It is the end of an era for the Dallas Mavericks after NBA championship-winning head coach Rick Carlisle stepped down amid reports of tension with star Luka Doncic.

Carlisle had two years remaining on his contract but opted not to return for the 2021-22 season following the Mavericks' first-round playoff defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The winningest coach in franchise history (555-478, 53.7 per cent), Carlisle departs after 13 seasons, including the franchise's first NBA championship in 2011.

But Carlisle leaves Dallas following reports of tension between him and two-time All-Star Doncic – whose long-term future is dominating headlines after the exit of president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

"After a number of in-person conversations with Mark Cuban over the last week, today I informed him that I will not be returning as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks," Carlisle, whose Mavericks did not advance past the first round of the playoffs since their 2011 title, told ESPN on Thursday.

"This was solely my decision. My family and I have had an amazing 13-year experience working with great people in a great city."

Carlisle, who won the NBA championship as a player with the Boston Celtics in 1986, is one of only 14 individuals to claim a title as both a player and a head coach.

The 61-year-old moved up to 15th on the NBA's all-time wins list in 2020-21, surpassing Cotton Fitzsimmons (832) with 833 career victories.

"Rick informed me today about his decision to step down as head coach," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in a statement. "On top of being a tremendous basketball coach, he was also a friend and a confidant.

"Rick helped us bring the O'Brien trophy to Dallas and those memories I will always cherish. I want to thank Rick for all he gave the franchise and this city. We wish him all the best."

Luka Doncic appeared to confirm he would be signing a supermax contract extension with the Dallas Mavericks following their NBA playoff exit.

The Mavs were eliminated from the postseason with Sunday's Game 7 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers, despite another outstanding series from Doncic.

The Slovenian has played in only two playoff series – both defeats against the Clippers – but has quickly established himself as one of the league's elite offensive players.

Doncic scored 35.7 points per game across the seven games, improving his career postseason average to 33.5.

That is the best mark of any player to appear in 13 or more playoff games, passing Michael Jordan's 33.4.

Jordan is one of only three men since 1963 to outscore Doncic across the first 13 games of his playoff career, with the Mavs superstar matching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 436 points.

Dallas will pursue an extension to keep Doncic on the team long term, and he replied to questions about an imminent supermax deal: "I think you know the answer."

Doncic is still playing on the four-year rookie contract he signed after the Mavs traded with the Atlanta Hawks on draft night in 2018.

The 22-year-old is set to earn $10.2million in the coming season, but Dallas are expected to make him an offer that would then exceed $200m across the next five years.

Doncic, who averages 25.7 points in the regular season, was the Rookie of the Year in 2018-19 and made the All-NBA First Team last year. He will likely be included in the same selection for 2020-21.

A new generation of NBA superstars established themselves as the playoffs continued last week.

The first round concluded as a talented, young (with the exception of Chris Paul) Phoenix Suns team defeated LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Atlanta Hawks quickly gained an upper hand against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, too.

And although Kawhi Leonard led the Los Angeles Clippers through to round two, they also suffered at the hand of an emerging talent, as Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check shows.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Devin Booker

Booker was dominant across the board for the Suns, earning praise from James after getting the better of the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

When comparing last week's performances with regular season returns, Booker ranked third for scoring improvement, second for rebounding improvement and second for three-point makes improvement. This was a staggering show of strength.

Playing in his sixth year, it is easy to forget this was a debut postseason series for Booker, who finished with 47 points at Staples Center and will back himself to deliver again against the Denver Nuggets.

Trae Young

The biggest potential upset of the second round is already under way after the Hawks took Game 1 against the 76ers in Philly despite Joel Embiid's return to fitness.

Young – another playoff debutant – was predictably at the centre of their success, following up 36 points in Game 5 against the New York Knicks with 35 in this opener.

He had 25 in the first half on Sunday on eight-of-13 shooting as Atlanta scored 74, the most ever by a road team in a Game 1. Considering the way the Sixers battled back to make the encounter close, Young might have to be similarly outstanding again in the forthcoming meetings.

Luka Doncic

Young was traded to the Hawks as part of the deal that saw Doncic go the other way to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night in 2018. But the Slovenian will play no further part in the playoffs after Sunday's Game 7 defeat to the Clippers.

Doncic has undoubtedly proven his class in the postseason, though, even if he is yet to win a series. Already one of the league's outstanding offensive stars, his career playoff average of 33.5 points per game is the best of any player to appear in 13 or more games – surpassing Michael Jordan's 33.4.

