Jason Kidd reminded the media that Luka Doncic is "not a robot" after the Dallas Mavericks star turned in a peculiar display against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Doncic delivered his best performance of the playoffs on Wednesday, finishing with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in a 104-92 victory.

The Mavericks are now just one win away from the Western Conference finals.

But what was different about Doncic's night was the fact he rarely remonstrated with the officials, having previously expanded a lot of energy doing just that in Game 4 of the series.

"He's human; he's not a robot," Kidd said. 

"Sometimes we just pencil in that he's going to put in 30, 10 and 10. You know the playoffs are hard mentally and physically.

"Before the game, understand you are not going to get any calls on the road. You got to understand you got to play through it."

For Doncic, it was a case of just focusing on what he could control.

"Just focus on basketball," Doncic said. "Remember the thing I love, the thing I love to do. Just play basketball.

"I talked to them [the officials] normally, without complaining.

"I think it was the whole game, nothing. So I just go out there and hoop. Have fun, have fun. It was the old Luka, a smile on my face."

Doncic's teammate Derrick Jones Jr suggested the Slovenian's sharpness in the warm-up told him all he needed to know about what was to come.

"I was just sitting back saying, 'It's going to be a long day for them,'" Jones said. 

"Once he gets his rhythm and he's got it going, you can't stop him."

Kyrie Irving believes Doncic can take lessons from his Game 5 performance.

"I think he can learn from this tonight as well as all of us and just continue to affirm to himself that when he is focused on just his game and he's focused on doing the right things, then we flourish as a team," he said.

"I'm not going to sit up here and complain about him. I'm not going to do that.

"I've got to give my brother a little benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it is warranted to get on the guys that are refereeing the game, but I think he found a healthy balance tonight where he was just really focused on getting us going offensively and making the right plays and making sure that we kept our foot on the gas pedal."

Jayson Tatum believes the Boston Celtics' return to the Eastern Conference finals shows the character of the team.

Boston beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-98 on Wednesday to book their place in the Conference finals for a third straight season.

It is the sixth time in the past eight years that the Celtics have reached the finals.

"It just shows the character of the team, the organisation," said Tatum, who led Boston with 25 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

"People might think that it's a given that we're supposed to be here, but I give a lot of credit to everyone in the front office, the coaching staff, the trainers, the guys that hand out the equipment, the ball boys, the cooks, the chefs, the security team. We're all in this together. I do, I mean that.

"Everybody has an effect on each other, and we all impact each other to help winning and build this culture that we have.

"Everybody should be proud of themselves. Obviously, it's not the end all, be all. We want to win a championship, but we're doing something right."

Coach Joe Mazzulla lauded the mentality and attitude of his team.

"Close-out games are tough. It's a level of stress, anxiety, desperation; it takes what it takes," he said. "You've got to play 48 [minutes] hopefully, maybe more at times.

"And at the end of the day, you just got to keep going, continue to chip away at the things you can control."

The Celtics will face either the New York Knicks or the Indiana Pacers for a place in the Championship game.

Jayson Tatum had 25 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists and five other players scored in double figures as the Boston Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the third straight season with a 113-98 victory over the depleted Cleveland Cavaliers.

Al Horford added 22 points, 15 rebounds and six of Boston’s 19 3-pointers to notch their third consecutive win of the series in Game 5.

Derrick White had 18 points with four 3s and Jrue Holiday scored 13 for the Celtics, who will next face either Indiana or the Knicks, with New York currently leading that series 3-2.

Evan Mobley scored a playoff career-high 33 points and Marcus Morris Sr. added 25 with five 3s for the Cavaliers, who played without All-Star Donovan Mitchell (calf), center Jarrett Allen (rib) and key reserve Caris LeVert (knee).

Cleveland pulled within 88-85 early in the fourth on Mobley’s dunk, but Boston took control with a 13-2 run that was capped by Tatum’s 3.

 

Doncic helps Mavericks to 3-2 lead

Luka Dončić had a 31-point triple double and the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Doncic shot 12 of 22 from the field and had 11 assists and 10 rebounds for his sixth career playoff triple-double. He averaged 22 points on 39 percent shooting through the first four games of the series.

