The Phoenix Suns are waiting.

A series sweep over the Denver Nuggets means Monty Williams' team are through to the Western Conference Finals, where they will meet either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the East, meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are serving up a prime example of how a seven-game series can ebb and flow throughout. At 2-2 and with injuries taking a toll, it is tough to predict who will progress.

With the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks also locked in a battle in the East, it is time to take a look at those players who have seized the chance to shine across the past week in the NBA playoffs, as well as those struggling in the shade.

RUNNING HOT...

Chris Paul

Paul set an unusual record as the Suns completed a 4-0 sweep of the Nuggets on Sunday. In contributing 37 points, the 36-year-old became the oldest guard in NBA history to outscore his age in a playoff game.

It capped a memorable week for the 11-time All-Star, who averaged 25.5 points per game in the series. Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, Phoenix are the only team to knock out both the previous year's conference finalists in the first two rounds, having also accounted for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Donovan Mitchell

Through three games against the Clippers, Mitchell has been an offensive juggernaut for the Jazz. He has scored a combined total of 112 points to average out for the week at 37.33 per outing.

His output has been aided by getting hot from long range, the guard landing 5.67 three-point attempts per game. Yes, that is correct: Per. Game. An ankle issue could slow him down in the remainder of the series, having already missed the end of the regular season and Utah's first game in the playoffs.

Bruce Brown

With James Harden out due to a hamstring injury, Brown has taken on a greater offensive role for the ailing Nets. In three games across the past week, the 24-year-old has taken 22 shots – he had tallied 31 in the previous six playoff outings – and made his first three-pointer in the playoffs as Brooklyn won Game 2.

His production could be set to further increase if Kyrie Irving joins Harden on the sidelines, the point guard having twisted his right ankle as his team lost Game 4 in Milwaukee on Sunday.

GOING COLD...

Joe Harris

Having been pivotal at the start of the Nets-Bucks series, Harris has cooled off since the teams travelled to Milwaukee. His opening two outings saw him manage 19 and 13 points, but since then just 11 combined in back-to-back defeats.

Harris landed only one of his 11 field goal attempts in Game 3 before fouling out, while Sunday’s Game 4 performance was only marginally better. Perhaps a return to Brooklyn for Game 5 will help him find his scoring touch again.

Bobby Portis

Just like Harris on the opposing roster, Portis is in a slump. The 29-year-old has averaged just 2.0 points per game across the past week, a major drop from his regular-season average of 11.42. He is also contributing less in terms of rebounding too, dipping down to 3.0 per outing.

Fellow big Brook Lopez is another role player to see the points dry up (6.33ppg), leaving Milwaukee to lean heavily on All-Star duo Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton as they bid to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

Marcus Morris Sr and Patrick Beverley

For the second successive series, the Clippers are having to dig themselves out of an early hole. An emphatic Game 3 victory over the Jazz halved the deficit, thanks mainly to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George managing a combined total of 65 points.

The role players will need to help out too if they are to set up a clash with the Suns. Morris Sr has averaged 7.67 points across the past week, not aided by landing just one of his 16 attempts from deep. Team-mate Beverley is also struggling from long range while managing just 10 points in total in his past three games.

Paul George earned the praise of his coach Tyronn Lue as the Los Angeles Clippers hit back to beat the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

Having lost the opening two games in Utah – with George, the subject of vitriol from the Jazz supporters, struggling to find his best form, although he did score 27 points in Game 2 – the Clippers struck back on their home court on Saturday in a 132-106 victory.

George was decisive, scoring 31 points, converting six three-pointers, while tallying five assists and three rebounds.

His 20 points in the first half set the standard for the Clippers, who also had fellow talisman Kawhi Leonard firing on all cylinders, putting up 34 points in 38 minutes.

"Oh, we're a different team," Lue said when asked to explain the impact of George getting into his stride early on.

"We know that. It's been like that all season long. He's been great. You know, he had one bad game, whatever, but people are going to have bad games."