The Mavs ace reached that mark thanks to an outstanding week that included two 40-point performances despite Dallas' eventual series defeat.

Doncic's performances through 13 career playoff games are a match for the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Only Rick Barry, Bob McAdoo and Jordan have topped his 436 total points at this stage since 1963-64. He was certainly not to blame on Sunday...
 

GOING COLD...

Kristaps Porzingis

Expensive team-mate Porzingis may well have to take some responsibility for the Mavs' failings, although he was not alone. Among the players with the largest declines in scoring over the past week from their regular season outputs, three Dallas players were in the top seven.

Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson were also in there, but Porzingis' presence should be of the most concern.

Although the big man put up 16 points and 11 rebounds – his second-most in a postseason game – on Sunday, his failure to make a single one of his five three-point attempts left Doncic short of help.

Enes Kanter

Doncic was not the only superstar left high and dry as he exited the first round. Damian Lillard did all he could to try to carry the Portland Trail Blazers past the Nuggets last week, averaging 41.5 points, but could not advance alone.

CJ McCollum underwhelmed, despite contributing 20.7 points across the series, yet it was the absence of effective defense that meant Nikola Jokic was always able to match Lillard.

Jusuf Nurkic had a combined plus/minus of 45 but fouled out of three of the six games, meaning poor Kanter had to guard Jokic on occasion and ended the series with a -34 plus/minus across only 56 minutes.

Reggie Jackson paid tribute to Kawhi Leonard for instigating the Los Angeles Clippers' crucial Game 7 win over the Dallas Mavericks to secure progression to the NBA Western Conference semi-finals.

The Clippers were 126-111 victors on Sunday as they finally got the job done in the last game of the series, going some way to exorcising their 2020 demons.

Last year, the Clippers missed out on a spot in the Western Conference finals as they blew a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets, who eventually saw them off 104-89 in Game 7 in September.

The Nuggets became the first NBA team to overcome a 3-1 deficit twice in the same playoffs and had been used as a stick to beat the Clippers with practically ever since.

While the Mavs put the Clippers under pressure, with Luka Doncic setting a new Game 7 record for 77 points scored or assisted, it was not enough as two-time Finals MVP Leonard played a starring role.

Although he did not match 22-year-old Doncic's stunning 46-point haul – which made him the youngest player in NBA history to average 35 points each game in a playoff series – Leonard only just missed out on a triple-double, recording 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Almost half (13) of those points came in an emphatic opening quarter, which Jackson felt was vital in setting the tone.

"I think it all started with Kawhi," Jackson said. "Kawhi came in with a mentality that he was going to take this game today.

"He was going to come in and lead and wasn't going to be shy about his play at all. He really got it going early and once he got it going early, guys had to load up and defenses had to change their coverages."

As for the Clippers moving past the disappointment of 2020, coach Ty Lue seemed relieved to look past it.

"Last year was last year," Lue said. "We talked about it when the season started, that's over and we've got to look going forward.

"We can't keep looking behind and what happened in the bubble. That s***'s over."

On the other side of the coin, much like Leonard in last year's semi-finals, Doncic's brilliance came to nothing in the end.

The Slovenian was the star of the series, with numerous Clippers applauding his performances after Game 7, but he cut a dejected figure and feels he has not proven anything about himself because he is paid to win.

Asked what he felt he had proved, Doncic said: "I mean, nothing yet. We made the playoffs twice since I've been here. We lost both times. At the end, you get paid to win. We didn't do it."

The Clippers will go on to face top seeds the Utah Jazz in the semi-finals after they eased past the Memphis Grizzlies 4-1 in the first round.

Kawhi Leonard was the hero again for the Los Angeles Clippers, who completed their comeback against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 to progress to the Western Conference semi-finals.

A deciding game was needed in the opening-round series after Leonard erupted for 45 points to help the Clippers avoid elimination in the NBA playoffs on Friday.

In the winner-takes-all showdown at Staples Center, Clippers superstar Leonard stepped up to the plate with a double-double as the Clippers prevailed 126-111 to clinch the series 4-3 on Sunday.

Leonard posted 28 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals to lead the Clippers to a date with the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the second round, starting on Tuesday.

Luka Doncic carried the load for the visiting Mavericks in Los Angeles, but the All-Star's 46 points and 14 assists were not enough.

The fourth-seeded Clippers were 3-5 in Game 7 in franchise history – losers in each of their last three appearances (2015 Western Conference semi-finals, 2017 first round and 2020 Western Conference semi-finals) and looking to avoid becoming the fifth team in NBA history to lose four consecutive Game 7s.

