Ja Morant scored 34 points in his season debut, including a spinning dribble in the lane to set up a game-winning floater as time expired, to lift the Memphis Grizzlies to a 115-113 victory Tuesday over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Morant didn’t look rusty in his return, shooting 12 of 24 from the field with eight assists and six rebounds to help Memphis snap a five-game losing streak.

His point total was the most in NBA history by a player coming back from an absence of at least 25 games.

The Grizzlies went 6-19 during Morant’s suspension for his social media antics with guns.

Jaren Jackson Jr. had 24 points and Desmond Bane added 21 for Memphis.

Brandon Ingram poured in 34 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 22 and 4 rebounds for the Pelicans, who had a four-game winning streak stopped.

Zion Williamson was limited by foul trouble and was limited to 13 points.

Lillard has 40 to power Bucks past Spurs

Damian Lillard scored a season-high 40 points to reach 20,000 and Giannis Antetokounmpo had a triple-double to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to their fifth straight win, 132-119 over the San Antonio Spurs.

Lillard increased his career point total to 20,034 to become the 51st player in NBA history – and eighth active player – to accumulate 20,000 points. He is the 17th-fastest player to reach that milestone.

Antetokounmpo had a career-high 16 assists, 14 rebounds and a season-low 11 points for his second triple-double this season and 37th of his career.

Milwaukee is 5-0 on its season-long, six-game homestand that concludes Thursday against Orlando. The Bucks have won 14 straight games at Fiserv Forum for their longest home winning streak since a 20-game run from April 19, 1990-Jan. 8, 1991.

The Spurs played without rookie Victor Wembanyama (sore right ankle) and lost for the 20th time in 21 games.

Warriors outlast Celtics in overtime

Stephen Curry scored 33 points, including seven straight in overtime, and the Golden State Warriors defeated the Celtics, 132-126 to end Boston’s five-game winning streak.

Klay Thompson had 24 points, Jonathan Kuminga added 17 and Trayce Jackson-Davis contributed 10 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists as the Warriors won their third in a row.

Derrick White scored 30 points and Jaylen Brown had 26 points, eight boards and six assists for Boston, which dropped its third straight road game.

Al Horford’s 3-pointer with 36 seconds left in overtime drew the Celtics within 127-126, but Curry drilled a 3 with the shot clock winding down with 12 seconds to play and added a pair of free throws in the closing seconds.

The New York Knicks claimed their ninth straight win on Sunday but top scorer Immanuel Quickley says they are not satisfied.

The Knicks improved their record to 39-27, firming up fifth spot in the Eastern Conference with Sunday's 131-129 double overtime win over the Boston Celtics fuelling the hype surrounding the side.

Quickley stepped into the starting line-up for the absent Jalen Brunson, who was the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February, before scoring a career-high 38 points showcasing the Knicks' depth.

"We're not satisfied at all," Quickley told ESPN. "We want to continue to get better. We want to continue to make a push down the stretch."

The Knicks are firmly in contention for one of the top four seeds in the East, which would earn them home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.

The Milwaukee Bucks (46-18) and Celtics (45-20) are well out in front in, but the Knicks are closing in on the third-placed Philadelphia 76ers (41-22) and fourth-placed Cleveland Cavaliers (40-26).

Quickley's performance, across a career-high 55 minutes, included making five-of-12 from three-point range with eight rebounds and seven assists, though he was not interested in individual accolades.

"My team-mates did a great job," he said. "I'm really proud of my team. Double overtime against a really good team. You can't ask for better."

The defeat dealt another blow to the Celtics, who have dropped three of their past four games, including two against the Knicks.

Boston had led by 14 points, having allowed the biggest comeback of the season on Friday when the Brooklyn Nets rallied back from 28 points down.

"We're not locking in as much as we need to," said Celtics veteran Al Horford, who missed an attempt for a game-winning three-pointer on the second overtime buzzer.

"This is the second time we've had a lead, we feel good about it and a team makes a run and we let them back in the game.

"Throughout the season you're going to have adversity. We've played pretty good basketball most of the year. This is a time when you tighten up and fix some of these issues or it goes the other way.

"We want to play our best basketball, but this is a part of the season. There's ups and downs."

Celtics guard Derrick White claimed they have lost their "swagger", having surrendered top spot to the Bucks over the past week.

"We've just got to get our swagger back," White said. "Find a way to play with each other, have fun out there. I'm sure we'll get it back here soon."

The New York Knicks secured their ninth straight victory with an epic 131-129 double over-time win over the Boston Celtics as Immanuel Quickley scored a career-high 38 points.

