Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a record-breaking performance from Kevin Durant to defeat the Brooklyn Nets 115-111 in overtime in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series. 

Antetokounmpo scored 40 points and Khris Middleton had 23, including what proved to be the game-winning shot, as the Bucks won a Game 7 for the first time in 20 years, stunning the Nets in Brooklyn. 

Durant finished with 48 points, the most ever scored in a Game 7, and for much of the game appeared ready to will the Nets through to the next round on his own. 

Brooklyn was playing without the injured Kyrie Irving and leaned on Durant to carry the load as he had throughout the series. He played 53 minutes, making 17 of 36 shots from the field and 10 of 11 from the line, but he did not get enough help in the end. 

James Harden was just five of 17 from the field, including two of 12 on three-point attempts, but every time the Nets needed a shot down the stretch they went to Durant. 

That worked for a while, most notably at the end of regulation when he hit a turnaround jumper with his foot on the three-point line to tie the game at 109-109 and force overtime. 

But the Bucks clamped down on Durant and everyone else in the extra session after Bruce Brown hit a jumper early in the period to put Brooklyn up by two.

The Nets would not score again the rest of the way, as Antetokounmpo tied the game with a shot over Durant with 1:12 to go before Middleton hit a jumper from the middle of the lane with 40.7 seconds remaining to take the lead and Brook Lopez added a pair of free throws with 0.3 seconds left for the final margin. 

Entering the game, home teams were 109-31 in Game 7s in NBA history, but Milwaukee bucked that trend to advance. 

They will await the winner of Sunday's Game 7 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Final.

 

Hawks at 76ers

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers host the upset-minded Atlanta Hawks in Game 7, with Atlanta looking for their fifth road win of the playoffs so far. Earlier Sunday, the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns open their Western Conference Final series. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clippers had trailed 2-0 in the NBA playoff series but rallied to close out the second-round matchup 4-2 against the side with the best regular-season record in 2020-21.

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

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

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

Joel Embiid said the Philadelphia 76ers' ball movement was the key to avoiding another late collapse and elimination from the NBA playoffs after the top seeds beat the Atlanta Hawks 104-99.

The 76ers let slip double-digit leads late in both Game 4 and 5, but held their nerve in Game 6 on Friday to force a series decider in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, despite pressure from the Hawks and All-Star guard Trae Young – who finished with a game-high 34 points.

MVP runner-up Embiid was important for Philadelphia down the stretch, with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while 76ers team-mates Tobias Harris and Seth Curry both scored 24 points.

The 76ers rallied behind a 12-0 run early in the third quarter, eventually winning by five points to force a decider in Philadelphia on Sunday.

"There was a bunch of stuff, we moved the ball a little better," Embiid told reporters in a media conference after the game when asked what was different in Game 6.

"In Game 5 the rhythm was messed up because they kept fouling. In those situations when you lose your rhythm, it's on me to figure it out too… you're not getting possession offensively and you need to play defense, you don't get to share the ball, tonight we just moved the ball.

"Whether it was Ben [Simmons] when he came back in with two minutes left, Tyrese [Maxey] at the point, Tobias, as a team everybody did their job."

Two years ago, Philadelphia's Conference semi-final series against the Toronto Raptors went to a decider, eventually losing Game 7 by two points on the road in a significant moment in Embiid's career reminiscent of Sunday's upcoming game.

"This time around it's at home," Embiid said. "That's why we worked so hard this year, to get that home court advantage."

He added: "I know we blew that lead last home game, which we should never have done. Tonight we kept telling each other, 48 minutes, we've gotta be focused for 48 minutes. That's what we have to do."

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers was expressive post-game when he spoke to Embiid and later explained what he said to his star center.

"I told him 'we'd win'. I said 'I told you'. I kept saying that," Rivers told the reporters via a post-game video conference.

"These guys are young, they need to believe that. I don’t know if they did or didn't. I thought they did, you can tell in the way they played.

"But we have another game. It was more about getting his head ready for the next game. That's what I talked about. I said 'I told you, but we're not done'. and we're not."

Rivers earned his 98th career playoff victory, tying former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan for the sixth-most postseason wins in NBA history.

Philadelphia's Rivers added he felt his side handled the early pressure from the Hawks and saw out the win strongly after their recent late fades.

"They just hung in there," Rivers said. "You lose two leads, the lead the other night was such a tough loss.

"For them to jump on us, honestly I anticipated that, I believed if we could weather the storm a lot of energy would be spent. From that point on, we controlled the game."

The Los Angeles Clippers overturned a 25-point deficit to sensationally eliminate the Utah Jazz en route to their first Western Conference Final, stunning the top seeds 131-119 on Friday.

Despite the absence of star Kawhi Leonard and a large third-quarter deficit against the Jazz, the Clipper produced a miraculous comeback to advance to a Conference Final for the first time in the franchise's 51-year history.

