Phoenix Suns veteran Chris Paul is refusing to talk about a drought-breaking NBA Finals appearance despite his side taking a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference finals on Saturday.

The Suns won 84-80 over the Los Angeles Clippers to move within one victory of the franchise's first Finals appearance since 1993.

Paul, 36, debuted in the NBA in 2005 and is an 11-time All Star yet has never played in an NBA Finals series either.

"Not til the job is done. We can talk about all that then but right now it's laser focus," Paul said during the post-game news conference.

"Three wins don’t win a series. We did what we came to do. We got one of these [road wins]. We've got to stay focused. We need one more [win]."

Paul has played in 12 NBA playoffs series, coming closest to the NBA Finals in 2017-18 Conference finals with the Houston Rockets having been 3-2 up.

When asked about previously falling short, Paul added: "Everything happens for a reason. Don't dwell on things. I'm here now, excited about this opportunity. All I can worry about right now is Game 5."

Paul finished with 18 points but hit several last-quarter free-throws to ice the game after Devin Booker fouled out.

"It was crazy when I went to the free-throw line, I thought about my son," he said. "I talk to my son all the time about the importance of shooting free-throws. He's really getting into basketball.

"I seriously went to the free-throw line, I thought 'how the hell am I going to tell him to stay poised, if I don't'."

Paul, who missed both Game 1 and 2 after entering into the NBA's health and safety protocol, said he was excited to play at home for the first time in the series on Monday.

"I didn’t get a chance to feel that energy in Game 1 and 2," he said. "I was at the crib with my family. I'm excited to go back to Phoenix."

The Phoenix Suns have claimed a hard-fought road win to go 3-1 up in the Western Conference finals with an 84-80 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

DeAndre Ayton was dominant in the paint with 19 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks as the Suns triumphed, leading the whole way but having to withstand a late Clippers challenge.

Devin Booker, who took his protective face mask off in the second half, led all scorers for Phoenix with 25 points but fouled out with 1:05 to go, leaving veteran guard Chris Paul (18 points and seven assists) to finish the job with a series of late free throws.

The Clippers, once again without the injured Kawhi Leonard, got within one point in the final quarter, including with 13.2 seconds to go, but never took the lead.

The result means Phoenix are one win away from qualifying for their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993. It would also be the first Finals appearance for 11-time All-Star Paul.

Phoenix had led by 14 points at half-time, but the Clippers stormed back into the game with a 30-19 third quarter.

Paul George fought hard for the Clippers with 23 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, while Reggie Jackson scored 20 points. Ivica Zubac was admirable with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

But the Clippers struggled from beyond the arc, shooting five from 31 (16.1 per cent), with Jackson hitting two-of-nine from three-point range, while George made one-from-nine.

The Suns did not fare much better from range, with Booker missing all five three-point attempts and Paul all three.

Phoenix's 84 points was the fewest in a win this season, regular or postseason.

The series returns to Phoenix on Monday, with the Suns chasing a close-out win.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dismissed suggestions he should get on with it from the free-throw line after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a series-levelling win over the Atlanta Hawks.

The Eastern Conference Finals could sway on how Giannis performs over the coming games, with the teams now poised at 1-1 following the Bucks' storming 125-91 win on their home court.

The Hawks are reportedly annoyed at NBA officials ignoring Antetokounmpo repeatedly taking longer than the allotted 10 seconds at the line.

It was reported by The Athletic that Antetokounmpo took between 11.5 seconds and 13.3 seconds for each of his eight free-throw attempts in Game 1 against the Hawks.

"Usually I take eight to nine seconds. So it was borderline 10 seconds," Antetokounmpo responded on Friday night.

"When my coaching staff tells me to speed it up I know I'm maybe around 10 and sometimes the referee will talk to me and say, 'You've got to speed it up'.

"Then I make an effort to take it a second or two seconds faster. But my mindset going into this game was to do my routine, get as many dribbles as I can, get my breath and just shoot my shot."

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo posted 25 points in 29 minutes and Jrue Holiday added 22 points of his own as the Bucks made light work of the fifth-seeded Hawks.

