Chris Paul was perplexed by a "ridiculous" technical foul he received in the Phoenix Suns' Game 5 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Paul described the officiating as "out of control" after he was hit with an eight-second violation when the Suns were leading 100-92 in the fourth quarter.

Phoenix went on to win 112-97 at Footprint Center on Tuesday, taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference playoffs first-round series.

Paul, who scored 22 points and contributed 11 assists, made his feelings clear when asked about his technical foul, revealing he merely said "C'mon'' at the scorer's table as he wanted a review.

He said: '"It's out of control, that's ridiculous. It is what it is. We try not to get fourth-quarter techs on our team. That's a big deal."

 

Mikal Bridges starred with 31 points as the Suns gave themselves the opportunity to wrap up the series in Game 6 in New Orleans on Thursday.

The 25-year-old small forward said: "I'm ready to play tomorrow. I'm energised, my team-mates keep me going. I'm itching my knee right now, talking about it.

"I'm ready, I love being out there with my team-mates. They're my best friends, it makes it way easier."

Paul said of Bridges' exploits: "He doesn't miss games, he guards the best players every night and then he has 31."

Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram had fingers taped up following the game, but says he will play in Game 6.

"It's fine," Ingram said. "It got a little banged up during the game, but I'll be all right."

Victor Oladipo reflected on the difference a year can make as the injury-plagued star inspired the Miami Heat to the victory they needed to close out their first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.

It has been a luckless period for Oladipo, who has appeared in just 96 of a possible 309 regular-season NBA games over the past four years due to a combination of knee and quadriceps issues.

This season alone Oladipo has featured in only eight regular-season matches for the Heat but with Kyle Lowry (hamstring) and Jimmy Butler (inflammation in the right knee) both absent for Game 5, he stepped up to help the Heat to a 97-94 triumph and 4-1 series victory.

Oladipo had a game-high 23 points along with three assists and three steals. It was the first time he had contributed 20 points in a playoff game since playing against the Heat back in the NBA bubble in 2020 when featuring for the Indiana Pacers.

Speaking after the game, Oladipo reflected on his journey saying in quotes reported by ESPN: "A year ago today I was expecting and waiting for my next surgery. 

"I remember a year ago today, around this time last year, I was sitting in a dark room by myself and just broke down. 

"Not because I quit, but because I was at the lowest point I could be at. And now, God has put me in this position today so I just made the most of it.

"I could have done two things. I could have stopped. Or I could have ran right through it and I'm still running through it."

Speaking to NBA TV, Oladipo added his belief this is just the beginning for him.

"There's nothing I can't handle," he said. "At the end of the day, I feel like I can come back and get through anything. 

"So, when they told me I needed to start tonight, I just stepped up to the plate and did everything I could to help my team win.

"I credit my coaching staff and my teammates for believing in me, my family, my God in heaven for getting me through. It's only the beginning."

It was a real team effort for the Heat with Max Strus putting up 15 points, including a special personal 10-0 streak from 2:29 in the second quarter to 1:22.

Bam Adebayo also had 20 points on the back of 7-for-11 shooting and pitched in with 11 rebounds.

"Everybody that played had their fingerprints on this. We clearly had some adversity in this game not having Kyle or Jimmy, and our group doesn't even blink," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

"That's not even something we have to address. We just pivot and put in the game plan and everybody gets ready and tapes their ankles and gets out there and competes."

The Heat can now look forward to an Eastern Conference semi-final match up against either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Toronto Raptors – the former leading the latter 3-2 in that series.

Ja Morant produced a dazzling fourth-quarter display and game-winning lay-up to earn the Memphis Grizzlies a 3-2 series lead in their first round playoffs against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

The Grizzlies triumphed 111-109 over the Timberwolves, led by Morant with 30 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.

Morant made the decisive contribution with a play with 3.7 seconds left with scores at 109-109, bucketing a left-handed lay-up from Dillon Brooks' inbound.

