Luka Doncic felt it was all about "energy, man" as the Dallas Mavericks put in a much-improved defensive showing to claw their way back into their Western Conference semi-finals series against the Phoenix Suns.

Speaking after the Game 2 defeat to the top-seeded Suns, superstar Doncic described the Mavs' second-half defensive showing as "horrible".

But it was a much different story for a desperate Dallas side on Friday as Doncic and Jalen Brunson starred in a 103-94 win to trim the deficit to 2-1.

Doncic finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and two steals, while Brunson put up a game-high 28 points – six more than he managed over the first two games.

After helping to spoil Chris Paul's 37th birthday and keep the Suns at bay, Doncic explained why he felt the Mavs were more on it from a defensive standpoint.

"Energy, man. The crowd gets you going. The energy and the execution were better. That's what we've got to do every game," he said, in quotes reported by ESPN.

"I knew I had to do better. I knew I could do better. I think I made a big jump on defense this year. The second half (of Game 2) was horrible by me, and I knew I had to get back to my team and play better defense.

"We're going to believe until the end. Somebody's got to get to four wins, and no matter if you're down or you're up, you've got to believe."

Head coach Jason Kidd said after the Game 1 defeat that Doncic did not get enough support from his team-mates. He had a different view this time around.

"Everybody joined the party," Kidd said. 

"They helped out on both ends. Luka was great defensively. He participated, too. It puts us in a different position when that happens."

For Brunson, the target now is maintaining that same standard when Dallas aim to tie things up in Game 4 on Sunday.

"I found a way to bounce back tonight," Brunson said. 

"I just can’t be satisfied with this. Sunday’s going to be another brutal game. I have to bring the same energy, the same intensity, the same everything."

It was a defensive showcase by the Philadelphia 76ers in their 99-79 home win in Game 3 of their series against the Miami Heat.

With their season essentially on the line – as no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit – the 76ers were energised on the defensive end with the return of star Joel Embiid, who was wearing a protective mask to protect his fractured orbital bone.

It was the first time since January 2018 that the 76ers have held an opposing team under 80 points, when they beat the San Antonio Spurs 97-78.

In an incredibly low-scoring first half, the 76ers reached half-time with a 41-34 lead as James Harden carried the early offensive load, before cooling off in the second half to finish on 17 points (four-of-11 shooting) with eight rebounds and six assists.

Embiid was solid in his return, commanding plenty of defensive attention to open up lanes for his teammates and putting in 18 points (five-of-12 shooting, eight-of-10 free throws) with 11 rebounds.

The real star of the show for the home side was Danny Green, who hit seven of his first eight three-point attempts for his equal team-high 21 points, sharing that figure with Tyrese Maxey, who had all of his 21 points in the second half.

Jimmy Butler was the only Miami starter to get into double figures, scoring a game-high 33 points on 12-of-22 shooting, while Tyler Herro was a disappointing five-of-15 from the field for his 14 points.

Game 4 will remain in Philadelphia before heading back to Miami for Game 5.

 

Mavericks make it a series

The Dallas Mavericks injected some life into their series against the Phoenix Suns, taking Game 3 103-94 at home to trail 2-1.

In an inspired defensive showing, Dallas held the Suns to quarter totals of 20, 24, 23 and 27, slowing the game down to a crawling pace at times as both sides hunted for the exact looks they were after.

Both teams shot a respectable 44 per cent from the field, while the Suns were more efficient from long range, shooting it at 46 per cent compared to the Mavericks' 33 per cent, but the hosts forced 17 turnovers while committing just eight.

While the Mavs were not at their best from deep, despite shooters Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith combining for eight makes behind the arc, they compensated by dominating the interior, out-scoring the Suns 50-32 in the paint.

Luka Doncic was at his best with 26 points (11-of-25 shooting), adding 13 rebounds and nine assists, but it was Jalen Brunson who lifted the Mavericks to the victory.

After scoring a combined 22 points from 32 per cent shooting in Game 1 and Game 2, Brunson erupted for a game-high 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting, with five assists and four rebounds.

Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid will return from injury for Game 3 against the Miami Heat.

