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.

Terance Mann says he is "not surprised" after helping the Los Angeles Clippers overturn a 25-point deficit to eliminate the Utah Jazz en route to reaching their first Western Conference Final.

Second-year forward Mann, drafted number 46 overall in the 2019 NBA draft, posted a career-high 39 points with seven-from-10 three-pointers – five of those in the second half –  in Friday's remarkable 131-119 victory.

He had never scored more than 25 points in an NBA game. According to Stats Perform, the last player to have 14-plus points more in a playoff game than his previous career high was Michael Jordan in his NBA-record 63-point game in 1986.

The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard and trailed the Jazz by 25 points early in the third quarter, before going on a 75-40 run to set up a showdown with the second-seeded Phoenix Suns for the right to go to the NBA Finals.

Mann averaged 7.0 points per game this season but proved the star of the show in the Clippers' famous win to earn the acclaim of his colleagues.

"You saw a complete game from a second-year player," said Paul George, who had 28 points. 

"Honestly, he single-handedly willed us back through that stretch where he just, you know, 3 after 3 to downhill attacks to defending. You know, he did it all."

Mann made five of his seven threes over a 23:36 stretch, but the game-winning performance did not come as a surprise to the 24-year-old, who was given a standing ovation by the Staples Center crowd.

"I just had to lock in and do what I had to do," he said. "They were leaving me open.

"I trust my work. When you trust your work, you trust in yourself, you're not surprised when any of this happens."

The Clippers had trailed 2-0 in the NBA playoff series but rallied to close out the second-round matchup 4-2 against the side with the best regular-season record in 2020-21.

A first Conference Final in their 51-year franchise history now awaits and coach Tyronn Lue wants crosstown Los Angeles Lakers to get behind the Clippers when they face the Phoenix Suns, starting this Sunday.

"Just seeing our fans and how they stayed to the end and how they were cheering, it just felt good," Lue said. "The team has been starving for success, and the fan base has been doing the same thing.

"I know the Lakers are out and there's a lot of Lakers fans here. But once the Lakers are gone, if we're not playing them, you should be cheering for the Clippers because it's all in one city. I can feel the love, and I'm very happy and proud of our guys."

The Los Angeles Clippers overturned a 25-point deficit to sensationally eliminate the Utah Jazz en route to their first Western Conference Final, stunning the top seeds 131-119 on Friday.

Despite the absence of star Kawhi Leonard and a large third-quarter deficit against the Jazz, the Clipper produced a miraculous comeback to advance to a Conference Final for the first time in the franchise's 51-year history.

The Clippers had trailed 2-0 in the NBA playoff series but rallied to close out the second-round matchup 4-2 against the side with the best regular-season record in 2020-21 as the Phoenix Suns await, starting on Sunday.

Seeded fourth, the Clippers – who also rallied from 2-0 down against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, having squandered a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets' in last season's Western Conference semi-finals, were fuelled by Terance Mann.

Terance Mann posted a career-high 39 points with seven-from-10 three-pointers, including five in the second half.

Mann had never scored more than 25 points in an NBA game previously. According to Stats Perform, the last player to have 14-plus points in a playoff game than his previous career high was Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in his NBA-record 63-point game in 1986.

Paul George was outstanding with 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while Reggie Jackson finished with 27 points and 10 assists to guide the Clippers.

It was a disappointing end for the Jazz, who were excellent throughout the regular season and had started strongly in Game 6, leading 72-50 at half-time.

Donovan Mitchell scored 39 points, with nine rebounds and nine assists for Utah as the Jazz became the first team in NBA history to win a postseason clash by double digits after trailing by 20-plus points at half-time, per Stats Perform.

Earlier on Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers responded after letting big leads slip in Game 4 and 5 to force an Eastern Conference semi-final decider with a 104-99 win away to the Atlanta Hawks.

Seth Curry, who made six of his nine three-point attempts, and Tobias Harris both scored 24 points for the top-seeded 76ers – who levelled the second-round series at 3-3, forcing a Game 7 in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Atlanta had started strong to compound the pressure on the 76ers, but Philadelphia withstood the early storm, with a 12-0 run after half-time before holding their nerve in the last quarter.

All-Star and MVP runner-up Joel Embiid finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while rookie Tyrese Maxey had an influential final quarter, scoring 16 points for the game, after Ben Simmons was benched plagued by his shooting woes.

