The Memphis Grizzlies are "always confident no matter what the score is", Ja Morant explained after another comeback sent them through in the NBA playoffs.

All-Star Morant won his first playoff series as he helped the Grizzlies overturn the Minnesota Timberwolves' fourth-quarter lead in Game 6 on Friday and win 114-106.

That victory sends the Grizzlies into the Western Conference semi-finals – the first time they have reached that stage since 2015 – and sets up a series against the Golden State Warriors, which will start on Sunday in Tennessee.

It was the third time in their series against the Timberwolves that the Grizzlies had to overcome a double-digit deficit in the final quarter.

"The series was a battle," said Morant, who had a double-double of 17 points and 11 assists, complemented by eight rebounds.

"We knew that every game would be a dogfight. Coming in we knew, with this team, we wouldn't win this series in one game.

"We knew that every game would be a dogfight, that we had to come in locked in and bring our energy from the start. Obviously, the wins were pretty ugly outside of Game 2, but we got it done.

"I feel like we're always confident no matter what the score is. We treat it pretty much as zero-zero.

"We've been down double-digits plenty of times and came back and won. We know the game is not over until there are zeros on the scoreboard at the end of the fourth quarter."

While Morant is confident in Memphis' comeback abilities, team-mate Dillon Brooks insisted it is not by design.

"I wish we had better starts," said Brooks, who along with Morant danced on the Timberwolves' logo after sealing Memphis' progression.

"We don't want to put ourselves in that predicament, but we always find a way to fight.

"Like coach [Taylor Jenkins] said in the locker room, 'There's not one way to win in the NBA playoffs'. There are a lot of ways to win and we just figured out one way."

Morant has had a brilliant campaign though was kept relatively quiet across the series as a whole in his first postseason appearance. However, support came from Desmond Bane.

"If you ask me, the MVP of this series is this guy right here," Morant said while sitting with Bane at a news conference.

"Time and time again, he came up big-time. He hit some big-time shots for us, even kept us in the game, and gave us a lead."

Joel Embiid will be out of action for an indefinite period of time after a stray Pascal Siakam elbow fractured the Philadelphia 76ers center's orbital bone.

As well as the fracture, Embiid also suffered a mild concussion, meaning he will miss a minimum of five days as he works his way through the NBA's concussion protocol.

Embiid suffered a similar injury in 2018, which was diagnosed as a facial fracture. In that instance, the team opted to get him into surgery straight away, leading to a three-week absence.

It is reportedly undecided whether the MVP candidate will get surgery, with specialists trying to determine the severity of the injury and the different courses of action that can be taken.

Embiid has also been playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb, which he plans to have surgery on once the 76ers' season finishes.

A source of frustration for 76ers fans is the fact that the injury was sustained with less than four minutes to go, as they led by 29 points, with pundits such as Jalen Rose calling it a coaching failure by Doc Rivers to still have his stars in that game.

Philadelphia's Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Miami Heat begins on Monday night in South Beach, with Embiid almost guaranteed to be unavailable for Game 1.

Zion Williamson says he is committed to the New Orleans Pelicans, who were rejuvenated in the 2021-22 season he spent on the sideline.

Former first overall pick Williamson did not play a single game this season as the Pelicans reached the playoffs through the play-in tournament and then took the Phoenix Suns to six games.

The optimism around the team would increase further with the forward's return next year after playing just 85 games through three years.

When he has been on the court, Williamson has averaged 25.7 points on 60.4 per cent shooting, scoring 20 or more points in each of his 15 most recent outings – all of which came way back in 2020-21.

The former Duke sensation's dedication to the Pelicans has been questioned at times, but he appeared enthused discussing the future on Friday following their playoff elimination.

"It sucks watching from the sideline, because I just want to be out there," Williamson said. "But you're seeing the potential. We've got a lot of great pieces.

"The locker room [had] a different feel this year. A lot of that goes to BI's [Brandon Ingram's] leadership, the young guys buying in to coach [Willie] Green so fast.

"You saw it on the court. Man, we have a special group, I truly believe that."

Williamson is eligible for a five-year, $181million max rookie extension ahead of the 2022-23 season, and he is not planning to think twice if that offer comes from the Pelicans.

"Of course, I couldn't sign it fast enough," he said.