Embiid had been sidelined since a stray Pascal Siakam elbow in the last game of Philadelphia's first-round series against the Toronto Raptors fractured his orbital bone, meaning he will play in a protective mask.

He averaged a career-high 30.6 points per game this season along with 11.7 rebounds and a career-high 4.2 assists, and shot over 50 per cent from the field against the Raptors.

The 76ers had a record of 6-8 in the 14 regular season contests Embiid missed, and also dropped the first two games of their current series against Miami as he did not travel with the team for the Heat's opening home fixtures.

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid has passed concussion protocol and there is "optimism" about his participation in Friday's Game 3 against the Miami Heat, according to reports.

Embiid has not played so far in the second-round series, which the 76ers trail 2-0 after a defeat on Wednesday.

Tyrese Maxey did his best to make up for the Cameroonian's absence, scoring 34 points, but Heat center Bam Adebayo (23 points and nine rebounds) enjoyed another big night as Miami secured a 119-103 victory.

The 76ers will look to get on the board in Philadelphia on Friday, but doubts remain around the availability of their MVP candidate, who suffered a facial fracture and concussion against the Toronto Raptors in round one.

Embiid is currently listed as out for Game 3, but according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, he cleared concussion protocol earlier on Friday and also participated in the team's shootaround, with Charania saying there was "optimism" about his chances of featuring in Game 3.

Coach Doc Rivers was unable to offer any assurances on Thursday, telling reporters: "I really don't know [if Embiid can play].

"We talked [on Tuesday], and we talked [on Wednesday]. He looked good, as far as talking... we just have to wait and see."

In the first round against the Raptors, Embiid averaged 26.2 points per game across his six appearances, with 11.3 rebounds per game.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks has been suspended without pay from Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors for his flagrant two foul on Gary Payton II.

Brooks was ejected less than three minutes into Game 2 for a foul described as "unnecessary and excessive contact… resulting in substantial injury" when he hit Payton in the head as he attacked the rim, causing an awkward fall on his extended arm underneath the basket.

With Payton – who was the primary defender on Grizzlies star Ja Morant – ruled out of the game, Morant exploded for 47 points to carry his side to a 106-101 win to even the series.

He will miss the rest of the series after being diagnosed with a fractured elbow as well as ligament and muscle damage.

It is reported that Payton may be able to return for the NBA Finals if the Warriors are to make it that far, while Brooks will return for Game 4.

Gary Payton II suffered ligament and muscle damage along with a broken left elbow in the Golden State Warriors' defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies – but he might not be out of the playoffs just yet.

The Grizzlies' Dillon Brooks was ejected in the first quarter of Tuesday's game for a nasty-looking strike across the head of Payton in midair, which was followed by a rebuke from Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.

Kerr said that Brooks "broke the code" of the sport with that incident, claiming it had been "dirty" play.

The Warriors were beaten 106-101 by the Grizzlies, leaving their Western Conference semi-finals series locked at 1-1 ahead of the next tussle on Saturday.

While Payton will not feature again against the Grizzlies in this series, it appears he could have a role to play if the Warriors go any deeper into the playoffs. For now, the plan is to assess his condition in two weeks' time.

A Warriors team statement said: "Gary Payton II, who exited Tuesday's Game 2 in Memphis after sustaining an injury to his left elbow, underwent an MRI yesterday in the Bay Area. The MRI confirmed a fracture in the left elbow, in addition to ligament and muscle damage. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks."

The Warriors also offered an update regarding veteran Andre Iguodala, seemingly ruling out a return until at least Game 6, should the series with the Grizzlies go so far.

"Andre Iguodala, who has missed the team's last three playoff games due to a disc injury in his neck, is making good progress in his recovery and will be re-evaluated again in one week," the Warriors statement read.

Brooklyn Nets point guard Ben Simmons will hope to finally get on the court in the 2022-23 season after undergoing successful back surgery on Thursday.

The 2020-21 Defensive Player of the Year runner-up failed to play a single minute in the 2021-22 campaign.

He joined the Nets from the Philadelphia 76ers in February as part of a multi-player trade and was soon sidelined with a herniated disc.

The Nets have now confirmed both a successful surgery and a timeline for his return.