Hawks All-Star Trae Young had a game-high 34 points, shooting five-from-10 from three-point range, along with 12 assists, five rebounds and three steals.

 

Bucks at Nets

The gripping Eastern Conference semi-final series between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks will be decided at Barclays Center on Saturday. Hosts the Nets will be missing Kyrie Irving due to an ankle injury as James Harden battles for mobility after re-injuring his hamstring in Game 1.

Utah Jazz star Mike Conley is set to make his long-awaited return against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

Conley has not played since hurting his hamstring in the series-clinching Game 5 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.

But with the top-seeded Jazz facing elimination from the NBA playoffs, All-Star guard Conley is available to face the Clippers on Friday.

The Jazz trail the fourth-ranked Clippers 3-2 heading into the must-win clash.

Conley has been averaging 17.4 points, a postseason career-high 8.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds through five games in the playoffs.

During the regular season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

The Jazz have never lost a best-of-seven series after holding a 2-0 lead but have won only one of their nine best-of-seven series in when facing a 3-2 deficit, according to Stats Perform.

Utah have been down 3-2 with Game 6 on the road three times previously, losing all three. The Clippers have held a 3-2 series lead five times before – closing out the series in Game 6 only once (2020 against the Dallas Mavericks).

The Los Angeles Clippers absorbed the best shot the Utah Jazz could give them and prevailed in what Paul George called their biggest game of the season, winning 119-111 Wednesday to take a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semi-final series. 

Hours after learning star forward Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely with a knee injury, the Clippers turned to George to lead the way on the road against top-seeded Utah. 

George did everything he could, posting 37 points, 16 rebounds and five assists to put Los Angeles one win away from advancing to the conference finals. 

"He's incredible. He's special. Paul's special," said Clippers guard Reggie Jackson.

"The way that he just handled himself, he seemed calm. Tough news to receive [about Leonard] but he seemed calm. He was ready to put the team on his back and carry extra weight."

George did not try and diminish the significance of the win afterward. 

"I thought this was our toughest matchup this postseason, this was the biggest game of our season, especially being down our best player," he told TNT afterward. 

"We wish Kawhi the best and a speedy recovery, but we knew coming into this we had to play together, we had to step up, but we didn't have to [overdo] it.

"I thought everybody played their roles, we did a great job, we played collectively. We limited our turnovers, and I thought that's what was the key tonight."

Los Angeles gave the ball away only 10 times, but just as positive for them was watching the Jazz come up one short of an NBA playoff record with 17 made three-pointers in the first half but only lead by five going into the break. 

"I thought a lot of their threes were tough ones," said George. "We didn't overreact. They came out hot. The good thing about it was we were able to weather the storm.

"We came down and we attacked them on offence as well. We just took their blows, we took their punches -- we just thought they couldn't sustain that over a full 48 minutes."

They could not, whether through the Clippers' defensive efforts or a lack of focus on both ends of the court. 

"I didn't feel like the sense of urgency was there defensively at the beginning of the game," said Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. 

Whatever the reason, the Clippers now control their own destiny in the series, even without having Leonard available for the immediate future. 

"We've been talking about it all year," said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue. "We're not going to point the finger. We're not going to blame anyone.

"When things get tough, we come together. That's the kind of culture I wanted to establish here."

After trailing nearly the entire game, the Atlanta Hawks completed a staggering comeback to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 109-106 and take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semi-final series. 

Hawks star Trae Young led all scorers with 39 points and added seven assists, making 17 of 19 from the free-throw line to offset a 10-of-23 showing from the field. 

Though Atlanta trailed by 22 with one minute remaining in the third quarter, the Hawks shot their way back into the game as just about every 76ers player but Seth Curry went cold in the final quarter. 

Philadelphia still led by 10 after Ben Simmons made a pair of free throws with 4:23 to play, but the 76ers made only one shot the rest of the game -- a meaningless jumper from Curry just before the buzzer. 

In between, they came up empty on all six attempts from the field and Simmons and Joel Embiid missed two free throws each. 

Embiid finished with 37 points and 13 rebounds, while Curry scored 36 as they were the only two 76ers to score from the field in the second half.

According to Stats Perform, this is the first time in the last 15 postseasons two players have made all of their team's baskets in one half. 

A second-half rally was also on the cards in Salt Lake City as the Los Angeles Clippers withstood an early onslaught of three-pointers from the Utah Jazz and returned home with a 119-111 victory and a 3-2 series lead. 