Chris Paul says his NBA playoff-record shooting night in the Phoenix Suns' 115-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans was a simple matter of needs must.

The 12-time All-Star went a perfect 14-of-14 as the Suns took out Game 6 and advanced to the second round, setting the NBA playoff record for most field goals without a miss in a single game.

The Point God took over in the third quarter and at an ideal time for the Western Conference's first seed, making all six shots as the Pelicans' double-digit lead from half-time evaporated.

Paul made reference to the fact the Suns were staring a Game 7 in the face at the start of the third quarter, and he had to perform.

"We needed it," Paul said post-game. "That team right there, they pushed us as hard as you can be pushed, and I think it might have been some point in the second quarter, I said to someone 'Imma get aggressive.'

"Coming out the third quarter, I saw how the game was going. We were down 10, so I knew I had to try to force the issue."

The 36-year-old faced particular difficulty with the Pelicans' ability to switch, as well as the primary Jose Alvarado matchup, with Devin Booker out for the previous three games due to a hamstring injury.

Booker's presence allowed Paul an increased ability to penetrate and attack the paint, and the veteran point guard was thankful afterwards.

"It's real nice to have Devin back," he said. "All the pressure from the series, especially the last three games - it's a little bit different when you got him out there on the court."

The Suns will now face the Dallas Mavericks, who also progressed on Thursday with their Game 6 win on the road against the Utah Jazz.

MVP candidate Joel Embiid says the Philadelphia 76ers put in a much better effort as they defeated the Toronto Raptors 132-97 and advanced to second round of the playoffs on Thursday.

Despite playing with an injured thumb, Embiid was dominant as the Sixers took out Game 6, putting up 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor and nine-of-10 from the free-throw line, as well as adding 10 rebounds and three blocks.

The Sixers looked vulnerable after dropping two opportunities to clinch the series in Games 4 and 5, and with one possession in it on Toronto's home floor on Thursday, that feeling intensified.

Doc Rivers' side took over in the third quarter however, outscoring the Raps 37-17, with Embiid providing particular energy and coming up with two timely steals.

“We had a great practice yesterday and we needed that,” Embiid said post-game. “It was a blessing in disguise to lose those two games, because that wasn’t us.

"We didn’t play the way we wanted to. We were extremely sloppy. Tonight we wanted to come in here and play with more intensity.

"Especially me. I was really bad last game, defensively. I wanted to play with a lot of energy and be physical.”

Tyrese Maxey was dominant on the scoring end as the Sixers blew out the game and secured the series, putting up 15 of his 25 points in that third quarter.

The 21-year-old guard said post-game that Embiid provided inspiration.

“Whether we get hit in the mouth we get back up and keep fighting, and that’s what we did tonight,” Maxey said.

“Joel [Embiid] told me on the plane on the way up here, ‘We lose if we don’t be aggressive’, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Philadelphia will now face the Miami Heat for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Phoenix Suns booked their spot in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, securing the series with a 115-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Devin Booker's return from injury gave Chris Paul more room to attack, and Paul obliged with the best shooting night in NBA playoff history.

He went a perfect 14-of-14 from the floor on the way to a game-high 33 points, making the most field goals without a miss in a single playoff game.

The Suns did not have it easy though, with Booker's three-pointer putting the Suns ahead at 106-104 with 1:42 remaining. A CJ McCollum turnover on the next possession effectively secured the Suns the series.

The Pels were up 10 at the half, but foul trouble for McCollum, Herbert Jones and Jose Alvarado made lineups and finding consequent balance complicated for first-year head coach Willie Green.

Sixers snap up Raptors

The Philadelphia 76ers will face the Miami Heat in the second round after they defeated the Toronto Raptors 132-97 in Game 6 of their series.

Joel Embiid and James Harden ultimately stepped up when required, combining for 55 points off 19-of-30 shooting. Embiid added 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals while Harden masterfully distributed the ball with 15 assists and committed just three turnovers.

The Raptors had a brutal third quarter with their season on the line, going five-of-19 from the floor for 17 points, before Pascal Siakam eventually fouled out with 24 points.

Jazz miss chance to extend season

The Utah Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs, with the Dallas Mavericks winning Game 6 98-96 and progressing to the second round.

