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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUNNING HOT...

Paul George

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

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

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

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

Khris Middleton

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

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

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

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

Devin Booker

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

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

Kevin Durant

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

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

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

GOING COLD...

James Harden

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

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

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

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

Ben Simmons

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

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

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

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

Rudy Gobert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Clippers at Suns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terance Mann says he is "not surprised" after helping the Los Angeles Clippers overturn a 25-point deficit to eliminate the Utah Jazz en route to reaching their first Western Conference Final.

Second-year forward Mann, drafted number 46 overall in the 2019 NBA draft, posted a career-high 39 points with seven-from-10 three-pointers – five of those in the second half –  in Friday's remarkable 131-119 victory.

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

The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard and trailed the Jazz by 25 points early in the third quarter, before going on a 75-40 run to set up a showdown with the second-seeded Phoenix Suns for the right to go to the NBA Finals.

Mann averaged 7.0 points per game this season but proved the star of the show in the Clippers' famous win to earn the acclaim of his colleagues.

"You saw a complete game from a second-year player," said Paul George, who had 28 points. 

"Honestly, he single-handedly willed us back through that stretch where he just, you know, 3 after 3 to downhill attacks to defending. You know, he did it all."

Mann made five of his seven threes over a 23:36 stretch, but the game-winning performance did not come as a surprise to the 24-year-old, who was given a standing ovation by the Staples Center crowd.

"I just had to lock in and do what I had to do," he said. "They were leaving me open.

"I trust my work. When you trust your work, you trust in yourself, you're not surprised when any of this happens."

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.

A first Conference Final in their 51-year franchise history now awaits and coach Tyronn Lue wants crosstown Los Angeles Lakers to get behind the Clippers when they face the Phoenix Suns, starting this Sunday.

"Just seeing our fans and how they stayed to the end and how they were cheering, it just felt good," Lue said. "The team has been starving for success, and the fan base has been doing the same thing.

"I know the Lakers are out and there's a lot of Lakers fans here. But once the Lakers are gone, if we're not playing them, you should be cheering for the Clippers because it's all in one city. I can feel the love, and I'm very happy and proud of our guys."

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.

The Los Angeles Clippers absorbed the best shot the Utah Jazz could give them and prevailed in what Paul George called their biggest game of the season, winning 119-111 Wednesday to take a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semi-final series. 

Hours after learning star forward Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely with a knee injury, the Clippers turned to George to lead the way on the road against top-seeded Utah. 

George did everything he could, posting 37 points, 16 rebounds and five assists to put Los Angeles one win away from advancing to the conference finals. 

"He's incredible. He's special. Paul's special," said Clippers guard Reggie Jackson.

"The way that he just handled himself, he seemed calm. Tough news to receive [about Leonard] but he seemed calm. He was ready to put the team on his back and carry extra weight."

George did not try and diminish the significance of the win afterward. 

"I thought this was our toughest matchup this postseason, this was the biggest game of our season, especially being down our best player," he told TNT afterward. 

"We wish Kawhi the best and a speedy recovery, but we knew coming into this we had to play together, we had to step up, but we didn't have to [overdo] it.

"I thought everybody played their roles, we did a great job, we played collectively. We limited our turnovers, and I thought that's what was the key tonight."

Los Angeles gave the ball away only 10 times, but just as positive for them was watching the Jazz come up one short of an NBA playoff record with 17 made three-pointers in the first half but only lead by five going into the break. 

"I thought a lot of their threes were tough ones," said George. "We didn't overreact. They came out hot. The good thing about it was we were able to weather the storm.

"We came down and we attacked them on offence as well. We just took their blows, we took their punches -- we just thought they couldn't sustain that over a full 48 minutes."

They could not, whether through the Clippers' defensive efforts or a lack of focus on both ends of the court. 

"I didn't feel like the sense of urgency was there defensively at the beginning of the game," said Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. 

Whatever the reason, the Clippers now control their own destiny in the series, even without having Leonard available for the immediate future. 

"We've been talking about it all year," said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue. "We're not going to point the finger. We're not going to blame anyone.

"When things get tough, we come together. That's the kind of culture I wanted to establish here."

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.

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.

Paul George earned the praise of his coach Tyronn Lue as the Los Angeles Clippers hit back to beat the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

Having lost the opening two games in Utah – with George, the subject of vitriol from the Jazz supporters, struggling to find his best form, although he did score 27 points in Game 2 – the Clippers struck back on their home court on Saturday in a 132-106 victory.