Memphis had trailed by 11 points in the last quarter before their rally, with recently crowned NBA Most Improved Player Morant scoring 18 points in the fourth. Morant had sparked after a massive third-quarter dunk.

Desmond Bane added 25 points for the Grizzlies, while Karl-Anthony Towns was excellent with 28 points including five three-pointers and 12 rebounds.

Heat seal series win over Hawks

The Miami Heat completed a 4-1 series victory over the Atlanta Hawks with a 97-94 win, despite the absences of Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry.

The Hawks failed to get a shot away in the final play in the dying seconds to force over-time as the Heat triumphed led by Victor Oladipo (23 points) and Bam Adebayo (20 points and 11 rebounds).

Trae Young struggled again with 11 points on two-of-12 shooting from the field, finishing the five-game series with 30 turnovers.

Bridges guides Suns into 3-2 lead

Mikal Bridges produced a 24-point second half as the Phoenix Suns won 112-97 over the New Orleans Pelicans to move ahead 3-2 in their first round series.

Bridges finished with 31 points for the game while Chris Paul had 22 points, 11 assists and three steals for the Suns who were without Devin Booker (hamstring).

The Suns, who came into the playoffs with the best record in the NBA, led from start to finish. Brandon Ingram top scored for the Pelicans - who had six turnovers in the first quarter - with 22 points.

The instructions for Ja Morant for his game-winning lay-up were as simple as "go get a bucket, Ja" in the Memphis Grizzlies' 111-109 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

Morant landed the decisive bucket from the final play with scores locked at 109-109 with 3.7 seconds to play, putting Memphis 3-2 up in their first round NBA playoffs series.

The NBA's Most Improved Player received Dillon Brooks' inbound, losing Anthony Edwards who went for the steal, before driving and putting in an under-handed lay-up past Jarred Vanderbilt.

"Go get a bucket, Ja," Morant told reporters when asked about the instructions for the final play.

Morant scored 18 fourth-quarter points after struggling with 12 until three-quarter time, appearing to be sparked after a dunk in the third quarter.

"I wasn’t that excited about the dunk," he said. "It was over a guard, that's pretty easy.

"Definitely ignited the crowd, gave us some energy, from then on being very aggressive."

The Grizzlies had trailed by 11 points in the last quarter before their rally led by Morant, but the All-Star said he was "tired" of being forced to fight back. Memphis had clawed their way back from 26 points down in Game 3 to win 104-95.

"It feels good when you win," Morant said. "Me personally, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of playing from behind.

"Game 2 you see what happened when we come out and play from the jump. We've got to have that mindset like we had in Game 2 in Game 6 [on Friday] not give them too much life to go ahead.

"We need to start early. The last three games we haven't played our basketball, not knocking down our shots but we battle."

Meanwhile, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 28 points with 12 rebounds, bemoaned letting another lead slip.

"It's a tough pill to swallow," Towns said. "You feel like you got it after all the mistakes made and everything like that.

"We hit a big three to tie the game up with four seconds (left). You feel good. You feel good about going into overtime and having a chance to win the game. Just a learning experience."

Donovan Mitchell remains a chance to play in Game 6 of the Utah Jazz's first round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks.

Mitchell limped out of Monday's 102-77 loss to the Mavericks in the fourth quarter, as Dallas claimed a 3-2 series lead to put the Jazz on the brink of elimination.

The Jazz provided an update on Tuesday after an MRI on the injury was negative, ahead of Thursday's Game 6 in Salt Lake City.

"Mitchell has bi-lateral quadriceps contusions and will continue treatment," the Jazz said.

"His status for Game 6 against Dallas will be updated on Wednesday."

Mitchell doubled over in pain as he limped towards the tunnel on Monday, but said at the time he remained hopeful of playing in Game 6.

"This is the playoffs, so I've got to find a way," Mitchell said. "We'll see how I feel, but I'm a competitor."

