Stephen Curry says he is proud of his team's response to Draymond Green's rejection, after the Golden State Warriors took Game 1 on the road against Memphis Grizzlies with a 117-116 win.

Green was ejected in the first half of Sunday's series opener at the FedEx Forum for a flagrant foul on Brandon Clarke, and the Warriors rallied to take a double-digit lead in the third quarter before holding on with defensive stops on the Grizzlies' final two possessions.

Curry snatched the ball from Ja Morant to set up free-throws for the Warriors, but Klay Thompson shockingly missed both, before he responded by stopping Morant on the final possession of the game.

The former unanimous MVP praised his side's mental toughness in not imploding after the contentious ejection, noting it even galvanised them in front of the Memphis crowd.

"It was a tough call obviously, on the road and you're trying to start a series, and you get a guy like Draymond headed to the locker room," Curry said. "Nobody wants to see that. It's not good for the game, I didn't think it [Green's jersey pull] deserved that.

"We got a little emotional rise out of it, trying to stay locked in and deal with the circumstances and give ourselves a chance to win.

"Whatever emotion you rely on to turn the page from one series to the next, and especially when you're starting on the road, you've got to have an edge about you, for sure."

Along with the defensive stops, the Dubs' win on Sunday was also notable for the fact Curry and Thompson shot a combined 14-of-39, including eight-of-22 from beyond the arc.

Jordan Poole compensated and nearly notched his first triple-double with 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting, nine assists and eight rebounds.

With Curry starting in Poole's place this time, after he was eased back off the bench in the series win over the Denver Nuggets, the 34-year-old cited his team's resilience as critical.

"Whatever way you explain it, whatever emotion you tie into it, you just bring it," Curry said. "When Draymond went out, there's your moment like 'What are we gonna do? How are we gonna figure this out?'

"To go into half-time, regroup, come out and play the way that we did, I'm really proud of everybody and their approach to the game. It was a good vibe out there."

Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry will miss the start of the team's Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Philadelphia 76ers as he continues to battle a hamstring injury.

The 36-year-old has been on the sidelines since suffering the injury during game three of the quarter-final series win over the Atlanta Hawks on April 22, as the Heat chase a first NBA championship since 2012-13.

Lowry was listed as an absence for Monday's game one in a social media update from the Heat, and though coach Erik Spoelstra says the six-time NBA all star is making good progress in his recovery, he remains unsure as to when he will return.

"I'm not even going [on] any kind of timetable," Spoelstra said after Sunday's practice. "I know he's doing more. Gym has been great. Everybody's been able to do something and to prepare for the series."

Lowry claimed his one NBA championship to date with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, and has impressed for the top-seeded Heat since joining the franchise last year.

Meanwhile, the team listed Jimmy Butler as questionable after he sat out the final game of their series win over the Hawks with a knee injury, although the 32-year-old said he was confident he would be ready to return to face the Sixers after Saturday's practice.

"We've had so many different rotations and line-ups during the course of the year that we've been forced to stay in the present moment," he added.

"And we have great care and empathy for the guys that have missed time, but we just have to totally lock into who's available. Everybody else is ready to go, and we have a big challenge.

"This is a series that could potentially change, both sides, three or four times. It could feel totally different by the middle of it, so that's why you can exhaust yourself with all the different hypotheticals. 

"We basically know, both teams, who's going to play game one, and that's the way it should be. You shouldn't be thinking about game two, game three, game four, anything past that. Just embrace the competition and what's ahead."

The Heat also have doubts over Markieff Morris, Caleb Martin, Max Strus, P. J. Tucker, and Tyler Herro ahead of their semi-final series.

The Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler expects to be fit for the start of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against Philadelphia 76ers on Monday after recovering from a knee injury.

Butler sat out the Heat's Game 5 win over the Atlanta Hawks as the team secured their first semi-finals appearance since 2019-20, when they went on to lose the NBA finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The six-time NBA all-star impressed in the first four games of the first-round series, becoming just the third player in franchise history – after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade – to post 45 points, five rebounds and five assists in a playoff match in Game 2, but missed out on the series-clinching win.