The Clippers will aim to level the series in Game 4 on Monday, which again takes place at Staples Center, and with Leonard and George at their best, Lue was in a bullish mood.

"With our two guys, we know that they are two of the best in the league," Lue said.

"I don't go to Mastro's [restaurant] to order the ketchup. I go to order the steak. And tonight, our guys were steak. That's what we need."

While the Clippers' stars thrived, Utah guard Donovan Mitchell endured a difficult game, with an apparent recurrence of an ankle injury that kept him out for the final 16 games of the regular season forcing an early exit from the court, though he expects to be fighting fit for Game 4.

Utah Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell insisted he will be "fine" for Game 4 after exiting the team's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers due to ankle pain.

Mitchell left Saturday's 132-106 defeat against the Clippers because of pain in his right ankle as the top-seeded Jazz had their lead reduced to 2-1 in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Jazz star Mitchell finished with 30 points in Game 3 on the road in Los Angeles, where he exited with less than eight minutes remaining and did not return.

Mitchell missed the final 16 games of the NBA's regular season and Utah's playoff opener due to an ankle sprain, but he allayed concerns afterwards.

"I feel like I was able to go back, but no need to risk it down 16, 18 at that point," Mitchell said. "I'll be fine."

"It's when I land," Mitchell said. "It's been just trying to manage it. I don't really know what else to tell you; I don't want to say too much.

"It was just the landing, but I'm good. I'll be ready for Game 4."

Prior to Saturday's matchup, Mitchell scored 37 points in Game 2 and was averaging 1.00 points per minute this postseason (32.7 per game in 32.7 minutes per game). In his career, the Jazz guard has averaged 0.78 points per minute in the playoffs, just behind the all-time record of 0.80 by Michael Jordan (minimum 1000 minutes).

Mitchell added: "Obviously, it's not going to be 100 per cent, but you go out there and you try to compete. Things like this are going to happen.

"You just got to find ways to manage it and get out there and get ready. It's not going to be perfect, but it is what it is."

"He's in good shape," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "He could have gone back in the game, but at that point, the lead had stretched. In fact, while we were talking, I think [Clippers star] Kawhi [Leonard] hit a 3.

"That was my decision not to put him back in at that point. The game had gotten away from us at that point, but he's fine."

According to Stats Perform, the Clippers became the first team to score 130-plus points in a Game 3 win after trailing a series 2-0 since the Jazz in the 1985 Western Conference semis.

The Los Angeles Clippers' stars came through on their return home to drive a needed 132-106 win over the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the Western Conference semi-finals on Saturday. 

Paul George posted 20 points in the first half and finished with 31, while Kawhi Leonard top-scored with 34 of his own as the Clippers led throughout and cut Utah's series lead to 2-1 in the NBA playoffs.

Donovan Mitchell had 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting from the field to lead the top-seeded Jazz, but by the time he found his offensive rhythm the game was largely out of hand in Los Angeles.

Mitchell did not score his first point until almost halfway through the second quarter. The last time he went scoreless in any quarter of a playoff game was April 14, 2019 against the Houston Rockets – a 32-point Utah loss. 

Utah kept this one a bit closer, cutting the Clippers' lead to eight points late in the third quarter, but George answered with a three-pointer and the Jazz could not get the margin below 10 from that point on. 

Among the key issues for Utah was Bojan Bogdanovic's worst performance in months. The Croatian made just two of 10 shots from the field and had nine points in the game – the first time he has been held to single digits since scoring seven in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 26. 

Meanwhile, the Clippers' supporting cast turned in an impressive showing, with Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson combining to make nine of their 12 three-point attempts and scoring 17 points each. 

Game 4 is scheduled for Monday in Los Angeles. 

 

Nets at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks can level their Eastern Conference semi-final series with the star-studded Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 on Sunday.

The Los Angeles Clippers will be unable to call on Serge Ibaka for the remainder of the NBA playoffs after he underwent surgery on a back injury.

Ibaka had missed the previous seven games, but with the Clippers already 2-0 down in their series to the Utah Jazz, his campaign is now over.

