The reigning NBA champions got back on track Saturday, as Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to a 121-111 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs. 

Two days after a 42-point blowout loss to the Miami Heat, the Bucks looked more like their usual selves in San Antonio, though the Spurs kept the game tight and pulled within four points with 4:24 to play. 

Middleton had 28 points to lead the Bucks, while Antetokounmpo added 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. 

Middleton, who is beginning his ninth season with the Bucks, passed Ray Allen to move into 10th on Milwaukee's all-time scoring list with 9,704 points for the team.

Doug McDermott scored 25 to lead Milwaukee, making seven of 11 from three-point range. 

 

Grizzlies hand Clippers another loss

Despite 41 points from Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers lost their second straight game to open the season, falling 120-114 to the Memphis Grizzlies. While George poured in the points, a balanced Memphis attack led by Ja Morant's 28 points and eight assists secured another win for the visitors. 

In Portland, CJ McCollum scored 28 points and Damian Lillard had 19 as the Trail Blazers rolled past the Phoenix Suns 134-105. Devin Booker had 21 points, the only Phoenix player to score more than 14. 

Luka Doncic had a game-high 27 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks rallied from a six-point half-time deficit to defeat the Raptors 103-95 in Toronto for their first victory under new head coach Jason Kidd. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 25 points and Kristaps Porzingis had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Mavericks, while OG Anunoby led Toronto with 23. 

Draymond Green says he has grown to expect Golden State Warriors team-mate Stephen Curry's greatness after he scored 45 points in a 115-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Curry equalled his career-best opening quarter with 25 points as the Warriors opened up a 19-point lead before triumphing aided by the two-time NBA MVP's three-point shooting down the stretch.

The 33-year-old hit two clutch three-pointers in a tight final quarter, as the Warriors claimed a 2-0 start to the new season.

"He doesn’t surprise me," Green told ESPN after the game. "That sucks because it discredits what he's doing. At the same time, you grow to expect that.

"You grow to expect the greatness that he brings out here every night. You watch the preparation to come out and do this every night, I'm not surprised. It's still always amazing to see."

Curry had struggled with his shooting in the Warriors' opening night 121-114 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. The point guard shot five-from-21 from the field, describing his performance as "trash".

The seven-time NBA All-Star was perfect from his first 10 field-goal attempts for the game, finishing 16-from-25 including eight-from-13 from beyond the arc.

"I'm always impressed but I'm not surprised," Green added. "When you come off a game like he came off on Tuesday, you know he's going to come out firing. He doesn’t have too many off-shooting nights. Definitely impressed but not surprised."

Green had said earlier in the week prior to opening night that the Warriors were "nowhere near a championship team" but they have since toppled two contenders.

Curry said: "Tonight was another step in the right direction for us as a team. We're growing, we're maturing, it's obviously two games but we have a lot of room to grow."

Stephen Curry scored 45 points including two clutch three-pointers down the stretch as the Golden State Warriors won 115-113 over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

Curry, who hit an equal career-high 25 points in the first quarter, was central to the Warriors win, which follows their opening night victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

After a wayward shooting display against Lakers that Curry described as "trash", the point guard nailed his first 10 field goal attempts for the game, finishing 16-from-25 including eight-from-13 from beyond the arc.

Curry also had 10 rebounds for the game, supported well by Andrew Wiggins with 17 points and six rebounds. Draymond Green battled throughout but had 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

The Warriors led by as much as 19 points but the Clippers clawed it back to a one-point game by half-time with Paul George excelling with 29 points along with 11 rebounds and six assists.

The game came down to the final minutes, with the Clippers leading by two points with less than two-and-a-half minutes to go after Marcus Morris Sr's three-pointer before Curry responded with two of his own.

 

Heat blow away Bucks

Reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks were humbled 137-95 by the Miami Heat in Kyle Lowry's debut for his new team, although he only managed five points and six assists as he laboured with an ankle issue.

The Heat blew the Bucks apart early, opening up a 22-3 lead, with Tyler Herro top scoring with 27 points including a first-quarter buzzer beater from range after Max Strus' block.

Giannis Antetokounmpo top scored for the Bucks, who were without Jrue Holiday, with 15 points and 10 rebounds, shooting at 36.4 per cent from the field. Bucks forward Khris Middleton shot only four-from-14 from the field.

 

Young leads Hawks over Doncic's Mavs

Trae Young got the better of Luka Doncic as the Atlanta Hawks won 113-87 over the Dallas Mavericks.