Quickley stepped into the Knicks starting line-up in the absence of Jalen Brunson (left foot injury), playing a career-high 55 minutes, and scoring their first seven of 10 points overall in the second over-time period.

The Knicks shooting guard scored 27 of his 38 points in the second half including OT. He made 15-of-28 attempts from the field, including five-of-12 from beyond the arc, with eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals.

But the Celtics almost snatched victory, with Al Horford's three-point attempt on the buzzer rimming out after a pass from Jayson Tatum.

Tatum also spurned a chance to win it in the first over-time period, missing a two-point attempt after Jaylen Brown kept the ball for too long with the clock ticking down, putting his team-mate under pressure for a tough look.

Brown had sent the game to OT with a three-point play after a foul from Quentin Grimes at the end of regulation squared it up.

Tatum finished with 40 points on 12-of-30 shooting with six-of-17 from three-point range, 11 rebounds and six assists. Brown added 29 points, while Horford had 20 points, making six-of-10 three-point attempts, but not the crucial last one.

Randle offered excellent support to Quickley with 31 points, nine rebounds and four assists, draining five triples. The win improved the Knicks' record to 39-27, sitting fifth in the east.

AD leads Lakers past GSW in Curry's return

Stephen Curry scored 27 points on his return from injury, but it was not enough as Anthony Davis led the Los Angeles Lakers past the Golden State Warriors 113-105 in a big Western Conference clash.

Davis scored 39 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers home, improving their record to 31-34 as he continues to shine in LeBron James' absence with a foot injury.

The result snapped the Warriors' five-game winning streak even with Curry back in action after a left leg injury. The Golden State guard added 19 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, shooting five-of-13 from three-point range.

Booker and Doncic square off as Suns win

Kevin Durant landed a fadeaway jumper with 11 seconds left to earn the Phoenix Suns a 130-126 victory over Kyrie Irving's Dallas Mavericks in another huge clash in the West.

Devin Booker and Luka Doncic squared off face to face after the Mavs guard missed a two-point shot at 128-126 with 3.5 seconds remaining, earning them both technical fouls. That square-off was a flashback to the tense Mavs-Suns Conference Semi-Finals last season, when Dallas eliminated Phoenix in a Game 7 blowout.

Durant finished with 37 points and seven rebounds in his first match-up against his former Nets team-mate Irving, since both left Brooklyn. Booker added 36 points with 10 assists for Phoenix, while Doncic finished with 34 points and nine rebounds and Irving had 30 points.

The Boston Celtics will head into Tuesday's road game against the Milwaukee Bucks without four starters after Jayson Tatum and Al Horford were ruled out in the hours before tip-off.

Tatum and Horford are the latest additions to a star-studded injury list for the Celtics, who were already without All-Star Jaylen Brown due to a facial fracture, while reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart is recovering from an ankle injury.

Horford is officially listed out due to right knee swelling, while Tatum has also been given the game off for Wednesday's game against the Detroit Pistons as the Celtics give their leader in starts and minutes this season some extended rest leading into the All-Star Weekend.

The Bucks will be close to full strength after it was confirmed Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton – who were initially marked down as questionable – were cleared to play. They will only be missing sixth man Bobby Portis and new trade acquisition Jae Crowder.

With a win, the Bucks can trim Boston's lead as the best record in the Eastern Conference, and in the league, to a half-game.

Boston Celtics big-man Al Horford called Jayson Tatum a "special player" after they came back from a 12-point deficit at three-quarter time to defeat the Golden State Warriors 120-108 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The Celtics were on the ropes after the Warriors unleashed a 38-24 third-quarter to seemingly take control of the contest, threatening to run away with things as Stephen Curry had 30 points up to three-quarter time.

But the Warriors had no answer for the barrage from long range that came in the final period, with the Celtics hitting nine-of-12 from deep in the quarter and 21-of-41 for the game as the two sides combined to hit a Finals record 40 three-pointers.

The Celtics ended up shooting 15-of-22 from the field in the fourth, winning the quarter 40-16, despite Tatum not scoring in the final 16 minutes of play. 

Instead, Tatum finished with a career-high 13 assists, and Al Horford – who himself had a career-high six three-pointers with his 26 points – told NBA TV that the league is seeing the evolution of the Celtics star.

"He's letting people know man, Jayson is a special player," he said."Even this year, the growth is unbelievable with him. 

"He's the kind of guy where – tonight he was passing, getting assists, getting other people involved while he struggled a little bit shooting – but he's always going to find a way. He's always going to continue to get better.

"That's who we follow – offensively he gets us going, he defends, and then he has the responsibility to find and make plays for others. His maturation is unbelievable, it's something I'm really proud of, because I've seen him grow."