The Clippers had trailed 2-0 in the NBA playoff series but rallied to close out the second-round matchup 4-2 against the side with the best regular-season record in 2020-21 as the Phoenix Suns await, starting on Sunday.

Seeded fourth, the Clippers – who also rallied from 2-0 down against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, having squandered a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets' in last season's Western Conference semi-finals, were fuelled by Terance Mann.

Terance Mann posted a career-high 39 points with seven-from-10 three-pointers, including five in the second half.

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

Paul George was outstanding with 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while Reggie Jackson finished with 27 points and 10 assists to guide the Clippers.

It was a disappointing end for the Jazz, who were excellent throughout the regular season and had started strongly in Game 6, leading 72-50 at half-time.

Donovan Mitchell scored 39 points, with nine rebounds and nine assists for Utah as the Jazz became the first team in NBA history to win a postseason clash by double digits after trailing by 20-plus points at half-time, per Stats Perform.

Earlier on Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers responded after letting big leads slip in Game 4 and 5 to force an Eastern Conference semi-final decider with a 104-99 win away to the Atlanta Hawks.

Seth Curry, who made six of his nine three-point attempts, and Tobias Harris both scored 24 points for the top-seeded 76ers – who levelled the second-round series at 3-3, forcing a Game 7 in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Atlanta had started strong to compound the pressure on the 76ers, but Philadelphia withstood the early storm, with a 12-0 run after half-time before holding their nerve in the last quarter.

All-Star and MVP runner-up Joel Embiid finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while rookie Tyrese Maxey had an influential final quarter, scoring 16 points for the game, after Ben Simmons was benched plagued by his shooting woes.

Hawks All-Star Trae Young had a game-high 34 points, shooting five-from-10 from three-point range, along with 12 assists, five rebounds and three steals.

 

Bucks at Nets

The gripping Eastern Conference semi-final series between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks will be decided at Barclays Center on Saturday. Hosts the Nets will be missing Kyrie Irving due to an ankle injury as James Harden battles for mobility after re-injuring his hamstring in Game 1.

Utah Jazz star Mike Conley is set to make his long-awaited return against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

Conley has not played since hurting his hamstring in the series-clinching Game 5 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.

But with the top-seeded Jazz facing elimination from the NBA playoffs, All-Star guard Conley is available to face the Clippers on Friday.

The Jazz trail the fourth-ranked Clippers 3-2 heading into the must-win clash.

Conley has been averaging 17.4 points, a postseason career-high 8.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds through five games in the playoffs.

During the regular season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

The Jazz have never lost a best-of-seven series after holding a 2-0 lead but have won only one of their nine best-of-seven series in when facing a 3-2 deficit, according to Stats Perform.

Utah have been down 3-2 with Game 6 on the road three times previously, losing all three. The Clippers have held a 3-2 series lead five times before – closing out the series in Game 6 only once (2020 against the Dallas Mavericks).

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will not face the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, head coach Steve Nash confirmed.

Irving has been sidelined since spraining his right ankle in the Nets' Game 4 loss, missing Game 5 and 6 in the NBA playoffs.

With the second-round series set to be decided in Brooklyn on Saturday, the second-seeded Nets will be without Irving.

"Kai is still getting treatment ... he's got some miles to make up, but progressing and sticking to his rehab," Nash said. "He is officially out."

Kevin Durant has been carrying the load for the Nets, with fellow MVP winner James Harden far from his best since returning from a hamstring injury in Game 5.

"If we're able to advance, I think he'll [Irving] be back at some point," Nash said. "So I don't know if that's in a few days, in a week or beyond, but it's not a season-threatening situation."

Irving has been averaging 26.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 2020-21, while boasting career highs in field-goal percentage (50.6) and free-throw percentage (92.2).

In this season's playoffs, Irving is averaging 22.7 points, a career-best 5.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists for the Nets, who are eyeing their first NBA championship.

The Boston Celtics have reportedly agreed to trade Kemba Walker and a 2021 first-round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for former favourite Al Horford.

Walker arrived in Boston in 2019 in a sign-and-trade deal with the Charlotte Hornets that would see the point guard paid a mammoth $140.8million over four years.

The Celtics made that move after losing Kyrie Irving and Horford in free agency.

Horford got a four-year, $97m contract with the Philadelphia 76ers but was traded to the Thunder 17 months later.

Friday's agreement ends miserable stays for both Walker and Horford on their respective teams, while Boston also receive 21-year-old center Moses Brown.

The trade, reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, sees Walker, this year's 16th overall pick and a 2025 second-round selection sent to Oklahoma City.

In return, the Celtics get Horford, Brown and a 2023 second-round pick in Brad Stevens' first trade since leaving his role as head coach to become president of basketball operations.

The move crucially allows Boston to get off Walker's contract, which still has $73.7m owed. Horford's deal has a slightly more palatable $53.5m remaining.