While the Clippers led by eight points at half-time, the fifth-seeded Mavericks outscored the home team 19-6 to open the third period for an 81-76 advantage.

That sparked the Clippers, who responded with a 24-4 run for a 100-85 lead entering the fourth quarter and while the Mavericks chipped away at the deficit, there was no denying Leonard and the championship hopefuls – who became the first home team to win in this series.

In the earlier game, MVP finalist Joel Embiid made his return but top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers were upstaged 128-124 by the Atlanta Hawks in their Eastern Conference semi-final opener.

Embiid made his way back to the court following a meniscus tear and while he put up 39 points, the Hawks silenced a hostile crowd to draw first blood at Wells Fargo Center.

Trae Young had 25 of his 35 points in the first half as the fifth-seeded Hawks made a blistering start to the contest in Philadelphia.

Atlanta led Philadelphia 75-54 at half-time. According to Stats Perform, that is the highest first-half point total by a road team in a postseason series opener in history.

Young joined Lew Alcindor as the only players in NBA history to score 30-plus points in each of the first four road games of their playoff careers, while he became the first Hawks player in history to have 35-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason game.

 

Nuggets at Suns

The Phoenix Suns will host the Denver Nuggets in their Western Conference semi-final opener on Monday. In the east, the Brooklyn Nets can take a 2-0 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard said he "definitely didn't want to go home" after producing a monster performance to avoid elimination from the NBA playoffs.

Leonard matched his playoffs career high with 45 points as the Clippers topped the Dallas Mavericks 104-97 on Friday to force a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference first-round series.

Facing a postseason exit with the Mavericks leading 3-2, Leonard came up big for the fourth-seeded Clippers in Dallas, where the two-time NBA champion erupted on 18-for-25 shooting while nailing five three-pointers.

Through six games in the playoffs this season, Leonard is averaging 32.8 points per game on 60.5 per cent shooting. According to Stats Perform, he is the first player to average 30.0-plus points per game on 60.0-plus per cent shooting over his first six games of a postseason since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1983.

As attention now turns to Sunday's decider in Los Angeles, Leonard told ESPN: "I definitely didn't want to go home.

"We have to do whatever it takes to get a win if we don't want to go home. It's on us."

For the first time in their history, the Clippers won three road games in one series, with Paul George contributing a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds as Reggie Jackson put up 25 points.

With the Clippers triumphing in Game 6, it marks the first time in league history that the road team have won the first six games of a postseason series with the home side playing in their true home arena.

"Just another basketball game," Leonard said as he looked ahead to Game 7. "Like we say, if we don't want to go home, pay attention to details, have faith, shooting the ball with confidence. If you do that, you can live with the results."

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue hailed Leonard, saying: "Great players perform in big moments. It just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is."

Mavericks counterpart Luka Doncic was also full of praise after Dallas failed to book their spot in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Doncic – carrying 361 points from 11 playoff games into the contest, the highest total at that point of his career since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (405) in 1988 – posted 29 points but he was just two-of-nine shooting from three-point range.

On Leonard, Doncic told reporters: "I mean, he destroyed us. That's what it is. He had a hell of a game. And that's what he does."

Doncic and the Mavericks remain upbeat, despite their missed opportunity on home court.

"It's all right," Doncic said. "We're still motivated. There's one more game left. I don't see why we shouldn't believe in it. There's one more game, so we all believe."

Kawhi Leonard matched his playoffs career high with 45 points to keep the Los Angeles Clippers' NBA season alive with a 104-97 victory at the Dallas Mavericks.

The fourth-seeded Clippers were facing elimination on Friday, trailing Luka Doncic's Mavericks 3-2 in the Western Conference first-round series.

But Leonard came up big for the Clippers with their backs against the wall, erupting on 18-for-25 shooting and five three-pointers to level the series and force a deciding Game 7.

Leonard made only seven of 19 shots in Game 5, after going 38-for-53 (71.7 per cent) over his previous three games, however, the NBA champion was far more efficient in Game 6 as attention now turns to Sunday's decider in Los Angeles.

For the first time in their history, the Clippers won three road games in one series, with Paul George contributing a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds as Reggie Jackson put up 25 points.

Luka Doncic – carrying 361 points from 11 playoff games into the contest, the highest total at that point of his career since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (405) in 1988 – posted 29 points but he was just two-of-nine shooting from three-point range, while team-mate Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 points.