Derrick Jones Jr. added a playoff career-high 19 points and P.J. Washington had 10 points and 10 boards for Dallas, which shot 52.6 percent from the floor and had a 46-33 rebounding advantage.

The Mavericks can advance to the West finals with a win on Saturday at home.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 30 points for the top-seeded Thunder, but no teammate had more than 13 points.

Dallas extended to an 18-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Oklahoma City cut the deficit to 90-83 on Chet Holmgren’s dunk with 5:17 remaining. But Washington hit a 3 and then dunked to put the Mavs up by 10 and the Thunder never got closer than nine thereafter.

Rick Carlisle insists there are "no excuses" after the Indiana Pacers' 121-91 defeat to the New York Knicks saw them fall behind in the Eastern Conference semi-final series.

Jalen Brunson top-scored with 44 points in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden as the Knicks edged 3-2 ahead in the series with a commanding win that moved them to the brink of their first Eastern Conference finals appearance since 2000.

Pascal Siakam's contribution of 22 points proved academic for Indiana, who must continue their unbeaten postseason run on home soil in Game 6 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse if they are to take the series into a decider.

The Pacers are making their first playoff appearance since 2018-19 - and targeting a first Conference finals appearance in 10 years - and Carlisle believes his side's marginal inexperience proved crucial in Game 5.

"There are no excuses," he said. "But all the guys on our roster, I believe it's the first time they've been in a Game 5, tied 2-2, going on the road. So, you learn a lot in those situations very quickly.

"This is a different circumstance, and as a playoff series, it's going to get harder and harder. Their overall level of fight in this game was superior to what ours was, and that's the bottom line."

Tyrese Haliburton added: "They made a lot of shots today. But with the ones they did miss, they grabbed the offensive rebounds."

Meanwhile, Knicks guard Miles McBride saluted the character of his team-mates, who bounced back from a humbling 121-89 defeat in Game 4.

"I think the shift started in the locker room in Indiana," he said. "We talked about it and knew we had to respond."

Anthony Edwards could only stand back and watch as MVP Nikola Jokic inspired the Denver Nuggets in their victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

On the night he received the Michael Jordan Trophy after being named the NBA's MVP for the third time, Jokic scored 40 points and provided 13 assists in a 112-97 win.

It was a victory that put the reigning NBA champions within touching distance of the Western Conference finals.

And Edwards, who finished with 18 points and nine assists for Minnesota, could not even muster the energy to be angry.

He said: "I just laugh. That's all I can do.

"He's good, man. I think I said that after Game 1 when we won, and Game 2, he's the MVP. He's the best player in the NBA.

"He showed it the last three games, three games in a row. He was special tonight. I've got to give him his flowers. He was that guy tonight."

Denver coach Michael Malone said: "He did everything for us tonight, and it was fun to watch."

Jamal Murray chipped in with 16 points for the Nuggets, though he was happy to hand responsibility to Jokic.

"If Jokic's scoring like that, there's no need to do anything special," Murray said.

"He's amazing, just the way he picks apart the game and reads the game and trusts his teammates.

"I'm guessing that for the big fella getting the trophy tonight probably motivated him a little bit. Just being at home was a lot of fun, the place was rocking, kind of felt the energy and he definitely had it going."

The Nuggets lead the series 3-2 heading into Game 6.

Nikola Jokić scored 16 of his 40 points in the third quarter and the Denver Nuggets shut down Anthony Edwards to pull away for a 112-97 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday.

Jokic, who was presented with his third NBA MVP before the game, shot 15 of 22 from the field and had 13 assists and seven rebounds with no turnovers as the home team won for the first time in this series.

Aaron Gordon added 18 points and 10 rebounds and Jamal Murray had 16 points for the Nuggets, who can wrap up the series in Game 6 in Minnesota on Thursday night.

Edwards was limited to 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting, while Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points.

After the Wolves took a 55-53 lead early in the third quarter, Jokic assisted on four consecutive baskets during Denver’s 11-2 run for a 64-57 lead it would not relinquish.

His dunk with 7:12 remaining made it 98-80, and Jokic’s 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer gave the Nuggets a 14-point advantage with just over 3 minutes left.

