The Los Angeles Clippers will again be without superstar Kawhi Leonard for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals due to a sprained right knee.

Leonard sat out the series-opening loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, having suffered a knee injury in Game 4 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

Clippers forward Leonard will now miss his fourth consecutive game – Tuesday's NBA playoff clash with the Suns in Phoenix, head coach Tyronn Lue confirmed.

"He just stays engaged," Lue said on Monday. "He likes to know the adjustments we're going to make. He likes to know the game plan so when he watches the game, he can understand what we're doing good and doing bad, and let the coaches know, let the players know.

"He's very engaged. Even though he's back home rehabbing, he's still locked in and tuned in."

On keeping Leonard involved while sidelined, Lue added: "Just being able to hold guys accountable, talking to guys, talking to the players, what we need to do better on what he sees. If he knows the game plan, then he can definitely do that.

"So he's talked to the guys every day, as well, not just the coaching staff. He's very engaged and that's what you need from your players. He's locked in and still in tune."

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.

The matchups are set for the NBA's Conference Finals – and few would have predicted these four teams would still be in the running at the start of the year.

In the East, the Brooklyn Nets' superstars fell to the Milwaukee Bucks while the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Philadelphia 76ers.

Western Conference leaders the Utah Jazz became the latest team to give up a lead to the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Clippers on Sunday lost Game 1 of their series with the Phoenix Suns, who had been resting since sweeping the Denver Nuggets.

So, which big names were key to deciding these unpredictable battles? Stats Perform takes a look in the latest edition of NBA Heat Check...
 

RUNNING HOT...

Paul George

Clippers superstar George understandably took a lot of criticism for his playoff performances last season, when he shot 39.8 per cent from the field and scored 10 points or fewer as many times as he reached 30.

But just as Kawhi Leonard went down against the Jazz with a knee injury, for which he has no return date, George found his scoring touch again.

Across four straight wins over Utah – three were last week – George contributed 31, 31, 37 and 28 points. His 37, along with 16 rebounds, came on the road in Game 5, putting the Clippers up for the first time in the series while Leonard sat out.

Even as a surely tired LA team lost to Phoenix on Sunday, George kept them in contention with 34 points to end the week averaging 32.5 per outing, as well as 9.5 rebounds (up from 23.3 and 6.7 respectively in the regular season).

Khris Middleton

Middleton is another impressive regular season performer who has been scrutinised for his postseason displays – and far more recently than last season.

Across the first five games of the Nets series, the wildly inconsistent Bucks forward shot 38.1 per cent from the field. He had 35 points and 15 rebounds in Game 3 but had gone six-for-23 in Game 1, making none of his five three-point attempts.

Yet Middleton's 38 points won Game 6, as he and Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as the only team-mates in NBA history to each have 30 points and 10 rebounds in the same game twice in the same playoff campaign.

With a key role again in the series decider, Middleton became the first player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in consecutive postseason games since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

Devin Booker

Booker played just once last week but put in a performance that cannot go unmentioned. Without veteran Chris Paul to help him, the sixth-year guard weighed in with a 40-point triple-double against the Clippers (also 13 rebounds and 11 assists).

Only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age in the playoffs than the 24-year-old, while Steve Nash – another Hall of Famer – was the previous Suns player to score a postseason triple of any kind back in 2005.

Kevin Durant

Another player whose contributions must be highlighted, even with his team now out of the playoffs, is Durant. With 43.0 points per game last week, he showed the greatest improvement in the league from his regular season performances – up 16.1 on 26.9.

His 12.3 rebounds per game put the two-time Finals MVP second in improvement in that regard, too, but it was not quite enough.

A toe on the three-point line meant Durant's late leveller in Game 7 against the Bucks was not a game-winner, before the Nets lost in overtime despite his 48 points – one short of a heroic Game 5 tally and two shy of his career postseason best.
 

GOING COLD...

James Harden

That Durant was asked to do so much was due to injuries to both the other members of Brooklyn's 'Big Three'. Kyrie Irving did not play after Game 4 against the Bucks due to an ankle sprain, while Harden returned in Game 5 after missing the previous three.