He added: "When the Celtics trade happened, it was something I was grateful for, and straight away I told Jayson. 

"I said 'hey, I can't wait for us to be in those positions, in Conference Finals, and the NBA Finals' – because I believed that much in the group, and I believed that much in him."

When asked about his new career-high in his post-game media appearance, Tatum said it was something first-year head coach Ime Udoka addressed at the start of their relationship.

"That was kind of his message from day-one, just to challenge me to be the best player I can be, and improve other areas of my game," he said.

"We watched a lot of film throughout the course of the season… obviously playmaking was one [area of focus], drawing a lot of attention, and just to help my team out as much as possible.

"He's done a great job of challenging myself, and the group in that aspect."

Tatum was key in keeping the Celtics offense clicking, but his shot was not falling, finishing three-of-17 from the field. 

When asked how he felt about his inability to put the ball in the basket, Tatum emphasised his team-first mentality.

"Ecstatic – 40 points in the fourth quarter," he said. "[Jaylen Brown], Al, Payton [Pritchard], [Derrick] White, those guys made big shots, and timely shots, as well.

"And we won, right. I had a bad shooting night, but I just tried to impact the game in other ways. 

"We're in the Finals, all I was worried about was trying to get a win, and we did. That's all that matters at this point.

"I don't expect to shoot that bad again, but if it means we keep winning, I'll take it."

The Warriors were aggressive in trying to make sure Tatum had no clean looks, and he said sometimes basketball is a simple game.

"Just reading the play – they do a great job of helping, and things like that," he said.

"It's as simple as – if you draw two, find somebody that's open. That's what I was trying to do."

He added: "This time of the season, you feel great after a win, and you feel terrible when you lose, but you've got to just be able to stay mellow, and stay balanced.

"Especially this early – it's far from over, it's just one game, and we have to be ready to respond.

"They're going to make adjustments... we've got to be prepared."

Game 2 will remain in Golden State, before the series heads to Boston for Game 3 and Game 4.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr acknowledged his team were second-best on Thursday, losing Game 1 of the NBA Finals at home to the Boston Celtics 120-108.

The Celtics were automatic in the fourth quarter and comfortably overturned a 92-80 deficit at the final interval, shooting nine-of 12 from beyond the arc to outscore the Warriors 40-16.

Al Horford hit a career-high six-of-eight from the perimeter on the way to 26 points, while Derrick White hit five-from eight as he put up a critical 21 points off the bench.

After the loss, Kerr conceded there was not much the Warriors could do to defeat the Celtics amid that kind of shooting performance, despite going 42 per cent from the perimeter themselves.

"To beat Boston if they're making 21 threes, getting a combined 11 from Horford and White, give them credit," Kerr said post-game. "They knocked down every big shot in the fourth quarter. Boston just played a brilliant quarter, they came in and earned the win.

"I thought we had a couple of turnovers, a couple of bad possessions offensively and they just pounced. They took advantage of every opportunity, and moved the ball well. You make five-six threes in a row in the fourth quarter, that's tough to overcome.

"We'll watch the tape and learn from it and see what we can do better. My gut reaction to what I just witnessed, they just came in and played a hell of a fourth quarter, and you've got to give them credit."

After a finely poised first-half, the Warriors were led by Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole, who combined for 28 points off 10-of-15 shooting from the floor.

Kerr insists that despite the fourth-quarter turnaround, his side will be able to adjust to cause and effect of that late Celtics barrage.

"We feel confident with our ability to score against them but, like I said, you give up 40 in the fourth and the other team makes 21 threes, it's going to be tough to win.

"It felt to me like we didn't close out very well in the first half and that allowed them to get going a little bit. Again, have to watch the tape and see where the breakdowns occurred."

The Boston Celtics won Game 1 of the NBA Finals 120-105 on the road against the Golden State Warriors, with the teams combining for the most made three-pointers ever in a Finals game.

Early on it looked like it was going to be the Stephen Curry show, as he finished the first quarter with 21 points – hitting an NBA Finals record six threes in a quarter, from eight attempts – as the Warriors led 32-28 at the first break.

Boston's adjustments at quarter-time had an immediate effect, holding Curry scoreless in the second period while winning the quarter 28-22, heading into half-time leading 56-54.

Jayson Tatum struggled with his shooting, but made up for it with his playmaking, with seven assists in the first half, while Jaylen Brown had 12 points and Marcus Smart had 10 to pick up the slack.

A consistent theme with the great Warriors teams of recent years, their ability to explode in the third quarter in front of their home fans was on full display, hitting six-of-11 threes coming out of half-time.

Andrew Wiggins had 12 points in the quarter, Curry had nine, and Jordan Poole had seven, as that trio combined for 28 to carry the Warriors to a 38-24 period, earning a 92-80 lead heading into the last.

