Jusuf Nurkic hit out at Draymond Green after the pair exchanged words and taunts during the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry-inspired win over the Phoenix Suns.

The resurgent Warriors won 113-112 thanks to Curry's 33-foot 3-pointer in the dying seconds on Saturday.

But while Curry wrote the headlines, and received high praise from all involved, including former teammate Kevin Durant, Green and Nurkic were involved in a verbal tussle.

Green has been careful with his behaviour since he returned from an indefinite NBA suspension in January. He had been banned because he had hit Nurkic in the face during a clash between the Warriors and the Suns in December.

But Nurkic does not believe Green has learned any lessons.

"It's sad," he said. "He didn't learn anything. It's just a matter of time.

"He's going to hit somebody else again. I take everything back, what I said. He doesn't deserve a chance."

Nurkic taunted Green by slapping the floor twice with a "too small" gesture during the third quarter, with the Warriors star returning the favour when he scooped the ball over the Suns center two minutes later.

"You can't be a nothing defender if you're going to do that," Green said of Nurkic.

"You probably outweigh me by 70 pounds and you get put in the rim? Got to be more careful.

"I thought I was great tonight. He tried to get in my head, and it didn't work. If he wants me to walk around quiet, like him, I'm never going to do that. Quiet guys don't win.

"He can keep rocking with that same horse that he rode in on. He can ride his a** right out of here on that same horse. It's not working."

Curry laughed off Nurkic's comments.

"He's given us a lift every game he's been back," Curry said of Green. "He connects, obviously, our defense, but you can talk about his defense every game.

"What he did offensively tonight, especially in the fourth quarter, he gave us great energy in the sense of having that competitive spirit you need to win a game like tonight, to meet the moment.

"Draymond knows how to walk the line that he needs to walk. This is probably the best game that you've seen it.

"You can tell when someone is in your head when you go out of your way to celebrate. Then Draymond comes back at him. All of the talk, Draymond was in his head, plain and simple."

Warriors coach Steve Kerr likewise defended Green.

"That month off, that suspension was real," Kerr said. "[Draymond] knew that his career was on the line or is on the line. He understands that he's got to be the guy he's been the last nine years, not the one he's been the last year. I see him doing that."

Ultimately, it was Curry's quality that settled the contest. The two-time MVP finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists, with his match-winning moment coming when Bradley Beal missed an attempted steal, after Brandin Podziemski had picked out Golden State's talisman.

"He's the best to ever shoot it," Beal said. "So you know the result after that."

For Durant, who played alongside Curry with the Warriors, there was not much more the Suns could have done to deny his former teammate.

"You give him a look like that for the game, he's licking his chops," Durant reflected. "I still think we could've had that steal. It's a tough play. Sometimes guys are just that great."

Kerr added: "We were due. We were due for one of these tight games to go our way. But the guys earned it. It didn’t just happen."

The Warriors have now won their last four games and sit 10th in the Western Conference with a 25-25 record, while the Suns are sixth on 31-22.

LeBron James is unable to explain the Los Angeles Lakers' inconsistent form after his side went down 138-122 to the Atlanta Hawks.

The Lakers have followed up wins over the Chicago Bulls and the Golden State Warriors with losses to the Houston Rockets and now the Hawks.

With a record of 24-25, the Lakers find themselves ninth in the Western Conference ahead of facing the Boston Celtics on Thursday.

LeBron posted an underwhelming 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists at State Farm Arena on Tuesday as his side fell to a fourth defeat in seven.

"We could, on any given night, beat any team in the NBA," he told reporters. "Then on any given night, we can get our a** kicked by any team.

"That's just the [facts]. What's our record? Under .500? What, 24-25? That's where we are."

The Lakers now have to lift themselves for their trip to the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics, before then facing the New York Knicks.

James is hoping to hit back in those games and regain some momentum after quickfire double-digit defeats.

"When I'm healthy enough to play, I just try to perform at a high level," he said. "I want to help my team-mates do great things out there.

"Win, lose or draw, I want to be satisfied with the way I approach the game."