 

Antetokounmpo said the key for the Bucks after their 116-113 setback in Game 1 was to take a measured approach into the second clash in the series.

"I was calm, it wasn't the end of the world – if we had lost today I would have been a little bit more nervous," he said.

"I trust my team-mates, trust our habits. I think everybody's on the same page and know what we have to do. We knew we had to come in here and get this game and that's what we did.

"There's got to be some urgency, but you still have to enjoy the fact that we're here. We worked extremely hard to be one of the last four teams standing.

"We're going to try to play good basketball. The way I think about it is I'm going to be doing this for a long time so I've got to enjoy each game."

He relished the home support but added: "Also, there's an enjoyment factor when you're on the road and everyone's booing you and counting... '1, 2, 3, 4...'.

"What I do is enjoy each moment. You never know when it's going to be taken away from you, you can never take it for granted."

Ahead of Sunday's Game 3, Antetokounmpo said the Bucks would keep learning from each performance.

"We've got to focus on ourselves and how can we get better and put ourselves into position to win a game. We've got to keep getting better, each game at a time," he said.

"From Game 1 to Game 2 we've been better, we're happy about that, and hopefully from Game 2 to Game 3 we can get better."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee Bucks trounced the Atlanta Hawks 125-91 to square the Eastern Conference Finals series at 1-1.

After dropping the series opener, the third-seeded Bucks responded by routing the visiting Hawks in Game 2 in the NBA playoffs on Friday.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo posted 25 points in just 29 minutes and Jrue Holiday added 22 points of his own as the Bucks eased past the fifth-seeded Hawks in Milwaukee.

The Bucks – ahead 103-63 at the end of three quarters – never trailed against the Hawks, leading by at least 30 points through the second half as both teams rested their starters for the entire fourth period.

In Game 1, Antetokounmpo and Holiday became the first pair of team-mates to each attempt 25-plus field goals and make at least half of them in a playoff game since Kyrie Irving (16-for-29) and LeBron James (15-for-27) did it for the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals.

While they did not reach those numbers in the second showdown, Antetokounmpo (11-for-18 shooting) and Holiday (nine-for-14 shooting) were heavily involved again as the Bucks bounced back on home court.

Brook Lopez (16 points) and Khris Middleton (15 points) were the only other players to finish in double digits for the Bucks, who blew out the Hawks 43-17 in the second period.

Hawks star Trae Young came into the clash on the back of a 48-point, 11-assist performance in Game 1 but he was unable to replicate those numbers.

Young finished six-for-16 shooting for a team-high 15 points as starters John Collins (11 points), Clint Capela (two points and eight rebounds), Bogdan Bogdanovic (eight points) and Kevin Huerter (eight points) struggled.

 

Suns at Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers, still missing Kawhi Leonard (knee) can level the Western Conference Final at 2-2 when they host the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 on Saturday.

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard will miss his sixth consecutive game after being ruled out of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

Leonard has endured an injury-hit NBA playoff campaign, having not played since suffering a sprained right knee in Game 4 of the Conference semi-finals against the Utah Jazz.

The Clippers will again be without Leonard when they host the second-seeded Phoenix Suns on Saturday, looking to level the matchup at 2-2.

In this season's playoffs, two-time NBA champion Leonard has been averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists for the fourth-seeded Clippers.

The Clippers trail the Suns 2-1 in the series following Thursday's 106-92 win at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Paul George led the way with 27 points and 15 rebounds as the Clippers celebrated their first ever victory in the Western Conference Finals.

Entering the contest following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

Devin Booker refused to blame his broken nose for an ugly showing in the Phoenix Suns' Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The second-seeded Suns had stormed into a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals but saw that advantage cut in half with a 106-92 loss in LA on Thursday.

It was a tough outing for Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

That disjointed display came in the wake of Booker having been subjected to some painful treatment to put his nose back in place, but he did not want to use that as an excuse.

"The nose feels fine," Booker, who wore a face mask during the game, said in quotes reported by ESPN. "We just lost the game."

Booker had to undergo a quick fix before the Suns flew in to LA from Phoenix and it was not a pleasurable experience for the shooting guard.

"That was probably the worst part," he said.