As impressive as the third quarter was for the Warriors, the fourth was even more so for the Celtics, as their red-hot shooting coincided with their best defensive stretch of the game.

The Celtics shot nine-of-12 from long range in the fourth, and 15-of-22 from the field, while holding the Warriors to just seven made field goals, turning the last period into a 40-16 rout.

It was a historic game from beyond the arc as the two sides combined to hit an NBA Finals record of 40 threes, with the Celtics shooting a blistering 51 per cent (21-of-41) while the Warriors were also terrific at 42 per cent (19-of-45).

Boston's Al Horford hit a career-high from long range, going six-of-eight on his way to 26 points, while Derrick White set a new season-high from deep, hitting five-of-eight for his crucial 21 points off the bench.

Tatum finished three-of-17 from the field, scoring 12 points, but he was the architect of the Celtics' hot shooting night as he dished a career-high 13 assists, punishing Warriors defensive collapses after his initial dribble penetration.

Jaylen Brown finished with 24 points (10-of-23 shooting) with seven rebounds and five assists, while Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart had 18 points (seven-of-11 shooting, four-of-seven from deep) to go with five rebounds, four assists and two steals.

For the Warriors, Curry finished with 34 points (12-of-25 shooting), five rebounds, five assists and three steals, while Andrew Wiggins had 20 points (eight-of-15 shooting) with three steals and one block.

Game 2 will remain in San Francisco, before they head to Boston for Game 3 and Game 4.

So here we are, after all that basketball in 2021-22, we come down to the final pair as the Golden State Warriors take on the Boston Celtics to decide the destination of this year's NBA championship.

It was a relatively smooth route for the Warriors after a 4-1 win against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, while the Celtics went to Game 7 for the second round in a row, eventually overcoming the Miami Heat.

Having been able to rest up since they sealed their place in the finals on Friday, Steve Kerr's team will be heavily fancied to win their first title since 2018.

Golden State were electric against Dallas, with all four of their wins being by a margin of at least nine, and even managing to overcome the outrageously talented Luka Doncic, winning Games 2 and 3 despite 40 or more points in both coming from the Slovenian.

It is no surprise that Stephen Curry is leading the way for the Warriors, averaging 25.9 points per game in the postseason, as well as 6.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds.

His three-pointer attempts have been a little wayward by his own very high standards, making 60 of 158 attempts in the playoffs, just three more than Klay Thompson (57 from 143 shots), who himself is playing more than just a support role.

Thompson is averaging 19.8 points per game, while Jordan Poole is not far behind with 18.4.

Andrew Wiggins also deserves credit for his contribution, averaging 15.8 and scoring 27 in the Game 3 win against the Mavs at the American Airlines Center, and a good example of how Kerr's team can get at you from anywhere on the court.

 

All that being said, the Celtics have shown themselves to be big-game players during the playoffs, overcoming both the defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks and the number one seeds in the East, the Heat.

Jayson Tatum has invariably been the main man, averaging 27.0 points in the playoffs along with 5.9 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Like the Warriors, though, Boston are able to spread the responsibility, with Tatum's 26 against the Heat in Game 7 supplemented by 24 each from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

The Celtics are in the finals for the first time since 2010, and it feels like they have shown the backbone needed to go all the way, even against a supremely talented Warriors side.

Ime Udoka could cement his legacy in Boston, admitting after overcoming the Heat they will need to go one better to be remembered, saying: "We don't hang or celebrate Eastern Conference championships in the Celtics organisation, so we all fall in line and appreciate that standard of excellence."

Udoka against Kerr could be the most interesting contest across the NBA Finals, but all over the court there are intriguing narratives and plenty of top-class basketball to witness.

Whoever rises to the top, they will surely be worthy champions.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors – Draymond Green

The outspoken 32-year-old said on his podcast recently that whatever happens, "the dynasty been stamped" for this Warriors team.

A fourth NBA title in eight years would be quite a convincing way to stamp it further, and Green is likely to play a big role if that is to happen.

In the playoffs, he has been averaging 2.8 turnovers, 8.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game. He racked up nine assists in the clincher against the Mavs, as well as sinking six of seven field goal attempts.

Boston Celtics – Al Horford

After a year each at the Philadelphia 76ers and Oklahoma City Thunder, Horford came back to Boston to try and finally reach the NBA Finals, and he has done just that.

His ability to stop the opposition and tidy up attacks could well be key against an opposition with danger-men all over the place.

Horford has averaged 8.1 defensive rebounds in the playoffs, including 12 in the Game 7 win against the Heat, and managed three turnovers in three different games during that series.