However, the 32-year-old is confident he will return for the top-seeded Heat's opening clash with the 76ers.

"It's all right," Butler said of his knee after Saturday's practice. "We got another day in between. Get out there, rip and ride.

"I know it will be ready to hold up come Monday, but the time off has been great for myself and so many other guys that are nicked up. Everybody's ready to compete."

Guard Kyle Lowry, who also missed out on the Heat's last outing, was also able to do "a little bit more" on Saturday, coach Erik Spoelstra revealed.

Butler said he would be disappointed to see former team-mate Joel Embiid miss out for the 76ers after he suffered a mild concussion and orbital fracture against the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.

"I feel bad for my guy," Butler added. "Obviously, one of my former team-mates, arguably the MVP of this league, and I think I speak for everybody that's a part of this team, we want Jo to play.

"We want to go up against them at full strength and prove that we can hang with anybody and we can beat anybody. 

"It's a mishap. I hope he recovers well and gets back very, very soon."

Butler, who spent part of the 2018-19 season with the Sixers, said Embiid would get his vote for MVP after the 28-year-old averaged 30.6 points per game across the regular season – the highest figure in the NBA.

"I'm not an analytics guy, obviously," he added. "But I was told that they're a much better team defensively whenever he's on the floor, as they should be. I would guess offensively as well. 

"And he makes the right plays as well - but he's been doing this a long time in this league, [I'm] damn sure has been this year. 

"He would get my vote for MVP. It's going to be a challenge, but they beat us once without him."

Narratives are being readied all over the place to make this season's NBA playoffs potentially one of the most exciting of recent times.

The first round may not have provided quite as much drama as hoped, with none of the eight clashes going to a Game 7, but looking at the contests in prospect in the Conference semi-finals, we should not be far away from some.

The top four seeds in both Conferences ultimately made it through, though that's not to say some were not given a bit of a fright, and the semis were set after the Memphis Grizzlies eventually put away the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday in Game 6.

There are stories to be written when it comes to the star players in the league, though, with some excelling as they look lead their team to glory, while others are struggling to stay on the court and off the injured list.

This leads us into some potentially fascinating encounters in the final eight, and Stats Perform has taken a look at what we can expect over the next two weeks.

Eastern Conference

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks

Frankly, these two should be perfectly fresh heading into this one.

The Celtics whitewashed the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, barely breaking a sweat in the process, while the Bucks dropped just one game in overcoming a depleted Chicago Bulls.

Jayson Tatum has unsurprisingly been the star so far for Boston in the postseason, averaging 29.5 points per game, including 39 in Game 3, as well as averaging 7.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Equally unsurprisingly, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been leading the way for the defending NBA champions, averaging 28.6 points per game from five postseason outings so far for the Bucks, as well as 6.2 assists and 13.4 rebounds.

The continued absence of Khris Middleton will be a blow for Mike Budenholzer, with the swingman still recovering from a knee injury suffered in the first round, and reports suggesting he will miss the entirety of this round as well.

These two beat each other twice during the regular season, with the Bucks getting the final win just over three weeks ago at Fiserv Forum, so it promises to be a much tighter affair than either experienced in round one.

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers

The number one seeds in the East were barely inconvenienced by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, with the Heat winning 4-1.

Jimmy Butler is bringing it in the playoffs so far, averaging 30.5 points, with an additional 5.3 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game. He missed Game 5 against the Hawks with a knee inflammation, but it is hoped he will return for Game 1 against his former team.

Kyle Lowry's participation is more of a question mark, with the 36-year-old missing since suffering a hamstring injury in Game 3.

There is an arguably worse injury situation in Philadelphia, though, with Joel Embiid out "indefinitely" with a right orbital fracture and mild concussion. The Cameroonian was averaging 26.2 points across the 4-2 first round win over the Toronto Raptors.

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, but it is unclear when he will play a part in this round.

Tyrese Maxey, along with James Harden, will need to step up even more in the absence of Embiid if the Sixers are to dump out the top seeds.

Like the Celtics and the Bucks, these two traded two wins apiece in the regular-season meetings, with the Sixers winning 113-106 at Wells Fargo Center in March without Embiid, with Maxey top-scoring with 28 points.