Mitchell is averaging 25.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1,5 steals per game this season.

Jimmy Butler was ruled out of Game 5 between the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday due to a knee injury. 

The Heat took a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series on Sunday, with Butler contributing 36 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. 

However, the six-time NBA All-Star joined Kyle Lowry (hamstring) in missing out as the series returned to FTX Arena. 

Butler has impressed against the Hawks, becoming just the third player in franchise history – after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade – to post 45 points, five rebounds and five assists in a playoff game in Game 2. 

Luka Doncic said Dallas Mavericks team-mates always "had my back" after the guard delivered a match-winning performance in Game 5 against the Utah Jazz.

The Texan outfit moved to 3-2 in their first-round playoff at the American Airlines Arena with a 102-77 rout, posting the biggest blowout scoreline of the series to date.

Two days on from posting an impressive double-double in a nail-biter in Salt Lake City, Doncic was at the heart of victory for the Mavericks, with 33 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

But the flashpoint of a hard foul from Hassan Whiteside late on in the fourth quarter perhaps exemplified the hosts' unity, as players rushed in to protect 23-year-old Doncic.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock exchanged pushes with the former after he had deposited Doncic on the court, and the Slovenian admitted their response was "what great teams do".

"They had my back," Doncic said after the match "Both of them, anybody, we had each other's back. That's what great teams do. I would go with these guys to war. This is a special team."

Doncic's haul also saw him become only the second man to hit a triple mark across his first 15 career playoff games, after taking his tally to 499 points, 137 rebounds, and 133 assists.

He and Oscar Robertson are the only players in NBA history to reach 450+ points, 125+ rebounds, and 125+ assists through their first 15 career playoff games, the league said.

It has marked an impressive return after missing the first three games through a calf injury, and Doncic admits he felt more comfortable in victory the second time around.

"The first game, I was a little janky – I use this word a lot," he said. "But I felt better today.

"I think the run in the third I was a little tired, too, but just getting my air back. I've got to hydrate for Utah now, the altitude."

The Mavericks travel back to Salt Lake City on Thursday, looking to wrap up a series win in Game 6, with a final clash back in Dallas pencilled for Saturday if the Jazz force them all the way.

Kyrie Irving confirmed he will remain with the Brooklyn Nets after a disappointing first-round 4-0 sweep against the Boston Celtics.

Irving scored 20 points with five rebounds and five assists in the decisive 116-112 Game 4 loss on Monday.

The mercurial guard has a player option in his contract for the 2022-23 season, which means he can decide whether to stay for the $36million he has agreed to, or he could void the last year and enter negotiations for a long-term deal with the Nets, or any other team with cap space.

When asked in his post-game press conference, Irving said: "I don't really plan on going anywhere."

He later took it even further as he spoke about rebuilding the team through his "co-management relationship" with the Nets front office.

"I don't really plan on going anywhere – this is added motivation for our franchise to be at the top of the league for the next few years," he said.

"When I say I'm here with 'Kev' [Kevin Durant], I think that it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside [owner] Joe [Tsai] and [general manager] Sean [Marks], and just our group of family members that we have in our locker room and our organisation.

"I think we've just got to make some moves this offseason – and really talk about, and really be intentional about, what we're building.

"We'll just have fun building it, having that creative process. It's a co-management relationship, and you see that the players need to gel. You can't have these little lulls of uncertainty… [we have to] be intentional about who's in our locker room, and how we're going to be leading.

"There's no question about where I'm going, or how this is going to happen. I'm here with [Durant], but also I'm here to build a great team.

"Individually I've been recognised for my greatness, but at this point in my career I really just want to be part of a great team, and dominate that way, without focusing on any individual accolades or achievements. Just really build something special."

When discussing how he felt about the outcome of the season, Irving said he would use it as fuel, but admitted there were points in the season that he felt he was letting down his teammates.