The Mavericks were 17-10 (63.0 per cent) in potential series-clinching games prior to tip-off – the third best record in NBA history (minimum 10 games), behind only the Golden State Warriors (42-23, 64.6 per cent) and Cleveland Cavaliers (25-14, 64.1 per cent), according to Stats Perform.

They made a strong start by outscoring the Clippers 28-26 in the opening quarter, though Leonard and the visitors wrestled back momentum in the second period for a 48-45 half-time advantage.

The see-sawing contest continued as the Mavericks used a 32-25 third quarter to close in on a potential Conference semi-final against the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

However, Leonard flexed his muscles in a dominant final period to avoid joining city rivals and champions the Los Angeles Lakers in exiting the postseason.

 

Bucks at Nets

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets will host Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Saturday.

Donovan Mitchell led the way as number one seeds the Utah Jazz progressed to the Western Conference second round, while the top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers also booked their spot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Mitchell posted 26 of his 30 points in the first half to fuel the Jazz to a 126-110 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, sealing a 4-1 series victory in the NBA playoffs on Wednesday.

The Jazz All-Star tallied 10 assists and six rebounds, joining Deron Williams and John Stockton as the only Utah players with 30-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason clash.

With five three-pointers made, Mitchell also became the first jazz player in franchise history to finish with 30 points, 10 assists and five threes in a playoff encounter.

Mitchell was assisted by Jordan Clarkson (24 points) and Rudy Gobert (23 points and 15 rebounds) as the Jazz await the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers-Dallas Mavericks matchup.

Grizzlies sensation Ja Morant impressed again with 27 points and 11 assists as he finished his first playoff series averaging 30.2 points and 8.2 assists while shooting 48.7 per cent from the field – the highest ever points per game average by a Memphis player in a single postseason.

All three teams that had a chance to clinch a series midweek, won by 14-plus points following the success of the Jazz, 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. According to Stats Perform, it is the first time three franchises have claimed a series with double-digit victories on the same day since May 1, 2003.

 

Simmons flexes muscles as 76ers advance without Embiid

Despite the absence of MVP finalist Joel Embiid due to a meniscus tear, the 76ers still reached the second round thanks to a 129-112 rout of the Washington Wizards. Ben Simmons inspired the 76ers in Philadelphia, where he had a triple-double of 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. It was Simmons' third career playoff triple-double, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Charles Barkley to move into second place on the all-time list in Philadelphia history – behind only Wilt Chamberlain (eight). Seth Curry (playoffs career-high 30 points) and Tobias Harris (28 points) also starred as the 76ers defeated the Wizards 4-1. Wizards pair Bradley Beal (32 points) and Russell Westbrook (24 points and 10 assists) combined for 56 points, however, it was not enough at Wells Fargo Center.

Next up for the 76ers are the fifth-seeded Hawks, who saw off the New York Knicks 4-1 behind a 103-89 success. Trae Young silenced fourth seeds the Knicks with a postseason career-high 36 points in New York. Julius Randle's 23 points and 13 rebounds were not enough for the Knicks.

Luka Doncic put on a show as the Mavericks withstood the Clippers 105-100 for a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference first-round series. Doncic went off for 42 points and a playoff career-high 14 assists to take down the Clippers in Los Angeles. The All-Star became the second player in NBA history to record a game with 42-plus points, eight-plus rebounds and 14-plus assists in the postseason, joining LeBron James (2018).

 

Rose struggles

In the starting five, veteran and former MVP Derrick Rose failed to make an impact. In 27 minutes, Rose was three-for-11 shooting for only six points as the Knicks bowed out.

While Kawhi Leonard had 20 points, it was not an efficient display. The Clippers star finished seven-for-19 shooting – making just one of his seven three-point attempts. He also had five turnovers.

 

Ice Trae!

Young bowed to the Madison Square Garden crowd, happy after putting the icing on the cake with a long-range three as the Hawks sent hosts the Knicks packing.

 

Wednesday's results

Utah Jazz 126-106 Memphis Grizzlies
Philadelphia 76ers 129-112 Washington Wizards
Atlanta Hawks 103-89 New York Knicks
Dallas Mavericks 105-100 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Suns at Lakers

It is make or break for defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers, who will host the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 on Thursday. The Lakers trail the second-seeded Suns 3-2 in the Western Conference first round and face elimination.

