Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo starred as the Milwaukee Bucks forced a deciding Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semi-final thanks to a 104-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.

Bucks forward Middleton top-scored with an NBA playoff career-high 38 points, including five-from-eight three-pointers, and had 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals, as Milwaukee levelled the series at 3-3.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo produced a more aggressive display inside the paint to stay alive in the playoffs, putting up 30 points and 17 rebounds in a double-double display at home to the Nets.

Antetokounmpo played a key role in 14-0 fourth-quarter run, including a strong offensive rebound and slam, which warded off Brooklyn's threat.

Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo did not attempt one three-point shot in a clear change of strategy after criticism for his shooting earlier in the series.

James Harden started again for the Nets after returning from a hamstring injury in Game 5, getting through 39 minutes but was visibly hampered, lacking power and finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

Kevin Durant had another busy shift, playing 40 of the 48 minutes, however he could not carry the second-seeded Nets, scoring 32 points with 11 rebounds following his monster triple-double last time out.

PJ Tucker and Jrue Holiday were strong defensively, with the latter having four steals, harassing Durant – who only shot at 50 per cent from the field and two-from-eight beyond the arc.

Milwaukee led 59-48 at half-time with Antetokounmpo having 18 points in the opening half, shooting eight of nine from the field.

The Nets rallied in the third quarter and put pressure on the Bucks early in the last period with a 10-0 run.

Milwaukee hit back with their 14-0 run which led to Brooklyn benching Durant and Harden late.

The Nets will welcome the Bucks to Brooklyn for Game 7 on Saturday.

 

76ers at Hawks

The east and west's top seeds – the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz – could be eliminated on Friday, with the Atlanta Hawks and the Los Angeles Clippers both looking to wrap up their Conference semi-final series on their home courts leading 3-2.

Kawhi Leonard has been ruled out of the Los Angeles Clippers' Game 6 Western Conference semi-final showdown against the Utah Jazz because of a knee injury.

The Clippers are on the cusp of their first Conference Finals appearance, but they will have to try to clinch without star Leonard on Friday, head coach Tyronn Lue confirmed.

Leonard sat out the Clippers' 119-111 win over the top-seeded Jazz in Game 5 on Wednesday, having injured his knee in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

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.

It is the end of an era for the Dallas Mavericks after NBA championship-winning head coach Rick Carlisle stepped down amid reports of tension with star Luka Doncic.

Carlisle had two years remaining on his contract but opted not to return for the 2021-22 season following the Mavericks' first-round playoff defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The winningest coach in franchise history (555-478, 53.7 per cent), Carlisle departs after 13 seasons, including the franchise's first NBA championship in 2011.

But Carlisle leaves Dallas following reports of tension between him and two-time All-Star Doncic – whose long-term future is dominating headlines after the exit of president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

"After a number of in-person conversations with Mark Cuban over the last week, today I informed him that I will not be returning as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks," Carlisle, whose Mavericks did not advance past the first round of the playoffs since their 2011 title, told ESPN on Thursday.

"This was solely my decision. My family and I have had an amazing 13-year experience working with great people in a great city."

Carlisle, who won the NBA championship as a player with the Boston Celtics in 1986, is one of only 14 individuals to claim a title as both a player and a head coach.

The 61-year-old moved up to 15th on the NBA's all-time wins list in 2020-21, surpassing Cotton Fitzsimmons (832) with 833 career victories.

"Rick informed me today about his decision to step down as head coach," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in a statement. "On top of being a tremendous basketball coach, he was also a friend and a confidant.

"Rick helped us bring the O'Brien trophy to Dallas and those memories I will always cherish. I want to thank Rick for all he gave the franchise and this city. We wish him all the best."

Chris Paul crumpled to the floor of Phoenix Suns Arena, grimacing and twisting with pain while he grasped at his right shoulder.

For all his regular-season accolades – 11 All-Star Games, nine All-NBA teams, four assists titles and six steals titles – deep playoff runs have been hard to come by for Paul.

Whether due to fate or disappointing failure, the future Hall of Fame point guard has only played in one Conference Finals series. After suffering a hamstring injury in 2018, Paul watched from the sideline as his Houston Rockets lost Games 6 and 7 to the Golden State Warriors, extinguishing his best chance to date to win a title.

Three years later, as Paul left the floor with a right shoulder injury during Game 1 of the Suns' first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, it must have felt as if the fates were conspiring against him again. After leading Phoenix to the NBA's second-best record in 2020-21, Paul got to face LeBron James and the defending champions as a reward. Then an injury less than 15 minutes into the postseason?