Trae Young starred for the Hawks with 26 points, which included knocking down his first six attempts from the 3-point range.

De'Andre Hunter added six points in his 16 minutes on the court as he made his comeback after six weeks out, missing 19 games in total.

Atlanta are now 20-27 for the season and face the Phoenix Suns next up as they search for a third-straight win.

"Any team can do it one night or two nights in row," Young said. "We've just got be consistent with it.

"Hopefully we can string together some wins that propel us forward to where we want to go and need to be."

Anthony Davis and LeBron James felt the Los Angeles Lakers had impressively executed their gameplan to beat the Toronto Raptors, whose coach Darko Rajakovic hit out at the officials.

The Lakers have won back-to-back games for the first time in a month after edging to a 132-131 home win on Tuesday.

Davis scored 20 of his season-high 41 points in the fourth quarter and was was 13 of 17 from the field and 13 of 14 from the free throw line while adding 11 rebounds and six assists.

He made all eight free throw attempts in the final minute as the Lakers held on despite late 3-pointers by Toronto's Dennis Schroder and Gary Trent Jr.

LeBron James had 22 points and 12 assists to help the Lakers win their second straight after a four-game skid.

Scottie Barnes scored 26 points and RJ Barrett added 23 with 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who had won three of four.

The 14 free throw attempts for Davis were a season high and ultimately proved decisive.

"He was able to get a lot of touches and guys were finding him," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said about Davis.

"And it was his ability to get to the free throw line and knock down free throws. It is just a matter of reading the game and seeing how it's going."

Davis added: "It was all of us, it was not just me.

"We had big-time stops. We got rebounds, and they wanted me to get the ball as far as free throws, but the team was just making the right reads and trying to finish."

It was a welcome win for the Lakers after they had also narrowly defeated cross-town rival the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

They are now back to .500 at 19-19 for the season and 13-6 at home, as they look to put their miserable 3-10 run after winning the NBA Cup behind them.

"We knew we had an advantage on the interior and we just tried to get it to [Davis] early and often and late," said James.

Los Angeles hosts the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, while the Raptors are on the road against the Clippers a day earlier.

The Lakers shot 23 free throws in the fourth quarter and 36 overall, while Toronto shot only 13 in total, with Davis going 11-for-11 at the line in the final period.

"It's outrageous. What happened tonight, this is completely B.S.," Rajakovic said, per ESPN. 

"This is shame. Shame for the referees. Shame for the league to allow this. Twenty-three free throws for them, and we get two free throws in the fourth quarter? 

"Like, how to play the game? I understand respect for All-Stars and all that, but we have star players on our team as well.

"How [is it] possible that Scottie Barnes, who is All-Star-caliber player in this league, he goes every single time to the rim with force and trying to get to the rim without flopping and not trying to get foul calls, he gets two free throws for a whole game?

"They had to win tonight? If that's the case, just let us know, so we don't show up for the game. Just give them a win. But that was not fair and this is not happening first time for us."

LeBron was asked about the Raptors complaints and simply replied: "I feel like they fouled and we didn't."

Giannis Antetokounmpo insisted the Milwaukee Bucks must take criticism from fans on the chin after they lost for a fourth time in the space of five games.

The Bucks went down 132-116 to the Utah Jazz on Monday, as their January slump continued.

Milwaukee fans were far from happy with their team's display, as boos and jeers rang out following the defeat.

Despite finishing with a triple-double of 25 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, Antetokounmpo was unimpressed with his performance.

"I think we have great fans, but around the league, if you don't play hard and don't give everything for the team, there are times where you might get booed," he said.

"S***, I'd boo myself tonight too."

The only way forward for the Bucks now is to be unified, Antetokounmpo added.

He said: "You've got to stay together, that's it.

"If you try to go your way or do it yourself, it's not going to work.

"We've been in this position before. It's OK to be in this position, but then again, at the end of the day, we have to get better.

"We have to realise that we have to keep on doing the little things."

The Jazz ran away at the start of the fourth quarter, opening up a 15-point lead that the Bucks were unable to overturn despite a late rally.