"It's a procedure that they usually say they put you under [anaesthesia] for, but we had a flight out a couple hours later, so they just numbed it up all over the place, it felt like.

"Like eight shots to numb it up and then they go in there and put it back, they break it again. They break it back in place."

Despite the defeat, Booker is confident the Suns will put things right in the next game.

"The spirit is high," Booker said. "We move on to the next one. That's what type of team we are. We've been like that the whole season, so we'll stick with that.

"We'll come in tomorrow, go over film, regroup and get ready for Game 4."

Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol to post 15 points and 12 assists.

Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists.

Paul George hailed the toughness of the Los Angeles Clippers as they celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

Making their first foray into the Conference Finals, the Clippers slumped to a 2-0 deficit against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

With Kawhi Leonard still sidelined by a knee injury, George took centre stage as he recorded a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period.

"This team is tough," George told ESPN. "We do whatever it takes. We trust one another. We've got each other's backs, and we just play hard.

"If you're going to beat us, it's just got to be one of those nights if you beat us. I think we've just got great resilience.

"Ty Lue just does a great job making adjustments, counters. We come out and we play hard.

"We put so much into this season, we've invested so much in each other, and we're going to live with the results.

"We'll be ready for Game 4."

Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

The starting team, which featured George, Jackson, Zubac, Patrick Beverley and Terance Mann, was Lue's fifth change of line-up across the previous eight games, with the coach reaping the rewards of earning his players' trust.

"It means a lot just for those guys to trust me, to understand that whatever I'm doing is the best for the team, not for me," said Lue.

"I just want to win. Making adjustments, sometimes it's tough, because adjustments mean some guys can't play, some guys play more, and you've got to be able to accept that."

Paul George dominated as the Los Angeles Clippers celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

Featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the Clippers found themselves in a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

Even in the ongoing absence of superstar Kawhi Leonard (knee), George picked up the slack with a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period – to lift the Clippers and help reduce the series deficit to 2-1.

Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol and posted 15 points and 12 assists.

Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists in the losing effort.

It was a tough outing for star team-mate Devin Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

 

Hawks at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will look to bounce back against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday. Trae Young and the Hawks claimed the opener in Milwaukee.

Kevin Durant fired back at Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen's criticism following the Brooklyn Nets' Eastern Conference semi-finals exit in the NBA playoffs.

Chicago Bulls great and six-time NBA champion Pippen gave a blunt assessment of superstar Durant, who was unable to guide the Nets to the Conference Finals.

Durant averaged a career-high 34.3 points, a career-best 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in this season's playoffs, but the second-seeded Nets fell to the Milwaukee Bucks after overtime in Game 7 in the second round.

His 48 points in the series decider were the most scored in a Game 7 in NBA history, but that did not spare him of criticism from Pippen – who referenced Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.

"He needs to learn how to utilise his teams," Pippen, who played alongside Michael Jordan in Chicago, told GQ. "He has to learn how to set up his team-mates to be better. That's it. As great as he is, there's a [cap] to his [talent].

"He could've easily made that three, killed them in regulation, and we wouldn't have been talking about this. But I knew going into overtime, he wasn't gonna make it. He was taking all the shots. You done played the whole game, bro! And they've got guys physically wearing you down. You gonna lose."

Pippen added: "KD can score better than LeBron, probably always have been able to. But has he surpassed LeBron? Naw. He tried to beat the Milwaukee Bucks instead of utilising his team. You see what I'm saying?

"LeBron James would've figured out how to beat them and he wouldn't have been exhausted and he may not have taken the last shot. But LeBron ain't KD, and KD ain't LeBron. KD is a shooter, a scorer. But he doesn't have what LeBron has."

Durant, who shouldered the load in the Nets-Bucks series as James Harden struggled with a hamstring injury and Kyrie Irving missed time due to an ankle problem, called out Pippen on social media.

A two-time champion, two-time Finals MVP and 2014 NBA MVP, Durant wrote via Twitter: "Didn't the great Scottie Pippen refuse to go in the game for the last second shot because he was in his feelings his coach drew up the play for a better shooter??