To anyone watching, though, it was clear Harden was not healthy.

One of the league's great scorers, he made one of 10 field goals in his first game back, with five points in 45 minutes. Harden had never previously scored as few as five in half an hour of play or more.

His form did improve slightly with returns of 16 and 22 points, but Milwaukee won both, with Harden shooting 29.4 per cent from the field as he proved more of a hindrance than a help to Durant with their season on the line.

Ben Simmons

When Harden moved to Brooklyn, Philadelphia was seen as the potential alternative destination, although that would likely have meant the 76ers reluctantly giving up Simmons. After the defeat to Atlanta, Simmons may now leave regardless.

An outstanding defender, the guard's offense has long been a concern and so it proved again as he averaged 7.5 points last week, significantly down on his modest regular season (14.3).

Simmons made single figures in three straight games, twice shooting only four times from the field despite being on the floor for 38 and 35 minutes respectively.

His eight-point effort on Wednesday included going four-of-14 when shooting from the foul line.

Rudy Gobert

This is the first time since 1994 that both top seeds have failed to make the Conference Finals. The Jazz, just like the Sixers, needed more from their second star.

Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year but looked a liability as the Clippers went small in Game 6, when his plus/minus was a dismal -24.

The Frenchman's output was down in all three defeats last week as he averaged 9.3 rebounds per game, having put up 13.5 in the regular season.

The Philadelphia 76ers' crashed out of the NBA playoffs amid a chorus of boos after the top seeds were sensationally upstaged by the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Back on home court for the series decider, the 76ers were tipped to close out the matchup at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, but the fifth-seeded Hawks had other ideas following a stunning 103-96 victory.

Despite Trae Young's off night (21 points on just five-for-23 shooting), the Hawks still managed to conquer Joel Embiid and the 76ers thanks to unheralded guard Kevin Huerter.

Huerter had a team-high 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists as the Hawks returned to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2015, setting up a showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was a topsy-turvy battle in Philadelphia, where the 76ers trailed 76-71 at the start of the fourth quarter before rallying to lead by as many as four points in the final period.

However, the Hawks refused to surrender and pounced on the sloppy 76ers, who finished with 17 turnovers en route to bowing out of the postseason.

Double-doubles from MVP runner-up Embiid (31 points and 11 rebounds) and Tobias Harris (24 points and 14 rebounds) were not enough for the 76ers, with Ben Simmons (five points, 13 assists and eight rebounds) the subject of boos in his home arena after attempting just four shots throughout.

With Atlanta's victory, it is the first time since 1994 both number one seeds in the playoffs failed to make the Conference Finals after the Utah Jazz were ousted by the Los Angeles Clippers, according to Stats Perform.

Earlier in the day, the Phoenix Suns were 120-114 winners over the Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Devin Booker recorded his first career triple-double, posting 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for the second-seeded Suns in the absence of Chris Paul (COVID-19 health and safety protocols).

Booker – in the midst of his maiden NBA playoffs campaign – became the first Suns player to register a triple-double in the postseason since Hall of Famer Steve Nash in 2005.

The 24-year-old also became the third youngest player in NBA history to record a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs – only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age.

The Clippers – featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in their history – were without star Kawhi Leonard for a third consecutive game due to a knee injury.

Paul George (34 points) and Reggie Jackson (24 points) tried to inspire the fourth seeds on the road in the series opener.

 

Clippers at Suns

After a day off, the playoffs resume with the Suns hosting the Clippers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.

Devin Booker recorded his first career triple-double but the Phoenix Suns All-Star insisted he is purely focused on winning after guiding the franchise past the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Booker was the star of the show with 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists as the second-seeded Suns drew first blood against the Clippers 120-114 in Phoenix on Sunday.

With star team-mate Chris Paul (COVID-19 health and safety protocols) sidelined, Booker – in the midst of his first NBA playoffs campaign – became the first Suns player to register a triple-double in the postseason since Hall of Famer Steve Nash in 2005.

Booker also became the third youngest player in NBA history to record a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs – only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age.

"I'll let you guys do the rankings," Booker said. "I'm just going out there to win every game possible.