For the Thunder, who have already traded the majority of their assets for picks, it means they will have three selections in the first round of this year's draft.

 

Walker started all 82 games in his final year in Charlotte, contributing 25.6 points per game.

However, in Boston, he dealt with repeated knee injuries, scoring 20.4 points in his first season and 19.3 in his second, which concluded with a 4-1 playoff defeat to the Brooklyn Nets. Walker played three games and averaged 12.7 points.

Horford dropped from 13.6 points and 1.3 blocks on the Celtics to 11.9 and 0.9 on the 76ers.

He did improve after joining Oklahoma City but was then sat for the final two months of the season as the team tanked, handing greater opportunities to fellow big man Brown.

Brown averaged 8.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game in his only season with the Thunder. He ended the year with a career-high 24 points against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo acknowledged he was playing to his strengths in repeatedly attacking the rim in Game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets, ending without a three-point attempt.

The Milwaukee Bucks superstar came up with 30 points and 17 rebounds on Thursday to help keep his team alive in the postseason, levelling the Eastern Conference semi-finals series at 3-3.

While Khris Middleton led the Bucks in scoring with 38 points, Antetokounmpo was crucially more efficient than earlier in the playoffs.

In the 2020-21 postseason, the 'Greek Freak' is a 52.3 per cent shooter from the field, but that breaks down to 70.2 per cent at the rim, 39.3 per cent from midrange and a measly 17.1 per cent from three.

Antetokounmpo has averaged 4.1 attempts per game from beyond the arc – up on 3.2 in the regular season, which was an increase on a career average of 2.2.

Against Brooklyn, though, Antetokounmpo did not shoot once from deep.

It was only the fourth time this season the two-time MVP had zero three-point attempts, one of which came as he sprained his ankle at Houston after 46 seconds in April.

Meanwhile, Game 6 was the eighth occasion across Antetokounmpo's NBA career he had 20 field goal attempts and none from three – the first since 2018 and first in the playoffs since his home postseason debut in 2015.

"That was just how it went," he said. "I didn't shoot a three tonight, but I'm just trying to be aggressive. Get downhill, make the right play.

 

"I think there was maybe one or two plays I was open at the three-point line and maybe could have shot it.

"But what I know is that I enjoy the game when I'm aggressive and I can get downhill and I can get my team-mates involved, and when I play to my strengths.

"That's when I enjoy the game the most, and that's what I try to do."

Coach Mike Budenholzer added: "Giannis coming into the game was in a good place.

"Just get him where he's attacking and creating for his team-mates, creating for himself. He came in today in a good place, and we've got to stay there going into Game 7."

Game 7 is back on the road, with all six games to this point having been won by the home team.

Antetokounmpo, who has only once been beyond this round and never past the Eastern Conference Finals, said: "We knew what kind of game this was.

"There was only one option: win the game. We knew if we didn't win the game, our season would be over, and we've talked about it multiple times in the locker room among the guys that it's not going to be easy.

"As I've said all year long, we're built for this moment. Simple as that. No one said it was going to be easy. It might be hard. But we are capable of doing it.

"So, everybody had a great mindset, came to play, came to compete, and hopefully we can do that in Game 7."

James Harden is confident he will have improved mobility for Game 7 of the Brooklyn Nets' Eastern Conference semi-final series after appearing limited in the 104-89 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden returned from a hamstring injury sustained in the series opener, playing both Game 5 and Game 6, but his mobility has visibly been restricted by the issue.

At one stage in Thursday's Game 6 defeat to the Bucks, former NBA MVP Harden swooped on a loose ball, offering up a fast-break opportunity but he instead held up play to ensure he did not need to sprint.

The Bucks levelled the series at 3-3, with forcing a deciding Game 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Harden's return coincided with Kyrie Irving's absence after he injured his ankle in Game 4, triggering further doubts about his fitness but the former insisted he was improving.

"It's not even about rust. It's about being able to move," Harden said after finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists from 40 minutes on court.

"Day by day I continue to get better. Game 5 was the first time I did any movement since I got hurt. Tonight was no different.

"I'm out there to do whatever it takes to win. I've got to be better on both ends of the floor which I will be on Game 7."

Nets team-mate Kevin Durant, who scored 32 points and had 11 rebounds for second-seeded Brooklyn, felt Harden seemed to be on the improve.

"He was moving better today. That's a tough, tough injury," Durant said post-game.

"He's gutting it out for us. We're not expecting too much from him movement wise. He's going out there and giving it his all. You've got to respect that."

Durant was not happy with the way his side defended Khris Middleton, who had a game-high 38 points and 10 rebounds.

"I think we fouled him three times shooting threes, which got his rhythm going," Durant said.

"He's a shot maker. We gave him confidence. Every time it felt like they got an offensive rebound he hit a three. He made timely shots for them."

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.

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