"We flipped it a little bit as far as our energy and effort, and we made it a ballgame, but in the NBA you just can't dig yourself in a hole like that," Bucks coach Adrian Griffin said.

"And then you've got to play extremely hard and exert a lot of energy just to try to get back into the game."

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr described officiating standards as "disgusting" after Nikola Jokic made 18 free throws in the Denver Nuggets' Christmas-Day win over his team.

Jokic made all 18 of his free throw attempts as the Nuggets posted their fifth successive win, which represented a career-high tally as he finished with 26 points in his team's 120-114 success.

Ten of those came in the third quarter as Jokic drew foul after foul from the Golden State defense, prompting Kerr to lash out at what he sees as a league-wide problem.

"I have a problem with how we are legislating the defense out of the game," Kerr said after the Warriors slipped to 15-15.

"We are enabling players to B.S. their way to the foul line. If I were a fan, I wouldn't have wanted to watch the second half of that game. It was disgusting. 

"It was just baiting refs into calls, but the refs have to make those calls. The players are really smart in this league. 

"For the last decade, they've gotten smarter and smarter. We have enabled the players, and they are taking full advantage. It's a parade to the free throw line, and it's disgusting to watch."

Four-time NBA champion Stephen Curry, who was held to 18 points, echoed Kerr's sentiments as he said: "It does cater to the guys who can sell calls. 

"There is physicality, but it's tough because it is inconsistent, at times, on either side.

"On a night like tonight, when you feel there is physicality on one side and then ticky-tack on the other, it changes the complexity of the game. 

"I'm not saying we don't foul, but consistency is key when understanding how you can defend."

Jokic, though, denied actively trying to sell calls and said aggression became key to his performance after a slow start.

"I was missing shots, so I was just trying to be aggressive in another way, maybe play a little more physical" Jokic told ESPN.

"It just happened to be that kind of night. This is the most I've ever had."

Ja Morant is simply excited to be back on the court after he starred for the Memphis Grizzlies following the end of his eight-month absence from basketball.

Morant received a 25-game suspension from the NBA for conduct detrimental to the league back in June.

The two-time All-Star was banned for showing a firearm on social media, just three months after a similar offence.

However, Morant returned in style on Tuesday, finishing with 34 points, six rebounds and eight assists as the Grizzlies beat the New Orleans Pelicans 115-113.

"I've been putting work in, man. I ain't played a game in eight months," said Morant, whose buzzer-beater won the game.

"I had a lot of time to learn myself. A lot of hard days where I went through it. But you know, basketball is my life, what I love, [it's] therapeutic for me. I'm just excited to be back.

"I've been working hard, but there's nothing like NBA basketball. I just had to lock in and push through; pretty much my life, you know, just continuing to push, no matter what."

Reflecting on his time away from the game, Morant added: "[My support system] showed me a lot of support. 

"They got on my a** a little bit, too. I felt like it was needed, not only during this process for me, but them as well to obviously learn from me.

"A lot of us make mistakes. I can see how [the situation] changed them as well. I don't wish it happened, but it definitely took me, my family, my team to the next level."

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins simply wanted Morant to enjoy the moment.

"My one expectation was for him to have fun," he said.

"That's how you want Ja to play, is play fast and free with the dynamic abilities."

The Grizzlies, who went 6-19 in the 25 games without Morant, snapped a five-game losing streak. They host the Indiana Pacers on Thursday.

Victor Wembanyama vowed that the San Antonio Spurs will "keep working our a** off" after they ended their long wait for a win.

The Spurs overcame LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 129-115 on Friday.

That brought up just their fourth win of the season, and their first since November 2, ending an 18-game losing run.

"Kind of felt like a playoff game to me," No.1 draft pick Wembanyama said. "But, of course we have to feel good about it.

"We love that feeling. We want to repeat it, so yeah, we're going to keep working our a** off."

Wembanyama's teammate Zach Collins added: "We know we've been trending in the right direction, so nobody's shocked as far as the players go. 

"We just knew we had to catch a couple breaks, make some more shots. We knew our defense was getting better, so we feel good about it."