With 4.3 seconds remaining on the clock, Bojan Bogdanovic got the ideal look to win the game from a drawn-up play off an inbound. Spencer Dinwiddie scrambled and bought the initial pump-fake, but Bogdanovic could not convert the open look, ending the Jazz's season.

Luka Doncic was everywhere for the Mavs however, coming up with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, as well as two steals and blocks.

Reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic is set to commit to the Denver Nuggets with a supermax extension, "if the offer is on the table".

Jokic, who could be named the league's best player for a second season running, saw his season ended on Wednesday with the Nuggets' 4-1 first-round playoff exit to the Golden State Warriors.

The center only has a single year remaining on his existing deal but appears open to extending his stay in Denver.

According to ESPN, Jokic is eligible for a five-year, $254million deal.

"I would like it, of course," he said after Game 5 against the Warriors. "But it's not something that I'm deciding.

"I think if the offer is on the table, of course I'm going to accept it, because I really like the organisation, I really like the people who work here.

"I'm in a really good relationship with everybody from owner to equipment manager."

Jokic described a second potential MVP win as "a great thing, of course" but added: "If I don't get it, I'm not going to die."

Individual recognition has not been the issue for the Serbian on the Nuggets, with the team instead falling short in the playoffs – albeit this year chiefly due to injury issues.

Jamal Murray missed the entire season following an ACL tear prior to the 2020-21 postseason, while Michael Porter Jr. was limited to nine games.

"We don't know what we can do because we were not healthy," Jokic said. "Do we have some talent? Yes. Can we do something? Probably."

Steph Curry has gone all the way to an NBA championship three times, but merely to clear the first hurdle in the playoffs this time came as a huge relief to the Golden State Warriors superstar.

After two years of failing to reach the postseason, Golden State are back and in the hunt, through to the second round after a 4-1 series win over the Denver Nuggets, sealed by a 102-98 win in Game 5 on Wednesday.

Curry's 30 points, five rebounds and five assists helped the Warriors counter the monumental threat posed by Denver's Nikola Jokic, who also scored 30 points and managed 19 rebounds and eight assists.

It was a first start for Curry since he was eased back from a foot injury, and the Warriors now await the winner of the first-round tussle between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves, with the Grizzlies leading 3-2.

After championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018, the Warriors were beaten in the NBA Finals in 2019 and then endured two taxing seasons.

To be winning again in the playoffs gave Curry obvious satisfaction.

"It means a lot. I never take it for granted," he said. "We understand we hopefully have a lot left to do, but getting to the playoffs and getting through a series and winning four games against a good team, it's hard.

"Every team wants to be in this position at the end of the year. For me, Draymond [Green], Klay [Thompson], [Kevon] Looney, we've all been there before and love the competition and the environment.

"Tonight was just a weird feeling, because we hadn't been there in a while and wanted it so bad and kind of made it a lot more difficult for ourselves, but we still remembered how to do it which was a good feeling."

The Warriors had to reel in a Nuggets side who threatened to take the series to a sixth game.

Curry said: "They had a lot of life in that third quarter, and it was a good reminder of how hard it is to win a playoff game, and how hard it is to close a team out, and just dealing with the nerves of it all because it matters so much. We wanted it so much, it kind of got in our own way a little bit.

"The fourth quarter was just about trying to find a way to get it done, get enough stops to speed up the game, put some pressure on them, and we were able to do that.

"Everyone contributed, so it was a fun way to finish the game. It was not exactly how you would draw it up, but a playoff type of environment where can you get the win and get out of here."

Mike Budenholzer says the Milwaukee Bucks showed their strength in depth by reaching the Eastern Conference playoff semi-finals without Khris Middleton.

The defending champions beat the injury-hit Chicago Bulls 116-100 in Game 5 at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday to advance from the first round of the postseason.

Middleton sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the fourth quarter of Game 2, but the Bucks proved they could cope without the All-Star.

Budenholzer confirmed Middleton will miss the start of the playoff semi-final series against the Boston Celtics.

But the Milwaukee head coach is confident other players can continue to step up in his absence.

"We've been talking about the depth of the roster, the quality of the roster, a lot this season," Budenholzer said.

"Other guys have gotten opportunities and played well. Our defense has tightened up, and we've leaned hard on that these three games. We've got depth. We've got a good group.

"We miss Khris; I don't think anybody underestimates how important and how effective he is for us. While we don't have him, we've got to be our best all up and down the roster."