Bojan Bogdanovic made six three-pointers in the opening quarter and Utah had 17 threes in the first half, one shy of the NBA record for the most in any half of a playoff game, to give the Jazz a 65-60 advantage at the break. 

But the Clippers, playing without the injured Kawhi Leonard, out-scored the Jazz 32-18 in the third quarter and held on for the win as Paul George scored 37 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. 

Marcus Morris added 25 points and Reggie Jackson 22 for the Clippers, who can close out the series at home on Friday. 

Bogdanovic finished with 32 points and Donovan Mitchell 21 for Utah, though Mitchell made only six of 19 shots from the field.

Utah made just three of 24 three-pointers in the second half. 

 

Nets at Bucks

The Brooklyn Nets will look to close out their Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks as they take a 3-2 lead into Game 6.

Kawhi Leonard will miss Game 5 of the Western Conference semi-finals, according to multiple reports, after the Los Angeles Clippers star was ruled out indefinitely with a right knee sprain.

Leonard, the two-time NBA Finals MVP, has played an instrumental role in levelling the seven-game series with the Utah Jazz at 2-2 after the Clippers fell into a 0-2 hole.

He scored 34 points in 31 minutes as the Clippers took Game 4 at Staples Center, the highlight a monstrous dunk over Derrick Favors.

But with the series now shifting back to Utah for Game 5, the Clippers now face the prospect of potentially being without Leonard for the rest of the series.

It could prove a potentially fatal blow to the Clippers' hopes of progressing to a Western Conference Finals matchup with the Phoenix Suns.

He leads the Clippers with 30.4 points per game in the postseason, comfortably ahead of Paul George (24.9).

Only three players in the league have had a greater scoring influence on victories for their respective teams during the playoffs.

Leonard has averaged 33.8 points per game in wins this postseason, a tally bettered by only Luka Doncic (37.3), Nikola Jokic (37) and Anthony Davis (34).

The Clippers, who have never reached the Conference Finals in their history, will look to take a 3-2 lead by overcoming Leonard's absence and the Jazz in Game 5 on Wednesday.

Kawhi Leonard's huge dunk in the Los Angeles Clippers' series-levelling win over the Utah Jazz sent ripples through the NBA, stopping Joel Embiid in his tracks.

Embiid was undertaking post-game media duties after the Philadelphia 76ers were beaten by the Atlanta Hawks, when his attention was diverted by seeing Leonard in full flow.

"Oh my god. See that dunk, see that Kawhi dunk?" said Embiid.

Unlike Embiid, Leonard finished on the winning side in Monday’s playoff games, his 31 points helping the Clippers post a 118-104 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 4 of their Western Conference semi-final.

Leonard's masterpiece came near the end of the second quarter.

"I don't get to see the reaction of what's on the web or social media or whatever, but Zu [Ivica Zubac] showed me a clip of Embiid talking, and yeah that's the only thing I got from it. During the game in the heat of the moment I know it's a big play, but you've got to have the next-play mentality because right after I think Joe Ingles came down and hit a three pretty wide open in that corner, so we've still got room for improvement," Leonard said.

Leonard sat out the closing minutes after appearing to hurt his knee, but when asked about the blow after the game he said the knee was "good", eager to move on to the next question.

When asked about the team's prospects of reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time, Leonard almost scoffed at that being his ambition.

He said: "I don't care about the Western Conference Finals. I'm trying to win a championship.

"Obviously that's the next step but I'm not even looking at that."

Paul George also scored 31 points as the Clippers edged out the Jazz at Staples Center, teeing up Game 5 in Utah on Wednesday.

Having been 2-0 down in this series, the Clippers have set aside criticism of their slow start to look sharp again.

Leonard indicated he was impervious to external discussion surrounding the team's performance.

"I don't even know we took criticism," he said. "I don't know what's going on in the outside world."

Donovan Mitchell said Kawhi Leonard "destroyed" the Utah Jazz in Game 4's 118-104 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers, but he is bullish the top seeds can get back to winning ways.

Leonard scored 31 points with seven rebounds and three assists for the Clippers, well supported by Paul George with 31 points and nine rebounds as they levelled up the series at 2-2.

Mitchell put up 37 points for the Jazz but it was not enough, after his side trailed by 24 points at half-time following the Clippers' first-half blitz.

"He destroyed us, he had a hell of a game," Mitchell said about Leonard, who finished the game on the bench after a knock to his knee from a collision with Joe Ingles.