"This guy Scott also wanted to enjoy his summer so he chose to rehab during the season lol yo @ScottiePippen THEY FOLLOWED PHIL [JACKSON], NOT YOU!!!"

Chris Paul has cleared the NBA's health and safety protocols and is available to lead the Phoenix Suns on the road to former team the Los Angeles Clippers.

As the Suns waited to learn the identity of their Western Conference Finals opponents, a COVID-19 complication saw veteran point guard Paul sidelined.

The Clippers rallied past the Utah Jazz but quickly fell 2-0 down to Phoenix even with Paul out of the lineup.

Against the Jazz, the Clippers became the first team in playoff history to recover from 2-0 behind in two series in the same postseason campaign, having also recovered against the Dallas Mavericks.

But a third straight such success seems highly unlikely as Kawhi Leonard remains out with a knee issue, and Paul's return only adds to their woes.

The 36-year-old spent six seasons in LA and is widely considered among the Clippers' greatest ever players.

In the regular season, Paul has the most assists in Clippers history (4,023), ranks sixth for points (7,674) and eighth for minutes (13,885).

 

With 15.7 points, 8.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game in the playoffs, Paul boosts the Suns, although Cam Payne has filled in admirably in his absence.

Payne, who had one Phoenix start across the regular season and postseason prior to this series, was outstanding in Game 2.

He set career highs in points (29), field goals made (12) and field-goal attempts (24).

Payne's 29 points were the most ever in the playoffs by a Suns player who averaged fewer than 10 points per game during the regular season (8.4).

Even with Paul back, Payne likely has a role to play as Phoenix pursue a 10th straight victory. Ten other teams have won nine or more in a row in the playoffs and six went on to claim the title.

Rick Carlisle has backed Jason Kidd to take over as Dallas Mavericks head coach as he gets set for a second spell in charge of the Indiana Pacers.

Carlisle ended his 13-year stint with the Mavericks earlier this month, opting to leave the franchise despite having two years remaining on his contract. He finished with a 555-478 record with Dallas, leading them to a maiden NBA title in 2011.

Having previously taken charge of the Pacers between 2003 and 2007, he is now returning to fill their coaching vacancy, with reports suggesting he is signing a four-year deal worth $29million.

"You never want to get to a point where you ever feel like you're overstaying your welcome, and I just felt like this is the right time," Carlisle told Tim MacMahon of ESPN about his exit from Dallas.

"I just have such great respect for [Mavs owner Mark Cuban] and everyone there, and I'm fortunate to move on to another great opportunity."

Carlisle won 181 games in his previous stint as head coach in Indiana, placing him fifth on the franchise's all-time list.

He takes over after Nate Bjorkgren was fired after just one season at the helm, during which the Pacers posted a 34-38 record in the regular season before being eliminated from playoff contention in the play-in tournament.

While his focus is now on his new role, Carlisle has tipped Kidd for the vacancy in Dallas.

The 10-time NBA All-Star was part of the Mavs' championship-winning roster 10 years ago and, after spells as a head coach with the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks, is currently serving as an assistant on the Los Angeles Lakers' staff.

Carlisle, however, feels former point guard Kidd is the perfect candidate to work with Luka Doncic, the jewel in the crown for a Dallas team that exited in the first round of the playoffs for a second successive year.

"My hope is that Jason Kidd will be the next coach of the Mavs because he and Luka have so many things in common as players," Carlisle said.

"I just think that it would be a great situation for Luka, and I think it would be an amazing situation for Jason. I'm the only person on the planet that's coached both of those guys and that knows about all of their special qualities as basketball players. To me, that just would be a great marriage, but that's just an opinion."

While his overall numbers were far from terrible, Paul George's performance in the 2019-20 playoffs was not what he or the Los Angeles Clippers envisioned when they paired him with Kawhi Leonard.

This postseason has provided an ample opportunity for atonement and George has mostly answered the call to push the Clippers into uncharted territory.

There are parts of the previous playoff campaign that clearly George would rather forget, namely his outings in Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. After scoring 27 points on 10-of-22 shooting in a series-opening victory, George averaged just 11.3 points on 10-of-47 shooting (21.3 percent) from the field, including 4 of 25 from 3-point range, in the next three games as Dallas knotted the series at two games apiece.