 

Western Conference

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies

Despite the best efforts of Nikola Jokic, the Warriors strolled past the Denver Nuggets 4-1 in the first round, but can expect a sterner test here from the Grizzlies.

Stephen Curry is on his game, averaging 28 points across those five outings, although only 3.8 three-pointers per game so far, being outshone in that metric by team-mate Klay Thompson, who has averaged 4.4.

Curry and Thompson combined to great effect in Game 5 against the Nuggets, scoring 33 and 32 points respectively.

Memphis probably struggled more than they thought they would against the Timberwolves, securing a 4-2 win in the end but being made to work for it.

Ja Morant recorded 30 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and three steals in Game 5. Only five players in the last 35 seasons have recorded such a stat line in a playoff game, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Morant himself.

Morant has continued his great form, but Desmond Bane is also shining in the postseason, with the top average point score for the Grizzlies of 23.5, and 4.5 three-pointers made per game.

The Grizzlies could have a psychological edge in this contest, having won all of their last three meetings in the regular season, with the 28-point difference in the 123-95 win at FedExForum in late March the largest defeat of the Warriors' season.

Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks

Although ultimately through with a game to spare, it was surprising to see the Suns struggle as much as they did against the eighth-seed New Orleans Pelicans.

The outstanding Suns, who won 64 regular-season games, eventually prevailed 4-2 against the Pelicans, who by comparison won just 36 in the regular season, but that is what the playoffs bring, the threat of upsets.

Monty Williams and his team will have hardly been panicking, though, even when they were tied at 2-2 after Game 4, with a Chris Paul-inspired win in New Orleans in Game 6 sealing their passage through.

Having Devin Booker back is a big boost for West's number one seeds, with the 25-year-old returning from a hamstring injury for Game 6 that ruled him out of Games 3-5, having registered a combined 56 points in Games 1 and 2.

The Mavericks made it through the first round for the first time since they won the championship in 2011, seeing off the Utah Jazz 4-2, in a series that was also previously tied at 2-2.

It was made all the more impressive considering Luka Doncic could only play in three games, though still averaging 29.0 points in those he did, as well as 5.7 assists and 10.7 rebounds.

That meant someone else stepping up, and that someone else was Jalen Brunson, who scored 41 in Game 2 and a further 31 in Game 3, averaging 27.8 across the six games.

Dallas will need to do something about their record against Phoenix, though, having lost their last nine meetings with them, including three this season. The Mavs have not recorded a win against the Suns since November 2019.

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.

A career night for Minnesota Timberwolves reserve Jaden McDaniels was not enough to stop the Memphis Grizzlies from winning Game 6 114-106 on the road, clinching the series 4-2 in the process.

It was another tough game scoring the ball for Grizzlies star Ja Morant, who shot four-of-14 from the field and zero-for-five from long range for his 15 points, bringing his series averages to 21 points per game at 39 per cent shooting.

But yet again, he found other ways to impact the game and help his side win, with 11 assists and eight rebounds, right in line with his average production in the series as he assumed a facilitating role.

Desmond Bane led Memphis in scoring (both in the game and the series) with 23 points from nine-of-15 shooting, Jaren Jackson Jr finally stayed out of foul trouble and delivered 18 points and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, and Brandon Clarke was the difference-maker off the bench with 17 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

For the Timberwolves, Anthony Edwards scored a game-high 30 points on 10-of-24 shooting and added five assists, two blocks and two steals, while Karl-Anthony Towns was solid, but disappointing for an All-Star with 18 points (six-of-19 shooting) and 10 rebounds.

Jaden McDaniels almost proved to be the most important player in the game after coming off the Timberwolves bench, hitting eight of his nine shots, including five out of six three-point attempts to score a career-high 24 points in 33 minutes.

McDaniels' clutch three-pointer late in the fourth quarter cut the margin back to 103-102, but the Grizzlies were just too strong down the stretch, winning the last frame 40-22 for their second straight victory after trailing by double figures at three-quarter time.

With the win, the Grizzlies will meet the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semi-finals.

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."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.