"Brooklyn Nets guard/forward Ben Simmons underwent successful microdiscectomy surgery today at Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital in Los Angeles," read a team statement.

"Following an initial recovery period of three weeks, Simmons will begin a rehabilitation programme. He is expected to make a full recovery prior to the start of next season's training camp."

The Nets suffered a frustrating 2021-22 campaign, and were recently swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics, who have emerged as strong contenders to be champions of the Eastern Conference.

Jason Kidd repeated his plea for the rest of his Dallas Mavericks players to do more to help Luka Doncic after they fell 2-0 behind to the Phoenix Suns in the NBA playoffs.

Game 2 of their Western Conference semi-final was taken away from Dallas by the Suns in the second half on Wednesday, with the hosts scoring 71 points after half-time to eventually run out 129-109 victors at Footprint Center.

A sensational performance from Chris Paul was the catalyst for the number one seeds in the West, with 28 points as well as eight assists and six rebounds.

Paul was more than ably assisted by Devin Booker, who helped himself to 30 points on the night, but the game's top scorer Doncic (35) received less support.

The Slovenian added seven assists and five rebounds, with the next highest Dallas scorer, Reggie Bullock, only managing 16, while first-round star Jalen Brunson could only add nine.

Doncic is averaging 33.5 points per game for his playoff career – the most of all time – but coach Kidd accepts he cannot beat a team as good as the Suns on his own.

"He had a great game, but no one else showed," Kidd said. "We've got to get other guys shooting the ball better.

"We can't win with just him out there scoring 30 a night – not at this time of the year. And we're playing the best team in the league, so we've got to get other guys going.

"We need to do a better job of helping him. [The Suns are] bringing him up into everything. We knew that coming into the series. We knew that in the last series. We did a better job of protecting one another, not just Luka. We've got to get back to protecting one another for Game 3 back at home."

Doncic did not absolve himself of blame, though, adding: "I've just got to play better defense. That's it."

Mavs coach Kidd was also full of praise for Paul and Booker, acknowledging the Suns' gameplan worked to perfection.

"When you look at CP and Book, they took turns," Kidd said. "One took the third quarter, the next one took the fourth quarter, and we had no answers.

"They got the shots that they wanted. CP got to his spots and he made layups and made jump shots. Book made threes. They're really good. They understand the situation. They've seen it all. We've just got to be better."

The Philadelphia 76ers still do not know if Joel Embiid will be able to return in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, as he still has "so many steps to go through".

Embiid has not played so far in the second-round series, in which the 76ers now trail 2-0 after another defeat on Wednesday.

Although Tyrese Maxey went off for 34 points, Heat center Bam Adebayo (23 points and nine rebounds) enjoyed another big night in Embiid's absence to inspire a 119-103 win.

The 76ers will hope to get on the board as they head home to Philadelphia, but they may again be without their MVP candidate, who suffered a facial fracture and concussion against the Toronto Raptors in round one.

Coach Doc Rivers could offer no assurances ahead of Game 3, as he told reporters: "I really don't know [if Embiid can play].

"We talked [on Tuesday], and we talked [on Wednesday]. He looked good, as far as talking.

"But he's got so many steps to go through, and I don't think he's cleared any of them right now. So, we just have to wait and see."

Despite the Heat's dominant start, coach Erik Spoelstra remains wary of the series-altering impact of a potential Embiid return.

"It changes dramatically," Spoelstra said. "You're talking about MVP talent, you know? So, we'll just have to see.

"We knew that this series was going to shift, and it was going to change pretty dramatically [if Embiid returns].

"It's better for it to change dramatically when we're able to get a couple wins, but yeah, he changes the equation quite a bit."

The Miami Heat took a commanding 2-0 series lead against the Philadelphia 76ers, comfortably winning 119-103 at home on Wednesday.

The Eastern Conference's first seed were faced with little resistance against a Sixers side without Joel Embiid protecting the paint, shooting 51.3 per cent from the floor and 48.3 per cent from beyond the arc.

Jimmy Butler was transformative on the offensive end for the Heat, finishing with 22 points on eight-of-15 shooting and 12 assists.