"I've been saying this since the start of the playoffs — every next game is the biggest game."

Suns team-mate Jae Crowder said: "I don't understand why everyone's acting surprised at this point.

"This is his first time on this stage but he's capable. He's more than capable. He's more than ready. He prepares like no other."

The Clippers – featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in their history – were without star Kawhi Leonard for a third consecutive game due to a knee injury.

Paul George (34 points) and Reggie Jackson (24 points) tried to inspire the fourth seeds on the road in the series opener.

"I have no excuse," Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. "I thought we played hard and competed. A little credit — they were making shots and we didn't. But I loved our fight. I loved what I saw."

George added: "We got to figure out how to counter, which we will, figure out another game plan. I think this was a good feel-out game to see adjustments. We have been great at adjusting."

Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard – Los Angeles Clippers superstars past and present – will both be absent as the team enter the Western Conference Finals for the first time.

The Clippers play Paul's Phoenix Suns in Game 1 on Sunday, having battled past the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

Leonard and Co became the first team in playoff history to overturn 2-0 deficits twice in the same postseason, having recovered first against the Dallas Mavericks and then against the Jazz.

The Game 6 win over Utah at Staples Center was the Clippers' eighth in this playoff campaign – a team record.

However, they were without two-time NBA Finals MVP Leonard for Game 5 and Game 6 due to a knee injury that is reportedly feared to be serious.

The five-time All-Star had been averaging 30.4 points per game in the postseason but remains out for the trip to Phoenix.

Paul is missing for the Suns, too, though, due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. As with Leonard, this means an indefinite spell on the sidelines.

Sixteen-year veteran Paul is considered among the Clippers' greatest ever players, having spent six seasons in LA.

In the regular season, he has the most assists in Clippers history (4,023), ranks sixth for points (7,674) and eighth for minutes (13,885).

 "Control what we can control," Suns team-mate Devin Booker said. "Obviously Chris is in the health and safety protocols and we don't know the timetable on that, so we just go with what we hear day to day. It's next man up."

The next man up would appear to be Cameron Payne, the backup point guard who has only one start across the regular season and playoffs since moving to Phoenix in 2019.

In 20.4 minutes per game in the postseason, Payne has averaged 10.2 points but just 2.9 assists, although he and Paul have been on the floor together for 54 of the 26-year-old's 204 playoff minutes this year.

For the Clippers, Paul George has come to the fore since Leonard's injury, scoring 37 points at Utah in Game 5 – his highest playoff output for LA and tied for the second-highest of his career.

He will have to continue to perform, as coach Ty Lue said of Leonard: "I know [he is out for] Game 1 for sure.

"Right now he's back home getting treatment. We're not sure about Game 2 yet.

"Until he gets back, we can't do hypotheticals if he's coming back, what game. We have to prepare like he's not playing, just kind of go from there."

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 Phoenix Suns are waiting.

A series sweep over the Denver Nuggets means Monty Williams' team are through to the Western Conference Finals, where they will meet either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the East, meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are serving up a prime example of how a seven-game series can ebb and flow throughout. At 2-2 and with injuries taking a toll, it is tough to predict who will progress.

With the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks also locked in a battle in the East, it is time to take a look at those players who have seized the chance to shine across the past week in the NBA playoffs, as well as those struggling in the shade.

RUNNING HOT...

Chris Paul

Paul set an unusual record as the Suns completed a 4-0 sweep of the Nuggets on Sunday. In contributing 37 points, the 36-year-old became the oldest guard in NBA history to outscore his age in a playoff game.

It capped a memorable week for the 11-time All-Star, who averaged 25.5 points per game in the series. Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, Phoenix are the only team to knock out both the previous year's conference finalists in the first two rounds, having also accounted for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Donovan Mitchell

Through three games against the Clippers, Mitchell has been an offensive juggernaut for the Jazz. He has scored a combined total of 112 points to average out for the week at 37.33 per outing.

His output has been aided by getting hot from long range, the guard landing 5.67 three-point attempts per game. Yes, that is correct: Per. Game. An ankle issue could slow him down in the remainder of the series, having already missed the end of the regular season and Utah's first game in the playoffs.