"Just disappointment, sadness. But more importantly, on the positive side, it's motivation," he said. "It's burning in my heart right now.

"I know so many people wanted to see us fail at this juncture… and have so much to say at this point, so I'm just using that as fuel for the summer.

"I think it was just really heavy emotionally this season. We all felt it.

"I felt like I was letting the team down at a point where I wasn't able to play. We were trying to exercise every option for me to play, but I never wanted it to just be about me. I think it became a distraction at times."

Irving was unavailable for home games until late March due to his refusal to accept a COVID-19 vaccination.

He added: "We just had some drastic changes. We lost a franchise player – and we got a franchise player back – but we didn't get a chance to see him on the floor."

Irving discussed issues such as allowing outside noise to seep into the locker room and repeated calls for more mental toughness, but he made sure to support embattled All-Star Ben Simmons. Simmons did not make his Nets debut in Game 4, as had been initially anticipated, as he battles to overcome a back problem.

"There was no pressure for [Simmons] to step on the floor with us, either," Irving said. "Ben's good, we have his back, and he's going to be good for next year.

"But now we just turn the page, and look forward to what we're building as a franchise, and really get tougher.

"This is a league that's getting younger, it's getting more athletic, it's getting taller, and more competitive. These young guys are hungry out here. You see it, I could feel it, so it's added motivation when you get swept like this.

"Now we just look to the future as a team and what we can accomplish for the next few years – and I get excited about that."

The Boston Celtics have emerged as the favourites to make it through the Eastern Conference after a 116-112 win against the Brooklyn Nets confirmed a 4-0 series sweep.

In what was billed as arguably the most competitive first round series in recent memory, the Celtics were simply too good on the defensive end to let the frightening Nets offense find any rhythm or flow.

Boston's Jayson Tatum scored a team-high 29 points on nine-of-16 shooting (four-of-six from distance) before getting fouled out late in the fourth quarter, while Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart showed his offensive skills with 20 points and 11 assists.

Grant Williams did a superb job for the Celtics, coming off the bench to hit four of his six three point attempts, while also playing smothering defense on Kevin Durant and swatting away three shots.

Despite Williams' best efforts, Durant was still a force offensively, scoring a game-high 39 points on 13-of-31 shooting while adding nine assists and seven rebounds in 47 minutes.

Kyrie Irving played 45 minutes, and finished with a respectable line of 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, but he went missing for long stretches of the must-win game. Irving attempted just 13 shots, which was the same number as Seth Curry, who outscored him with 23 points.

An early storyline in the game, and ultimately one of the deciding factors, was Brooklyn's reserve center Nic Claxton missing the first 10 free throws he attempted, finishing the game one-for-11.

Raptors make things interesting

The Toronto Raptors refuse to lay down against the Philadelphia 76ers, winning Game 5 103-88 on the road to pull the series back to 3-2, with Game 6 heading back to Canada.

Toronto trailed 3-0 after three games, but have won back-to-back fixtures with their season on the line to put the pressure back on Philadelphia.

Game 5 was won on the defensive end, as the Raptors took control of the contest with a 25-14 second quarter.

Toronto forced 16 Philadelphia turnovers while only committing nine themselves, and they held the home side to 38 per cent shooting (31-of-81), with the visitors shooting 51 per cent (42-of-82).

With Fred VanVleet out of action, Pascal Siakam assumed point guard duties for Toronto, finishing with 23 points (10-of-17 shooting) with 10 rebounds and seven assists, while Precious Achiuwa added 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes off the bench.

Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes showed his talent in his return to the starting line up, scoring 12 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing four assists and snatching a game-high three steals.

For the 76ers, Joel Embiid was kept quiet by his standards with 20 points and 11 rebounds from just 15 field goal attempts as the Raptors consistently double-teamed him and forced Philadelphia's role players to hit shots.

James Harden was disappointing, with just 15 points and seven assists to go with five turnovers.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit.