Luka Doncic refused to blame his injury for what he described as a "terrible" performance in the Dallas Mavericks' 106-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Mavs were pegged back to 2-2 in the series, having led 2-0, with Kawhi Leonard's efficient double-double of 29 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and 10 rebounds inspiring the Clippers on the road.

Paul George added 20 points as the Clippers became the first team in league history to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home and then win the next two on the road by a combined 35-plus points.

Doncic was cleared to play despite a neck strain and put up 19 points, but the Mavs star was just nine-for-24 shooting in Dallas, where he frequently showed signs of pain as he grimaced his way through proceedings.

He did not want to use it as an excuse, though.

"I don't think that matters right now," Doncic said. "We lost. Injuries are part of basketball, but I was 100 per cent. I played terrible, so we've just got to move on to the next one.

"The pain is like neck and then the nerve down. I don't really know how to explain that. It felt way better today morning than yesterday.

"I'll just keep doing massages, ice it down and then be ready for Wednesday."

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is hopeful Doncic will be free of the symptoms of his injury by Game 5.

"He's in pain," he said. "It appeared to me that he couldn't turn left, couldn't look to his left. He couldn't turn his neck to his left, and that's difficult for a guy that relies on peripheral vision and basically has played his whole life with his head on a swivel.

"We've got to hope in the next couple of days that he can get better, hopefully substantially better. There is a two-day break between games, which is a positive in this case."

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets are on the cusp of the Eastern Conference semi-finals after Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden helped take down the Boston Celtics 141-126 in Game 4.

Durant, Irving and Harden led the way to silence the Celtics crowd in Boston, where the second-seeded Nets claimed a commanding 3-1 lead in the opening-round series following a franchise playoff scoring record.

A game-high 42 points from Durant, and double-doubles from Irving (39 points and 11 rebounds) and Harden (23 points and 18 assists) fuelled the Nets at TD Garden on Sunday.

Durant, Irving and Harden tied the playoffs record for most points scored by three team-mates (104), after John Havlicek (54), Jo Jo White (34), Dave Cowens (16) in 1973 and Dominique Wilkins (50), Randy Wittman (35), Spud Webb (19) in 1986.

Brooklyn duo Durant and Irving also became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each score 35-plus points while going 10-for-10 shooting or better from the free-throw line in the same game, according to Stats Perform.

After his mammoth 50-point haul in Game 3, Jayson Tatum followed up with 40 points, seven rebounds and five assists but it was not enough for the Celtics, who are facing elimination.

 

Clippers fightback

After dropping the opening two games, the Los Angeles Clippers are now level with the Dallas Mavericks at 2-2 in the west following their 106-81 rout. Kawhi Leonard's efficient double-double of 29 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and 10 rebounds inspired the Clippers on the road. Paul George added 20 points as the Clippers became the first team in league history to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home and then win the next two on the road by a combined 35-plus points, per Stats Perform.

The Atlanta Hawks relied on their usual stars to get past the New York Knicks 113-96 and move within one win of the second round of the playoffs. Trae Young had 27 points and John Collins chipped in with 22 of his own as the Hawks earned a 3-1 advantage.

 

Davis injury caps Lakers loss

The Los Angeles Lakers lost 100-92 to the Phoenix Suns, who levelled the matchup in the west. Anthony Davis' injury headlined the defeat as the Suns capitalised on his second-half absence. Davis suffered a groin injury late in the second quarter and did not return for reigning champions the Lakers in Los Angeles. 

Luka Doncic was cleared to play against the Clippers, despite a neck strain. While he put up 19 points, the Mavs star was just nine-for-24 shooting in Dallas. Doncic also had little support on the court after starters Tim Hardaway Jr. (four points on one-for-eight shooting), Dorian Finney-Smith (eight points on three-for-nine shooting) and Maxi Kleber (0 points on 0-for-three shooting) struggled.

 

Caruso-LeBron combo

The Lakers lost but Alex Caruso and LeBron James still produced a highlight moment in the second quarter. Caruso lobbed the ball to James off the backboard and the latter finished emphatically. James registered 25 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Sunday's results

Atlanta Hawks 113-96 New York Knicks
Phoenix Suns 100-92 Los Angeles Lakers
Brooklyn Nets 141-126 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Clippers 106-81 Dallas Mavericks

 

76ers at Wizards

Eastern Conference top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers can seal a 4-0 series sweep of the Washington Wizards in DC on Monday.

Jayson Tatum was the hero as the Boston Celtics bounced back against the star-studded Brooklyn Nets, winning 125-119 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference opening-round matchup.