Young finished the game with 19 points and 14 assists, which was the most by a Hawks player in a season opener since Mookie Blaylock in 1993. Clint Capela was excellent in the paint with 12 points and 13 rebounds, while Cam Reddish top scored off the bench with 20 points.

Doncic had his radar off, shooting six-from-17 for 18 points, along with 11 rebounds and seven assists. The Slovenian also gave up five turnovers.

Kawhi Leonard revealed Monday he is hoping to play for the Los Angeles Clippers this season, and those aspirations were a factor in signing a four-year deal to remain with his hometown team this off-season. 

Leonard suffered a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Game 4 of the Western Conference semi-finals against the Utah Jazz and had surgery July 13. 

A typical ACL return timetable would suggest Leonard is set to miss the entire upcoming season, but the 30-year-old was not willing to accept that as a given. 

That in turn led him to sign a four-year max extension worth more than $176million rather than take a one-year deal with a player option and opt out after this season to sign for five years. 

"I wanted to play," Leonard said at the team's pre-season media day. "I mean, the best situation for me to me was to do it one and one and then opt out and sign a long-term five-year deal, but there's a lot of concerns that that brings up for [the media] and your job and it creates storylines that I'm going to leave the team.

"One thing, I wanted to secure some money, and I wanted to be able to come back if I was able to this year. If I would have took the one and one, I probably would have not played [this season] just to be cautious and opted out and took a five-year.

"I'm here. I'm here to be a Clipper. I'm not going to another team unless something drastic happens, but I'm here for the long run."

Optimistic as he is about being able to play this season, Leonard declined to try and put a timetable on when that might occur. 

He said his focus is day to day, working with the Clippers' medical staff on whatever he needs to do to get back on the court while helping the team however he can in the meantime. 

"That's the challenge of it, just seeing how quickly I can get better and how much stronger I can get than what I was when I'm healthy," Leonard said. "That's where I pretty much turn my mindset to.

"Now just watching games as a coach, being in the coaches' meetings and trying to make myself relevant as possible."

The Clippers' head coach, Tyronn Lue, said the team will "let him take his time and continue to do his rehab" and adjust whenever Leonard is ready to return. 

"I hope he comes back October 21st, but the reality is he's not going to be ready then," Lue said. "We don't want to force him or put any pressure on him. We want to make sure he's rehabbing, doing everything he can to get back as soon as possible, and if that's next season, that's next season.

"We don't want to force him to come back too early. We want to make sure he's 100 per cent when he does come back."

The NBA championship-chasing Los Angeles Clippers are unsure when Kawhi Leonard will return from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

Tyronn Lue's Clippers will head into the 2021-22 season without superstar Leonard, who is expected to miss much of the campaign as he recovers from a partially torn ACL in his right knee.

Leonard underwent knee surgery after suffering the serious injury during the 2020-21 playoffs – the Clippers progressed to their first Western Conference Finals before falling to the Phoenix Suns.

Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank fielded questions on two-time NBA champion Leonard on Friday as the team gear up for the new season.

"Oh, we don't even broach that," Frank said when asked if he expects Leonard to play this season.

"I think at this point, it's just no one knows when you're dealing with a recovery from an ACL [injury], the time frame.

"Even just to save you guys [from asking] throughout the year, is no one knows. You just attack it day by day, he has a very detailed plan with a great group and we'll just let his body and the doctors tell us when it's the right time."

A five-time All-Star, Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The Clippers went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the regular season last term, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, the Clippers have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference Finals respectively in the past two seasons.

The Los Angeles Clippers remain "optimistic" about their chances in 2021-22 despite Kawhi Leonard's injury after the NBA franchise unveiled the team's new arena.

Leonard signed a four-year contract extension with the Clippers in the offseason, but the two-time champion is expected to miss much of the 2021-22 campaign as he recovers from a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.

It is a blow for the Clippers on the back of their first trip to the Western Conference Final last season, but owner Steve Ballmer is not prepared to take a backward step in Leonard's absence.

"Every year I want to win," Ballmer told ESPN. "Some people will talk about 'We're taking a step back' or 'We got an injured year.' No.

"Our fans can count on the fact that we are going to try to win as many ballgames as we can every year. Now, we took a little setback.

"We got to get Kawhi healthy. And when he's back, we're back at full strength."

Leonard suffered a serious knee injury during the 2020-21 playoffs, going down in the Western Conference Finals. Without him, the Clippers went on to lose the series 4-2 to the Phoenix Suns.