 

Dallas' defense hits new heights

The last game of the night was also the least competitive, as the Dallas Mavericks flashed some unbelievable defensive upside in a 102-77 win against the Utah Jazz.

Prior to the game, Utah's lowest score of the season was a 124-90 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in March, with the 77-point figure being their lowest score since November 2018 – in a 118-68 loss to the Mavericks.

Dallas now leads the series 3-2, with Game 6 to be played in Utah, and while the Mavs' defense stole the show, Luka Doncic was the best player on the floor.

Doncic had 33 points (11-of-22 shooting) in 33 minutes, with 13 rebounds and five assists, while partner-in-crime Jalen Brunson chipped in with 24 points on nine-of-20 shooting with four assists and just one turnover.

Utah only scored more than 19 points in one quarter – the last, when the game was sealed – as the Mavericks won the first three frames by margins of 24-18, 28-18 and 29-19.

It was the lowest-scoring game of Donovan Mitchell's playoff career, finishing with just nine points on four-of-15 shooting. Of Mitchell's four career playoff games with 12 points or fewer, this was the first since April 2019.

Memphis Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant has been crowned the NBA's 2021-22 Most Improved Player.

Morant, 22, was the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year, but this year made a leap in his ability to score the ball, and guided his team to the second seed in the Western Conference with a 56-26 record.

After averaging 19 points per game at under 45 per cent shooting in 2020-21, Morant raised that figure to 27 points per game with career-best efficiency at 49 per cent from the field and 34 per cent from long range.

He also posted career-highs in three-point makes and attempts, rebounds per game and steals per game, with a small drop in assists.

The Grizzlies are currently tied at 2-2 in their first round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, with Game 5 set to take place back in Memphis.

To win the award, Morant beat out fellow finalists Dejounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs, and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Darius Garland.

Joel Embiid has been fined $15,000 for being critical of the officials in the Philadelphia 76ers' playoff defeat to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday.

The Sixers still lead 3-1 in the series, but were unable to secure their passage to the Eastern Conference semi-finals at Scotiabank Arena.

It was not a great night for Embiid, who scored more than 30 points in both Game 2 and 3 of the series, but only managed 21 in Game 4, hitting seven of 16 field goal attempts.

Embiid was not happy with several calls from the officials in the game, and spoke to reporters after the 110-102 loss, saying: "I'm going to take my own advice and not complain about it.

"If they want to give fouls or want to call really no fouls, we've got to really make them earn it and really be physical."

A statement from the league via the NBA Communications Twitter page on Monday confirmed that Embiid had been fined for his comments.

"Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, President, League Operations," the statement read.

"Embiid made his remarks to the media following the 76ers' 110-102 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series on April 23 at Scotiabank Arena." 

The MVP contender has been suffering with a torn thumb ligament, but Sixers coach Doc Rivers has insisted it will not impact his availability in the playoffs.

Trae Young acknowledged feeling smothered by the Miami Heat's defensive schemes after another poor showing in the Atlanta Hawks' 110-86 defeat in Game 4 on Sunday.

Despite hitting the game-winning shot in Game 3, Young went six-of-14 from the floor and it was more of the same on Sunday, going three-of-11 from the floor for nine points and only one attempt from two-point range.

Notably in the second half, Young had as many turnovers as shot attempts with four, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra threw numerous looks at him.

Either forcing the ball out of his hands or denying him entry into the paint, Young concedes he has not been regularly guarded in such a manner at professional or collegiate level.

"I haven't been guarded like this in a long time," Young said post-game. "Obviously you're guarded like this every now and then, but [not] consistently since like, high school.

"And it's way better competition. It's harder for me to score through the double-teams and faceguards at this level.

"I have to learn how to fight through it and make it easier for myself and my teammates. I'll figure it out."

Hawks coach Nate McMillan has been just as paralysed by the Heat's defensive attention for Young, who has gone 20-of-57 from the floor and averaged six turnovers a game for the series.