In the process, George made some unwanted history as he became the first player in NBA history to shoot under 25 percent from the floor in three consecutive playoff games since Bob Cousy in 1960 (minimum of 10 attempts in each game).

The former Fresno State product bounced back by scoring 35 points on 12-of-18 shooting in a Game 5 win against Dallas, but that is easily forgotten because the Clippers squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the semi-finals. George averaged 23.7 points on 46.5 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds in the first six games of that series, yet that was overshadowed by his dismal 10-point, 4-of-16 shooting display and five turnovers in a Game 7 loss.

This postseason did not get off to a great start for the Clippers, who lost the first two games at home to the Mavericks before George, Leonard and company rebounded to win the next two games in Dallas.

That series came down to Game 7 in Los Angeles and George had 22 points and 10 assists in a 126-111 victory. There were not eye-popping numbers in that first-round series for George, but he scored at least 20 points in each game, a trend he has continued in every postseason contest in 2020-21.

 

George's streak of 15 consecutive games with at least 20 points is the longest in the league this season, and only Kevin Durant (21 straight in 2018) has a longer such run since 2017-18.

George really elevated his play in the second-round win over the top-seeded Utah Jazz, averaging 29 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists in six games. After Los Angeles again found itself in an 0-2 hole, George delivered 31.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists while connecting on 15 of 34 from long range in the Clippers' run of four straight wins.

He may have had the best playoff game of his career in a pivotal Game 5 win on the road with Leonard sidelined due to a knee injury, tallying 37 points, 16 boards and five assists. It was the first-ever 35-15-5 postseason game by a Clipper and George joined Durant as the only two players this postseason to have at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a game.

George also became just the fourth player in franchise history with three straight 30-point playoff games, along with Bob McAdoo (9), Leonard (5) and Elton Brand (4). George's seven 30-point postseason games since joining the Clippers are tied with Blake Griffin for third most in franchise history, trailing McAdoo (14) and Leonard (12).

The Clippers advanced to the franchise's first-ever Western Conference Finals by overcoming a 25-point deficit in Game 6, the largest comeback by any team to clinch a series in the last 25 seasons. Teams were 2-265 in the 2020-21 regular season when trailing by 25 or more. With that comeback, Los Angeles became the first team to erase an 0-2 deficit twice in one postseason.

That's a hole the Clippers will have to climb out again after a wild 104-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 on Tuesday. George shook off a slow start to score 10 fourth-quarter points and finished with 26, but he missed two free throws with eight seconds left and the Suns capitalised, Deandre Ayton's final-second alley-oop dunk securing a stunning win. It was the franchise-record ninth straight victory in the playoffs for Phoenix, a team which is finding ways to win even without floor leader Chris Paul.

It was an extremely disheartening loss for the Clippers, who overcame terrific games from Cameron Payne and Ayton to have a golden opportunity to steal a road win despite trailing most of the night.

George has done his part to keep the Clippers afloat in Leonard's absence, averaging 30 points in the first two games of this series. However, he is 20 for 49 from the field, did not make a 3-pointer in Game 2 until 2:41 remaining and those two missed free throws ended up proving to be extremely costly, especially coming from a career 85 per cent shooter from the line.

Fatigue certainly played a role for George, who has played at least 40 minutes three times in the past four games, including a 45-plus minute stint in Game 6 against the Jazz. Still, those misses could end up haunting George and the Clippers unless he and his teammates can render them meaningless going forward.

It would be foolish to think Los Angeles is not capable of still winning this series after it survived this scenario twice already. Still, overcoming the Suns will be a tall task since Leonard was still healthy when they lost the first two games to both Dallas and Utah.

While it is unclear if Leonard will return, Paul is expected to return from the league's health and safety protocols soon, perhaps as early as Game 3.

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young believes there is no ceiling for the fifth seeds, who continued their fairytale run after upstaging the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Young fuelled Wednesday's 116-113 win away to the Bucks in Milwaukee, dominating with a game-high 48 points along with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the Hawks drew first blood.