KEY BATTLE – Will defense win the championship?

Following on from Horford's ability to snatch the ball in defense, these two were both in the top four in the league in the regular season for defensive rebounds, with Golden State second overall with 2,930, while Boston were fourth on 2,915.

One thing the Celtics will need to be aware of is the Warriors' ability to steal, making the fourth most in the league in the regular season (719), while the Celtics were only in 19th place (591).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Celtics will be especially confident based on recent match-ups, having won six of their past seven meetings with the Warriors, including a 110-88 win at Chase Center in their most-recent contest in March.

Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka believes his side responded well to being "punked" by the Miami Heat, claiming a 127-102 win in Game 2 of their playoff series on Thursday.

A 39-14 third quarter in the Heat's favour effectively decided Game 1 as the Celtics collapsed on the road, but bounced back, cutting down turnovers and putting four quarters together to split the first two games in Miami.

Marcus Smart and Al Horford's returns to the line-up were critical for the Celtics as they claimed home-court advantage against the Eastern Conference's first seed, but it was a collective effort with 28 assists off 43 made field goals.

Udoka praised his side's mental toughness in responding against a side that came at them in the opening game of the series.

"I think we were upset with how that third quarter went, specifically how we got out-toughed," Udoka said post-match. "Wasn't a lot of schemes or defensive or offensive changes, they just came at us and kind of punked us in that third quarter.

"We looked the other three quarters and how well we had done in winning those quarters, and knew if we just matched their physicality, we could be better. It kind of reminded us of Milwaukee a little bit – the first game – and didn't want to get caught off-guard again.

"I think our guys have bounced back really well all year, especially the second half of the year. Haven't lost two games in a row in a while, and obviously having Marcus and Al back gave us a little boost as well."

Smart was an important figure in his return from a foot injury, filling the stats sheet and finishing with 24 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and three steals.

Horford provided a little bit of everything meanwhile, ending the game with 10 points, three assists and rebounds as well as a steal and a block.

Udoka commended the returning duo, allowing the team to capitalise on positive aspects from the first game.

"It was great to have the vets back, obviously," he said. "A calming presence there. We didn't get off to our best start, we were a little slow to start but we fought right back into it.

"After, I guess, the first five or six minutes we held them down scoring-wise, but it was a good overall effort. I felt we didn't play as poorly as the last game showed.

"Like I said, we won three quarters and had a very bad third quarter, it was hard to overcome but we saw a lot of positives and areas we could attack."

The Boston Celtics have lost Al Horford and Marcus Smart for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.

Horford will miss out after entering the NBA's health and safety protocols, while Smart has a right mid-foot sprain, the team said.

Losing center Horford and point guard Smart just hours before the series opener is a major blow to head coach Ime Udoka.

It remains to be seen how long the pair must stay sidelined. Both played significant roles in Boston edging out the Milwaukee Bucks in a semi-final series that went to a Game 7 decider on Sunday.

Speaking before the twin absences were announced, Udoka said the Celtics would look to make a strong start against Miami, despite lacking time for a breather between series.

Udoka said: "We didn’t get a ton of rest, as opposed to Miami, who had a few days off. But we're riding some momentum and staying sharp and there's benefits to that as well. Miami got [four] days off, but as far as what we did against Milwaukee, some carryover could be good."

Boston are not alone in being without key personnel. It had previously been announced Miami guard Kyle Lowry will miss Game 1 with a hamstring injury.

Al Horford's career-best playoff haul of 30 points drew acclaim as the Boston Celtics secured Game 4 with a superb fourth quarter in a 116-108 road win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 35-year-old veteran and five-time NBA All-Star delivered 11-of-14 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists as Boston levelled the NBA Eastern Conference semi-final series at 2-2.

Horford rose to the occasion after a third-quarter dunk from Giannis Antetokounmpo left him smarting, and steered the visitors to a crucial win at the Fiserv Forum in Wisconsin.

The center returned the favour on his opponent in the final act, with both handed technical fouls, but it was the sheer energy of the Dominican that captured the attention.

"That was a hell of a play," team-mate Jayson Tatum said. "Especially anytime Al turns back the clock and he looks like his old self, it gets everybody off the bench.

"Al plays with so much passion. When Al is playing with passion like that, everybody else has to follow."

Marcus Smart also hailed Horford, in particular for his dunk, adding: "It's a big-time play in a big-time moment.

"It's a physical game. We were on the other end a couple of times, so it felt kind of good to have that one."

Horford himself admitted the Celtics were driven to victory by a desire to close out the game after the Bucks held on for a 103-101 win on Saturday in Game 3.

"We felt that at the end of Game 3 that we were in a position to win the game, and we didn't," he added. "I was just really locked in.