What a hopeless feeling that must have been.

Paul didn't miss a game in the series but looked like a shell of himself through Game 3, averaging 6.7 points on 38.1 per cent shooting as the Suns trailed 2-1 in the series. The tide turned in Game 4, however, with Anthony Davis succumbing to injury and with Paul's shoulder beginning to steadily improve.

After ousting the Lakers in six games, Paul was nearly flawless in a sweep of the Denver Nuggets and MVP Nikola Jokic. He averaged 25.5 points and 10.3 assists over four games and rose to the occasion in the clutch, scoring 17.0 points per game in the second half on absurd 78.8 per cent shooting. In fourth quarters that series, Paul was 16 for 19 from the field (84.2 per cent), including a perfect mark on his four three-point attempts.

Paul totalled 41 assists, the most since 1984-85 in a playoff series while committing five or fewer turnovers. For the third time in his postseason career, he had 15 assists and no turnovers in Game 2, a feat that has only been done seven times in a playoff game since 1984-85.

At 36 years old, Paul painted one of the most memorable masterpieces of his career.

Then came another devastating blow, when Paul was sidelined in accordance with the NBA's COVID-19 health and safety protocols on Wednesday morning, keeping him in quarantine indefinitely. It has not been specified whether Paul has tested positive for the coronavirus, or exactly why he has entered the protocols.

Going forward, the Suns' road only gets tougher, facing either the top-seeded Utah Jazz or Paul's former team – the Los Angeles Clippers – in the Western Conference Finals, and Phoenix could be forced to start the series without their star point guard.

Despite the challenge ahead, it is tempting to consider what a first career NBA Finals appearance – or first career title – would do for the legacy of one of the most underrated players of his era.

Paul's brilliance can sometimes go unnoticed, especially in a league full of talented scorers who appear ready to drop 50 in any given game. His career high is 43 points, and the last time he hit 40 was in 2016.

But what's set Paul apart since the day he entered the league are his abilities to command an offense and distribute to team-mates. He is one of six players with over 10,000 career assists and, all things being equal, will move into third on the all-time helpers list next season, trailing only John Stockton and Jason Kidd.

Among the five players with the most assists in NBA history, Paul's 18.3 points per game is the highest mark, out-pacing Steve Nash's 14.3 by a healthy margin.

Paul is also fifth all-time with 2,332 career steals and could move up a spot or two on that list in two years' time.

But Paul's true impact defies traditional box score statistics. This postseason, the Suns have a scoring differential of plus 13.0 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the court, and Phoenix are shooting nearly 50 per cent from the floor with their conductor in the game.

Moreover, Paul's teams simply win.

His teams have a record of 698-392 when he plays, or an average of 53-29 over an 82-game season. Paul has played for five teams in his career, and each have improved their record in Paul's first year over the previous season. On average, a team adding Paul to the roster increase their win percentage by .168, the equivalent of 14 added wins over an 82-game season.

If Paul never played another game, he would still be a guaranteed Hall of Famer. And after this latest disruption, perhaps the 2021 playoffs will be yet another chapter in a book of postseasons gone wrong for an otherwise legendary player.

But almost every team remaining in this year’s playoffs is dealing with attrition, including both the Suns' potential opponents in the next round. Phoenix are rated by bookmakers as the second favourites for the championship, trailing only the Brooklyn Nets.

Paul's legacy should be able to stand alone, with or without a title. But adding a championship ring would go a long way towards forcing his detractors to finally acknowledge his consistent brilliance.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more NBA teams are looking for a head coach after the New Orleans Pelicans parted ways with Stan Van Gundy and the Washington Wizards said they would not renew Scott Brooks' contract. 

That brings the total to six openings around the league, as the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and Portland Trail Blazers also are in the midst of the search process. 

Brooks' best team during five years in Washington was his first, the 2016-17 side that went 49-33 in the regular season before falling to Boston in a seven-game Eastern Conference semi-finals series. 

Washington were not able to build on their young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, as Wall missed significant time with injury the next few years before moving on to the Houston Rockets. 

Brooks went 183-207 (.469) in his five years with the Wizards, who missed the playoffs the last two seasons before bowing out in the first round against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers this year. 

"We have been committed to taking the proper steps over the last two seasons to develop our young players, bring in pieces to complement Bradley Beal and build a winning environment that will ultimately lead to sustained on-court success," said Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard.

