Anthony Edwards scored 27 points and helped spark a late run that propelled the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 107-101 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday in a clash of teams that had been tied for the Western Conference lead. 

Karl-Anthony Towns had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Rudy Gobert amassed 12 points and 18 rebounds as the Timberwolves bounced back from Saturday's one-point loss at Sacramento and dropped the Thunder to third place in the tightly bunched conference standings.

The Denver Nuggets moved a half-game ahead of Oklahoma City and remained a half-game behind Minnesota with Monday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Oklahoma City had erased a 10-point third-quarter deficit to take a 97-96 lead on two Shai Gilgeous-Alexander free throws with 2:43 left, but Minnesota's Jaden McDaniels hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to start a pivotal 9-0 spurt.

The Thunder would miss their next four shots as the Timberwolves began pulling away. Edwards followed McDaniels' trey with a running dunk and McDaniels scored on a tip-in before Towns capped the run with two free throws that put Minnesota up 105-97 with 15.5 seconds to go. 

Minnesota owned a 62-52 advantage nearing the midway mark of the third quarter before the Thunder seized momentum with an 11-0 run. Gilgeous-Alexander had six points and Jalen Williams scored the last five of the flurry, which gave Oklahoma City a 63-62 edge with five minutes left in the period.

The Thunder, who were coming off a stunning 120-104 loss to the NBA-worst Detroit Pistons on Sunday, received 37 points and eight assists from Gilgeous-Alexander and 20 points from Williams. 

Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City's third-leading scorer at 17 points per game, was held to just four points on 2-of-9 shooting, however, as the Timberwolves finished with a 46-34 point advantage in the paint.

Jokic has another triple-double as Nuggets spoil Rivers' debut with Bucks

Jamal Murray scored 35 points and Nikola Jokić posted his 14th triple-double of the season to power the Denver Nuggets to a 113-107 win over Milwaukee in Doc Rivers' first game as the Bucks' head coach.

Jokic compiled 25 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists to add to his league-leading triple-double count and help the defending NBA champions keep pace with first-place Minnesota in the West. The Nuggets have now won five of their last six games.

Rivers, who coached the Boston Celtics to an NBA title during the 2007-08 season, was hired shortly after the Bucks dismissed Adrian Griffin on Jan. 23 despite sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference with a 30-13 record. Assistant Joe Prunty coached Milwaukee's last three games and went 2-1.

The veteran coach's tenure started off strong as the Bucks jumped out to a 24-11 lead midway through the first quarter, though the Nuggets ended the period on a 12-0 run to cut their deficit to 26-25 entering the second. 

Denver gradually asserted control and owned an 84-75 advantage early in the fourth quarter, but the Bucks hit three straight 3-pointers during a 13-2 spurt that put them back ahead with under nine minutes to play.

The game remained tight until the Nuggets pulled away with an 8-0 run, which Murray capped with a jumper that gave Denver a 106-97 lead with 3:17 to go.

Giannis Antetokounmpo paced Milwaukee with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting along with 12 rebounds, while Brook Lopez had 19 points and Damian Lillard finished with 18 in the loss. 

Suns bounce back by handing Heat seventh straight loss

The Phoenix Suns kept rolling behind a balanced attack and strong defence that resulted in a 118-105 victory over the reeling Miami Heat, the seventh consecutive loss for the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Eric Gordon scored 23 points off the bench to lead six Phoenix players in double figures in a game the Suns led by as much as 28 points en route to stopping a two-game losing streak.

The Suns also got 22 points from Devin Booker and 20 from Kevin Durant, with both stars finishing with eight rebounds and seven assists each.

Miami went 14 of 36 from 3-point range but was stonewalled from inside the arc, shooting a subpar 39.6 per cent on 2-point attempts in this latest defeat. The Heat have lost seven straight for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

Jimmy Butler led Miami with 26 points and recent acquisition Terry Rozier had 21 in his fourth game with the Heat.

Miami shot just 35.4 per cent in the first half as the Suns built a 62-49 lead at the break, and its shooting woes continued as Phoenix extended the margin in the third quarter. 