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo played a big hand as the Bucks ended the Bulls' season, putting up 33 points and nine rebounds in Game 5.

The two-time MVP said being "desperate" to get the job done in the absence of Middleton was vital.

"After Game 2, the team knew what the deal was," Antetokounmpo said. "We knew what we had to do, we had to be desperate.

"We had to go out there and compete at a high level. Pay attention to detail as much as possible. Help one another defensively. We've got to do it as a team. It's not a one-man show or two-man show.

"Now we're going to a different series, playing a different team, a very, very good team, and hopefully we can do it again."

Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone says Nikola Jokic deserves to win the Most Valuable Player award this season, despite the team's playoff elimination at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

The Nuggets' season ended following a 102-98 loss at Chase Center on Wednesday, handing the Warriors a 4-1 series victory.

Without the injured Jamal Murray, Jokic has had to take on a much heavier burden, and he finished Wednesday with 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting, 19 rebounds, eight assists and two blocks.

After the loss, Malone stood up for his All-Star big man and stated his case to retain the MVP award.

"Going into the game, his hamstring was a little tight," Malone said. "I'm sure he was fatigued mentally, physically and emotionally, but he fights through it.

"That guy is a warrior. I just don't understand the people that find a way to criticise Nikola Jokic. Is he perfect? No, I'm not saying he is.

"But the guy is the definition of a warrior. He's competitive, consistent, and he impacts the game in so many ways. Hell of a season, and hopefully he'll win the MVP again, because I think rightfully he deserves it."

It was always going to be a tough series against a Warriors side finding form heading into the playoffs, but the undermanned Nuggets managed to make it difficult.

Extending their season and taking out Game 4 when faced with a sweep, Malone's side held an eight-point lead after the third quarter in Wednesday night's game, but the Warriors simply found another gear.

How the Nuggets stayed competitive with the odds stacked against them provided some kind of solace for the 50-year-old coach.

"Incredibly proud, I really am," Malone said. "When you lose a series 4-1, it's hard to find that silver lining. We didn't win and that's what we came here for.

"As a head coach, I couldn't be more proud of a group that could have rolled over after the third game, fought at home to extend the series and put ourselves in a great position.

"No one gave us a chance to win the series, and there were a lot of people saying tonight was going to be a rout, that we were going to get blown out. That's not who we are."

It was a dominant showing by the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, closing out their series with a 116-100 win against the Chicago Bulls, taking the series 4-1.

The Bulls had their backs up against the wall, and their plight was made even tougher when star Zach LaVine and defensive ace Alex Caruso were ruled out due to health and safety protocols.

By the end of the first quarter, Milwaukee led 34-18, and they went on to also win the second and third quarters to hold a lead of at least 20 points throughou

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks, scoring 33 points on 11-of-15 shooting, also going 11-of-14 from the free throw line.

Jrue Holiday was solid in his point guard duties, dishing nine assists to go with his 10 points and five rebounds, while Bobby Portis was a force inside, scoring 14 points and snatching down 17 rebounds.

For the Bulls, DeMar DeRozan was disappointing in a must-win clash, finishing with just 10 points and seven assists, while only attempting 10 field goal attempts in 42 minutes.

Intriguing second-year forward Patrick Williams led Chicago in scoring with 23 points on nine-of-13 shooting, going four-of-seven from long range, while Nikola Vucevic had 19 points, 16 rebounds and six assists.

The Bucks will now take on the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, with Game 1 set to take place this weekend.

Warriors roll past Nuggets with new starting-five

The Golden State Warriors had to fight back against the Denver Nuggets, closing out the series 4-1 with a 102-98 win while sporting a new-look starting five.

Stephen Curry made his first start since he was eased back from a foot injury, joined by both Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson.

The Dubs left it late though, cutting away at an eight-point deficit from the last change, before a Gary Payton II triple gave them the eventual lead with seven minutes remaining

Golden State will now take on the winner between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves, where the Grizzlies lead 3-2.

 

Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker is nearing his return from a hamstring injury, and could reportedly play in Game 6 against the New Orleans Pelicans, or Game 7 if it is required.

Booker, 25, will likely be named to the All-NBA First Team after averaging 26 points, five rebounds and five assists per game, with the Suns going 56-12 in the 68 games he suited up for in the regular season.