A five-time All-Star, Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The Clippers went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the regular season last term, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, the Clippers have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference Finals respectively in the past two seasons.

"It was painful," Ballmer said. "Painful for Kawhi, painful for our team, painful for me and, most importantly, painful for our fans. But yeah, we gave it a go. We gave it a good go. We managed to push past Utah, even without Kawhi.

"I was proud of our guys. We were within a whisker or two of taking care of business in the Western Conference Finals, even without Kawhi. We'll see when we get him back, but we basically have most of the same team back for next year. ... I remain optimistic."

Ballmer was speaking as the Clippers introduced their future home – Intuit Dome – which is scheduled to open ahead of the 2024-25 season as they move away from Staples Center, where the Los Angeles Lakers and NHL franchise the Los Angeles Kings also play.

"I've never been in a place where you had two teams in a town," Ballmer said. "I grew up in Detroit. Everybody's a Pistons fan. And I think for enough years the Clippers were bad enough, everybody could just ignore the Clippers.

"We're good now, and we're going to be good year in and year out. We're going to build our own building, more of our own identity, more of our own personality. And I think some of the fans on the other side, if you will, it's like, 'What? You dare to question our supremacy?' No, we do.

"There's 30 teams in the league. There's 29 others. And we got one that happens to be based in L.A. And we got our fans. We use our expression, 'LA Our Way.' And we're building our own presence, identity. And if the other guys feel a little threatened -- the other guys' fans, I mean; the players are actually a little different deal -- but if they feel a little threatened, that's OK. It means we're doing good."

Veteran Patrick Beverley has been traded for the second time in two days with the Memphis Grizzlies sending the point guard to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 33-year-old played a key part in the Los Angeles Clippers' 2021 playoffs campaign, marking Devin Booker closely in their Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns.

Beverley was also ejected from Game 6 of the series following a forceful push on Chris Paul during a stoppage.

The Grizzlies had acquired Beverley from the Clippers in a trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to Los Angeles on Sunday but Memphis made another move on Tuesday.

Beverley has been traded to the Timberwolves in exchange for guard Jarrett Culver and forward Juancho Hernangomez.

Chicago-born Beverley had been with the Clippers since 2017 but lost his starting spot in the 2021 playoffs to Reggie Jackson.

Beverley averaged 7.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in the 2020-21 NBA season but was more known for his defensive hustle.

Kawhi Leonard has committed his future to the Los Angeles Clippers by agreeing a four-year contract that includes a player option, according to reports.

Leonard had declined a $36million option to enter free agency after the NBA postseason, though it was expected he would opt to return to the Clippers.

The five-time NBA All-Star suffered a serious knee injury during the playoffs, going down during the Western Conference finals. Without him, Los Angeles went on to lose the series 4-2 to the Phoenix Suns.

Having undergone surgery to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, it is unclear exactly when Leonard will be ready to get back on the court. It has been reported he will miss an extended amount of the 2021-22 season as he works his way back to full fitness.

However, the Clippers at least know they have him locked up for the long term. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Twitter that the deal is worth $176.3m with an option for the fourth and final year.

Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The 30-year-old opted to join forces with Paul George at the Clippers, with their two seasons together seeing the team finish second and then fourth in the West.

They went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the 2020-21 regular season, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, L.A. have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference finals respectively in the past two seasons.

Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard are expected to decline player options for next season ahead of the NBA free agency period opening on Monday, but the veteran stars may stay with their teams.

After leading the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals, Paul will not exercise his $44million option for the 2021-22 season, The Athletic reported. ESPN added that the Suns are optimistic they will be able to re-sign the 36-year-old. 

Yahoo Sports first reported Leonard would decline his $36m option with the Los Angeles Clippers and become an unrestricted free agent, but ESPN reports he is expected to remain with the Clippers on a new deal after suffering a season-ending knee injury during the playoffs. 

Even if they end up staying where they are, those two will be the two biggest names on the open market beginning on Monday, but others figure to be available in trades. 

Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors may top that list as he is expected to move on from Toronto. ESPN reported that the Miami Heat's move to pick up Goran Dragic's $19.4m team option might have been designed to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal for Lowry. 

Ben Simmons also could be on the move from the Philadelphia 76ers, but Bradley Beal now seems set to stay with the Washington Wizards after they sent Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers in a draft-night trade. 