"I understood the moment and what we needed to do as a group. Just come out and we were gonna do whatever it took tonight. It was one of those types of nights."

The two sides return to Massachusetts now, and will contest Game 5 at the TD Garden on Wednesday.

The Boston Celtics produced an incredible fourth quarter to take Game 4 116-108 on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks, tying the NBA Eastern Conference semi-final series at 2-2.

A strong start for home side Milwaukee saw them hold the Celtics to just 18 points in the first quarter, but the tough play of Al Horford, Derrick White and Jaylen Brown helped the visitors back into the game, trailing 48-47 at half-time.

Performances went up a gear in the second half, as a massive Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk on Horford was then reciprocated, with both players receiving technical fouls after their respective dunks.

After a quiet start, Jayson Tatum began to find his footing, eventually taking over to score 20 of his 30 points in the second half, going 11-of-24 from the field overall with 13 rebounds and five assists.

Tatum was vital to the Celtics, but Horford was their best player, with 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists, while also being their primary source of interior defence.

There were times when it appeared Antetokounmpo simply would not be denied, going on to post game-highs in points with 34 (14-of-32 shooting) and rebounds with 18, but he needed far more offensive help from Jrue Holiday, who shot just five-of-22 from the field for his 16 points to go with his nine assists and seven rebounds.

Antetokounmpo's 13 points in the third quarter guided the Bucks to a 80-73 lead at three-quarter time, but there would be nothing they could do about the offensive onslaught that was to come.

In the final frame, the Celtics shot 16-of-19 from the field (84 per cent), four-of-five from three-point range and seven-of-seven from the free-throw line, winning the quarter 43-28 and pulling away down the stretch.

Game 5 will head back to Boston, with Game 6 scheduled to return to Milwaukee. Game 7, if needed, will be played in Boston.

Chef Curry cooks up late comeback

The Memphis Grizzlies lacked the firepower to match the Golden State Warriors down the stretch, going down 101-98 as the Warriors established a 3-1 series lead in their Western Conference semi-final.

Without Ja Morant, who missed the game after suffering a knee injury in Game 3, the Grizzlies fought gallantly, leading at quarter-time, half-time and three-quarter time as their defense rose to the occasion and turned it into a scrap.

With Jaren Jackson Jr dominating around the rim – blocking five shots and snatching two steals – the Warriors were held to just 38 points in the first half, but poor shooting from Jackson (seven-of-21) and Dillon Brooks (five-of-19) bogged down the Grizzlies offense.

Needing a hero in the fourth quarter, Warriors superstar Stephen Curry stepped up, scoring 18 of his 32 points, including eight consecutive clutch free throws in the final minute, as his team edged ahead and clung on to a narrow lead.

Curry shot 10-of-25 from the field across the game, and four-of-14 from long range, with eight assists and five rebounds.

Andrew Wiggins was arguably the Warriors' strongest performer across all four quarters, shooting seven-of-13 for his 17 points, with five of his 10 rebounds coming on the offensive end, and he added two blocks and one steal to finish with a team-high plus/minus of plus 12.

Otto Porter – who is still just 28 years old and set to become an unrestricted free agent – continues to make himself money this postseason as he played a crucial 26 minutes off the bench, shooting four-of-six from long range and adding three assists with two steals.

Jayson Tatum said having fun was the key to the Boston Celtics' strong form after Thursday's 120-107 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Celtics moved to 38-27 as Tatum put on a 21-point fourth-quarter blitz, racking up 37 points overall on his 24th birthday.

His stellar showing was key as Grizzlies star Ja Morant impressed again, with 38 points, four rebounds and seven assists.

And Tatum, whose side sit fifth in the Eastern Conference, believes that embracing the fun factor has been crucial to the Celtics' promising season.

“I think watching us now, we play with a lot more passion,” he said. “We just seem like we’re having a lot more fun.

“This is basketball at the end of the day, and it’s supposed to be a lot of fun,” said Tatum. "And we've been having a lot of fun lately.”

Team-mate Al Horford cited the side's solid work on defense as the foundation of their success, with the Celtics boasting a defensive rating of 105.4 – second only to the Golden State Warriors.

However, he conceded there was still work to be done on the offensive front.

“Defensively, I feel like we know who we are,” Horford said. "On offense, I feel like we're continuing to find our identity and how we want to play and what we want to do.

"The more and more you start playing that way, it almost becomes second nature.

"We're not there yet, but I feel like we're making a lot of progress and it's going to be at the point that we're not even thinking about it and we're moving the ball, making the simple reads, and I feel like that's when we'll be at our best.”