Bruce Brown

With James Harden out due to a hamstring injury, Brown has taken on a greater offensive role for the ailing Nets. In three games across the past week, the 24-year-old has taken 22 shots – he had tallied 31 in the previous six playoff outings – and made his first three-pointer in the playoffs as Brooklyn won Game 2.

His production could be set to further increase if Kyrie Irving joins Harden on the sidelines, the point guard having twisted his right ankle as his team lost Game 4 in Milwaukee on Sunday.

GOING COLD...

Joe Harris

Having been pivotal at the start of the Nets-Bucks series, Harris has cooled off since the teams travelled to Milwaukee. His opening two outings saw him manage 19 and 13 points, but since then just 11 combined in back-to-back defeats.

Harris landed only one of his 11 field goal attempts in Game 3 before fouling out, while Sunday’s Game 4 performance was only marginally better. Perhaps a return to Brooklyn for Game 5 will help him find his scoring touch again.

Bobby Portis

Just like Harris on the opposing roster, Portis is in a slump. The 29-year-old has averaged just 2.0 points per game across the past week, a major drop from his regular-season average of 11.42. He is also contributing less in terms of rebounding too, dipping down to 3.0 per outing.

Fellow big Brook Lopez is another role player to see the points dry up (6.33ppg), leaving Milwaukee to lean heavily on All-Star duo Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton as they bid to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

Marcus Morris Sr and Patrick Beverley

For the second successive series, the Clippers are having to dig themselves out of an early hole. An emphatic Game 3 victory over the Jazz halved the deficit, thanks mainly to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George managing a combined total of 65 points.

The role players will need to help out too if they are to set up a clash with the Suns. Morris Sr has averaged 7.67 points across the past week, not aided by landing just one of his 16 attempts from deep. Team-mate Beverley is also struggling from long range while managing just 10 points in total in his past three games.

Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams is grateful to have shared a career highlight with Chris Paul after securing a place in the Western Conference Finals.

Second-seeded Suns beat the Denver Nuggets 125-118 on Sunday to seal a 4-0 series win in the Western Conference semi-finals, with newly crowned MVP Nikola Jokic ejected for a flagrant 2 foul in the third quarter.

Vital for the Suns were the contributions of Paul and Devin Booker, who accounted for 71 of their total points – the former top-scoring with 37.

Williams wrapped Paul in a warm hug at the end, the two sharing a bond from their days working together at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Paul was also there for Williams when the coach lost his wife in 2016, and for the latter, the current successes mean that much more when shared with someone so important.

"The emotions are happy, grateful, tired, relieved," Williams said. "It's one of those moments for me that quite frankly I never thought I'd have a chance to experience. For me, I have a level of gratitude I can't even explain."

He added: "Chris has meant so much to my career, he's meant so much to my life. The darkest moment of my life Chris was right there and one of the highlights of my career, he's right there.

"That's where it is right now. I'm not really good at waxing eloquent about how I feel other than just telling you I just feel grateful for this opportunity and to be on this team and in this moment and have a chance to move forward."

The feeling was mutual for Paul, who was similarly delighted to be on such a road with Williams given their close bond.

"Monty has been through things in his life that a lot of people don't necessarily come back from," Paul said.

"Basketball aside, he means so much to me and my family. So, to be on this journey with him and to see it paying off is nice.

"We're a lot alike. We stay locked in. I don't feel good until the buzzer sounds. Monty's the same way. When the series is over, and the game is over, it's nice to share those moments."

NBA MVP Nikola Jokic did not expect to be ejected as the Denver Nuggets were swept from the playoffs in a controversial decision that surprised head coach Michael Malone and Phoenix Suns counterpart Monty Williams.

Jokic was tossed in the third quarter of Denver's 125-118 defeat to the second-seeded Suns, who sealed a 4-0 series victory in the Western Conference semi-finals on Sunday.

Crowned MVP on Tuesday, Jokic was assessed a flagrant two foul following a lengthy review after taking a swing at Suns guard Cameron Payne in Game 4.