The 31-year-old's first season with the Clippers has been hampered by back problems and he missed 30 straight games during the regular season, though the team confirmed the surgery, which took place on Thursday, was a success.

"There is nothing I would love more than being on the court helping my brothers and trying to win a championship," Ibaka posted on his official Instagram account.

"It's been a very tough season, I worked very hard to be back in time for the playoffs but sometimes injuries get in the way and health has to be a priority.

"I appreciate all the love and support from everyone and now I have my mindset on supporting my team and getting healthy and ready for next season."

Across 41 regular season games in 2020-21, Ibaka averaged 11.1 points, 1.8 assists and 6.7 rebounds.

The Clippers face the Jazz in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series on Saturday.

Kawhi Leonard insisted the Los Angeles Clippers "have a lot of fight left" after they fell into a 0-2 hole in the Western Conference semi-finals series with the Utah Jazz.

The top-seeded Jazz took a two-game lead on Thursday with a 117-111 victory, Donovan Mitchell racking up 37 points to inspire Utah to triumph.

Leonard was held to 21 points in 39 minutes but is confident the Clippers can overturn the deficit, having come back from 2-0 and 3-2 down in their first-round series with the Dallas Mavericks.

"We all got to put our will out on the floor," the two-time NBA Finals MVP said.

"You know, see what we did in the first two games and try to limit our mistakes and just keep going on from there pretty much.

"We'll see [on Friday] what we got to do, and we've got a lot of fight left. So you know, we're up for the challenge."

Reggie Jackson top-scored for the Clippers with 29 points while Paul George produced a double-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

There was a significant disparity between the two teams in three-point shooting, with the Clippers going 11 for 30 from beyond the arc while the Jazz hit on 20 of their 39 attempts from deep.

"We've got to give them credit," said George. "This is a tough opponent. They weren't number one in the West for no reason.

"But, you know, we are approaching this the same way Dallas was, we still feel we have a lot of possessions that we can clean up, a lot of possessions that are hurting us that's our fault.

"As good as they are playing, as tough as this matchup is, we still feel like there's moments throughout this game, this series, that, you know, we are making plays that are self-inflicted.

"It's a lot of uphill. But we're optimistic that we can get this under control and go back home, one game at a time, and try to tie this series up."

Donovan Mitchell praised the Utah Jazz for taking the pressure off his shoulders in an outstanding team performance that earned a 117-111 victory at home to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Jazz moved 2-0 ahead in their Western Conference semi-finals series, with All-Star Mitchell posting 37 points in a stellar display.

But he was not alone in producing the goods, with newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert contributing 13 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in Utah.

"I don't feel like I have to go out there and do everything," said Mitchell, who is averaging 28.4 points in his playoff career, only behind LeBron James (28.7), Jerry West (29.1), Kevin Durant (29.2), Allen Iverson (29.7) and Michael Jordan (33.4).

"I think that's a credit to the guys we have on this team because they can go out there and make plays.

"Everybody's elevated their game."

Having played a leading role himself, Mitchell was keen to laud the impact of Bojan Bogdanovic, whose defensive efforts proved telling.

"Bojan's defense was superb," he said. "He's been taking that role and taking that challenge.

"We make jokes with him all the time and we look at Bojan and say, 'Hey, we pay you to shoot'."

Mitchell seemed to suffer a leg injury late in the contest that left him hobbling, although he dispelled any fitness concerns.

"I'm fine now," he said. "I walked in here and if you want me to sprint for you, I can. I'm good."

The result extended the Jazz's winning streak to six games – the team's longest unbeaten run in the playoffs since celebrating seven consecutive victories in 1998.

Kawhi Leonard and the fourth-ranked Clippers were looking to even the series by splitting Utah's homestand, but the visitors fell short in Game 2.

Reggie Jackson had a team-best 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting as Paul George (27 points and 10 rebounds) and Leonard (21 points) contributed.

Donovan Mitchell produced another monster performance as the top-seeded Utah Jazz took down the Los Angeles Clippers for a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semi-finals.