Wembanyama had 13 points and 15 rebounds, while Devin Vassell led the Spurs with a career-high 36 points.

James, who was missing from the Lakers starting lineup as Los Angeles defeated the Spurs on Wednesday, could not inspire Darvin Ham's team, who were without Anthony Davis.

"That's going to be challenging on us," James said when asked how the Lakers regroup for a home game against the New York Knicks on Monday.

"We've got to mentally and physically prepare ourselves. We've got to take care of our bodies. We've got to get our sleep. We've got to get our nutrition. We've got to hydrate.

"Whatever we've got to do to refuel, we've got to do, because the games are going to continue to come."

Nikola Jokic accepted he "crossed the line" after being ejected from the Denver Nuggets' road win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, a decision which prompted boos from the opposing fans. 

Jokic was ejected with just over a minute remaining in the second quarter, but Reggie Jackson stepped up with a team-high 25 points as Denver rallied in his absence for a 114-106 win.

The two-time NBA MVP was tossed after yelling at official Mousa Dagher while asking for a foul call, with ESPN reporting that he told Dagher: "Call the foul, mother******". 

The pool report said Jokic was thrown out for "profane language that warranted an ejection", and while Jokic accepted he was in the wrong, he said other officials would not have called a technical for that offence.

"Sometimes it's not even a technical," Jokic said after the game. "I crossed the line, I understand, but sometimes that word doesn't cross the line. It is what it is."

Jokic's ejection led to boos from the Chicago crowd, and the Bulls were expecting a large contingent of Serbian fans to be in attendance on Jokic's only visit to United Center this regular season.

"It's the second-biggest Serbian population here," Jokic pointed out. "Belgrade is the first, and Chicago is the second. So, maybe they came to see me!"

While Denver coach Michael Malone was pleased to see Jokic's team-mates step up, he said the team must ensure that he stays in games for the duration.

"I think everybody was surprised it was a one-tech toss," Malone said. "Maybe I have to do a better job because if he's getting fouled or he thinks he's getting fouled, let me take the tech.  

"That's my job as a head coach because I don't want him being put in that position where he is getting thrown out. It's not good for him and more importantly it's not good for the team.

"We can talk about how great our bench was tonight, but in the big picture, we need Nikola available. He knows that, and we just have to work on how we engage and how we communicate with the referees."

Jokic was not the subject of the only high-profile ejection across the NBA on Tuesday, with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green tossed for the third time this season in a 119-116 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Green was ejected in the third quarter after receiving a Flagrant 2 foul for hitting Jusuf Nurkic in the face, with the incident coming less than a month after he was banned for five games for putting the Minnesota Timberwolves' Rudy Gobert in a headlock.

Green must now wait on a league review to discover whether he will face another suspension, and he apologised for catching Nurkic in the aftermath of Golden State's loss.

"I am not one to apologise for things I do, but I do apologise to Jusuf because I didn't intend to hit him," Green said. "I sell calls with my arms. I was selling the call, I swung and unfortunately I hit him."

While Suns coach Frank Vogel called Green's behaviour "reckless" and "dangerous", the 33-year-old insisted he didn't intend to strike Nurkic.

"If I intended to do that, then I would feel awful about not being there," Green added. "But my intentions were just to sell the foul.

"You guys have known me long enough, if I intended to do something, I am not apologising. But I did make contact with him, so I do apologise. It's a hard hit."

NBA referees are too "emotional", according to former player Gilbert Arenas.

A controversial incident on Wednesday led to Golden State Warriors' Chris Paul being ejected from his team's game with the Phoenix Suns, thrown out by referee Scott Foster, with whom Paul has endured a long feud.

Paul and Foster have clashed numerous times over the years, and the latest disagreement saw the referee slap the 12-time NBA All-Star with two quick technical fouls, leading to the 38-year-old's seventh career ejection.

Arenas, who racked up 11,402 points in an NBA career spanning 11 years, believes referees must do more to control their own emotions amid the chaos.

"Someone should ask Adam Silver [NBA commissioner] this," Arenas said on his Gil's Arena podcast. "If I'm a player, I'm playing a game that's emotional, I'm acting in real time, real deep human emotions.