Jokic became the first MVP swept in a postseason series since Magic Johnson in 1989 and the Serbian star discussed the incident post-game.

"I wanted to change the rhythm of the game, I wanted to give us some energy, maybe change the whistle a little bit, so I wanted to make a hard foul," Jokic said.

"Did I hit him [Payne], did I not hit him? We don't know. So I say sorry if I did because I did not want to injure him or hit him in the head on purpose. I thought honestly they would not eject me."

"I shouldn't do that. Of course it was my bad. I'm sorry," Jokic said. "But I cannot change it now. It happens."

Already facing an uphill task to avoid elimination, Jokic's absence made life even tougher for the third-seeded Nuggets as Suns duo Chris Paul and Devin Booker dominated.

"I just didn't feel like it warranted a flagrant two ejection because he's making a play on the ball," said Malone.

"There's marginal contact to Cameron Payne's nose I believe. So I was shocked, I'm still a little bit shocked that they called a flagrant two and ejected the MVP on such a play."

"From my vantage point and watching the replay, I did not think it was a non-basketball play with malicious intent," Malone said.

"I think it was a frustration foul, Nikola probably felt the last couple plays when he had the ball he had not received a foul call. And he went over there to take a foul. Which he has done plenty of times. A lot of players do that."

"I didn't really think it was anything malicious," said Williams. "In those moments you have to regulate your emotions. That's what we've been talking about all season long.''

Jokic and Suns All-Star Booker were involved in a confrontation following the incident as a scuffle briefly broke out.

But Booker – whose Suns reached the Conference Finals for the first time since 2009-10 – said: "That's all I said, just 'What are you doing?' It's just an emotional play. I don't think he meant harm by it. Just a frustration foul. It's tough, just defending my team-mate, that was it.

"I've played against the Joker multiple times. I know he's not a malicious player."

The Phoenix Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009-10 after sweeping Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 4-0 in the NBA playoffs.

Suns duo Devin Booker and Chris Paul flexed their muscles in a 125-118 victory over the Nuggets in Game 4 as MVP Jokic was ejected on Sunday.

Jokic (22 points and 11 rebounds), who earned his first MVP accolade on Tuesday, was assessed a flagrant two foul after his foul on Phoenix's Cameron Payne in the third quarter.

That made life difficult for the third-seeded Nuggets – already missing star Jamal Murray due to injury – as the Suns rolled into the Conference Finals for the first time in more than a decade.

Paul produced a vintage performance with a game-high 37 points, while Booker put up 34 points and 11 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who are the only team to knock out both the previous season's conference finalists in the opening two rounds since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984 per Stats Perform.

The Eastern Conference semi-final matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets is deadlocked at 2-2 after Giannis Antetokounmpo starred.

Antetokounmpo posted a double-double to lead the Bucks past the second-seeded Nets 107-96 in Game 4.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo had a game-high 34 points and 12 rebounds as the Bucks topped the Nets, who lost All-Star Kyrie Irving to injury.

Irving – who had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of action – twisted his right ankle after coming down on Antetokounmpo's foot, having scored from close range in the second quarter.

The seven-time All-Star received treatment on the court before walking to the locker room. The Nets later ruled him out for the remainder of the contest as the third-ranked Bucks took advantage.

Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets with 28 points but was stifled by the Bucks' physical defensive play.

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers visit the Atlanta Hawks for Game 4 on Monday, leading the Eastern Conference semi-final series 2-1. Utah Jazz – the top seed in the west – are also in action against the Los Angeles Clippers in their Western Conference second-round Game 4.

The Phoenix Suns moved 3-0 up in their Conference semi-final series with a 116-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets despite MVP Nikola Jokic's triple-double on Friday.

Veteran Suns guard Chris Paul was exceptional with 27 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals to spark Monty Williams' side.

Young shooting guard Devin Booker scored a team-high 28 points, while center Deandre Ayton had 15 rebounds along with his 10 points.

Jae Crowder shot four-from-six beyond the arc, adding 14 points for the Suns, who opened up a 10-point lead at quarter-time and were never headed.

Denver center Jokic finished with 32 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists, while Monte Morris came off the bench to add 21 points. But they lacked support with Jamal Murray out with long-term injury.