After going off for 45 points in the opener, All-Star Mitchell posted 37 points to lead the Jazz to a 117-111 victory at home to the Clippers in Game 2 in the NBA playoffs on Thursday.

Mitchell was supported by fellow All-Star and newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who put up 13 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in Utah.

Utah's Mitchell is averaging 28.4 points in his playoff career, only behind LeBron James (28.7), Jerry West (29.1), Kevin Durant (29.2), Allen Iverson (29.7) and Michael Jordan (33.4).

The in-form Jazz extended their winning streak to six games – the team's longest unbeaten run in the playoffs since celebrating seven consecutive victories in 1998.

Kawhi Leonard and the fourth-ranked Clippers were looking to even the series by splitting Utah's homestand, but the visitors fell short in Game 2.

Reggie Jackson had a team-best 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting as Paul George (27 points and 10 rebounds) and Leonard (21 points) contributed.

In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Milwaukee Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3.

The Bucks had their backs against the wall after falling into a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Nets, but responded on home court in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee surrendered a 21-point lead at home to the Nets before Jrue Holiday put the Bucks ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 14 rebounds, while Khris Middleton top-scored with 35 points and 15 rebounds as Kevin Durant's buzzer-beating three-point attempt for the Nets bounced off the rim.

The Bucks are the only NBA team in the last 15 years to have two players (Antetokounmpo and Middleton) score 15-plus points in a quarter with no other team-mates posting a point (regular season or postseason), according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 68 points and 29 rebounds. Per Stats Perform, they are the first duo to combine for those numbers in a playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant's 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Nets, who were again without injured superstar James Harden (hamstring).

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers will visit the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup on Friday. The series is level at 1-1.

The Utah Jazz will once again be without All-Star Mike Conley for Game 2 of the Western Conference semi-finals against the Los Angeles Lakers due to a right hamstring strain.

Conley sat out the Jazz's 112-109 victory to open the second-round series in the NBA playoffs after hurting his hamstring in the series-clinching Game 5 win over the Memphis Grizzlies last week.

The Jazz guard will remain sidelined for Thursday's clash as top-seeded Utah look to open a 2-0 lead over Kawhi Leonard's Clippers.

Conley has been averaging 17.4 points, a postseason career-high 8.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds through five games in the playoffs.

During the regular season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

The Jazz have won five consecutive games – the franchise's longest winning streak in the playoffs since claiming seven straight in 1998.

This is the first time Utah have won the first game of a series since the 2017 opening round, also against the Clippers. The Jazz are 10-3 (76.9) all time in a best-of-seven series when leading 1-0, winning each of their last three such series, according to Stats Perform.

Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell posted 45 points in Game 1 – he now has three of the franchise's five 45-point games in the playoffs, including the franchise record (57 against the Denver Nuggets in the 2020 first-round series).

Utah have made at least 17 three-pointers in five consecutive games, the longest streak in the postseason in NBA history.

In fact, the Jazz attempted 50 threes in Game 1, their most in a playoff game in franchise history.

In theory, the Milwaukee Bucks appeared to be the biggest obstacle on the Brooklyn Nets' path to an NBA championship.

To stand a chance of winning a seven-game series against the NBA’s premier trio of team-mates – Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving – you've got to be able to score points, and a whole lot of them.

Despite a recurring run of injuries that often rendered their Big Three to a Big Two – or many times a lonely One – the Nets were a remarkable 27-2 when allowing 112 or fewer points in a game during a regular season which they finished as a de facto 1A to the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

The true magic number when it comes to facing Brooklyn, however, is 120, as the Nets were a pedestrian 8-13 when opponents scored above that mark. So, how many teams averaged 120 points per game this season?

Just one, as a matter of fact. That would be the Bucks.

And what team had the most games this season totalling 120 or more points? Again, the answer is Milwaukee, whose 39 games hitting the mark was six more than the next closest competitor – which, you guessed it, would be the Nets.

Well, after two games of the most anticipated series of this year's conference semifinals, Brooklyn's perceived greatest threat had offered no challenge whatsoever.