"And when I don't control my emotions, a ref can give me a technical, which means whatever I said to him, irritated him so bad that he didn't control his emotions and he gave me a tech. So, my emotions led to him being emotional, but he gets to give me a technical and that's fine.

"How? He's supposed to be the most cool and collected m*********** out there. There's no nothing for him. He doesn't leave it with a win or loss. Whatever he does, whatever he makes, he gets it no matter f****** what. What's a ref's record? zero and f****** zero his whole career. There's no win or loss, [yet] that's the most f****** emotional dude in the game."

Steve Kerr is not too worried by the Golden State Warriors' form, though conceded his team need to be less reliant on Stephen Curry.

Curry scored 38 points – his sixth 30-point game of the season – though the Warriors lost for the third game running as they went down 116-110 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

However, on only one other occasion this season has one of his teammates had at least 20 point, with Curry outscoring any other player on the Warriors' roster by at least five points in all 11 games this campaign, which is the longest such streak to start a season since Michael Jordan in 1987-88.

The Warriors lead the Pacific Division but hold a 6-5 record for the season, and while Kerr is not worried by the current rut, he does want to see other players step up to support Curry.

"I'm actually not overly concerned to be honest with you," Kerr said. 

"The season is filled with ups and downs and we're in a little bit of a spell right now. But it's not like we were the world's greatest team when we were six and two and we're not the world's worst team losing the last three.

"This is part of the season and I think we just played, back-to-back, two great defensive teams that throttled us and we need to figure out some things offensively and I'm confident that we will.

"No question, we need some scoring and some playmaking elsewhere."

In Curry's mind, there is no reason to panic. 

"There's always been a certain approach to guarding us. For years you know where attention is going to be," Curry said.

"Usually try to blitz me in a pick-and-roll, stay body-tight on Klay [Thompson], whatever the case is we have to make adjustments. We can't just keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.

"It's not a panic or anything. It's just a matter of getting a little smarter and a little bit more organised.

"Everything is on the table for us for adjustments. When you've lost three straight, you have to make adjustments. I don't know if it's a rotation thing or whatever the case is, but everything is on the table and everyone has to be ready to step in."

Draymond Green, meanwhile, is expecting more from himself and his other teammates.

"Chris [Paul and I] got to do a better job of making sure we're getting into things," Green said.

"When Steph's got it going, he's got it going. He's just moving. It's on us to realise that and learn how to also use him to get other guys' looks as well.

"We as players have to do better. When we're playing well, players get the credit, when you're playing bad, players have to f****** take the blame as well. We can come up here and point a bunch of fingers, at the end of the day we play basketball and it's our [job] to figure it out and play better."

Russell Westbrook is thrilled to be reuniting with James Harden and P.J. Tucker at the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Clippers are acquiring Harden and Tucker in a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Filip Petrusev is also joining the Clippers, with Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Nic Batum and KJ Martin heading the other way.

Harden, who was in attendance as the Clippers beat the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, had been in a dispute with the 76ers, and missed their opening game of the season – a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks – and their second fixture, a win over the Toronto Raptors.

The 10-time All-Star played alongside both Tucker and Westbrook at the Houston Rockets, and the latter, who refused to confirm the trade before it was made official, could not hide his delight.

"Right now, James and P.J. are off-limits. I got nothing for you until it's official," Westbrook smiled, as per ESPN.

Asked if he was happy, Westbrook said: "Yeah. I mean, s***, why wouldn't I be?

"Yeah, excuse my language, but definitely, definitely happy."

As for the Sixers, Tyrese Maxey is set to inherit the point forward role Harden occupied in the roster.

"I think our group has been prepared," Maxey said. "I think we've done a good job of keeping the main thing the main thing, and I think that's what's gotten us all to a solid start.

"We have some really good guys that are focused, that are determined to go out there and play and show what we can do, and [a] coach that's keeping our mind in the right place."

Maxey also had a special word of thanks for his former teammate.