 Brunson powers Knicks to series lead

Jalen Brunson poured in 44 points and the New York Knicks dominated the glass in a 121-91 win over the Indiana Pacers to move a win away from their first Eastern Conference finals trip since 2000.

The Knicks bounced back from a blowout loss in Game 4 on Sunday and guaranteed themselves at least one more game at Madison Square Garden, though they can wrap up the series with a win in Indiana in Game 6 on Friday night.

Game 7, if necessary, would be Sunday at MSG.

Brunson injured his right foot in Game 2 and was held to 18 points Sunday, his lowest of the playoffs. He shot 18 for 35 from the field in this one and reached the 40-point mark for the second time in this series and fifth time this postseason.

Josh Hart had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Alec Burks scored 18, Deuce McBride added 17 points after he was inserted into the starting lineup and Isaiah Hartenstein had seven points and 17 rebounds. The Knicks had a 53-29 advantage on the glass.

Pascal Siakam scored 22 points for the Pacers, who will try to stay unbeaten at home in the postseason to prolong the series. Myles Turner had 16 points, but All-Star Tyrese Haliburton was limited to 13 after averaging 29.7 over the last three games.

Brunson made consecutive baskets to extend New York’s lead to 13 early in the second quarter and then had the first bucket in a 9-0 run that made it 65-47 with 2:11 left in the first half.

Indiana had the deficit down to 70-63 on Turner’s 3 early in the third quarter, but the Knicks put the game out of reach with a 19-1 run that featured 3s by McBride and Brunson.

Luka Doncic paid tribute to "unbelievable" Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, conceding the Oklahoma City Thunder guard was "just too good" in their 100-96 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

Gilgeous-Alexander inspired the Thunder to a second-half fightback in Game 4 as they overturned a 14-point deficit to level their Western Conference semi-final series at 2-2.

The 25-year-old, who described it as "probably the most meaningful game I've played in my career", top-scored for his side for the eighth successive match in this postseason with 34, while he finished with eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals.

And Doncic, who registered a triple-double for Dallas with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, could only watch and admire.

"He was unbelievable," the five-time NBA All-Star said. "He kept making shots and maybe at some point, we've got to send double teams. He's just too good."

Gilgeous-Alexander went 12-of-16 on mid-range shots - the most by any player in a single game over the past two seasons - while matching LaMarcus Aldridge for the most buckets made from that distance in a playoff game in the last decade.

Teammate Chet Holmgren added: "There are some points in the game I'm doing the same thing you guys are doing - just kind of being a fan of what he's doing and when some of those shots go in, just kind of making a face like, 'That's crazy.'

"But he's been doing it all year. I've seen him do it since I got here, that's just who he is."

Jayson Tatum credited the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fight they showed in Donovan Mitchell's absence after helping the Boston Celtics take a 3-1 lead in the teams' Eastern Conference semifinal series. 

Tatum had 33 points and 11 rebounds as the Celtics moved within a game of reaching the conference finals for a third straight year with Monday's 109-102 road win.

Cleveland, who were already without starting center Jarrett Allen due to a rib contusion, were also deprived of their leading scorer after Mitchell suffered a calf strain in Game 3.

However, the Cavs stayed in the game until Jaylen Brown sank a clutch 3-pointer with 69 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, with Derrick White and Tatum then making a couple of free throws each to add some gloss to the scoreline.

Darius Garland had 30 points and seven assists for the Cavs while Caris LeVert had 19 points, leaving Tatum impressed. 

"It's to be expected, right? When the best player goes out, everybody has more freedom, more opportunity," Tatum said of Boston's opponents.

"Obviously, we knew it wasn't going to be easy. It's the playoffs, they don't want to go home. 

"Give them credit, they played hard from beginning to end and made big plays on both ends. They hit big shots, so it was a battle, and it was fun out there."

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff also heaped praise on his players, saying: "I mean, they laid it all out there. They gave us everything that they had. 

"They competed at a high level. They played the game properly. I'm proud of the guys, the way they went out and scrapped and competed and gave ourselves a chance."

Boston now have a chance to wrap up the series in Game 5 at TD Garden on Wednesday, an opportunity Brown is keen to ensure they take.