Booker had 12 points and the Suns shot over 68 per cent for the period to open up a commanding 100-74 advantage entering the fourth quarter.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. enjoyed a "special" Christmas Day as he stepped up in Jimmy Butler's absence, scoring a career-high 31 points for the Miami Heat as they overcame the Philadelphia 76ers.

Butler was ruled out for a third straight game with a calf injury, but Miami maintained their 100 per cent record in those contests with a 119-113 victory at Kaseya Center.

The Sixers – who were themselves without Joel Embiid due to a sprained ankle – erased a 21-point Miami lead in the third quarter, but Jaquez scored 10 of his points in the fourth to put the visitors away.

That made the 22-year-old the first rookie to manage at least 25 points and 10 rebounds on December 25 since Patrick Ewing for the New York Knicks in 1985, and he was delighted to see his hard work pay off on the big stage.

"It's definitely special," Jaquez said. "Great to get a win, a career night, on Christmas... I grew up watching these games. 

"To be able to play and have a career night, I just go back to all the hard work, late nights in the gym, just preparing for moments like this."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who is now 9-0 on Christmas, said of Jaquez's performance: "I don't think I called one play for him tonight, literally. 

"I mean, they were in his zone most of the second half. But throughout the rest of the course of the game, I definitely did not call one play for him. 

"He did it with offensive rebounding, transitions, cuts, timely threes, just a lot of plays in between, so you don't really think that it's a 30-point game."

Tyrese Maxey endured a difficult outing for the Sixers, shooting 4-for-20 and finishing with just 12 points, well down on his season average of 25.9.

The star guard lamented his poor shooting as he said of the Miami defense: "They did the normal stuff that I see when I'm out there without Joel.

"The blitzing, the hard showing, but for the most part, I got some really good looks and some shots that I make I don't know, four or five times out of 10. So I guess it was just one of those days."

Giannis Antetokounmpo said playing with Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton was "like heaven" after the trio combined to guide the Milwaukee Bucks to the quarterfinals of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament.

The Bucks moved to 13-5 for the season and 4-0 in East Group B for the In-Season Tournament with Tuesday's 131-124 win over the Miami Heat at Kaseya Center.

Milwaukee found themselves down 118-115 with three minutes and 25 seconds to play, but they finished on a 16-6 run to tee up a home game in the last eight, with Antetokounmpo leading the way with 33 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

The two-time MVP was ably supported by Lillard, who posted 32 points and nine assists, and Middleton, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. 

After the game, Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin revealed Antetokounmpo had suggested feeding the ball to Middleton more often, and the star forward said doing so made Milwaukee less predictable.

"It's great, for me it's like heaven when you have two guys that can create their own shots, and I don't have to make something happen," Antetokounmpo said.

"It's great. My whole career it's been that way, and now also we have Khris and Dame that can do that. It makes the game easier for everybody. 

"Them breaking down the defenses is great, but if they can't, they can give the ball to me and I'll spread it to the corners or play one-on-one.

"Offensively, I think guys got to the spots and were able to execute, a few pick and rolls with Dame as the ball handler, a few pick and rolls with Khris as the ball handler… it was great. 

"I think it helps the flow of our offense when it doesn't always have to be Dame and Giannis, then we can play from there.

"I feel like that's where we are, all playing as a team, the energy is better, everybody has more touches of the ball, I think we can be more effective that way."

The Heat were made to pay for the absence of Jimmy Butler, who missed the game with an ankle sprain after averaging 37.6 points as Miami eliminated Milwaukee from the playoffs last season.

Bam Adebayo scored 31 points for Miami, with Kyle Lowry adding 21 and Josh Richardson contributing 20, and head coach Erik Spoelstra was broadly pleased with their display, despite the result.

"I felt like we played a very good basketball game," Spoelstra said. "A very good offensive game, in particular."

Now 10-8 for the campaign and eliminated from the In-Season Tournament, Miami will look to halt their three-game losing streak when they face the Indiana Pacers in a home double-header later this week. 