"I texted him and I told him I love him, told him I appreciate him," Maxey added of Harden. "One thing that he really installed in me is confidence. I've always been a confident person, but he made me be even more confident than I already was, and all I can do is appreciate him for that.

"He took me under his wing, taught me a lot of things as far as just being a professional in this league and how things go. So I appreciate him and I love him. Same thing with Tuck. Love those guys."

Philadelphia coach Nick Nurse, meanwhile, seems ready to move on from the Harden drama.

"I got to get ready for Thursday, and I got to coach the guys we got," he told reporters. 

"I really like where we are right now. I mean, there's so much I'm learning about this group. I think there's so much improvement we have to make in a lot of ways, and I'll let Daryl and [76ers general manager Elton Brand] and the boys worry about all that stuff, and I'll coach the guys here on a daily basis."

LeBron James said it was an "easy" decision to play beyond a planned limit to his gametime after helping the Los Angeles Lakers to Thursday's come-from-behind victory over the Phoenix Suns.

The Lakers had planned to limit James' time on court to around 30 minutes per game in the early stages of the season, with the NBA's all-time leading scorer having missed a total of 111 games since joining the team in 2018, most of them through injury. 

James played just 29 minutes – well below his 2022-23 average of 35.5 per game – as the Lakers began the new season with a 119-107 defeat against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.

Head coach Darvin Ham suggested that would become the norm, but with the Lakers trailing the Suns by 12 points going into the fourth quarter, he was forced to rethink that plan.

Following a conversation with Ham, the four-time NBA champion played the entire fourth quarter and led the Lakers to a 100-95 victory, ensuring they avoided a 0-2 start to 2023-24.

James ended the game with 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in 35 minutes, and he had no hesitation in staying out there to get Los Angeles back in the contest. 

"He [Ham] asked me if I could go the [whole] quarter, and I looked at the time and the score and what was going on in the game, and it was an easy answer for myself," James said after the win.

"I know how much work I've put in to be able to play quarters or whatever the case may be.

"I understand that we definitely have a system in place, but tonight called for me to go outside the box."

The Lakers outscored Kevin Durant's Suns 28-11 in the fourth, with James racking up 10 points alone, vindicating Ham's decision to leave the 38-year-old on the floor.

"We were dragging our feet there for the better part of the first half, and things weren't clicking," Ham said. "He [James] has that spirit, that intensity to put the team on his shoulders. 

"I had timeouts to play with, so I went to him, I said, 'How we feeling? What do we want to do?' 

"He answered my question and you guys saw the results. So we used a couple of our timeouts to get him some breathers."

James' team-mate Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 30 points after going scoreless through the second half against Denver last time out. 

That performance led to Davis receiving fierce criticism from some quarters, but James made it clear that Los Angeles were not affected by the noise surrounding the eight-time All-Star.

"We don't give a s*** about criticism of AD," James said. "We don't care. Nothing bothers us. AD doesn't care. I don't know if guys have figured that out. 

"AD does not care. He's not on social media, so he doesn't see none of it. He rarely talks, unless it's to us, so we don't give a s*** about it, and he definitely doesn't. 

"He just goes out and does his job, and we're happy to have AD."

Boston Celtics hero Derrick White said "It just had to be won" after his buzzer-beating tip-in forced the Eastern Conference finals to Game 7, as Jayson Tatum added: "That s*** was crazy!"

From 3-0 down against the Miami Heat, the Celtics have fought back to 3-3 in the series, and are now just one win away from making history.

White grabbed and then sank the rebound from Marcus Smart's failed three-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining to seal a 104-103 victory in Miami on Saturday.

The Celtics are now on the brink of the greatest comeback in NBA playoffs history, needing a win at home in Game 7 on Monday to become the first team to win a series after losing the first three games.

Boston are only the fourth NBA team to erase a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series to force a deciding game.

Reflecting on the game-winning moment, Tatum told reporters: "I'm still, like, in disbelief. That s*** was crazy.

"That felt like the longest 10 seconds ever waiting for confirmation if he made it or not."

White told TNT: "It had to be won. Whatever it takes, our backs against our wall, it just had to be won.