"There's nothing better than winning a playoff game on the road," Brown said. "It's like everybody's against you guys. It's a tough environment, the crowd was great, but as a competitor, it's really fun to be in an environment like that, to win on the road.

"Now it's time to go back and play well in front of our fans and give them something to cheer for and try to get a win."

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 22 of his 34 points in the second half to rally the Oklahoma City Thunder from a 14-point deficit and earn a crucial 100-96 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Monday's Game 4 of a Western Conference semifinal series.

Chet Holmgren had 11 of his 18 points after halftime and added nine rebounds to help the top-seeded Thunder even the best-of-seven series at 2-2 as they head back to Oklahoma City for Wednesday's all-important Game 5.

The fifth-seeded Mavericks squandered an opportunity to put the Thunder on the brink of elimination despite setting a franchise playoff record with 13 blocks, including four each from Derrick Jones Jr. and rookie Dereck Lively II.

Jones finished with 17 points in the loss, while Luka Doncic registered a triple-double for Dallas with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. 

The Mavericks led the majority of the game and owned an 86-80 advantage just past the midway point of the fourth quarter before Oklahoma City began their late surge. The Thunder seized momentum with a 12-2 run, capped by consecutive 3-pointers from Holmgren and Luguentz Dort, to go up 92-88 with 2:14 remaining.

Dallas answered on Tim Hardaway Jr.'s 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, but back-to-back baskets by the Thunder's Jalen Williams gave Oklahoma City a 96-91 lead entering the final minute.

The Mavericks again responded and had a chance to tie it when Doncic was fouled with 10.1 seconds left with Dallas trailing 96-94. The MVP finalist made just one of his two shots, however, and the Thunder sealed the outcome by going 4 for 4 from the foul line in the waning moments.

Free-throw shooting played a part in the result, as Oklahoma City finished 23 of 24 from the line compared to 12 of 23 for Dallas.

The Mavericks held a 54-43 lead at half-time after limiting the Thunder to under 35 per cent shooting for the first two quarters, and they stretched the margin to 14 when P.J. Washington hit a 3-pointer to begin the third.

Oklahoma City closed the gap before the end of the period, though, as they ended the third quarter on a 9-2 run to pull within 69-65 entering the fourth.

Celtics handle injury-plagued Cavaliers to take 3-1 lead

In the East, the top-seeded Boston Celtics moved within a game of reaching the conference finals for a third straight year after posting a 109-102 Game 4 win over the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers behind Jayson Tatum's 33 points and 11 rebounds. 

Jaylen Brown added 27 points to help Boston take a 3-1 series lead over a fourth-seeded Cavaliers team playing without leading scorer Donovan Mitchell. The All-Star guard was unavailable due to a strained left calf he sustained in Cleveland's 106-93 loss in Saturday's Game 3.

The Cavaliers also remained without starting center Jarrett Allen, who hasn't played since Game 4 of their opening-round series against Orlando due to a rib contusion.

Darius Garland kept Cleveland competitive by producing 30 points and seven assists, while Caris LeVert had 19 points starting in place of Mitchell.

Boston can close out the series at home in Wednesday's Game 5.

Tatum set the tone right from the outset, scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first quarter to stake the Celtics to a 37-30 lead after one period.

The All-Star forward closed out the first half with a 3-pointer that sent Boston into the break with a 62-57 advantage, though Cleveland opened the third quarter on an 8-2 run to move ahead by a 65–64 score three minutes into the second half.

Boston reasserted control from there, however, as they outscored the Cavs by a 14-4 margin over the next four and a half minutes. Brown had seven points during the spurt, which Derrick White capped with a 3-pointer for a 78-69 Celtics' lead with 4:50 left in the third quarter.

The Celtics stretched the lead to 98-83 with under eight minutes left, though Cleveland kept battling and put together a 12-2 run to close the gap to 100-95 with three minutes left to play.

Brown hit a clutch 3-pointer with 1:09 to go, however, to put Boston up 105-97, and the Celtics kept Cleveland at bay the rest of the way as White and Tatum each made two free throws in the closing stages.