The Milwaukee Bucks got big performances from their two brightest stars in a 131-124 win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday to clinch a quarterfinal spot in the In-Season Tournament.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points and Damian Lillard added 32 to help the Bucks win East Group B with a 4-0 record.

Milwaukee will host wild-card New York on either Dec. 4 or 5, with East Group C winner Boston going to Group A winner Indiana for the other quarterfinal before the Final Four in Las Vegas.

Miami, which was without second-leading scorer Jimmy Butler, dropped its second straight following a 9-1 stretch.

Bam Adebayo scored 31 points and Kyle Lowry had 21, including a 3-pointer with 3:25 remaining to put the Heat up 118-115.

The Bucks, though, finished on a 16-6 run, going 5 for 6 from the field and 5 for 5 from the line. Lillard made two free throws with 63 seconds to play to help put it out of reach.

Milwaukee lost forward Pat Connaughton to a sprained right ankle in the second quarter.

Kings rally past Warriors to advance

Malik Monk sank a fadeaway with 7 seconds remaining and the Sacramento Kings rallied from 11 down in the fourth quarter for a 124-123 win over the Golden State Warriors.

De’Aaron Fox scored 29 points and Monk and Kevin Huerter each added 21 for the Kings, who won their group with a 4-0 record and will host New Orleans next week in the quarterfinals.

Sacramento needed a win or a loss by 11 points or fewer to advance but erased a 21-point deficit to win for the seventh time in nine games.

Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins led the Warriors with 29 points apiece, but Golden State dropped to 2-8 in its last 10 games.

Timberwolves star Edwards injured in win

Rudy Gobert had 17 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks as the Minnesota Timberwolves overcame an injury to star guard Anthony Edwards in a 106-103 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the In-Season Tournament.

Edwards had 12 of his 21 points in the third quarter before landing hard on his right side during a dunk attempt and leaving with a bruised right hip.

Coach Chris Finch had no more details on the injury or whether Edwards would miss time.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 32 points on 13-of-22 shooting but his 37-foot try at the buzzer, his only 3-point attempt of the night, was well off the mark.

Reserve Troy Brown Jr. scored 17 points and Naz Reid added 15 for Minnesota, which improved the West’s best record to 12-4.

Jimmy Butler scored 18 of his 36 points in the third quarter and the Miami Heat extended the NBA’s current longest winning streak to seven games with a 122-115 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.

Duncan Robinson added 26 points and Bam Adebayo had 20 to help Miami win seven in a row for the first time since Dec. 30, 2017-Jan. 14, 2018.

The Heat dropped to 1-4 with a loss to Brooklyn on Nov. 4, but haven’t lost since and their 8-4 record ties for the fourth-best 12-game start under Erik Spoelstra.

Each win during Miami’s current streak has been by single digits. Charlotte is the only other team without a double-digit win yet.

Mikal Bridges and Lonnie Walker IV scored 23 points apiece for the Nets, which had won five straight against the Heat.

Joe perfect from deep as Thunder win

Isaiah Joe went 7 for 7 from 3-point range to score 23 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder handed the short-handed Golden State Warriors their fifth straight loss, 128-109.

Shai Gilgeous Alexander had 24 points and seven assists and Josh Giddey scored 19 to propel Oklahoma City to its fifth win in six games.

Chet Holmgren added 13 points and 10 rebounds as the Thunder defeated the Warriors for only the second time in the past 11 meetings.

Jonathan Kuminga scored 21 points for Golden State, which dropped to 1-5 at home this season.

Golden State played without Stephen Curry (right knee soreness) and Draymond Green (suspension) and guard Gary Payton II exited with a sprained left ankle in the second quarter.

Jimmy Butler still believes he can lead the Miami Heat to NBA championship glory despite his team falling short in a 4-1 series defeat to the Denver Nuggets.

The Denver Nuggets became NBA champions for the first time after a tense 94-89 win over Miami in Game 5 on Monday.

Miami, just the second No. 8 seed out of a conference to reach the NBA Finals, made the Nuggets work for the clinching win. They held a seven-point halftime lead and were 89-88 ahead inside the last two minutes.

