a game, and they've hit the all-important 120-point mark in five of their seven playoff games thus far. If it comes to fruition, a Philly-Brooklyn match-up in the East Finals would surely be a treat.

As for the West, the Clippers could represent the most imposing roadblock to the Nets' first NBA title in franchise history – on paper, at least. No team shot above the coveted 40 per cent standard from three-point range more times during the regular season than Tyronn Lue's group, whose 42 such games were seven more than the team second on that list (again, the Nets). The Clippers also led the league in three-point percentage at 41.1 per cent.

There's no questioning the Clippers' talent and depth. Trust, however, is another matter. This is largely the same cast that famously blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in last year’s West semifinals, and they couldn't hold on to a 13-point half-time advantage in losing Tuesday's series opener to a Utah team playing without starting point guard Mike Conley.

History isn't on the Clippers' side either, as they've never advanced past the conference semis in eight previous tries.

And what about the Jazz, for that matter? Utah may not possess the Nets' overall star power and haven't displayed the same level of recent dominance as their potential Finals foes, but they did lead the league in wins this season, are capable of shooting their way out of any deficit and haven't lost a game when Donovan Mitchell has taken the court since April.

That is only a seven-game winning streak since Mitchell missed over a month with a sprained ankle, but has there been a better postseason performer than Utah's All-Star guard over the last two years?

In 12 playoff games over that period, Mitchell has averaged 34.4 points on 50.6 per cent shooting, and a 45-point masterpiece against the Clippers on Tuesday was his fourth outing with at least 44 points during that stretch.

Of course, superlative individual efforts don't always coincide with championship glory. Just ask Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.

Donovan Mitchell starred and Rudy Gobert produced a game-clinching block as the Utah Jazz drew first blood against the Los Angeles Lakers in their Western Conference semi-final opener.

Mitchell dropped 32 of his 45 points in the second half to guide the top-seeded Jazz to a thrilling 112-109 win at home to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 on Tuesday.

Fellow All-Star Gobert – who finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds – came up big at the death, denying Marcus Morris Sr. and his potential game-winning three-pointer.

Kawhi Leonard (23 points) and Paul George (20 points and 10 rebounds) were unable to lift the fourth-seeded Clippers in Utah.

Earlier in the day, a disappointed Joel Embiid had a point to prove as he fuelled the Philadelphia 76ers' 118-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2.

Embiid's MVP hopes were dashed by Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who was crowned the league's Most Valuable Player on Tuesday.

Already frustrated following a shock loss to the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semi-final opener, Embiid came out and scored 40 points with 13 rebounds to help level the series.

Embiid became the first 76ers player with 40 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game since Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham in 1970, while his postseason career-high points haul saw him become the first Philadelphia player with 40-plus points in a playoff contest since Hall of Famer Allen Iverson in 2003.

Tobias Harris chipped in with 22 points, six rebounds and four assists for the 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, where he had 16 first-quarter points on eight-for-nine shooting.

It was not all smooth sailing after a fast start as Philadelphia squandered a 21-point advantage – Trae Young's pair of free throws giving Atlanta their first lead in the third quarter, 80-79.

But Shake Milton – who did not play in the first half – stepped up to the plate, scoring 14 points to help withstand Young (21 points and 11 assists) and visiting the Hawks.

 

Nuggets at Suns

In the only game on Wednesday, the second-seeded Phoenix Suns will look to claim a 2-0 lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference second round.

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