Four Heat players - Bam Adebayo, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Tyler Herro - had three assists, while Herro and Victor Oladipo combined for 37 points off the bench on 12-of-21 shooting.

The Sixers kept turnovers relatively low with eight but did not generate great shots either, coming up with 17 assists for the night and connecting on a poor 26.7 per cent of three-point attempts.

Suns secure 2-0 lead over Mavs

The Phoenix Suns assuredly defended home court in their series with the Dallas Mavericks, securing a 129-109 victory.

A dominant second half saw the Suns through in Game 2, scoring 71 points on 29-of-41 shooting against the Mavs' 49 points on 14-of-39 from the floor.

Devin Booker and Chris Paul took over, combining for 41 points on 16-of-21 shooting after the main change. The change in game complexion was all the more distinct with Dallas taking 16 free-throw attempts in comparison to Phoenix's five.

Booker and Paul scored 30 and 28 points respectively for the night, with the latter chipping in eight assists and six rebounds.

Luka Doncic put up 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting along with seven assists, but crucially committed as many turnovers for the Mavs.

Ben Simmons will have surgery to help treat the pain caused by a herniated disc, with the Brooklyn Nets expecting his recovery to take at least three months.

Simmons, the 2020-21 Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, did not play a game in the 2021-22 season, encountering more back pain as he tried to ramp up to a return in the playoffs.

A statement released by the Nets highlighted that the surgery he will receive is called a microdiscectomy. 

It was a disappointing season for the Nets, who began the year as the favourites to win the Eastern Conference, but struggled throughout as Kyrie Irving was absent for the first portion of the season, and James Harden was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for a package around Simmons.

In the playoffs, the Nets were swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics, who are now the Eastern Conference favourites.

While Kyrie Irving highlighted in his last post-game press conference of the playoffs that there will be plenty of roster turnover as he and Kevin Durant "co-manage" the offseason along with the front office, he indicated Simmons was seen as a core building block.

Jaylen Brown said he and his Boston Celtics team-mates wanted to play "like our season was on the line" after a 109-86 win in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semi-final against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Brown only shot four-of-13 for 12 points in the Celtics' Game 1 defeat, but followed up by scoring 30 points, with six assists and five rebounds as Boston levelled the series at 1-1 at TD Garden.

The 25-year-old also sank a playoff career-high six shots from beyond the arc and stated after the victory just how much the Celtics had wanted to square things up.

"We knew we had to come out and play like our season was on the line and we did that," Brown said.

"It's the playoffs. Survival of the fittest. Every game counts."

As well as Brown's performance, Jayson Tatum also stepped it up as he shot 29 points, with eight assists and three rebounds.

Boston coach Ime Udoka pointed to what his team had learned in their Game 1 defeat, namely not to get "outmuscled", and just as they were dominated for large periods on Sunday, they followed up with a physical performance of their own on Tuesday.

"We adjusted well," Udoka said. "We learned some things from Game 1 and felt like we knew we didn't react accordingly to the way that we're playing.

"Two big teams but we haven't been outmuscled like that all year. I think our guys took pride in that, took that to heart and we knew we would come out with the right effort tonight."

 

His opposite number, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, acknowledged the game-plan from the Celtics had worked, particularly on star player Giannis Antetokounmpo, who still finished with 28 points, with nine rebounds and seven assists.

"The guys on him, they're solid, good, good defenders and then quite a bit of help," Budenholzer said. "That's where he's just got to see and feel it. Do we kick it and get more threes? Or he's got to finish against one-on-one defense. So, I think it's a little bit of both.

"But Giannis, he always figures things out."

A seething Steve Kerr accused Dillon Brooks of "breaking the code" after an incident that left Gary Payton II with a broken left elbow.

Kerr's Golden State Warriors went down 106-101 to the Memphis Grizzlies, leaving their Western Conference semi-finals series locked at 1-1, in a heated match full of flashpoints.

The Grizzlies' task was made all the more difficult when Brooks was ejected in the first quarter for a nasty-looking strike across the head of Payton II in mid-air.

An X-ray later showed the extent of the damage caused and Payton II is set to undergo an MRI scan on Wednesday.