But the Nuggets, boosted by another monster performance from NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic, rallied to end the franchise's long championship drought.

Butler has been with the Heat for four seasons and lost out in the NBA Finals twice – with the Los Angeles Lakers triumphant in six games back in 2020 on his previous attempt to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy – but the six-time All-Star, who is three months from turning 34, remains optimistic.

"It's been great," Butler said to ESPN about his four seasons with the Heat. 

"I've had some helluva teammates come through and compete with me and give us the opportunity to win a championship, which I still believe, with everything in me, that we will do as a team here, as an organisation, as a city in Miami.

"I'm just grateful. I learned so much from this group. They taught me so much. I wish I could have got it done for these guys, because they definitely deserve it."

Coach Erik Spoelstra accepted the Nuggets were worthy winners but spoke with pride about his team's achievements in a dramatic season.

Miami almost lost to the Chicago Bulls during the second game of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament before their sensational run to the Finals, beating the No.1-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, the New York Knicks and championship favourites the Boston Celtics.

"There's no regrets on our end," Spoelstra said. "There's just sometimes where you get beat, and Denver was the better basketball team in this series. 

"Those last three or four minutes felt like a scene out of a movie. Two teams in the ring throwing haymaker after haymaker, and it's not necessarily shot making, it's the efforts.

"I don't know how long it would take me to go through the autopsy of this final game, but I would say that it will probably rank as our hardest, competitive, most active defensive game of the season, and it still fell short.

"You have to tip your hat to them. They are one hell of a basketball team. They play the right way, they compete, they are well-coached and they have a strong culture. 

"So for this season, they deserve this."

Jokic capped a sensational postseason by sparking Denver's comeback from a 10-point second-quarter deficit. The Serbian star finished with 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting along with 16 rebounds. 

Butler ended with 21 points for Miami, while Bam Adebayo compiled 20 points and 12 rebounds but managed just two points in the second half.

Center Adebayo echoed the pride of Butler and Spoelstra when he looked at what had been achieved.

"You take the experience of this season, and if you can just bottle that up and everybody just have their own portion or rewritten story of it, the No. 1 thing, I think, would be will," he said. 

"So looking forward, I think this is one of my favourite teams I've ever been a part of because we willed our way through ups and downs.

"We willed our way through the things that people said we couldn't do."

Erik Spoelstra hailed the "intimate" and "raw" relationships within the Miami Heat's roster after his team overcame the Boston Celtics to reach the NBA Finals.

The Heat had squandered a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, but Game 7 went their way in emphatic fashion.

Jimmy Butler led Miami with 28 points as the Heat won 103-84, ending the Celtics' bid at history in the process.

Boston was aiming to become the first team to win a seven-game series after losing the opening three encounters, but it was not to be.

"It wasn't scripted," Spoelstra told reporters.

"When you have such an intimate relationship with a locker room and they have it with each other, the staff has it with them, they have it with the staff, sometimes it's just whatever's raw, whatever's real at that time.

"Professional sports is just kind of a reflection sometimes of life, that things don't always go your way.

"The inevitable setbacks happen and it's how you deal with that collectively. There's a lot of different ways that it can go. It can sap your spirit. It can take a team down for whatever reason.

"With this group, it's steeled us and made us closer and made us tougher.

"These are lessons that hopefully we can pass along to our children, that you can develop this fortitude.

"Sometimes you have to suffer for the things that you want. Game 6, the only thing that we can do is sometimes you have to laugh at the things that make you cry."

The Heat are only the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to make the Finals, after the 1999 New York Knicks.

Butler was named the Eastern Conference finals MVP, and has full confidence the Heat can go all the way against the Denver Nuggets.

"I just know why coach Pat [Riley] and coach Spoelstra wanted me to be here," Butler said. "That's to compete at a high level and to win championships.

"I know that the group that they put around me at all times is going to give me an opportunity to do so.

