NBA

Nets clinch playoff berth and Lillard fuels Blazers as Doncic dominates Warriors

By Sports Desk April 27, 2021

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets clinched a place in the NBA playoffs after rallying past the lowly Toronto Raptors 116-103.

Nets superstar Kevin Durant posted 17 points – including seven in the fourth quarter – and 10 rebounds, while team-mate Jeff Green had 22 points as Brooklyn became the first team in the Eastern Conference to secure a postseason berth on Tuesday.

The Nets trailed 90-84 early in the final period but used a 16-2 run to seize control, with Durant sealing the result with a three-pointer less than two minutes from the end in Tampa, Florida.

Brooklyn (42-20) – riding a three-game winning streak – are one and a half games clear of the Philadelphia 76ers (40-21) in the east.

Damian Lillard reached a career milestone and Anfernee Simons made his first nine three-point attempts as the Portland Trail Blazers snapped a five-game losing streak with a 133-112 rout of the Indiana Pacers.

Simons became the first NBA player to open with nine in a row from beyond the arc since Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors hit 10 straight to start a January 2019 game. 

Portland's Simons did miss his final three-point attempt but still led the Trail Blazers (33-28) with 27 points off the bench as the team made 20 three-pointers overall. 

Lillard (23 points) hit only six of 14 from the field, but one of those shots was significant. His third of four three-pointers gave him 2,000 for his career, making him the 10th player in history to hit that mark. 

The All-Star achieved the feat in his 670th career game, second only to Stephen Curry's 597 among that group.

 

Doncic, Mavericks run away from Warriors

A meeting of NBA superstars fizzled as Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks roared past Curry and the Warriors in the first half on the way to a 133-103 blowout. Doncic had 39 points in only 28 minutes, adding eight assists and six rebounds to outplay Curry (27 points, two assists). Golden State led 12-11 early in the game, but Dallas scored the next 28 points to put it out of reach early. The Mavericks' 28-0 run was the longest since the New York Knicks did the same to the Raptors in November 2017. 

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo did it all for the Milwaukee Bucks, posting 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in a 114-104 win against the Charlotte Hornets.

The Oklahoma City Thunder avoided unwanted history, snapping a 14-game skid by upstaging the Boston Celtics 119-115. A 15th consecutive loss would have set a franchise record for the Thunder, who were led by Luguentz Dort (24 points) and Darius Bazley (21 points and 10 rebounds). Jaylen Brown had 39 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics.

 

Celtics crumble again

The Celtics fell to their third successive defeat as they try to avoid the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. Boston made only 19 of 55 shots from the field (34.5 per cent). The home loss dropped the Celtics (32-30) into a tie with the Miami Heat for sixth place. While Boston hold the tie-breaker advantage for now, the teams will face each other twice in the final five games of the season.

While the Nets clinched, Kyrie Irving struggled. The All-Star was just three-for-13 shooting, making just one of five three-pointers for nine points in 35 minutes.

 

Towns gets style points for Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns led the Minnesota Timberwolves to their third win in a row with 31 points in a 114-107 victory over the Houston Rockets highlighted by a breakaway jam.

 

Tuesday's results

Oklahoma City Thunder 119-115 Boston Celtics
Milwaukee Bucks 114-104 Charlotte Hornets
Portland Trail Blazers 133-112 Indiana Pacers
Brooklyn Nets 116-103 Toronto Raptors
Minnesota Timberwolves 114-107 Houston Rockets
Dallas Mavericks 133-103 Golden State Warriors

 

Clippers at Suns

Two of the top three teams in the Western Conference meet on Wednesday as Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers (43-20) face Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns (43-18).

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    Lionel Messi "completely deserved" his record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, according to Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

    The PSG star has endured something of a slow start to the Ligue 1 season, scoring just once in seven games, but his prior exploits with Barcelona and Argentina were enough to secure another accolade.

    The 34-year-old's performances for Argentina at the Copa America, helping his country to a first major trophy in 28 years, were likely what gave him the edge over Robert Lewandowski.

    Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski, who Messi claimed should have been awarded the cancelled 2020 Ballon d'Or, was once again in the running after breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

    But Pochettino insists his Argentinian compatriot was the most deserving of the award for yet another outstanding year in which he has also managed 32 goals and 12 assists across 40 club appearances.

    "Firstly, I want to publicly congratulate Leo and his family," Pochettino told reporters at Tuesday's pre-match news conference ahead of the visit of Nice. 

    "Winning seven Ballons d'Or is an extraordinary achievement. I hope he takes advantage of it and that it's the first day to work on getting the eighth.

    "To have players with six and seven Ballon d'Or is something extraordinary and we are delighted to have him here every day. 

    "We hope at the end of the year to also have collective trophies beyond the individual trophies."

    Asked about the criticism of the Argentina international's victory, Pochettino responded: "Messi completely deserved it and there is no debate. 

    "Of course, in other countries there may be criticism, but he completely deserved it."

    Ahead of Wednesday's clash with Nice, PSG lead Ligue 1 by 12 points after winning 13 of their opening 15 games, a total surpassed only once at this stage in the competition by PSG themselves in 2018-19 (14/15).

    The league leaders may be without Messi for the clash at Parc des Princes, though, after the former Barcelona forward, along with Leandro Paredes, did not train on Tuesday due to a stomach bug.

    PSG will decide on the fitness of the pair on the morning of the Nice game, while they will definitely be without Neymar, who is expected to be out for six to eight weeks due to an ankle injury sustained against Saint-Etienne.