Michael Porter Jr was below his best with 15 points for the game, shooting at 38.3 per cent from the field.

The Suns are one win away from securing their spot in the Western Conference finals where they will face either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

Joel Embiid starred as the Philadelphia 76ers claimed a 2-1 lead in their Conference semi-final series with a road win over the Atlanta Hawks 127-111.

Embiid finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, helping the Sixers run away with the game in the third quarter when they outscored the Hawks by 15.

Atlanta's Trae Young scored 28 points and had eight assists but was quelled by the Philadelphia defence led by Ben Simmons, with the Hawks guard shooting at 52.9 per cent from the field.

Simmons scored 18 points, with four rebounds, one steal and seven assists - including a spectacular lobbed pass for an Embiid dunk - while Tobias Harris added 22 points shooting at 62.5 per cent from the field, with eight rebounds and five assists.

The 76ers led by five points at half-time but blew away the Hawks with a 34-19 third quarter and controlled the better part of the second half.

The NBA is a star-driven league, but the Phoenix Suns have found a different formula that works in the playoffs. 

The Suns' balanced attack drove another dominant win on Wednesday, a 123-98 triumph over the Denver Nuggets that gave Phoenix a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semi-final series. 

Phoenix had six players score in double figures, with Devin Booker leading the way at a modest 18 points followed by Chris Paul (17), Mikal Bridges (16) and Deandre Ayton (15). 

"I think it's an unselfish group. They're willing to make plays for one another. We share the ball – that's part of our DNA," Suns head coach Monty Williams told reporters. 

"We don't have the experience that a lot of the playoff teams have, but we've had this year to gel and we've had a lot of close games at home and on the road, so that helps."

Wednesday's game was not close, as Phoenix took the lead early in the first quarter and never looked back, pulling away from Denver in the second half. 

After a 51-21 regular season, the Suns have learned they do not have to rely on one or two players for their scoring, and that helps ease the pressure on everyone. 

"It's a natural chemistry," said veteran point guard Chris Paul, who had 15 assists and no turnovers. 

"I really haven't been on a team like this where everybody shoots it the way that they do, so you don't have to try to find a certain guy."

The 36-year-old floor leader is a big reason for that peace of mind, his coach noted. 

"He manages games better than anybody that I've ever been around," Williams said. 

"Once he gets an idea of the offence and the guys he's playing with, he has the ability to use his talents to make everybody else better, and then he knows when to take over in moments.

"Guys have to make shots, but Chris is one of the rare guards that can put passes right where they need to be so guys are more effective when they catch the ball. And his ability to take care of the ball, even when he has it a lot, is not something I take for granted.

"That's why he's been successful everywhere he's been." 

Coming off their first playoff series win since 2010, the Suns are full of confidence as they head to Denver.

The plan for Friday's Game 3? More of the same, they hope. 

"We've got so many great shooters on our team, and guys that can not only shoot it but put it on the floor," Paul said. "We just played the way we've been playing all season long and that's as a team."

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic showed MVP form once again, but the Phoenix Suns used a balanced attack to take a 123-98 victory and a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semi-final series. 

Jokic scored the first basket of the game Wednesday, but that was the only lead the Nuggets held as Phoenix took control and never let go in what became an easy win as their home crowd chanted "Suns in four" late in the game. 

Chris Paul controlled the game for the Suns, scoring 17 points and dishing out 15 assists without a turnover in his 30 minutes of play -- the third time he has had at least 15 assists with no turnovers in a playoff game.

The 36-year-old Paul now has 72 assists and just 10 turnovers in eight playoff games this season. 

Devin Booker added 18 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix, while Deandre Ayton had 15 points and 10 rebounds. 

Jokic left the game late in the third quarter with the Nuggets trailing by 20 and did not return, finishing with 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in 29 minutes. 

Denver did not give him much help, as the rest of their starting lineup made just nine of 32 shots from the field (28.1 per cent). 

Michael Porter Jr. was the only other starter to reach double figures, scoring 11 on three of 13 shooting -- including two of nine from three-point range. 