Tatum posted a playoff career-high 50 points to thwart James Harden, Kevin Durant and the high-flying Nets in Boston on Friday.

The second-seeded Nets had seized control of the NBA playoff series following back-to-back wins in Brooklyn, but Tatum and the Celtics hit back on home court to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Tatum became the third Celtics player with 50-plus points in a regular playoff game, according to Stats Perform. The All-Star joined John Havlicek (54 in 1973) and Sam Jones (51 in 1967).

The 23-year-old Tatum also became the third youngest player in NBA history to post 50 or more points in a postseason contest. Ricky Barry (55 in 1967) and Michael Jordan (63 in 1986) are the only other players.

Big performances from former MVPs Harden (41 points and 10 assists) and Durant (39 points and nine rebounds) were not enough for the Nets.

Harden and Durant became the first pair of team-mates with 30-plus points in a playoff game since Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson in 2006.

 

Kawhi and George deliver in much-needed win

With their backs against the wall, the Los Angeles Clippers topped the Dallas Mavericks 118-108. Kawhi Leonard (36 points in 13-for-17 shooting) and Paul George (29 points) fuelled the fourth-ranked Clippers, who closed within 2-1 of the Mavericks in the Western Conference series. The Clippers spoiled the party in Dallas, where Luka Doncic produced a playoff career-high 44 points as the Mavs raced out to a 30-11 lead before the visitors rallied in front of 17,705 fans.

 

Randle fails to fire again

All-Star Julius Randle struggled as the New York Knicks lost 105-94 to the Atlanta Hawks, who claimed a 2-1 series lead in the east. Randle finished with a double-double of 14 points and 11 assists, but he was just two-for-15 shooting. Per Stats Perform, Randle became the first Knick to go 0 of eight or worse on two-pointers in a playoff game since Patrick Ewing (0 for 10) did so 27 years ago. Randle's 20.6 two-point percentage in the series is the lowest in a three-game span by any player with that many attempts in the last 30 postseasons.

While the Celtics won, Kemba Walker underwhelmed. He was just three-for-14 shooting as he finished with six points in 34 minutes.

 

Trae stars as Hawks soar

Trae Young was hot again for the Hawks after posting 21 points and 14 assists. The Hawks star joined Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kevin Johnson, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only players to record more than 30 assists in their first three career playoff games. Young recorded 10 assists in the first half – the first player to achieve the feat in a half of a playoff clash in their first postseason since Rajon Rondo in 2008. According to Stats Perform, Young is the third player since the merger with 80-plus points and 30-plus assists in his first three career playoff games, joining Johnson and Paul.

 

Friday's results

Atlanta Hawks 105-94 New York Knicks
Boston Celtics 125-119 Brooklyn Nets
Los Angeles Clippers 118-108 Dallas Mavericks

 

Bucks at Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks can seal a series sweep of the Miami Heat on Saturday. Eastern Conference rivals and top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers are also in action against the Washington Wizards, leading 2-0.

The Los Angeles Clippers have their backs against the wall but head coach Tyronn Lue is confident the championship-chasing franchise will show their true colours in Game 3 of the Western Conference first round.

Expectations are high with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George leading the way in Los Angeles, however the Clippers trail the Dallas Mavericks 2-0 heading into Friday's showdown in the NBA playoffs after back-to-back defeats on home court.

The fourth-seeded Clippers are looking to banish the demons of last season, which saw the team sensationally surrender a 3-1 series lead in a 4-3 defeat to the Denver Nuggets in the Conference semi-finals under former coach Doc Rivers.

"I think when you're down 2-0 and you're coming into another team's arena, it shows what you're made of," Lue said on Thursday.

"Our toughness all year, just trust, sticking together, this is going to show us tomorrow who we are and what we are made of. So I'm excited to see [it]."

Lue added: "Urgency is the right word. Pressure or panic, I don't believe in that. ... [The Clippers have to] understand the urgency and understand what we are trying to do and basically everybody get on the same page.

"That's the biggest thing for me. But like I said, we are urgent and we are ready to go. We cleaned up some things we need to clean up."

The Clippers have lost five consecutive playoffs games since last winning in the postseason – Game 4 against the Nuggets in 2019-20.

"You can't hit back if you don't swing ... We've got to bring physicality to the game," Lue, who won the championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, said. "They've definitely been the more physical team, and I don't know why that is because we talk about that. So in order to throw a punch, you've got to swing."

"We have got to be more physical, we've got to swing and we have to come out punching and we can't keep getting behind the 8-ball in the first quarter. We have to be better defensively to start the game. We are well aware of that, and now we have to go out and execute it."