After a seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference was followed by a first-round exit in the playoffs, the Boston Celtics decided it was time for change.

Danny Ainge, the long-time director of basketball operations, is out. Brad Stevens' reign as head coach is over too, though he has switched from orchestrating plays on the sideline to making deals in the front office. His replacement on the bench, Ime Udoka, is an experienced member of supporting casts who finally gets a chance to take on a lead role.

The revamp was not just restricted to team staff, either.

Kemba Walker – seen as a major addition in 2019 – was deemed expendable amid concerns over both his long-term health and salary number. The deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder came at a cost – Boston had to give up their first-round pick in this year's draft as a sweetener – but it may not be the final move for a franchise aiming to regain momentum.

For so long, the Celtics were viewed as a team on the rise. A plethora of burgeoning talents were allowed to develop under the highly rated Stevens, a graduate from the college system who steered them to the Eastern Conference Finals on three occasions between 2017 and 2020.

However, 2020-21 was undoubtedly a step back. A 36-36 record in the regular season, albeit amid the backdrop of a global pandemic, was a surprise. Losing to the Brooklyn Nets in five, however, was not. In fact, the only shock was that they managed to avoid being swept.

So what happens in the next chapter of the Celtics story? Stevens must work out the path for a team that, after playing the long game, has quickly been left behind by its rivals

Boston's double act offers hope

Capitalising on a plethora of draft picks stockpiled over time, the Celtics had sculpted a roster that appeared a step away from moving onto the next level. Major moves were made to try and tip the balance: Kyrie Irving appeared the perfect marriage only for the relationship to flame out, while Gordon Hayward endured a hugely unfortunate start and never completely recovered.

Walker has gone now too, leaving Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as the two fundamental pillars in place for Boston to build around.

Brown finished with a career-high 24.7 points per game at the end of the regular season, a figure aided by shooting 39.7 per cent from deep when averaging 7.1 three-pointers an outing. He attempted more shots in general, with his 19.2 field goals up from 15.6 in the previous campaign. There was also an upturn in assists as well.

However, a wrist injury meant he missed the series against the Nets. Tatum fought a lone hand, including a 50-point performance in Game 3. He became the third Celtic to reach a half-century in a regulation playoff game, joining a select group that also includes John Havlicek and Sam Jones.

Yet that stunning performance merely delayed the inevitable. In putting together a big three, the Nets had jumped the queue in the East. Boston were one of only two teams to have a pair of players finish in the top 20 for points per game in the regular season. The other? Brooklyn, of course.

Tatum averaged an impressive 26.8 points per 75 possessions to continue on an upward curve. Kevin Durant described the third overall pick in the 2017 draft as a "tough, tough cover" after trying to keep him quiet during the first-round matchup. Like Brown, the 23-year-old showed his all-round capabilities by setting career-high averages for points, rebounds and assists.

His usage rate of 30.8 per cent for every 75 possessions was both a sign of his growing status and also a by-product of an ever-changing cast around him. The Celtics used 37 different line-ups – only three teams topped that figure – as injuries and the added wrinkle of the NBA's COVID-19 protocols left Stevens consistently shuffling the deck on a nightly basis.

However, the absences should not paper over the cracks: Brown and Tatum - whose absence from an All-NBA team cost him $33million in his rookie extension – need help.

 

Moving on from Walker

Boston hoped Walker would be a multi-dimensional scoring guard who could also facilitate for others. The issue was he did not play nearly enough to merit holding on to that ideal any longer.

Walker was restricted to 43 appearances in the regular season, during which he averaged 19.3 points per game – his lowest total since 2014-15. The team was marginally better with him on the court – they scored at 113.2 points per 100 possessions, compared to 109.6 without – though played at a slightly higher pace when the former Charlotte Hornet was absent.

Taking into consideration the likelihood of the four-time All-Star utilising his player option for the 2022-23 season, there was over $73m left on his deal. Boston did get something in return from the Thunder, as a familiar face returned for a second spell (more on that later).

Walker's departure provides some cap relief, of course, but it also leaves a sizable hole in the roster. Marcus Smart appears the in-house option to start at point guard, yet he is heading into a contract year and is still yet to demonstrate how he can be relied upon for consistent offensive production.

His 14.2 points per 75 possessions ranked him 222nd in the league, although a player with a reputation for being a pest to opposing teams posted a defensive rating of 112.8, the highest of his NBA career. As he heads into his eighth season, Smart is a solid contributor capable of making plays without the ball, yet also someone opposing teams do not fear having possession in crunch time.

The same may well be said for Al Horford, even if the Celtics are not quite getting the same player who said farewell to Boston in 2019.