"Our organization will always be grateful to Scott for his dedication and work both on the court and in the community over the past five years and I personally admire and respect how he helped keep our team together during the unprecedented events of the last 15 months."

The long-time NBA fixture Van Gundy got only one season with Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball and the Pelicans, going 31-41 and missing the playoffs. 

The former Magic, Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons boss could not find a winning formula with a mostly young group in New Orleans, though injuries that kept Ball and Williamson out for extended periods did not help. 

Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin thanked Van Gundy for his "integrity and professionalism" in a statement announcing the move. 

"This was a difficult decision as I have tremendous respect for Stan both personally and professionally, but we agreed it is in the best interest of our team to move forward in a different direction," Griffin said. 

Kawhi Leonard will miss Game 5 of the Western Conference semi-finals, according to multiple reports, after the Los Angeles Clippers star was ruled out indefinitely with a right knee sprain.

Leonard, the two-time NBA Finals MVP, has played an instrumental role in levelling the seven-game series with the Utah Jazz at 2-2 after the Clippers fell into a 0-2 hole.

He scored 34 points in 31 minutes as the Clippers took Game 4 at Staples Center, the highlight a monstrous dunk over Derrick Favors.

But with the series now shifting back to Utah for Game 5, the Clippers now face the prospect of potentially being without Leonard for the rest of the series.

It could prove a potentially fatal blow to the Clippers' hopes of progressing to a Western Conference Finals matchup with the Phoenix Suns.

He leads the Clippers with 30.4 points per game in the postseason, comfortably ahead of Paul George (24.9).

Only three players in the league have had a greater scoring influence on victories for their respective teams during the playoffs.

Leonard has averaged 33.8 points per game in wins this postseason, a tally bettered by only Luka Doncic (37.3), Nikola Jokic (37) and Anthony Davis (34).

The Clippers, who have never reached the Conference Finals in their history, will look to take a 3-2 lead by overcoming Leonard's absence and the Jazz in Game 5 on Wednesday.

Steve Nash says Kevin Durant's "signature performance" in the Brooklyn Nets' 114-108 NBA playoff win over the Milwaukee Bucks showed why is one of the all-time greats.

Durant produced a masterclass in Game 5 at Barclays Center on Tuesday; scoring 49 points, claiming 17 rebounds and providing 10 assists as the Nets took a 3-2 series lead.

The two-time NBA champion became the first player to put up at least 45 points, 15 boards and 10 assists in a postseason game.

Durant stole the show as James Harden struggled on his return from a hamstring injury for a Nets side missing Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle.

Nets coach Nash said of the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals MVP: "It's ridiculous what he's able to do.

"We knew he was capable of nights like this, but to do it tonight… We miss Ky, James obviously is soldiering through his ailments. We're down bodies, we're wounded. And for him to have the toughness, the mentality. That's what makes him one of the all-time greats.

"This is a performance that's a signature performance for Kevin, and it was beautiful to watch."

Durant is focused on trying to repeat his incredible exploits as the Nets go in search of NBA glory.

He said: "I didn't even think about anything but just each possession. I was trying to win each possession, and I didn't think about how many points I had or shot attempts or rebounds or assists.

"That's the approach I always take, and I was able to rack up some points. I did play every minute, so that did help with my point total."

Asked how he ranked his performance, he said: "Once they happen, I just move on and see if I can do it again. That was a fun game to be a part of, but there have been a lot of games in my career I feel have been just as fun."

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and took 12 assists but the Bucks lost despite moving into a 17-point lead in the third quarter.

James Harden stole the headlines pre-game, but it was Kevin Durant who dazzled with a monster triple-double to inspire the Brooklyn Nets to a 114-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA playoffs.

Harden was cleared to return for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which was deadlocked at 2-2 upon the former MVP's comeback from a hamstring injury on Tuesday.

However, Harden struggled badly as team-mate Durant stole the show with 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists – almost singlehandedly reclaiming Brooklyn's series lead following back-to-back losses.

Durant did not miss a minute of the clash at Barclays Center, where the second-seeded Nets withstood Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to move ahead 3-2 after being outscored 29-15 in the opening period.

According to Stats Perform, Durant became the first player to post 48-plus points while playing all 48 minutes in a regulation playoff game since Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant – a former MVP and two-time NBA champion – is the first player in NBA history with a 45/15/10 postseason game after moving the Nets within a win of the Conference Finals.

Back in the line-up, Harden played all but two minutes, however he was one-for-10 shooting for five points as Jeff Green (27) and Blake Griffin (17) were the only other Brooklyn players to finish with double-digit points.