George was decisive, scoring 31 points, converting six three-pointers, while tallying five assists and three rebounds.

His 20 points in the first half set the standard for the Clippers, who also had fellow talisman Kawhi Leonard firing on all cylinders, putting up 34 points in 38 minutes.

"Oh, we're a different team," Lue said when asked to explain the impact of George getting into his stride early on.

"We know that. It's been like that all season long. He's been great. You know, he had one bad game, whatever, but people are going to have bad games."

The Clippers will aim to level the series in Game 4 on Monday, which again takes place at Staples Center, and with Leonard and George at their best, Lue was in a bullish mood.

"With our two guys, we know that they are two of the best in the league," Lue said.

"I don't go to Mastro's [restaurant] to order the ketchup. I go to order the steak. And tonight, our guys were steak. That's what we need."

While the Clippers' stars thrived, Utah guard Donovan Mitchell endured a difficult game, with an apparent recurrence of an ankle injury that kept him out for the final 16 games of the regular season forcing an early exit from the court, though he expects to be fighting fit for Game 4.

The Los Angeles Clippers' stars came through on their return home to drive a needed 132-106 win over the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the Western Conference semi-finals on Saturday. 

Paul George posted 20 points in the first half and finished with 31, while Kawhi Leonard top-scored with 34 of his own as the Clippers led throughout and cut Utah's series lead to 2-1 in the NBA playoffs.

Donovan Mitchell had 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting from the field to lead the top-seeded Jazz, but by the time he found his offensive rhythm the game was largely out of hand in Los Angeles.

Mitchell did not score his first point until almost halfway through the second quarter. The last time he went scoreless in any quarter of a playoff game was April 14, 2019 against the Houston Rockets – a 32-point Utah loss. 

Utah kept this one a bit closer, cutting the Clippers' lead to eight points late in the third quarter, but George answered with a three-pointer and the Jazz could not get the margin below 10 from that point on. 

Among the key issues for Utah was Bojan Bogdanovic's worst performance in months. The Croatian made just two of 10 shots from the field and had nine points in the game – the first time he has been held to single digits since scoring seven in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 26. 

Meanwhile, the Clippers' supporting cast turned in an impressive showing, with Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson combining to make nine of their 12 three-point attempts and scoring 17 points each. 

Game 4 is scheduled for Monday in Los Angeles. 

 

Nets at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks can level their Eastern Conference semi-final series with the star-studded Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 on Sunday.

Donovan Mitchell produced another monster performance as the top-seeded Utah Jazz took down the Los Angeles Clippers for a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semi-finals.

After going off for 45 points in the opener, All-Star Mitchell posted 37 points to lead the Jazz to a 117-111 victory at home to the Clippers in Game 2 in the NBA playoffs on Thursday.

Mitchell was supported by fellow All-Star and newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who put up 13 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in Utah.

Utah's Mitchell is averaging 28.4 points in his playoff career, only behind LeBron James (28.7), Jerry West (29.1), Kevin Durant (29.2), Allen Iverson (29.7) and Michael Jordan (33.4).

The in-form Jazz extended their winning streak to six games – the team's longest unbeaten run in the playoffs since celebrating seven consecutive victories in 1998.

Kawhi Leonard and the fourth-ranked Clippers were looking to even the series by splitting Utah's homestand, but the visitors fell short in Game 2.

Reggie Jackson had a team-best 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting as Paul George (27 points and 10 rebounds) and Leonard (21 points) contributed.

In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Milwaukee Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3.

The Bucks had their backs against the wall after falling into a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Nets, but responded on home court in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee surrendered a 21-point lead at home to the Nets before Jrue Holiday put the Bucks ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 14 rebounds, while Khris Middleton top-scored with 35 points and 15 rebounds as Kevin Durant's buzzer-beating three-point attempt for the Nets bounced off the rim.

The Bucks are the only NBA team in the last 15 years to have two players (Antetokounmpo and Middleton) score 15-plus points in a quarter with no other team-mates posting a point (regular season or postseason), according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 68 points and 29 rebounds. Per Stats Perform, they are the first duo to combine for those numbers in a playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant's 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Nets, who were again without injured superstar James Harden (hamstring).

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers will visit the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup on Friday. The series is level at 1-1.

Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George was the subject of harsh treatment from the Utah Jazz fans on Tuesday, though he very nearly took the game to overtime.

The Jazz won Game 1 of the playoff series 112-109 in Salt Lake City, as George – in inspired form in the fourth quarter – almost propelled the visitors to a comeback.