Shai GIlgeous-Alexander scored 22 of his 34 points in the second half to rally the Oklahoma City Thunder from a 14-point deficit and earn a crucial 100-96 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Monday's Game 4 of a Western Conference semifinal series.

Chet Holmgren had 11 of his 18 points after half-time and added nine rebounds to help the top-seeded Thunder even the best-of-seven series at 2-2 as it heads back to Oklahoma City for Wednesday's all-important Game 5.

The fifth-seeded Mavericks squandered an opportunity to put the Thunder on the brink of elimination despite setting a franchise play-off record with 13 blocks, including four each from Derrick Jones Jr. and rookie Dereck Lively II.

Jones finished with 17 points in the loss, while Luka Dončić registered a triple-double for Dallas with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. 

The Mavericks led the majority of the game and owned an 86-80 advantage just past the midway point of the fourth quarter before Oklahoma City began its late surge. The Thunder seized momentum with a 12-2 run, capped by consecutive 3-pointers from Holmgren and Luguentz Dort, to go up 92-88 with 2:14 remaining.

Dallas answered on Tim Hardaway Jr.'s 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, but back-to-back baskets by the Thunder's Jalen Williams gave Oklahoma City a 96-91 lead entering the final minute.

The Mavericks again responded and had a chance to tie it when Doncic was fouled with 10.1 seconds left with Dallas trailing 96-94. The MVP finalist made just one of his two shots, however, and the Thunder sealed the outcome by going 4 for 4 from the foul line in the waning moments.

Free throw shooting played a part in the result, as Oklahoma City finished 23 of 24 from the line compared to 12 of 23 for Dallas.

The Mavericks held a 54-43 lead at half-time after limiting the Thunder to under 35 per cent shooting for the first two quarters, and stretched the margin to 14 when P.J. Washington hit a 3-pointer to begin the third.

Oklahoma City closed the gap before the end of the period, though, as it ended the third quarter on a 9-2 run to pull within 69-65 entering the fourth.

Celtics handle injury-plagued Cavaliers to take 3-1 lead

In the East, the top-seeded Boston Celtics moved within a game of reaching the conference finals for a third straight year after posting a 109-102 Game 4 win over the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers behind Jayson Tatum's 33 points and 11 rebounds. 

Jaylen Brown added 27 points to help Boston take a 3-1 series lead over a fourth-seeded Cavaliers team playing without leading scorer Donovan Mitchell. The All-Star guard was unavailable due to a strained left calf he sustained in Cleveland's 106-93 loss in Saturday's Game 3.

The Cavaliers also remained without starting center Jarrett Allen, who hasn't played since Game 4 of their opening-round series against Orlando due to a rib contusion.

Darius Garland kept Cleveland competitive by producing 30 points and seven assists, while Caris LeVert had 19 points starting in place of Mitchell.

Boston can close out the series at home in Wednesday's Game 5.

Tatum set the tone right from the outset, scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first quarter to stake the Celtics to a 37-30 lead after one period.

The All-Star forward closed out the first half with a 3-pointer that sent Boston into the break with a 62-57 advantage, though Cleveland opened the third quarter on an 8-2 run to move ahead by a 65–64 score three minutes into the second half.

Boston re-asserted control from there, however, as it outscored the Cavs by a 14-4 margin over the next 4 1/2 minutes. Brown had seven points during the spurt, which Derrick White capped with a 3-pointer for a 78-69 Celtics' lead with 4:50 left in the third quarter.

The Celtics stretched the lead to 98-83 with under eight minutes left, though Cleveland kept battling and put together a 12-2 run to close the gap to 100-95 with three minutes left to play.

Brown hit a clutch 3-pointer with 1:09 to go, however, to put Boston up 105-97, and the Celtics kept Cleveland at bay the rest of the way as White and Tatum each made two free throws in the closing stages.

 

 

 

The Cleveland Cavaliers will be without star guard Donovan Mitchell for Game 4 of their second-round play-off series against the Boston Celtics on Monday.

The Cavs ruled Mitchell out about an hour before tip-off due to a left calf strain.

Cleveland also ruled out center Jarrett Allen, who will miss his seventh straight game with a rib injury.