You can call me, Al

Life in Philadelphia did not pan out for Horford following his move in free agency two years ago, with him stuck as the odd man out in a crowded front court where Joel Embiid rules the roost. His time in Oklahoma was short-lived, but now he is back in familiar surroundings.

The 14-year veteran returns having become a more frequent three-point shooter since his first stint – his average of 5.4 attempts in 20 games for the Thunder was a career high, a stark contrast to the player who tried 18 shots from beyond the arc across his first six years in the league.

His playmaking abilities will help lighten the load on Brown and Tatum, while his experience should be invaluable to promising big Robert Williams, whose effective field goal percentage of 72.1 left him behind only DeAndre Jordan in the entire NBA.

Williams also showed he can be a presence on defense, with only five players averaging more blocked shots per game. The third-year center is a low usage, high-value finisher when close to the rim who is primed to take on a starting role.

In general, however, Boston's defensive numbers suffered a dip. Having ranked second in the category in 2019-20, giving up 107.3 points per outing, they fell outside the top 10 this term, their points against number finishing up at 111.2

The Celtics also have a decision to make over Evan Fournier, the trade-deadline addition who is now a free agent. Outside shooting is a must in the league, and the Frenchman was successful with 46.3 per cent of his three-point attempts in the regular season following his arrival from the Orlando Magic.

Last year's first-round selection Payton Pritchard, who shot 46.7 per cent when averaging 2.5 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, showed signs of promise, but Boston still needs more shooting depth.

 

Verdict: Evolution

The revolution may have already occurred in Boston. After over 600 games as the head coach, Stevens wasted no time in making an impact following his change of roles.

However, a full re-shaping of the team would require trading away one of the core pieces he has worked so closely with over recent years. Smart, who makes just over $14m on an expiring deal, appears the most trade-friendly asset: the Celtics know the clock is ticking.

Whether Smart sticks around or not, Boston needs more to aid their dynamic duo in Brown and Tatum. The cap situation suggests dipping a toe into the free agency waters, rather than diving right in. There is no point pinning too much faith on the draft process for help either, as their first-round selection is now sitting in the Thunder's treasure chest of picks.

Stevens will survey the landscape and acknowledge standing still is a risk. Brooklyn have their big three, Giannis Antetokounmpo is ensconced in the East with Milwaukee and the Atlanta Hawks have suddenly found their wings to make a run to the Conference Finals.

His final year saw Boston average 1.18 points per possession, behind only the Sacramento Kings, while their effective field goal percentage of 63.3 ranked fourth. There is much to like about this group, yet also a feeling that standing pat is a risk with few potential rewards.

If there is a shortcut to potentially becoming a title candidate, it could be in the form of a frustrated superstar ripe for picking off in a blockbuster trade. That, however, would require a change of mindset when it comes to how they have gone about team building in recent years.

Moving Walker was a fine start, but Stevens the GM has to get creative if Boston are to get back involved in the title race again, rather than just making up the playoff numbers.

The Boston Celtics have reportedly agreed to trade Kemba Walker and a 2021 first-round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for former favourite Al Horford.

Walker arrived in Boston in 2019 in a sign-and-trade deal with the Charlotte Hornets that would see the point guard paid a mammoth $140.8million over four years.

The Celtics made that move after losing Kyrie Irving and Horford in free agency.

Horford got a four-year, $97m contract with the Philadelphia 76ers but was traded to the Thunder 17 months later.

Friday's agreement ends miserable stays for both Walker and Horford on their respective teams, while Boston also receive 21-year-old center Moses Brown.

The trade, reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, sees Walker, this year's 16th overall pick and a 2025 second-round selection sent to Oklahoma City.

In return, the Celtics get Horford, Brown and a 2023 second-round pick in Brad Stevens' first trade since leaving his role as head coach to become president of basketball operations.

The move crucially allows Boston to get off Walker's contract, which still has $73.7m owed. Horford's deal has a slightly more palatable $53.5m remaining.

For the Thunder, who have already traded the majority of their assets for picks, it means they will have three selections in the first round of this year's draft.

 

Walker started all 82 games in his final year in Charlotte, contributing 25.6 points per game.

However, in Boston, he dealt with repeated knee injuries, scoring 20.4 points in his first season and 19.3 in his second, which concluded with a 4-1 playoff defeat to the Brooklyn Nets. Walker played three games and averaged 12.7 points.

Horford dropped from 13.6 points and 1.3 blocks on the Celtics to 11.9 and 0.9 on the 76ers.

He did improve after joining Oklahoma City but was then sat for the final two months of the season as the team tanked, handing greater opportunities to fellow big man Brown.

Brown averaged 8.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game in his only season with the Thunder. He ended the year with a career-high 24 points against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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