The term "positionless" has been all the buzz in the NBA the last few years, and the first round of the 2021 draft followed that trend as the Detroit Pistons took Cade Cunningham with the first overall pick and players with similar skill sets went off the board soon after. 

Longstanding positional terms like guard, forward and center have gone out the window as athletic players like NBA MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets have taken over the league, and Cunningham leads the latest crop of versatile options. 

Checking in at 6-foot-8, Cunningham often plays like a point guard, leading his team down the floor – exactly the kind of headache-inducing matchup teams are seeking these days. 

After the Houston Rockets took guard Jalen Green second overall and the Cleveland Cavaliers used the third pick on big man Evan Mobley, the Toronto Raptors surprised many prognosticators by taking another of those positionless players at number four with Scottie Barnes. 

At 6-foot-9, his role at Florida State was similar to Cunningham's at Oklahoma State, running the offence while defending across multiple positions. 

"He's a multi-faceted, multi-positional two-way player," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters. "We like guys that can handle, pass, score, defend, rebound a little bit and just kind of come at you in waves with that." 

Most had expected Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs to be Toronto's pick after US fans fell in love with him during the NCAA Tournament, but he fell to the Orlando Magic at number five. 

The Okahoma City Thunder then took yet another 6-8 talent in Australia's Josh Giddey at number six in a move that caught many off guard. 

It was more of the same with the following pick as the Golden State Warriors took Jonathan Kuminga, a player who can defend anyone and is unafraid to launch from three-point range. 

It was that kind of night as NBA teams added young talent while trading players and picks in this and future drafts.

Because most transactions cannot become official until August 6, teams selected players they know they will not keep due to deals made ahead of and during the draft. 

Those types of moves prevailed in the latter half of the first round, with numerous reported trades on the cards. 

Among them, yet another versatile big man in Turkey's Alperen Sengun, who was drafted at number 16 by the Oklahoma City Thunder but reportedly will play for Houston. 

The 6-foot-10 Sengun told reporters he believes his passing abilities will help him excel as other European imports have done before him. 

"With my new team, Houston, I will bring something different on the court," he said. "I will do whatever it takes and whatever is needed." 

As the lines between positions and roles continue to blur in the NBA, that approach has increasingly become the default setting across the board. 

 

2021 NBA Draft first-round picks

1. Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
2. Houston Rockets – Jalen Green, USA
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley, USC
4. Toronto Raptors – Scottie Barnes, Florida State
5. Orlando Magic – Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
6. Oklahoma City Thunder – Josh Giddey, Australia
7. Golden State Warriors – Jonathan Kuminga, Congo
8. Orlando Magic – Franz Wagner, Michigan
9. Sacramento Kings – Davion Mitchell, Baylor
10. New Orleans Pelicans – Ziaire Williams, Stanford (traded to Grizzlies)
11. Charlotte Hornets – James Bouknight, Connecticut
12. San Antonio Spurs – Josh Primo, Alabama
13. Indiana Pacers – Chris Duarte, Oregon
14. Golden State Warriors – Moses Moody, Arkansas 
15. Washington Wizards – Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
16. Oklahoma City Thunder – Alperen Sengun, Turkey (reportedly traded to Rockets)
17. Memphis Grizzlies – Trey Murphy III, Virginia (traded to Pelicans)
18. Oklahoma City Thunder – Tre Mann, Florida
19. New York Knicks – Kai Jones, Texas (reportedly traded to Hornets)
20. Atlanta Hawks –Jalen Johnson, Duke
21. New York Knicks – Keon Johnson, Tennessee
22. Los Angeles Lakers – Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky (traded to Pacers via Wizards)
23. Houston Rockets – Usman Garuba, Spain
24. Houston Rockets – Josh Christopher, Arizona State
25. Los Angeles Clippers – Quentin Grimes, Houston (reportedly traded to Knicks)
26. Denver Nuggets – Nah'Shon Hyland, VCU
27. Brooklyn Nets – Cam Thomas, LSU
28. Philadelphia 76ers – Jaden Springer, Tennessee
29. Phoenix Suns – Day'Ron Sharpe, North Carolina (reportedly traded to Nets)
30. Utah Jazz – Santi Aldama, Loyola (reportedly traded to Grizzlies)

The Los Angeles Clippers announced on Tuesday that star forward Kawhi Leonard has undergone surgery on a partially torn ACL.

Two-time NBA Finals MVP Leonard sat out the Clippers' last eight games in the postseason with a knee injury, with details undisclosed at the time.