"I know the work that we all put into it, so I know what we're capable of. Nobody is satisfied. We haven't done anything. We don't play just to win the Eastern Conference; we play to win the whole thing."

Spoelstra reserved special praise for the Heat's talisman.

"There's no way to quantify the confidence that he can instil in everybody. Jimmy has never had to apologise," Spoelstra said of Butler.

"I don't want him to ever apologise for who he is and how he approaches competition. It's intense. It's not for everybody, and we're not for everybody.

"That's why we think it's like an incredible marriage. We never judge him on that. He doesn't judge us for how crazy we get. It's the same language. But the confidence level that he can create for everybody on the roster is incredible.

"He's gnarly, but he knows how to have a soft touch to give somebody some confidence at the right time. That's the special gift that he has."

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.

Jimmy Butler is confident the Miami Heat will rediscover their form as they aim to clinch a place in the NBA Finals.

Miami lost 110-97 to the Boston Celtics on Thursday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, cutting their lead in the series to 3-2.

Boston head into Game 6 within two wins of making NBA history – no team has ever come from 3-0 down to win a seven-game series.

Butler, though, still has faith the Heat will join the Denver Nuggets in the Finals.

"The last two games are not who we are," he said. "It just happened to be that way.

"We stopped playing defense halfway because we didn't make shots that we want to make. But that's easily correctable.

"You just have to come out and play harder from the jump. Like I always say, it's going to be all smiles, and we are going to keep it very, very, very consistent, knowing that we are going to win next game.

"We've just got to play better. Start the game off better, on the starters, make it more difficult for them.

"They are in a rhythm since the beginning of the game. But we are always going to stay positive, knowing that we can and we will win this series. We'll just have to close it out at home."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, meanwhile, was in bullish form when he spoke to the media.

"Who cares about mood?" Spoelstra said.

"We have a gnarly group. I think so much of that is overrated. It's a competitive series. You always expect things to be challenging in the conference finals.

"One game doesn't lead to the next game. Based on all the experience that we've had, it doesn't matter in the playoffs. It doesn't matter if you lose by whatever.

"We beat them by whatever in Game 3. It just doesn't matter. It's about collectively preparing and putting together a great game. We'll play much better on Saturday. That's all we just have to focus on right now."

Jimmy Butler says the Miami Heat must play with more energy and like their backs are against the wall when they next face the Boston Celtics.

The Heat missed the chance to progress to the NBA Finals as they lost 116-99 to the Celtics on Tuesday.

Miami now hold a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals, ahead of Game 5 in Boston on Thursday.

But for Butler, who scored 29 points and added nine rebounds and five assists, there is no reason to be downhearted.

"If anything, it will build momentum for us knowing that we have to play with a lot more energy," Butler said.

"We've got to play like our backs are against the wall.

"I think all year long, we've been better when we've had to do things the hard way.

"We'll be OK. Let's get back to doing what we've always done to get us to this point, continually have belief in one another, knowing that we are going to win, and we will. We've just got to play harder.

"There's not too much to say with this group because we already know. So we've just got to go out there and execute."

Butler's sentiment was echoed by Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.

"At some point, this is great competition. You know, sometimes it can get skewed, because, whatever, the 3-0," he said.

"But we have great respect for Boston, what they are capable of. They are a dynamic offensive team that takes extraordinary efforts and commitment to get the job done. Our guys really want this.

"A lot of what we've done this year has been the hard way. We've been able to figure out ways to win, even if teams are playing well, if we are not in a perfect flow.

"They got us tonight. You have to give them credit for that."

"It's definitely disappointing," said Heat guard Caleb Martin.

"That would have been a perfect world, perfect situation. But as we know and everybody else knows, we don't typically get things the easy way over here.

"So like I said, this is right up our alley. This is the way it goes for us and guys like us. Again, I think it's only going to prepare us for the long run. This could be good for us."

The Boston Celtics are not dead and buried despite going 2-0 down to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals on Friday, insists star forward Jayson Tatum.

Four-time All-Star Tatum posted team-high figures of 34 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists as the Celtics started Game 2 strongly at TD Garden, but it was not enough.