Leonard refused to be drawn on the potential injury, declining to address it in-depth in his post-game video conference and saying on court: "Nah, I'll be good."

Mitchell said that the Clippers were on a "different level" but was buoyed by his side's second-half display.

"They had three guys with 20 points or more, they got going," Mitchell said. "We can't let a team like that get going because they're lethal."

He added: "They just were at a different level. We couldn’t buy a bucket.

"Sometimes that's the case but we've got to continue to guard. I think we found a few things that will give us an advantage. We started being aggressive and that's how we cut it to 10-12.

"If we can continue to play like we did in the second half… come out in Game 5 and be ready, I think we'll be in good shape but we've also got to guard too."

On Wednesday the series returns to Salt Lake City where the Jazz won the opening two games, before the Clippers won the next two in Los Angeles.

"We've got to take care of home court," Mitchell said. "They came out and punched us in the face two times. We've got to be ready for it."

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard led the way as the Los Angeles Clippers topped the Utah Jazz 118-104 in Game 4 to level the Western Conference semi-final series.

George and Leonard posted 31 points each to lead the fourth-seeded Clippers past the Jazz in Los Angeles on Monday.

Entering the contest, George and Leonard were the only pair of Clippers team-mates to score 30-plus points in the same playoff game more than once (Game 3 and Game 5 of the first round in 2020).

George and Leonard combined again to see off the top-ranked Jazz – a win fuelled by a 30-13 blowout in the opening quarter at Staples Center.

Marcus Morris Sr. was the only other Clippers player with double-digit points as the Phoenix Suns await the winner of this series in the Western Conference Finals.

The Jazz – who had their six-game winning streak snapped in Game 3, a run which tied the second longest in franchise history – were led by Donovan Mitchell's game-high 37 points on the road.

Game 5 of the series will be held in Utah on Wednesday, with the Jazz seeking to reclaim the lead.

Trae Young was the inspiration behind the Atlanta Hawks' series-tying 103-100 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

After a cold start, Young finished with 25 points to lead the Hawks' rally as Atlanta upstaged the top-seeded 76ers in Game 4 at home.

The 76ers blew an 18-point lead and the series advantage, with the matchup now deadlock at 2-2 following Young's performance.

Young became the first player to record at least 25 points and 18 assists in a playoff game since Tim Hardaway in 1991, while the all-Star is the youngest player in NBA history to have 18-plus assists in a postseason contest – surpassing Spud Webb (1986).

He also became the first Hawks player with 15-plus points and 15-plus assists in a playoff game since Doc Rivers – now head coach of the 76ers – tallied 16 points and 18 assists in 1988.

John Collins (14 points and 12 rebounds) and Clint Capela (12 points and 13 rebounds) added double-doubles, while Bogdan Bogdanovic contributed 22 points.

Joel Embiid – who looked far from his best after going 0-for-12 shooting in the second half – missed an open lay-up in the dying stages, before Seth Curry's unsuccessful buzzer-beating three-point attempt to force overtime.

Embiid, appearing to be hampered by his ongoing meniscus issue, had a playoff career-high 21 rebounds to go with 17 points.

The series heads back to Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for Game 5 midweek.

 

Bucks at Nets

The Brooklyn Nets will be without Kyrie Irving and James Harden for Tuesday's visit of the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which is level at 2-2.

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.

Paul George earned the praise of his coach Tyronn Lue as the Los Angeles Clippers hit back to beat the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

Having lost the opening two games in Utah – with George, the subject of vitriol from the Jazz supporters, struggling to find his best form, although he did score 27 points in Game 2 – the Clippers struck back on their home court on Saturday in a 132-106 victory.

George was decisive, scoring 31 points, converting six three-pointers, while tallying five assists and three rebounds.

His 20 points in the first half set the standard for the Clippers, who also had fellow talisman Kawhi Leonard firing on all cylinders, putting up 34 points in 38 minutes.

"Oh, we're a different team," Lue said when asked to explain the impact of George getting into his stride early on.

"We know that. It's been like that all season long. He's been great. You know, he had one bad game, whatever, but people are going to have bad games."

The Clippers will aim to level the series in Game 4 on Monday, which again takes place at Staples Center, and with Leonard and George at their best, Lue was in a bullish mood.

"With our two guys, we know that they are two of the best in the league," Lue said.

"I don't go to Mastro's [restaurant] to order the ketchup. I go to order the steak. And tonight, our guys were steak. That's what we need."