Paul George may have insisted it is not time to worry just yet but the Los Angeles Clippers face a critical Game 3 on the road against the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas returned home from LA with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that is a repeat of a first-round playoff clash in the NBA bubble from last season. On that occasion, the teams were locked together at 2-2 before the Clippers pulled clear to prevail.

This time around, the favoured team - though admittedly it is a meeting of the fourth and fifth seeds in the Western Conference - has plenty of work to do if they are to progress again.

Luka Doncic starred once more in a 127-121 triumph on Tuesday to help the Mavericks double their advantage, though George made clear in the aftermath that the Clippers can still dig themselves out of the early hole.

"It's a competition. We've got to rise to the occasion. The fact of the matter is if we don't, we're done for," he told the media.

"But it's no level of concern. We've just got to play our game. We've got to play through this. We've got to incorporate our defense.

"Luka's going to get his touches. We've just got to do a better job defensively of just quieting everybody else."

Doncic is certainly getting touches - the Slovenian has scored 70 points so far in the series, as well as contributing 18 assists. Now with home-court advantage, he has the chance to push Dallas' much-fancied opponents to the brink of an early elimination that will raise serious questions over their future.

With George and Kawhi Leonard paired together, the Clippers were tipped to contend in the 2019-20 season. A dramatic collapse when 3-1 up against the Denver Nuggets in the West semi-finals put paid to any title hopes, but an even earlier exit this year would be just as surprising.

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out," Leonard told the media. "Just like the regular season, you might lose two in a row and then go on a winning streak, so just having that same mentality.

"We're playing the same team; we know what they're doing. We've just got to stay focused and make sure we are keeping our eye on the prize."

A defeat in Dallas, however, and the Clippers should be seriously concerned about their predicament.

TOP PERFORMERS

Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks

In the previous series between these teams, Doncic dazzled in defeat. He averaged 31.0 points per game back then – but he is already up at 35 this time around. That number is helped by him shooting 41.7 per cent from deep, while the team itself are averaging a spectacular 50.0 per cent on their attempts from three-point range.

Paul George - Los Angeles Clippers

After averaging 23.3 points per game in the regular season, George has raised that number up to 25.5 at the start of the playoffs, despite landing just three of his 15 shots from beyond the arc. That level of production is pivotal for the Clippers, but so too is his ability to help get stops as they aim to slow Dallas' offensive production.

KEY BATTLE – TAKING AIM FROM DISTANCE

Can the Mavs remain hot from long range? Doncic was always likely to get points in the series, but the supporting cast have done an excellent job helping their star turn. Tim Hardaway Jr has been particularly impressive, averaging 24.5 points thanks to 11 made three-pointers. 

In contrast, LA have not lived up to their team average of 41.1 per cent on three in the regular season, which was the best in the league. It is not due to a lack of opportunities either, as they have had 10 more field-goal attempts than their rivals through the opening two games. 

HEAD TO HEAD

The franchises are locked together at four wins apiece when it comes to previous playoff meetings, but Dallas dominates the record in the regular season at 95-67. They won two out of three earlier in this campaign, but the solitary defeat did come at home.

In a mere eight games, Luka Doncic has established himself as an elite postseason performer. Need proof? Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who surely must be tired of his act by now.

The Dallas Mavericks superstar is already among the game's best players at 22 years old, but that he seems to be taking his game even further when it means the most bodes well for his inclusion as a player potentially on his way to legendary status. 

All eight of Doncic's playoff games have come against the Clippers, the first six last summer as part of the NBA bubble and two more this week at Staples Center. Dallas lost last season's series in six games despite stellar play from Doncic but has taken the first two games of this first-round series with more otherworldly efforts from the Slovenian wunderkind aided by a better supportive cast.

In the first two games of this series, Doncic has totalled 70 points on 27-of 53 shooting (50.9 percent) with 17 rebounds and 18 assists. He notched his second career 30-point triple double in the playoffs in Game 1, to go along with his 43-point performance in Game 4 against the Clippers last August. The only other active player to have a 30-point triple-double in the playoffs at age 22 or younger was LeBron James in 2006.

Doncic, who also had a triple-double in Game 3 of last season's series against Los Angeles, is the first player in NBA history with three triple-doubles in his first seven career playoff games. He is also the only player since at least 1984-85 to accumulate 250 points, 70 rebounds and 70 assists in his first eight postseason games.