The Clippers confirmed on Tuesday that the 30-year-old had gone under the knife, with no timeframe set on his recovery.

ACL surgery typically requires 12 months of rehabilitation and recovery to return to the court, although the Clippers stated Leonard's tear was only "partial" offering hope of a shorter timeframe.

Leonard originally sustained the knee injury in Game 4 of the Conference Semi-Finals against the Utah Jazz.

The Clippers had insisted Leonard was a game-by-game proposition but he did not return in the postseason as they bowed out in the Conference Finals to the Phoenix Suns.

The small forward averaged 24.8 points per game in the 2020-21 NBA regular season, along with 6.5 rebounds and a career-high 5.2 assists per game.

Leonard averaged 30.4 points per game in the postseason, with a career-best field goal percentage of 57.3 per cent, before injury intervened.

There was disappointment but no regret for the Los Angeles Clippers after their season came to an end Wednesday.

Though head coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged there was a sense of "shock" in his locker room following a 130-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, he and his players were proud of what they accomplished. 

After rallying from 0-2 deficits to win their first two series against the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, the Clippers could not do the same against the Suns with injured star Kawhi Leonard sitting out the entire series. 

Despite falling short of winning their first championship, they took solace in completing the franchise's deepest postseason run. 

"I'm proud of our guys," Lue told reporters. "We've been through a lot this season, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of injuries, but our guys stayed the course. 

"We did something special this year. Even though we didn't complete what we wanted to complete, I thought we did a great job of doing something special, doing something this franchise has never done before.

"Like I told those guys in the locker room, I love those guys and I'd go to war with them any time. I'm just proud of them. Even though we came up short, it was a great run, despite everything we had to go through."

Atop that list in the playoffs was the loss of Leonard, the two-time NBA champion who was averaging 30.4 points per game in the playoffs when he went down with a knee injury in Game 4 of the Jazz series. 

Leonard missed all eight of the Clippers' remaining games, leaving the burden of carrying the team to Paul George. 

"I thought this team squeezed everything we could out of what we had," George said. "We squeezed everything out of one another and I thought we got stronger and better as the season went on." 

Proud as George was, the 31-year-old once again missed out on making his first trip to the NBA Finals. 

"It is what it is -- I came up short again," he said.

"I wasn't out to prove nothing to nobody, but to show up as a leader for this team, put us in a position to get to where we got to. Came up short. Our good wasn't enough." 

Though the odds certainly were stacked against them late given Leonard's absence, Lue said there was an air of disbelief their their season was actually finished. 

"I think it's a shock to a lot of guys in that locker room, and that tells you a lot about the team," he said.

"No matter who's playing, we still feel like every night we have a chance to win. I thought we ran out of gas."

The Phoenix Suns and Chris Paul have ended their respective long waits for NBA Finals appearances after a 130-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers sealed their spot on Wednesday.

The Suns clinched the Western Conference Finals series 4-2, rounding out the triumph with an outstanding road win, with Phoenix back in the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years.

Suns' 36-year-old point guard Paul was exceptional with 41 points as he progresses to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career, after 13 playoffs campaigns.

Paul hit seven-from-eight three-pointers in a masterful shooting display, going at 66.7 per cent from the field, as well as eight assists, four rebounds and three steals with no turnovers.

Devin Booker contributed with 22 points, four assists and seven rebounds, Deandre Ayton had 17 rebounds along with 16 points, while Jae Crowder hit five three-pointers in his 19 points.

Phoenix are crowned Western Conference champions having gone 12-4 in the postseason, including 6-2 on the road, clinching all three series away.

The Suns become the first team in history to reach the NBA Finals having not made the playoffs in 10 or more years prior.

The Clippers could not muster one more memorable comeback after some dramatic performances this postseason, closing within seven points late in the third before Paul showed irrepressible poise.

Paul George managed 21 points with nine rebounds for the Clippers, while Marcus Morris Sr scored 26 points and had nine rebounds.

Patrick Beverley was ejected in the fourth quarter for a push on Paul as reality set in for LA, who were behind for the most part of Wednesday's Game 6.

Paul's shooting was clearly on early as the Suns opened up a 10-point half-time lead, with Phoenix shooting at 58.8 per cent from beyond the arc in the first half.

The Clippers had a 10-0 run to close within seven points late in the third quarter as the home crowd erupted after Nicolas Batum's three-pointer.

But Paul steadied for Phoenix with a long-range bucket immediately after the timeout, opening it up to 14 points at the final change and they would not relent, with the Suns veteran adding 17 fourth-quarter points.