Jimmy Butler's 27 points helped the Heat rally to claim a 111-105 victory, with a game-ending 24-9 run from the visitors leaving the Celtics facing an uphill task to seal consecutive NBA Finals appearances.

Boston now approach back-to-back road games requiring a win to keep the series alive, but Tatum retains confidence in their ability to turn things around.

"It's tough. It's a challenge," Tatum said after Friday's loss. "They came in and won two games. They played well, you have to give them credit. 

"But we're not dead or anything. We've got a great opportunity. 

"I still have the utmost confidence. Everybody has the utmost confidence. We've just got to get ready for Game 3."

Grant Williams attracted criticism for his part in the Heat's fightback, after Butler said a heated fourth-quarter exchange with the Celtics forward provided him with additional motivation late on.

Addressing the incident, Williams said: "I think he said something and I just responded. I'm a competitor and I'm going to battle. 

"He got the best of me tonight, and at the end of the day it's out of respect, because I'm not going to run away from it. 

"You either come back before you die or you come back and get a win, and I'm not willing to die in this finals. I'm ready to get a win. 

"I'm ready to come back and come into Game 3 with a better mentality, and I know this team is as well.

"We have a real, real decision to make, are we going to come back and really set the tone for the rest of this year and really make a statement? 

"Or are we going to come out and lay down? I don't think this team is built for laying down."

Miami's Kaseya Center will play host to Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Tuesday respectively, with the Heat needing just two further wins to avenge last year's 4-3 Conference Finals defeat to Boston. 

Jimmy Butler said his bust-up with Grant Williams lit the fire within after leading the Miami Heat to a terrific comeback win over the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.  

Boasting a 96-87 lead midway through the fourth quarter at TD Garden on Friday, the Celtics looked set to level the series at 1-1, only for Butler to lead his team to a huge 111-105 victory.

Butler scored nine of his team-high 27 points after he went head-to-head with Williams in a heated exchange in the fourth quarter, with the Heat closing the game with a 24-9 run.

Asked whether that incident helped to instigate his strong finish to the game, Butler said: "Yes, it did.

"But that's just competition at its finest. He hit a big shot, started talking to me. I like that. I'm all for that. 

"It makes me key in a lot more, it pushes that will that I have to win a lot more. It makes me smile. It does. 

"When people talk to me, I'm like, 'okay, I know I'm a decent player if you want to talk to me, out of everybody that you can talk to'. It's just competition. 

"I do respect him, though. He's a big part of what they try to do. He switches, he can shoot the ball. I just don't know if I'm the best person to talk to."

Heat guard Caleb Martin concurred, suggesting Williams picked the wrong man to provoke. 

"I knew it was going to be good for us," Martin said. "Knowing Jimmy, at that point in the game, if you get him going… we'll take mad Jimmy any time! 

"You could kind of see it in his eyes that he was ready to go after that."

With Miami set to assume home advantage for Game 3 on Sunday, head coach Erik Spoelstra said the Heat's ability to find new ways to win has been a key feature of their postseason run. 

"It feels like this has just been our existence all year long," Spoelstra said. "I guess nobody is really paying attention. 

"But every single game… it felt like for weeks on end, every game was ending on the last-second shot, whether we're shooting it or the other team is shooting it.

"You develop some grit from that. Whether that turns into confidence or not, sometimes you don't have the confidence, but at least you have that experience of going through stuff and you understand how tough it is."

The Miami Heat faced a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter but as long as Jimmy Butler is around, there does not seem to be a cause for concern.

Butler scored nine of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and the Heat rallied for the second consecutive game for a 111-105 road win over the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Caleb Martin came off the bench to score 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting and Bam Adebayo added 22 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists to help the eighth-seeded Heat take a 2-0 lead back to South Beach for Game 3 on Sunday.

Jayson Tatum had 34 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists but the Boston star went 0 for 3 with two turnovers in the fourth quarter.

Jaylen Brown scored 16 points on 7-for-23 shooting and was 1 for 5 with a turnover in the final quarter, when the Heat outscored the Celtics 36-22.