Without a legitimate second ball-handling option, Atlanta have had to persist with the 23-year-old carrying the ball up instead of working off screens.

"There's a guy in Trae's face as soon as the ball goes to him," McMillan said. "They're basically playing a box and one and switching, committing two or three guys to him."

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr says his side is still in an ideal situation despite the Denver Nuggets claiming a 126-121 win on Sunday and avoiding a sweep.

Careless play put the Warriors down 17 points down at one stage, but they managed to eventually draw level through the shooting of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.

Turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, the Dubs started in a sloppy manner against a Denver side fighting to keep their season alive.

The 56-year-old Kerr believes Golden State are still in a good spot and that the nature of the loss can nevertheless act as a good reference point looking ahead in the post-season.

"We needed that," Kerr said post-match. "We took ourselves out of the game because we were too excited, and part of winning playoff basketball games on the road is executing being poised, understanding what's happening and sticking to the game plan. We didn't deserve to win.

"But now, you take that and put it in your back pocket, and you've got it in the memory bank for the next time we're in that situation.

"But the focus now goes to heading home and getting back in front of our fans. This is the situation you want in any playoff series when you're hosting – sweep the first two, get one out of two on the road and go home with a chance to clinch. We're right where we need to be."

Kerr's play-calling down the stretch also came under scrutiny after the loss.

Following a Monte Morris floater to put the Nuggets up 123-121 with 33 seconds remaining, Kerr called a lob for Andrew Wiggins off the inbound from the consequent timeout.

Austin Rivers' steal of Otto Porter Jr's inbound pass effectively sealed the win for Denver, but it came in the face of Curry and Thompson in good shooting rhythm.

"Yeah, I would like that play back," Kerr said. "There's 33 seconds so we're thinking a two-for-one. If we get a two-for-one, then we can tie the game and have a chance to win it at the end.

"So it's a good two-for-one situation, but the lob wasn't there, and if I could do it do it again I'd probably draw up something different. But they made a great defensive play, give them credit."

The Chicago Bulls supporters booing Grayson Allen no longer bothers the Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard, who propelled his side to a 3-1 playoff series lead on Sunday.

Allen fell out of favour with the Chicago faithful after his flagrant foul on guard Alex Caruso during a game in January resulted in a two-month absence for the Bulls star.

The 26-year-old, formerly of Duke, has since been greeted with boos at any opportunity as the Bucks hit the road for the playoffs in Chicago, but that has been music to Allen's ears.

He set a career-high in the playoffs in Game 3 when he scored 22 in a 111-81 triumph at the United Center, before surpassing that the following game with 27 points, including six three-pointers, in a 119-95 victory.

Allen is 18 of 24 from the field and 11 for 14 on three-pointers over the past two games, but it is the playful jeers from his own Bucks bench that has made the hostile atmosphere easier for him.

"They have so much fun doing it," he told reporters of his team-mate's decision to boo him in practice, the team hotel or film sessions.

"I think it's honestly hilarious. They've kind of turned it into a fun thing. It makes hearing it out there during the game a lot easier too because they think it's so funny.

"It's not naturally comfortable for me. I am to the point now, anytime I go out and play basketball, I just remind myself to go out and have fun with this.

"My personality is naturally uncomfortable with the attention, the booing, the heckling. It's not something I feed off of. I'm not going out searching for it."

Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo is also enjoying his team-mate thriving under the pressure and playfully suggested the Bucks fans may have to try a new way of motivating Allen.

"He's played amazing, maybe we got to boo him even more," Antetokounmpo said. "Maybe Milwaukee fans, we got to boo him ... nah, we're not going to do that."

Meanwhile, guard Jrue Holiday added: "When we booed him during the game, and he really started hooping, I think we just stuck with it."

Allen also became the first Bucks player to score 25 points and knock down six 3s in a playoff game and first Milwaukee player with at least 25 points off the bench since Tim Thomas in 2003, according to ESPN.

And Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was delighted to see Allen step up in the absence of Khris Middleton, who will miss the rest of this first-round series after sustaining an injury to his left knee.

"He's kind of quiet, but confident," Budenholzer said of Allen. "I think this is a confident group, a group that sees a player that can help them and appreciates his competitiveness.

"He's just quiet, no bull****, and comes to play. I think our guys gravitate towards that type of mentality. It's certainly been a good fit."

It was not just his Milwaukee colleagues showering Allen with praise either, Bulls guard Zach LaVine was also quick to credit his opponent.

"You got to give [Allen] credit," LaVine said. "He's hitting shots. Obviously, we know what happened [with the Caruso injury]. At the end of the day, it's basketball too. We understand it. But it's not like we're going out there saying, 'That guy can't beat us.'

"The Milwaukee Bucks can't beat us and he's part of their team. Them as a whole is beating us right now. You can't just account for him. It's everybody."

Chicago have lost six straight home playoff games since beating Cleveland in Game 3 of the 2015 Eastern Conference semi-finals, losing that series in six. The Bulls will look to make amends in Game 5 on the road on Wednesday as they aim to keep the playoff series alive.

The Phoenix Suns were left unimpressed by the physicality and officiating in their 118-103 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans that levelled the playoff series at 2-2 on Sunday.

The Pelicans repeatedly tested the Suns inside the paint in Game 4, with Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas combining to shoot half of New Orleans' 42 free throws.

By contrast, Monty Williams' Phoenix shot 15 from the line – in what was a 17-2 first-half difference between the sides – while being called for 12 more fouls than their opponents (28 versus 16).

The evergreen Chris Paul did not have one free-throw chance, after throwing 14 in the first three games, and went scoreless in the fourth quarter against defensive nuisance Jose Alvarado, who is a rookie guard.

The 36-year-old also managed just four points at the Smoothie King Center, a joint-low return in his playoff career alongside a four-point tally against the Denver Nuggets in April 2009.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Paul suggested the physicality was a throwback to yesteryear in basketball: "It's like the old NBA, isn't it?

"I asked one of the refs one time, 'Are we playing in the old NBA or the new NBA?'

"I was fortunate enough to play in both of them, we just have to figure out which one it's going to be. Regardless, whatever it is, you've to adjust early in the game and figure it out."

The Suns' coach Williams echoed Paul's frustrations as he bemoaned the officiating but acknowledged the eighth-seeded Pelicans were worthy winners in the Western Conference match-up.

"Forty-two to 15 in free throws – slice it any way you like to, in a playoff game that's physical, that's amazing," he said.

"Coaches shouldn't have to come up to the microphone and feel like they're going to get their head cut off for speaking the truth. It's not like we didn't attack the basket. That's really hard to do.

"They outplayed us and they deserved to win, but that's a free throw disparity."

The Pelicans attempted 46 shots in the paint to the Suns' 41, and New Orleans coach Willie Green was delighted with his team's aggressiveness.

"We were being aggressive. They dominated the paint last game," Green said. "Had 64 points in the paint. So we were well aware that we had to do better in that area."

Paul had 28 assists and zero turnovers in Games 2 and 3, but only produced 11 assists – four of those coming in the fourth quarter – and three turnovers in Game 4.

And Pelicans guard CJ McCollum was delighted with the defensive showing against the first-seeded Phoenix.

"I was tired of hearing about [Paul] breaking records during the fourth quarter," McCollum said of Paul.

"It's just a credit to our defense. Especially our intensity. But also, it's a make-or-miss league. He is not going to make every shot. But some nights, he is going to make a lot of tough ones.

"Tonight, he missed some shots he made the last three games. Credit our defense. But it's a make-or-miss league."

The Suns will also have to contain Ingram in Game 5 on Tuesday after he became the first Pelicans player in team history to score 30 or more in three consecutive playoff games.

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