While the Clippers' stars thrived, Utah guard Donovan Mitchell endured a difficult game, with an apparent recurrence of an ankle injury that kept him out for the final 16 games of the regular season forcing an early exit from the court, though he expects to be fighting fit for Game 4.

Utah Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell insisted he will be "fine" for Game 4 after exiting the team's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers due to ankle pain.

Mitchell left Saturday's 132-106 defeat against the Clippers because of pain in his right ankle as the top-seeded Jazz had their lead reduced to 2-1 in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Jazz star Mitchell finished with 30 points in Game 3 on the road in Los Angeles, where he exited with less than eight minutes remaining and did not return.

Mitchell missed the final 16 games of the NBA's regular season and Utah's playoff opener due to an ankle sprain, but he allayed concerns afterwards.

"I feel like I was able to go back, but no need to risk it down 16, 18 at that point," Mitchell said. "I'll be fine."

"It's when I land," Mitchell said. "It's been just trying to manage it. I don't really know what else to tell you; I don't want to say too much.

"It was just the landing, but I'm good. I'll be ready for Game 4."

Prior to Saturday's matchup, Mitchell scored 37 points in Game 2 and was averaging 1.00 points per minute this postseason (32.7 per game in 32.7 minutes per game). In his career, the Jazz guard has averaged 0.78 points per minute in the playoffs, just behind the all-time record of 0.80 by Michael Jordan (minimum 1000 minutes).

Mitchell added: "Obviously, it's not going to be 100 per cent, but you go out there and you try to compete. Things like this are going to happen.

"You just got to find ways to manage it and get out there and get ready. It's not going to be perfect, but it is what it is."

"He's in good shape," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "He could have gone back in the game, but at that point, the lead had stretched. In fact, while we were talking, I think [Clippers star] Kawhi [Leonard] hit a 3.

"That was my decision not to put him back in at that point. The game had gotten away from us at that point, but he's fine."

According to Stats Perform, the Clippers became the first team to score 130-plus points in a Game 3 win after trailing a series 2-0 since the Jazz in the 1985 Western Conference semis.

The Los Angeles Clippers' stars came through on their return home to drive a needed 132-106 win over the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the Western Conference semi-finals on Saturday. 

Paul George posted 20 points in the first half and finished with 31, while Kawhi Leonard top-scored with 34 of his own as the Clippers led throughout and cut Utah's series lead to 2-1 in the NBA playoffs.

Donovan Mitchell had 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting from the field to lead the top-seeded Jazz, but by the time he found his offensive rhythm the game was largely out of hand in Los Angeles.

Mitchell did not score his first point until almost halfway through the second quarter. The last time he went scoreless in any quarter of a playoff game was April 14, 2019 against the Houston Rockets – a 32-point Utah loss. 

Utah kept this one a bit closer, cutting the Clippers' lead to eight points late in the third quarter, but George answered with a three-pointer and the Jazz could not get the margin below 10 from that point on. 

Among the key issues for Utah was Bojan Bogdanovic's worst performance in months. The Croatian made just two of 10 shots from the field and had nine points in the game – the first time he has been held to single digits since scoring seven in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 26. 

Meanwhile, the Clippers' supporting cast turned in an impressive showing, with Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson combining to make nine of their 12 three-point attempts and scoring 17 points each. 

Game 4 is scheduled for Monday in Los Angeles. 

 

Nets at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks can level their Eastern Conference semi-final series with the star-studded Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 on Sunday.

The Los Angeles Clippers will be unable to call on Serge Ibaka for the remainder of the NBA playoffs after he underwent surgery on a back injury.

Ibaka had missed the previous seven games, but with the Clippers already 2-0 down in their series to the Utah Jazz, his campaign is now over.

The 31-year-old's first season with the Clippers has been hampered by back problems and he missed 30 straight games during the regular season, though the team confirmed the surgery, which took place on Thursday, was a success.

"There is nothing I would love more than being on the court helping my brothers and trying to win a championship," Ibaka posted on his official Instagram account.

"It's been a very tough season, I worked very hard to be back in time for the playoffs but sometimes injuries get in the way and health has to be a priority.

"I appreciate all the love and support from everyone and now I have my mindset on supporting my team and getting healthy and ready for next season."

Across 41 regular season games in 2020-21, Ibaka averaged 11.1 points, 1.8 assists and 6.7 rebounds.

The Clippers face the Jazz in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series on Saturday.

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