All-Star guard George was wasteful in the earlier stages of the encounter, missing 12 of his first 14 shots, but found his aim in the final quarter, converting 13 points.

His fourth-quarter tally included seven points in the last three minutes, despite the Jazz supporters' "overrated" jeers – George had previously played for Utah's rivals Oklahoma City Thunder.

Yet with fans only just starting to come back in full capacity following the coronavirus pandemic, George had no issues with the chants, but did concede he needs to improve to help the Clippers level the series in Game 2.

"I like it," George said, as reported by ESPN. "That part doesn't get to me. It's all respect. I've had good games here and I've had bad games here.

 "That's part of this game, to be honest. The crowd's going to be involved. You want that. As an opposing player, you kind of want that.

"Fact of the matter is, I didn't shoot the ball well. I thought I was indecisive on my approach. But I will be a little bit better on taking the shots that I want."

George finished the game with 20 points in total, 10 rebounds and two assists, and acknowledged that Jazz star Rudy Gobert made life difficult for the Clippers.

"The big fella is really good at just clogging the paint up and just sitting at the rim," George said of Gobert.

"A lot of plays I was just forcing myself trying to get to the basket where he's there waiting for me. So I think just being decisive on the approach of setting up, getting the shots that I want while he's in those coverages."

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.

Paul George may have insisted it is not time to worry just yet but the Los Angeles Clippers face a critical Game 3 on the road against the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas returned home from LA with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that is a repeat of a first-round playoff clash in the NBA bubble from last season. On that occasion, the teams were locked together at 2-2 before the Clippers pulled clear to prevail.

This time around, the favoured team - though admittedly it is a meeting of the fourth and fifth seeds in the Western Conference - has plenty of work to do if they are to progress again.

Luka Doncic starred once more in a 127-121 triumph on Tuesday to help the Mavericks double their advantage, though George made clear in the aftermath that the Clippers can still dig themselves out of the early hole.

"It's a competition. We've got to rise to the occasion. The fact of the matter is if we don't, we're done for," he told the media.

"But it's no level of concern. We've just got to play our game. We've got to play through this. We've got to incorporate our defense.

"Luka's going to get his touches. We've just got to do a better job defensively of just quieting everybody else."

Doncic is certainly getting touches - the Slovenian has scored 70 points so far in the series, as well as contributing 18 assists. Now with home-court advantage, he has the chance to push Dallas' much-fancied opponents to the brink of an early elimination that will raise serious questions over their future.

With George and Kawhi Leonard paired together, the Clippers were tipped to contend in the 2019-20 season. A dramatic collapse when 3-1 up against the Denver Nuggets in the West semi-finals put paid to any title hopes, but an even earlier exit this year would be just as surprising.

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out," Leonard told the media. "Just like the regular season, you might lose two in a row and then go on a winning streak, so just having that same mentality.

"We're playing the same team; we know what they're doing. We've just got to stay focused and make sure we are keeping our eye on the prize."

A defeat in Dallas, however, and the Clippers should be seriously concerned about their predicament.

TOP PERFORMERS

Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks

In the previous series between these teams, Doncic dazzled in defeat. He averaged 31.0 points per game back then – but he is already up at 35 this time around. That number is helped by him shooting 41.7 per cent from deep, while the team itself are averaging a spectacular 50.0 per cent on their attempts from three-point range.

Paul George - Los Angeles Clippers

After averaging 23.3 points per game in the regular season, George has raised that number up to 25.5 at the start of the playoffs, despite landing just three of his 15 shots from beyond the arc. That level of production is pivotal for the Clippers, but so too is his ability to help get stops as they aim to slow Dallas' offensive production.

KEY BATTLE – TAKING AIM FROM DISTANCE

Can the Mavs remain hot from long range? Doncic was always likely to get points in the series, but the supporting cast have done an excellent job helping their star turn. Tim Hardaway Jr has been particularly impressive, averaging 24.5 points thanks to 11 made three-pointers. 

In contrast, LA have not lived up to their team average of 41.1 per cent on three in the regular season, which was the best in the league. It is not due to a lack of opportunities either, as they have had 10 more field-goal attempts than their rivals through the opening two games. 

HEAD TO HEAD

The franchises are locked together at four wins apiece when it comes to previous playoff meetings, but Dallas dominates the record in the regular season at 95-67. They won two out of three earlier in this campaign, but the solitary defeat did come at home.

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