"We're a resilient group. We pick each other up, we bond for each other.

"The job isn't done yet, we've got a tough one Game 7, we've got to find a way to get one more win."

White had tears sparkling in his eyes, but explained: "I'm just happy. So far, so good."

It is just the second time in league history that a player has hit a buzzer-beater when his team was down and facing elimination, after Michael Jordan's legendary "The Shot", way back in 1989.

"Derrick White, like a flash of lightning, just came out of nowhere and saved the day, man," team-mate Jaylen Brown added. "An incredible play."

The Heat can only lick their wounds as they head to Boston for Monday's winner-takes-all matchup.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said: "It's a seven-game series. There's nothing better than Game 7s.

"I don't know how we're going to get this done, but we're going to go out there and get it done, and that's what the next 48 hours is about.

"There's been nothing easy about this season for our group, and so we just have to do it the hard way."

Jimmy Butler did his best for Miami, with 24 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

"We've got to go on the road and do something special, but we've got a special group," Butler said.

The Boston Celtics must take pride in their Game 2 display against the Philadelphia 76ers, and embrace the challenge of a hostile road game, says Jaylen Brown.

Joel Embiid's return from injury could not inspire the 76ers on Wednesday as Boston cruised to a 121-87 victory to tie the series.

Brown top scored with 25 points, as Embiid and James Harden, who scored 45 points in the 76ers' Game 1 win, were kept under wraps.

Next up is a trip to Philadelphia for Game 3, but Brown believes the Celtics have nothing to fear.

"I think we've just got to take more pride in ourselves. That's it," Brown told the media.

"I just feel like we underperformed last game. We wanted to come out and play to the best of our ability, and that's what we did.

"Hostile environment. But it should be fun. We should all be excited to embrace that challenge."

Coach Joe Mazzulla was blunt in his assessment of his team's reaction to their defeat in Game 1.

"They were angry, frustrated," he said. "Angry and p*****. Yes [I liked that]."

While Jayson Tatum struggled to make too much of an impact, Malcolm Brogdon added 23 points from the bench for Boston, tying a playoff record for the Celtics in the process as he sunk six three-pointers.

"Our strength is our depth," Brogdon told reporters.

"The way the roster is constructed, we got guys like me, Derrick [White], Grant [Williams] that are playing behind our two superstars and ready to [contribute] when we can."

Celtics guard Marcus Smart, meanwhile, credited Brown's on-court leadership.

"We've got to tip our hats to him, he started that whole momentum for us," Smart said. "We just had to follow his lead.

"When you've got one of your best players setting the tone like that, it's hard for you not to follow. Our defense has been slipping and we wanted to come out and get back to what we do best."

In the classic 1994 comedy film, Jim Carrey puts on a mask that gives him special powers. In the 2023 NBA playoffs, Jaylen Brown seemingly had the same effect after removing his.

With nine minutes left in the second period, and having only scored two points, Brown emerged from a timeout without the protective mask he has worn since fracturing his cheekbone in February.

He went on to finish with 31 points as the Boston Celtics beat the Atlanta Hawks 129-121 at State Farm Arena to go 3-1 up in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

"I was talking to [Marcus] Smart when JB took his mask off and was like, 'Oh, s***. It's go time,'" Celtics guard Jayson Tatum said, who also put up 31 points. "I knew he was going to turn it up a notch."

Brown had scored just one from seven field-goal attempts prior to taking off his mask, going on to net 11 from 15 after that.

"Maybe it was all in my head, but I just needed a different look," Brown said. "As soon as I took it off, things started to turn around a little bit."

It was an astonishing turn in form from Brown, who is averaging 23.3 points per game in the playoffs so far.

"I've just started getting comfortable with it since I've been wearing it," he added about the mask. "When I first put it on, I didn't like it too much, and I had to wear it.

"I just needed something different [on Sunday]. I don't know what it was: Change my shoes, wipe my hands off, take the mask off, whatever it is I needed to do, I needed to do to help our team get a win, and that's what I was trying to do."

The Celtics can clinch the series in Game 5 when they return to TD Garden on Tuesday.

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