Miami fell behind by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter and trailed 96-87 with 6:41 remaining.

Butler, however, ignited a game-ending 24-9 run with five straight points before Grant Williams made a jumper to put Boston up 98-92.

Adebayo then sank two from the line and assisted on Duncan Robinson's layup, making it a two-point game.

Grant Williams dunked with 3:56 to play but that would be the Celtics' final field goal of the game. Adebayo made another two from the line and Butler hit a 17-foot jumper and a short fadeaway 26 seconds apart to give Miami the lead for the first time since midway through the third quarter.

After Max Strus made one of two free throws, Adebayo scored on a putback dunk to make it 105-100 with less than a minute left.

Tatum converted three free throws to close the gap, yet Gabe Vincent and Strus took matters away from the Celtics in the closing seconds.

Jimmy Butler scored 23 of his 35 points after halftime and the Miami Heat used a dominant third quarter to beat the Boston Celtics 123-116 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.

Miami faced a 71-59 deficit early in the third quarter before using a 17-4 run to take a 76-75 lead.

Butler scored nine straight points for the Heat, capped by a 3-pointer with 1:56 left in the quarter to make it 95-87.

Malcolm Brogdon's free throw with 2:31 to play pulled Boston within 114-110 but Caleb Martin and Butler made consecutive threes to extend the lead to 120-110 with under a minute left.

Miami, which has opened all three playoff series with road victories, scored a franchise playoff-record 46 points in the third quarter and outscored Boston 66-50 after halftime.

Bam Adebayo had 20 points and eight rebounds, while Kyle Lowry, Martin, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus each scored 15 points, with three 3-pointers apiece as part of the Heat's 16-for-31 effort from long range.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 30 points but didn't take a shot in the fourth quarter. Brown finished with 22 points and nine boards and Brogdon added 19 points.

Game 2 is Friday in Boston.

Anthony Davis bounced back with a stellar performance and got ample help from D'Angelo Russell and LeBron James in the Los Angeles Lakers' 127-97 win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.

Davis had 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds as the Lakers took a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Lakers' big man was limited to 11 points and seven boards in a Game 2 loss but was relentless at both ends in this one, also adding four blocks and three steals.

Russell scored all 21 of his points in the first half as the Lakers took a 59-48 advantage into the locker room.

James did not attempt a shot in the first quarter for the first time in his playoff carer but led several runs in the second and third quarters on his way to 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Los Angeles had a huge advantage at the free throw line, making 28 of 37 to just 12 of 17 for Golden State.

The Warriors ended the opening quarter with a 30-23 lead, but the Lakers won the second and third quarters by a combined margin of 63-38. Lakers coach Darvin Ham rested his starters for most of the fourth quarter.

Stephen Curry had 23 points and Andrew Wiggins added 16 for the Warriors, who committed 18 turnovers and made only 13 of 44 from long range.

Golden State got very little from anyone other than Curry, Wiggins or Klay Thompson (15 points), with starters Draymond Green and JaMychal Green combining for just four points on 2-of-9 shooting.

Heat get Butler back, dominate Knicks

Jimmy Butler scored 28 points and was the driving force in his return from a sprained ankle and the Miami Heat rolled to a 105-86 rout of the New York Knicks in Game 3.

Max Strus added 19 points and Bam Adebayo had 17 with 12 rebounds to give Miami a 2-1 lead in the second-round series.

After missing Miami's Game 2 loss due to the ankle, Butler was seen limping at times in the second half Saturday, but the Heat started fast and never trailed against the cold-shooting Knicks.

Butler scored 10 points in the first quarter and the Heat made 10 of their first 15 shots in racing to a 58-44 halftime lead. New York, meanwhile, misfired on 13 of its first 17 shots and shot just 34.1 percent for the game, including a dismal 8-for-40 from 3-point range.

Jalen Brunson led the Knicks with 20 points and Josh Hart had 14. Julius Randle was mostly ineffective with 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting and RJ Barrett was not much better with 14 points on 5 of 16.

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