Antetokounmpo put up a 34-point, 12-rebound double-double but it was not enough for the visiting Bucks.

Khris Middleton contributed 25 points for the third-seeded Bucks, who led 59-43 at half-time before the Nets rallied.

The series heads back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

 

Hawks at 76ers

The top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers will look to bounce back at home to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. The second-round matchup in the east is level at 2-2.

Brooklyn Nets star James Harden has overcome a hamstring injury and will return for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden was initially ruled out alongside fellow All-Star Kyrie Irving (ankle) due to his troublesome hamstring, which had him sidelined after bowing out 43 seconds into the opening clash with the Bucks.

But Harden's status was upgraded to doubtful and then questionable on Tuesday, before being cleared to play less than an hour prior to tip-off at Barclays Center, where the series is tied at 2-2.

"I'm not sure the level of risk," Nets head coach Steve Nash said before the game. "I think it is James' decision. He wants to play. Ultimately, he wants to play. He's been pushing."

Harden – averaging 23.2 points, a postseason career-high 8.8 assists and 6.2 rebounds in the playoffs in 2020-21 – has been managing a hamstring injury since the start of April.

The former Houston Rockets guard, who had been making an MVP run prior to the initial setback, returned in the closing stages of the regular season.

Harden then averaged 27.8 points per game in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics but suffered an injury in Game 1 at home to Giannis Antetokounmpo's Bucks.

Having gone 2-0 up against Milwaukee without Harden, second-seeded Brooklyn lost both games on the road to level the series.

The Nets have won three of four Game 5's at home in best-of-seven series all-time after being tied 2-2. Their only such loss came in the 2003 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs (93-83).

Brooklyn are outscoring opponents by 8.7 points per 100 possessions when both Harden and Irving are on the court this season (regular and postseason). That differential drops to plus-2.8 when neither is in the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Tobias Harris – Philadelphia 76ers

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

Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks

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

KEY BATTLE – Embiid against his ailing knee

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

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

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

HEAD TO HEAD

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

The Brooklyn Nets could yet be boosted by the return of James Harden on Tuesday after he was upgraded to doubtful.

Harden had initially been ruled out of Game 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The former Houston Rockets star has been managing a hamstring injury since the start of April.

Harden, who had been making an MVP run prior to the initial setback, returned in the closing stages of the regular season.

He then averaged 27.8 points per game in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics but bowed out 43 seconds into Game 1 at home to the Bucks.

 

The potential for Harden to feature in Game 5 lifts the Nets, who have also now lost Kyrie Irving to an ankle issue.

Having gone 2-0 up against Milwaukee without Harden, Brooklyn lost both games on the road to level the series.

Kevin Durant has led the team with 29.8 points per game in the series but was limited to nine-of-25 shooting in Game 4.

Kawhi Leonard's huge dunk in the Los Angeles Clippers' series-levelling win over the Utah Jazz sent ripples through the NBA, stopping Joel Embiid in his tracks.

Embiid was undertaking post-game media duties after the Philadelphia 76ers were beaten by the Atlanta Hawks, when his attention was diverted by seeing Leonard in full flow.

"Oh my god. See that dunk, see that Kawhi dunk?" said Embiid.

Unlike Embiid, Leonard finished on the winning side in Monday’s playoff games, his 31 points helping the Clippers post a 118-104 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 4 of their Western Conference semi-final.

Leonard's masterpiece came near the end of the second quarter.

"I don't get to see the reaction of what's on the web or social media or whatever, but Zu [Ivica Zubac] showed me a clip of Embiid talking, and yeah that's the only thing I got from it. During the game in the heat of the moment I know it's a big play, but you've got to have the next-play mentality because right after I think Joe Ingles came down and hit a three pretty wide open in that corner, so we've still got room for improvement," Leonard said.

Leonard sat out the closing minutes after appearing to hurt his knee, but when asked about the blow after the game he said the knee was "good", eager to move on to the next question.

When asked about the team's prospects of reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time, Leonard almost scoffed at that being his ambition.

He said: "I don't care about the Western Conference Finals. I'm trying to win a championship.

"Obviously that's the next step but I'm not even looking at that."

Paul George also scored 31 points as the Clippers edged out the Jazz at Staples Center, teeing up Game 5 in Utah on Wednesday.

Having been 2-0 down in this series, the Clippers have set aside criticism of their slow start to look sharp again.

Leonard indicated he was impervious to external discussion surrounding the team's performance.

"I don't even know we took criticism," he said. "I don't know what's going on in the outside world."

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