The Cavaliers are facing a 2-1 series deficit to the NBA-best Celtics. In Cleveland’s Game 2 win, Mitchell contributed 29 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

Mitchell, who sustained his calf injury late in Saturday’s Game 3 loss, is averaging 29.6 points this post-season, including a combined 89 points in Games 6 and 7 of the Cavs’ first-round series against the Orlando Magic.

Earlier in the day, backcourt mate Darius Garland told reporters that it would be important for others to attack if Mitchell were sidelined.

“Just be aggressive,” Garland said. “Play as a team, keep the ball moving and trust each other. We have a lot of guys that are super confident in themselves, so we'll need them to be super confident tonight and make the extra pass and play as a team and pull us together.”

 

LeBron James may have moved one step closer to making his dream of playing with his son a reality Monday after Bronny James was cleared to play in the NBA.

According to reports, teams were notified by the league that Bronny was cleared by a fitness-to-play panel that consists of three doctors who review medical records.

The clearance comes nearly a year after Bronny suffered cardiac arrest in practice with USC last July and underwent a procedure to repair a congenital heart defect.

He missed USC’s first eight games of the season before making his collegiate debut on December 10. Bronny played in the Trojans’ final 25 contests (including six starts) and averaged 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 19.2 minutes per game.

LeBron, who just completed his 21st season in the NBA and is the league’s all-time leading scorer with 40,474 points, has said many times that he would love to play on the same NBA team with Bronny.

He can opt out of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, possibly setting him up to sign with whatever team drafts Bronny.

After the Lakers were eliminated in five games by the defending champion Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs on April 29, LeBron discussed Bronny’s future.

“The kid has to do what he wants to do - and I don’t even want to say kid no more - the young man will decide what he wants to do and how he wants his career to go," LeBron said.

“I just think the fact that we’re even having the conversation is pretty cool in the sense of that. Obviously, we'll see what happens.”

Bronny is expected to take part in the NBA Draft combine this week in Chicago and undergo medical examinations.

Jalen Brunson refused to make excuses for the New York Knicks after injuries and fatigue hampered them in their Game 4 defeat to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.

The Pacers recorded a dominant 121-89 win at Gainbridge Fieldhouse to level the teams' Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2, with Tyrese Haliburton scoring a team-high 20 points.

Haliburton was one of six Indiana players in double figures but it was their defense that did the hard yards, limiting Brunson to just 18 points in support of Alec Burks, who had 20 points of his own.

Brunson entered the contest averaging a league-high 34.6 points this postseason, but he was 6-of-17 shooting and received little support from elsewhere as Josh Hart had two points in 24 minutes and Donte DiVincenzo tallied seven.

The Knicks were sluggish from the off as they played a second straight game without defensive stopper OG Anunoby, who sustained a hamstring injury in Game 2.

Brunson, however, was not about to excuse their poor performance.

"We can talk about fresher legs and you can give us all the pity that we want," he said. "Yeah, we're shorthanded, but that doesn't matter right now. 

"We have what we have and we need to go forward with that. There is no excuse. There's no excuse whatsoever. If we lose, we lose. That's what that was."

The series will now head back to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday for Game 5, and Pacers coach Rick Carlisle expects a strong response from their opponents.

"New York is a team that has shown that it has an indomitable will to compete and rise above anything people say they can't do," Carlisle said. 

"We've seen it throughout the season. We've seen it in this series. We're believers in that, and so we've got to focus on us. 

"Everything is going to be a situation where you've got your hands completely full."

Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone quoted former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich after watching his team level their Western Conference semifinal series on Sunday, saying: "Never underestimate the heart of a champion."

The Nuggets levelled their series with the Minnesota Timberwolves at 2-2 with a dominant road performance, triumphing 115-107 at Target Center.

Denver never trailed after taking a 23-22 lead on Aaron Gordon's three-point play near the end of the first quarter, stretching their advantage to as many as 18 points early in the third.

While Minnesota pulled within seven with just under two minutes remaining, they failed to make another basket as the Nuggets levelled things up ahead of Game 5 on Tuesday.

Gordon amassed 27 points on 11-of-12 shooting while NBA MVP Nikola Jokic had 35 points, with 16 of those coming in the fourth quarter.