  • Ballon d'Or: Ancelotti congratulates Messi and tips Benzema for future success Ballon d'Or: Ancelotti congratulates Messi and tips Benzema for future success

    Karim Benzema will be extra motivated to win the 2022 Ballon d'Or after finishing fourth in this year's voting, according to Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

    The 33-year-old has scored 34 goals for Madrid this calendar year and was recalled to the France squad in May after a six-year exile.

    Benzema's combined 46 goals and assists in 2021 has been bettered only by Erling Haaland (48), Kylian Mbappe (51) and Robert Lewandowski (59) from Europe's top five leagues when taking all club competitions into account.

    The Madrid striker finished behind Euro 2020 winner Jorginho, Lewandowski and record seven-time winner Lionel Messi at Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony, with N'Golo Kante completing the top five.

    Benzema's Madrid team-mate Toni Kroos has argued the Frenchman did more than Paris Saint-Germain star Messi this year to win the award.

    But Ancelotti accepts the decision, determined by journalists from across the world, and insists Benzema will not be fazed by finishing outside the top three.

    "We have to give fair value to the classification," he said at a news conference previewing Wednesday's LaLiga contest with Athletic Bilbao.

    "Messi has won and we must congratulate him. The individual awards are important but if they do not win it is not a catastrophe. I hope next year a Madrid player will win it.

    "Benzema has had a great season and finished fourth. He will continue to be motivated to try to be first next time.

    "If I had a vote, I would not choose any player outside of my own team. I'd have voted Benzema first, Vinicius [Junior] second, [Thibaut] Courtois third, Casemiro fourth.

    "But you have to respect and congratulate Messi on winning."

    Madrid-linked forward Kylian Mbappe finished ninth, but Ancelotti does not believe leaving Paris Saint-Germain will necessarily enhance his chances of winning the coveted crown.

    "Playing for a great club can help you, but it is still an individual prize," Ancelotti said when asked specifically about Mbappe.

    "These players will not cry because they have not won the award. The likes of Benzema and Courtois will accept it without a problem."

    Benzema and Vinicius are in contention to start Wednesday's clash with Athletic as Madrid aim to make it five league wins in a row and maintain a four-point lead at the top.

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    "It's an evaluation I make every day," he said. "The dynamics of the team right now are very good. I won't rotate for the sake of it, but if we have any risks then of course we will do it.

    "We are facing a well organised team at the back. Marcelino trains all his teams very well, especially in a defensive sense.

    "This game will demand a lot from us and we need some offensive clarity. They are also a team that attacks vertically, so we must show good balance."

    Despite having to contend with injury problems and a congested schedule, Ancelotti reiterated Madrid are not likely to bring in any new players in January.

    "You have the summer to improve the squad," he said. "I don't like using January to adjust as that means something must have gone wrong in the summer.

    "If players are not happy then we'll think about it, but we are not looking to sign. The squad is fine and will compete until the end."

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    Jurgen Klopp backed Virgil van Dijk to power through his return to Goodison Park with Liverpool but believes the Dutchman will have his emotions stirred.

    Last season's Merseyside derby at Everton saw Van Dijk clattered early on by Jordan Pickford and hobble out of the game, suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury that ended his season in October.

    The Dutch defender was sorely missed as Liverpool's Premier League title defence collapsed amid a drastic set of injuries that left Klopp struggling to piece together a backline at times.

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    When asked about Van Dijk ahead of Wednesday's tussle with their struggling neighbours, Klopp suggested it would be naive to expect no reaction.

    "We're all human beings, so it's probably difficult to ignore something like that," Klopp said.

    "It was a situation that should not happen in football and doesn't happen very often. I can't remember one since then in any other game.

    "Virgil is very experienced, and he has these situations constantly since he's been back where he's in challenges and has to be completely free of all things he could have in his mind because of one issue in his past.

    "So slightly more different [against Everton] because it's in the same place, but apart from that it's just a football game again."

    Van Dijk has been an ever-present for Liverpool in their 13 Premier League games so far this season, and in that time he has been dribbled past only once by an opponent. No defender with 10 or more appearances has bettered that, and Klopp has been reassured by his increasingly imposing form.

    "He came back brilliant. People are really quick if something's not exactly like it was before to say 'he's not the same anymore' and stuff like this, and this is of course not right," Klopp said. "These kind of judgements make absolutely no sense because everybody needs time to get back.

    "He had a full pre-season which is absolutely helpful. His comeback was absolutely brilliant since he came back, it's been really good.

    "If some things are not exactly as they have been, it's only a matter of time because of his quality, there's no doubt about that."

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    "We are still an emotional team, but you have to use the emotion in the right way and that's the plan for tomorrow absolutely," Klopp said.

    Everton won 2-0 at Anfield in their last Premier League game against Liverpool, ending a 20-game winless run against them in the competition. Wednesday's hosts have not won back-to-back league Merseyside derbies since beating Liverpool in both meetings in the 1984-85 campaign, with Everton then on their way to winning the First Division title.

    Eight of the last nine Premier League derbies at Everton have finished level, including each of the last four in a row.

    Liverpool can break a long-standing record on Wednesday, which is one of numerous incentives. Klopp's team have scored at least twice in each of their last 17 games in all competitions, the joint-longest such run in history by an English top-flight side, level with Sunderland in 1927.

    Benitez will be out to prevent that happening, but his Everton side are in free-fall having lost five of their last six games.

    Former Liverpool managers have lost 13 of their last 14 Premier League games against the Reds, with Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City the exception, winning 3-1 in February, with Van Dijk by then on the injured list.

    Klopp does not entertain the theory that form goes out of the window for a derby.

    "I think previous form matters," he said. "Especially when it's good."

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