Atlanta's run has been improbable, having sacked their head coach Lloyd Pierce in March at 14-20, before storming into the NBA playoffs under interim Nate McMillan.

The Hawks have eliminated the fourth-ranked New York Knicks and top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers en route to their first Conference Final since 2015.

Young shook his head emphatically and responded with a clear "no" when asked if there was any ceiling on this Hawks side.

"I've been getting asked that a lot at the beginning of the season and I told everybody then, 'I didn't believe we had any ceiling, we can go as far as we want to'," Young told the news conference.

"I don't think there is a ceiling unless you put the finals on it. I believe in this team and we all believe in each other.

"It's definitely unique. It's one of my favourite teams I've been a part of it. It's special. It's definitely a unique group."

The Hawks have won Game 1 in all their postseason series and Young insisted there was a high level of belief within the Atlanta group which came from McMillan and the leaders.

"It really just comes from the leaders," he said. "The leaders from Nate down just believe.

"We have a group that believes in each other and is fighting for each other. Anything can happen. Our team believes that."

Young tied LeBron James (2007) and Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant (2001) for the most points scored in a playoff game in NBA history before turning 23 years old.

The 2020 All-Star (22 years and 277 days) is also the second youngest player in league history to record 45-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason game, with Luka Doncic (22 years and 98 days) the youngest to do so.

Young's 48 points are also the third most scored in a playoff game in Hawks history, behind only Bob Pettit (50 in 1958) and Dominique Wilkins (50 in 1986).

"I'm all for the biggest moments," Young said afterwards.

The Atlanta Hawks and their fairytale season continued after Trae Young's monster performance inspired a 116-113 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Seeded fifth in the NBA playoffs in the east, the Hawks – who sacked head coach Lloyd Pierce in March following a 14-20 start to the season – upstaged top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday to reach the Conference Final for the first time since 2015.

The Hawks – amid the second-longest active drought without reaching the NBA Finals (59 straight seasons entering this year) – produced another shock result to tame Giannis Antetokounmpo and the third-seeded Bucks in Wednesday's series opener.

Young put on a show, erupting for a game-high 48 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds to lead the high-flying Hawks in Milwaukee midweek.

Entering the contest, All-Star Young had been averaging 29.1 points and 10.4 assists per game in the playoffs. No player in NBA history has finished a single postseason averaging 28.0-plus points and 10.0-plus assists (minimum 10 games played), according to Stats Perform.

John Collins (23 points and 15 rebounds) and Clint Capela (12 points and 19 rebounds) also contributed double-doubles as the Hawks used a 34-26 third quarter to pull clear of the Bucks away from home.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo and star team-mate Jrue Holiday flexed their muscles for the Bucks, but it was not enough against the Hawks.

Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, while All-Star Holiday finished with 33 points and 10 assists.

Khris Middleton had at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in each of his last two games. The last four players to do that in back-to-back games prior to Middleton (regular season or postseason) were Ron Harper (1994), Scottie Pippen (1991), Clyde Drexler (1989) and Charles Barkley (1986).

However, Middleton was just six-for-23 shooting for 15 points, five rebounds and four assists at home to the Hawks.

 

Suns at Clippers

The Western Conference Finals heads to Staples Center as the reeling Los Angeles Clippers host the red-hot Phoenix Suns, who lead 2-0.

The Phoenix Suns have listed Chris Paul as "probable" for Game 3 of their Western Conference Finals series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, while Kawhi Leonard has been ruled out.

Paul has missed the opening two games of the Conference Finals series, which the second-seeded Suns claimed in Arizona, having been placed in the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Suns star Paul, 36, entered the protocols last Wednesday and is understood to be asymptomatic, having previously tested positive for coronavirus.

Paul has averaged 15.7 points, 8.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game this postseason.

Meanwhile, the Clippers confirmed star forward Kawhi Leonard will not play in Game 3 due to a sprained right knee sustained on June 14.

Leonard will miss his fifth consecutive game because of the injury.

In the Western Conference semi-finals, the Clippers won both Game 5 and 6 against top seeds the Utah Jazz without Leonard after suffering the injury late in Game 4.

Leonard has averaged 30.4 points, 4.4 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game in this season's NBA playoffs.

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