The reigning champions are now slight favourites to reach the NBA Finals as they prepare to host Game 5, leading Malone to hail their mentality. 

"What I found is Rudy T is right, man, 'never underestimate the heart of a champion'," Malone said, referring to Tomjanovich's infamous quote in the aftermath of Houston's 1995 championship.

"They were quick to write us off, but these guys, we won a championship a year ago. We went into Miami [in the Finals], won two games in a row. 

"This team has been tested time and time again, and we found a way to solve whatever's been thrown at us.

"This series is a long way from being over. We're not celebrating. It's 2-2, but what I found about our group is that they do believe in themselves. 

"More importantly, they believe in the man next to them. We have a group that is acting as you would hope a championship team would act."

Gordon echoed his coach's sentiments, saying: "I love it when people count us out.

"A lot of these guys have been counted out before in their careers. They've been the underdogs or the dark horse in their careers before. 

"So, I don't think it was anything new to the individuals. It was new to our collective, but I liked the challenge, and I'm glad we accepted it and put ourselves in a good position with home court."

Nikola Jokić scored 16 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter as the Denver Nuggets held off the Minnesota TImberwolves to earn a critical 115-107 win in Sunday's Game 4 of a Western Conference semifinal series. 

Aaron Gordon also provided the Nuggets a huge lift by amassing 27 points on 11-of-12 shooting as the reigning NBA champions evened the series at 2-2. Jamal Murray added 19 points, 12 of which came in the third quarter, to help Denver to its second straight victory in Minnesota after the TImberwolves won Games 1 and 2 on the road.

The best-of-seven series will return to Denver for Tuesday's pivotal Game 5.

Denver also overcame another superb performance from Minnesota's Anthony Edwards, who put up a play-off career-high 44 points for his third 40-point effort in this post-season. 

Edwards' All-Star teammate Karl-Anthony Towns struggled, however, as he was held to 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds. 

The Nuggets never trailed after taking a 23-22 lead on Gordon's three-point play with 2:39 left in the first quarter. They led 29-24 after one period, then scored the final eight points of the first half to own a 64-49 advantage at intermission.

Murray capped the opening half by draining a 3-point shot from half-court as the buzzer sounded.

Denver's lead swelled to as many as 18 points early in the third quarter, but the Timberwolves gradually chipped away and cut their deficit to 111-104 when Edwards followed teammate Jaden McDaniels' 3-pointer with a running layup with 1:41 left to play.

Minnesota didn't make another basket the rest of the way, though, and Jokic sealed the outcome by scoring off a Gordon feed out of a timeout with 25.8 seconds remaining to make the score 115-107.

 Pacers clamp down on Knicks to even series

The Eastern Conference now has a series all even at two games apiece as well after the Indiana Pacers came through with a dominant 121-89 Game 4 rout of the New York Knicks.

Tyrese Haliburton led a balanced Indiana scoring attack with 20 points, but it was the Pacers' defence that provided the biggest reason why the series is now all tied as it heads back to New York for Tuesday's Game 5.

The Knicks shot a meagre 18.9 per cent (7 for 37) from 3-point range, their lowest accuracy rate in a play-off game since 2000, and 33.7 per cent overall in by far their most lopsided defeat of this post-season. Star guard Jalen Brunson, who entered the contest averaging a league-leading 34.6 points per game in the post-season, was held to 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting.

T.J. McConnell added 15 points and 10 assists for Indiana, which immediately assumed control by opening the game on a 19-6 run and shooting 60.9 per cent in the first quarter.

New York, on the other hand, went 6 of 23 from the field in the opening period and trailed 34-14 entering the second. 

The Pacers continued to dominate in the second quarter, building a lead as large as 30 points and taking a commanding 69-41 advantage into the break. Five Pacers scored in double figures in the first half, led by Haliburton's 13 points.

New York failed to mount a challenge in the second half as well, as the Pacers extended the margin to 101-63 after three quarters and led by as many as 43 points in the fourth.

Alec Burks finished with 20 points to lead the Knicks, who played without defensive stopper OG Anunoby for a second straight game due to a left hamstring injury he sustained in Game 2. 

 

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