He played 41 minutes in Phoenix's Game 1 win against the Pelicans, but hurt his hamstring in the third quarter of Game 2 after scoring 31 points in the first half.

In his absence, the Suns lost Game 2 and Game 4, before recovering to win at home in Game 5, taking a 3-2 lead.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said Booker is "progressing toward a return soon, including the possibility as soon as Game 6 or Game 7".

Despite being a true game-time decision, it is reported that Booker will initially be listed as out of Game 6 until he proves his fitness.

Donovan Mitchell said there is no danger of him missing the Utah Jazz's critical Game 6 playoff clash against the Dallas Mavericks despite his hamstring complaint.

Mitchell had to leave Game 5, a match in which he scored a playoff career-low nine points and the Jazz's total of 77 points was their lowest score since November 2018.

Trailing 3-2 in the series, with Game 6 headed back to Utah, the Jazz now face two win-or-go-home fixtures to keep their season alive.

Speaking to the Salt Lake Tribune after his MRI came back negative, Donovan Mitchell left no doubt about his status for the contest.

"I'm good to go," he said. "I'll be ready."

He later spoke to the Dallas Morning News and said "everybody knows and feels" the significance of their next game.

"We don't want this to be the end," he said.

"We've got to go out there and give energy. We have one of the best home court advantages for a reason – I'm pretty sure it will be rocking tomorrow night."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers hit back at reporters on Wednesday, defending his playoff resume from the insinuation that he is responsible for some memorable collapses.

The 76ers are a team under pressure against the Toronto Raptors in their first round series, as they strive to avoid the dubious honour of becoming the first team to ever blow a 3-0 series lead.

After controlling the first three fixtures, the 76ers fell by eight points in Game 4, and 15 points in Game 5 as star Joel Embiid battles a thumb injury that will likely require surgery once Philadelphia's season is over.

Rivers, who won the 2008 NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics, pushed back when questioned about his reputation in the playoffs.

"Well, it's easy to use me as an example," he said "But I wish y'all would tell the whole story with me. All right?

"My Orlando team [in 2003] was the eighth seed. No one gives me credit for getting up against the [Detroit] Pistons, who won the title. 

"That was an eighth seed. I want you to go back and look at that roster. I dare you to go back and look at that roster. And you would say, 'What a hell of a coaching job.' Really.

"I mean, the Clipper team [in 2015] that we lost 3-1, Chris Paul didn't play the first two games, and was playing on one leg, and we didn't have home court. 

"And then the last one [when the Clippers lost to the Denver Nuggets in 2020], to me, is the one we blew. That's the one I took. We blew that. 

"And that was in the bubble. And anything can happen in the bubble. There's no home court. Game 7 would have been in LA."

After highlighting his most famous playoff shortcomings, Rivers insisted it is not a theme, and sometimes it is just the way the cookie crumbles.

"But, it just happens," he said. "So I would say with me... some of it is, I gotta do better, always.

"I always take my own responsibility. And then some of it is, circumstances happen. This one, let's win it, and we don't have to talk about it.

"Being up 3-0, especially 3-0, I would say that [teams feel differently].

"A lot of teams don't win those games. The Celtics are the only one that won that game [in the first round of this year's playoffs]. Everyone else lost that game.

"From a coaching standpoint, you hate that, because you feel like, 'Let's just take care of it.' Then you get to Game 5 the other night, and [Toronto] played better. 

"We didn't play well. We didn't play with a sense of urgency. So clearly now, I think both teams have kind of served notice and both teams have the other team's attention.

"If you don't have that, then we're all in trouble."

The Chicago Bulls will have to make do without Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso in their do-or-die Eastern Conference playoffs Game 5 showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Needing a victory to keep the series alive, the Bulls confirmed LaVine and Caruso will play no part at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday.

All-Star LaVine misses out a day after he entered the NBA's health and safety protocol, having revealed he was feeling unwell before a practice session.

Fellow guard Caruso took a blow to his face in the second quarter of an emphatic 119-95 Game 4 defeat on Sunday and is going through concussion protocols.

LaVine had led the Bulls with 24 points, 13 assists and five rebounds in a loss that left them trailing the series 3-1.

A depleted Chicago were already missing Lonzo Ball (knee) and Matt Thomas (leg).

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