The Nuggets made only 14 of 43 (32.6 per cent) from beyond the arc overall, compared to 18 of 38 (47.4 per cent) for Phoenix. 

Game 3 of the series is Friday in Denver.

Nets at Bucks

The Brooklyn Nets look for a 3-0 lead on the Bucks as their Eastern Conference semi-final series shifts to Milwaukee on Thursday.  

Chris Paul compared the Phoenix Suns to a wrestling tag team after they beat the Denver Nuggets 122-105 in their NBA playoffs semi-final opener.

In front of what Paul described as "crazy" home support, the Suns bossed the second half 65-47 to take first blood in the Western Conference last-four series.

Paul (21 points and 11 assists) and Deandre Ayton (20 points and 10 rebounds) fuelled the second-seeded Suns, who saw all of their starters finish with double-digit points – Devin Booker (21), Mikal Bridges (23) and Jae Crowder (14) making priceless contributions.

With the likes of Cameron Payne and Torrey Craig coming off the bench – the latter having nine points and eight rebounds in under 18 minutes on court – there are good grounds for optimism in the Suns ranks.

Paul said the key to the Suns second-half surge, after slipping 70-60 behind at one point, was "just playing with pace", and a vibrant home atmosphere, with Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps among the crowd.

"They got a nice little lead on us there in the third quarter," he said. "This crowd is crazy. It's crazy. To have the fans in there, the energy, there's nothing like it.

"I told the guys this is why we fought so hard during the regular season to get home-court advantage. I think we truly have that with our fanbase here."

For Denver, MVP favourite Nikola Jokic was limited to 22 points on 10-for-23 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists on the road.

Paul said the Suns have real character as a unit.

"It's fun to be on the team," he said. "It's almost like wrestling and you're tagging in.

"You go out of the game and there's no drop-off, there's just another unit coming in and keeping pressure on you.

"I think that's the benefit of having the team like we have."

The second game in the series takes place on Wednesday, again at the Phoenix Suns Arena.

While Paul praised others, Booker hailed Paul's contribution.

"We felt that energy. We felt that passion behind it," Booker said.

"He just made plays. Not only his scoring ability but getting everybody else involved. That's been the story of the season for us, following him in that regard."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks had no answers as Kevin Durant guided the Brooklyn Nets to a brutal 125-186 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Harden sat out due to hamstring tightness, but the star-studded Nets still made light work of the Bucks in Monday's blow-out win for a commanding 2-0 lead in the NBA playoffs.

Durant put on a show against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and the visiting Bucks, posting 32 points in three quarters while Kyrie Irving added 22 points.

The second-seeded Nets – who defeated Milwaukee in three consecutive home games for the first time since 2006-09 – led by as much as 49 points in their most lopsided postseason victory in franchise history.

Brooklyn, eyeing a maiden championship, became the first team since the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers to score at least 115 points in each of their last six playoff games.

The Nets – who set a franchise postseason record with 21 three-pointers – became the first team in playoff history to have an MVP winner (Harden) miss the game and yet still win by 35-plus points, according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo had a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds for Milwaukee, but the Bucks superstar was far from efficient.

Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo was eight-for-15 shooting, while he missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc and had three turnovers.

Khris Middleton finished with 17 points, however, he was seven-for-20 shooting from the field, having made only three of his eight three-pointers.

In the west, the Phoenix Suns opened their semi-final matchup with a 122-105 win at home to the Denver Nuggets.

Chris Paul (21 points and 11 assists) and Deandre Ayton (20 points and 10 rebounds) fuelled the second-seeded Suns, who saw all of their starters finish with double-digit points – Devin Booker (21), Mikal Bridges (23) and Jae Crowder (14).

The Suns took control in the second half, outscoring the third-ranked Nuggets 65-47 in Game 1.

MVP favourite and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was limited to just 22 points on 10-for-23 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists on the road.

 

Clippers at Jazz

The Los Angeles Clippers and top-ranked Utah Jazz will open their Western Conference second-round series on Tuesday. In the east, the Philadelphia 76ers will be looking to bounce back in Game 2 at home to the Atlanta Hawks.

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