 

Hawks at Bucks

Star pair Trae Young and Giannis Antetokounmpo are both likely to be out for the crucial Game 5 as the Milwaukee Bucks host the Atlanta Hawks with the series at 2-2.

Paul George says he "can't worry" about critics after his masterful Game 5 display against the Phoenix Suns kept the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA playoffs.

George was the star of the show in a resounding 116-102 victory at Phoenix Suns Arena on Monday.

The seven-time NBA All-Star scored a career postseason-high 41 points, including 30 in the second half, to reduce the Suns' lead to 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals.

George became the first player in NBA history to score 40 points or more with at least 75 per cent field goals, 50 per cent three-pointers and a perfect record with free-throws.

The shooting guard feels he has been harshly singled out, but will pay little attention to those who continue to point the finger at him.

Asked if he feels he has been criticised more than other NBA stars, he said: "I do. And it's the honest truth. It's a fact.

"But I can't worry about that. It comes with the job, I guess. I still try to go and dominate and so I'm beyond that, you know what I mean. I am who I am. I wish I could shoot 80 per cent, 75 per cent, on a nightly basis, but it's not realistic."

He added: "What I can do is do everything else. They can judge me on what they want to. That part don't matter to me. I'm going to go out there and hoop and give it everything I got."

 

George has put up at least 20 points in all 18 games he has played during this postseason. The only other players in NBA history to score at 20 or more points in their first 18 games of a single NBA playoffs are Michael Jordan (1992, 1997, 1998), Kobe Bryant (2008) and Kevin Durant (2012, 2018).

George becomes the third player since the 1996-97 season to score 30-plus points on 80 per cent shooting or better in the second half of a postseason game, joining Anthony Davis (2020) and Dwyane Wade (2010).

Clippers coach Ty Lue has been baffled by criticism of George.

"PG has been great for us all year and I just don't understand why it's magnified so much when he doesn't play well,” said Lue.

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue does not understand the criticism of Paul George after the star helped the team avoid elimination from the NBA playoffs with a 116-102 win over the Phoenix Suns.

George scored a career postseason-high 41 points, including 30 in the second half, in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals as the Clippers stayed alive in the postseason series on Monday.

The 31-year-old stepped up when the Clippers were challenged in the third quarter, with second-seeded Phoenix hitting the lead briefly, as George hit back with 20 third-quarter points.

George became the first player in Clippers history to record 40-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in a postseason game, while also becoming the first player in NBA history to have 40-plus points on at least 75 per cent field-goal shooting, 50 per cent three-point shooting and 100 free-throw shooting in a playoff contest.

HE is also the third player since the 1996-97 since to score 30-plus points on 80 per cent shooting or better in the second half of a postseason game, joining Anthony Davis (2020) and Dwyane Wade (2010).

George has been criticised in the past and has missed some key free-throws against the Suns, but he has been the Clippers' top scorer in all five games this series in the absence of Kawhi Leonard (knee), while he led all three categories – points, rebounds and assists, for the second successive game for the fourth seeds.

"I just don't understand why it's magnified so much when he has a bad game, when he doesn't play well," Lue said during his post-game news conference.

"A lot of people play bad. Like I said, I'm just happy he came back, played a great game, we needed every bit of it."

George has put up at least 20 points in all 18 games he has played this season. The only other players in NBA history to have at least 20 points in their first 18 games of a single playoff campaign are Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

Lue added: "That's what great players do. You always bounce back, if you have a rough game.

"Our team needed it… We fed off Marcus' [Morris Snr] momentum in the first half. Every time they made a run, we responded."

The Clippers have already come from behind to win two series this postseason, triumphing 4-3 over the Dallas Mavericks after trailing 2-0, while they won four straight games against the top-seeded Utah Jazz, having been down 2-0.

Lue and the Clippers would need to win three straight games to overcome the Suns, having trailed 3-1 but they can level the series in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

A championship-winning coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lue moved to a 10-2 coaching record when his side is facing elimination, but preferred to focus on his players who he labelled "resilient".

"It's been all season long," Lue said. "Guys have been out, different guys are stepping up and playing well.

"I keep saying the same word resilient but this group is. We got a gritty win without three starters, we gotta do it again two more times."

He added: "It is fun. I was just talking to our team about not winning three games but winning each quarter. The journey is too long if you think about three games, six days. I thought our guys came out with that mindset, we won three of four quarters."

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