Doncic's playoff scoring has him alongside basketball royalty at this early juncture of his career. Since the 1963-64 seasons, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (287), Michael Jordan (283), LeBron James (266), Bob McAdoo (261) and Anthony Davis (258) scored more points in the first eight playoff games of their NBA career than Doncic's 256.

Whichever defender has been sent his way in the first two games of this series, Doncic has had an answer. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George aren't just outstanding offensive players but also have reputations as excellent on the defensive end. Both have locked down star players in the past but neither has had much success in this series against Doncic. 

While Doncic's physical gifts are well-documented, his basketball IQ and calm demeanour are just as important parts of his basketball arsenal. Also working in Dallas' favour this time around is a supporting cast that has continued its strong play from the regular season. 

A more confident Kristaps Porzingis has scored 34 points in the first two games and Tim Hardaway Jr. has been an absolute revelation for the Mavericks with 49 points - including 11 of 17 from three-point range - on 17 of 27 overall from the field. Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber also have made key contributions. 

Conventional wisdom says double-teaming Doncic is the easiest way to slow him down, but that won't work if Hardaway continues to knock down shots with such regularity. 

If the Clippers' plan was to push Doncic further away from the basket, that may need to be reconsidered after he connected on 10 of 24 from long range in the first two games. 

Perhaps sending Doncic to the free throw line is the way to go since he has made just six of 14 in this series. Since sinking 14 of 15 from the stripe in his playoff debut last season, Doncic is just a 54.0 percent (34 of 63) free-throw shooter in seven postseason contests. 

The Clippers were the league's top three-point shooting team in the regular season at 41.1 per cent but have only made 24 of 73 (32.9 per cent) in this series. Dallas, meanwhile, has hit exactly half of its shots from beyond the arc (35 of 70) and is shooting a blistering 54.4 per cent (86 for 158) overall. Los Angeles needs that to change if it is to have any chance at coming back. 

There is not much more the Clippers' stars can do after Leonard poured in 41 points and George added 28 in Tuesday's Game 2 loss. It's almost hard to believe the Clippers are down 0-2 in this series heading to Dallas with Leonard and George combining for 118 points on 51.8 percent (43 of 83) from the field and 34 rebounds. 

The Mavericks haven't won a postseason series since Dirk Nowitzki led them over Miami in the 2011 Finals, losing all five of their series since then. They certainly weren't expected to win this one, and while there's still plenty of work to be done, history is on their side.

Since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, only four teams have won a series after losing the first two games at home: The 1993 Suns (Lakers), the 1994 Rockets (Suns), the 2005 Mavericks (Rockets) and the 2017 Celtics (Bulls). 

Dirk Nowitzki was a "lucky charm" for the Dallas Mavericks as he watched their Game 2 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, according to head coach Rick Carlisle.

Nowitzki, a 14-time All-Star, spent his entire NBA career in Dallas, winning a championship under Carlisle in 2011 when he was Finals MVP.

But the 2007 MVP retired in 2019 and so was restricted to the role of spectator as the Mavs looked to build on a Game 1 first-round playoff win on Tuesday.

His presence was enough to inspire his former team, too, with the German pictured with current Mavs superstar Luka Doncic following the game.

Doncic led the way with 39 points in an impressive 127-121 win, improving his postseason average to 32.0 points per game. That is the highest mark of any Dallas player regardless of games played, with the top spot previously belonging to Nowitzki as he scored 25.3 points across 145 playoff appearances.

There is a long way to go before Doncic can think about repeating Nowitzki's Finals run – a Miami Heat series in which he averaged 26.0 points – but the support of the team's greatest ever player is a boost.

"I saw him and [wife] Jessica in the hotel yesterday," said Carlisle, Mavs coach since 2008.

"It gives you a profound lift when you're in between the first two games of the playoffs and you see that playoff warrior who we've been through so many battles with.

"He said that he was going to be coming to the game, which was great news.

"And I certainly believe that him being there tonight was a lucky charm for us. It never hurts, never hurts."

Although Doncic was the obvious star once again, there was also a big performance from Tim Hardaway Jr, who contributed 28 points and made six attempts from beyond the arc. Both were career playoff highs.

Hardaway said: "[It was] 2-0 when Dirk gets in the building, I'll tell you that.

"Yeah, Dirk, we saw 'Dirky' earlier in the day, we knew he was there and we were happy we were able to pull out a victory.

"It's still a long series and the job is not done at all. It's just creeping into what we can become and we've just got to keep on focusing in and locking in."

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