Kerr acknowledged the physicality of playoff basketball but was fuming with Brooks' play.

"I don't know if it was intentional but it was dirty," Kerr told reporters after the game.

"Playoff basketball is supposed to be physical. Everyone will compete, fight for everything. But there's a code in this league, a code players follow, where you never put a guy's season or career in jeopardy by taking someone out in mid-air and clubbing them across the head and ultimately fracturing Gary's elbow. 

"This is a guy who's been toiling the last six years trying to make it in this league, finally found a home, playing his butt off this year – in the playoffs it should be the time of his life and a guy comes in and whacks him across the head in mid-air. 

"He broke the code. Dillon Brooks broke the code that's how I see it."

Another heated incident saw Draymond Green raise his middle finger towards the Grizzlies fanbase, who jeered the Warriors star after an elbow to the face left him with a cut to his right eye that had nearly swollen shut by half-time.

Green was unrepentant after the game, saying: "[If] you gonna boo somebody who got elbowed in the eye, face running with blood you should get flipped off. 

"So, I'll take the fine, I'll do an appearance and make up the money. But it felt really good to flip 'em off, if you gonna boo someone who got elbowed in the face with blood running down their face, I could have had a concussion or anything. 

"If they gonna be that nasty, I can be nasty too. I'm assuming the cheers are because they know I'll get fined. Great, I make $25million a year I should be just fine."

Ja Morant was the hero for the Grizzlies, scoring 47 points – matching his postseason high – despite himself struggling to see out of his left eye having been hit going for a rebound in the third quarter.

The All-Star guard atoned for missing a layup in Game 1 that would have won the Grizzlies the game, a defeat he conceded was at the forefront of his thinking during Tuesday's contest.

"That loss was on my mind a lot, obviously missing that layup late," Morant said. 

"But coming into today, I told myself we needed a win, and we were going to get a win. I just took it upon myself to go out there and do that for us."

Jaylen Brown found his range with 30 points and Jayson Tatum added 29 as the Boston Celtics squared up their Conference Semifinals series against the Milwaukee Bucks with a 109-86 win on Tuesday.

Brown shot four-of-13 for 12 points in Game 1 but shook that off with a masterful first-half display, scoring 25 of his 30 points before the main break, going nine-of-10.

The Celtics led 65-40 at half-time and held off the reigning champions' best efforts to get back into the contest.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 28 points, with nine rebounds and seven assists and Jrue Holiday added 19 points but shot seven-of-20 from the field and one-of-six from beyond the arc.

The Bucks only managed three triples for the game, while Boston landed 20-of-43 beyond the arc, along with 24 points from turnovers.

Brown also had five rebounds and six assists to go with his 30 points, while Grant Williams chimed in with 21 points for Boston who were without Marcus Smart (quad).

 

Morant dominates as Grizzlies edge home

Ja Morant starred with 47 points as the Memphis Grizzlies edged the Golden State Warriors 106-101 to level up their series at 1-1 at the FedExForum.

Morant shot 15-of-31 and made five triples among his 47-point haul along with eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals, as the Grizzlies got home after scores were locked at three-quarter time.

Stephen Curry did not shoot at his best, making 11-of-25 from the field and three-of-11 from three-point range for his 27 points with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Jordan Poole added 20 points off the bench, while Klay Thompson could only manage 12 points with three steals. Draymond Green returned after his Game 1 ejection with 10 rebounds.

Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro has won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award after an outstanding season.

The 22-year-old, who the Heat took at number 13 in the 2019 NBA Draft, averaged 20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists over 32.6 minutes a game this season.

Herro won the award ahead of Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cameron Johnson of the Phoenix Suns. The Heat guard received 96 out of a possible 100 first-place votes.

"We're trying to win a championship here, so whether it's starting or coming off the bench for me, I accepted that role. ... I'm just happy to be on this team and happy to accept my role," Herro said last month after being named as a finalist.

Herro helped the Heat finish top of the Eastern Conference with a 53-29 record, getting past the Atlanta Hawks 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs.

Miami defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 106-92 on Monday in Game 1 of their Conference Semifinals, with Herro scoring 25 points with seven assists off the bench.

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