After comfortably winning Game 1, even with Harden playing a mere 43 seconds after aggravating a previous hamstring injury, the Nets unequivocally justified their status as the favourites to claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy with a 125-86 Game 2 thrashing that came with Harden cheering on his fellow well-paid team-mates in street clothes.

In hindsight, those results were ones we maybe could have seen coming. Sure, the Bucks effortlessly disposed of the reigning East champion Miami Heat with a first-round sweep, but it came without their offense performing at its usually potent level.

Milwaukee shot just 32.7 per cent from three-point range for the series, well below their 38.9 per cent success rate for the season, and they had at least 15 turnovers in three of the wins. The Bucks advanced mostly on good defense, coupled with an unquestionably abysmal shooting performance from the Heat over the four games.

In the Brooklyn series, the Bucks haven't been able to hit water from a boat, going into Game 3, having shot a paltry 24.6 per cent from beyond the arc over the first two clashes.

The early stages of the series also exposed Milwaukee's greatest weakness during what was otherwise another splendid regular season under Mike Budenholzer – an inability to adequately defend the three. The Bucks permitted opponents to make 38.4 per cent of their trey attempts over the 72-game schedule, with only the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves yielding a higher percentage.

Against a locked-in team like the Nets, that can be – and has been – a recipe for disaster. The first team in league history to make 15 or more three-pointers in six straight games during a single postseason, Brooklyn have connected at an incredible 43 per cent rate from long distance so far in these playoffs, going into Thursday evening's third clash with the Bucks.

If the Nets could even come close to keeping that pace the rest of the way, that likely spells doom for the rest of the NBA. The three-point shot has been a strong indicator of success in this postseason, as teams have won at a 70 per cent clip (35-15) when recording a higher three-point percentage than their opponents and are 25-7 when hitting 15 or more triples in a game.

Moreover, teams that have shot better than 40 per cent from three-point range are 24-5 this postseason, and the five teams that lost each faced an opponent that also eclipsed the 40 per cent mark in that game.

So, assuming the Nets don't do the unthinkable and somehow lose this series, is it a fait accompli they'll represent the East in the Finals?

They did lose two of their three match-ups with the 76ers during the regular season, though it's hard to put much stock in those outcomes considering Brooklyn were without at least two of Durant, Harden and Irving in all of those games.

Philadelphia getting past the upstart Atlanta Hawks cannot be considered an absolute given either, but the Sixers will provide an interesting test provided they do get past their pesky second-round foes.

They have the lowest ratio of three-point attempts to total field-goal attempts of any of the eight remaining teams, not too surprising for an offense centred around MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and the perimeter-averse Ben Simmons. But while the Sixers generally aren't bombing away with the same frequency as those still left standing, it could be argued that outside shooting may be the single biggest factor in determining how far they ultimately go this summer.

Next to Embiid's ever-present fitness concerns, Seth Curry might just be the X-factor when it comes to determining whether the 76ers can end a 20-year Finals absence. When Curry is going well and Embiid is healthy, Philadelphia are awfully difficult to beat. And Steph's little brother is certainly doing just that right now, having averaged 24 points while shooting 61.9 per cent (13 of 19) from three-point range over his last three games.

The 76ers went 20-3 during the regular season when Curry made three or more three-pointers in a game, and they've hit the all-important 120-point mark in five of their seven playoff games thus far. If it comes to fruition, a Philly-Brooklyn match-up in the East Finals would surely be a treat.

As for the West, the Clippers could represent the most imposing roadblock to the Nets' first NBA title in franchise history – on paper, at least. No team shot above the coveted 40 per cent standard from three-point range more times during the regular season than Tyronn Lue's group, whose 42 such games were seven more than the team second on that list (again, the Nets). The Clippers also led the league in three-point percentage at 41.1 per cent.

There's no questioning the Clippers' talent and depth. Trust, however, is another matter. This is largely the same cast that famously blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in last year’s West semifinals, and they couldn't hold on to a 13-point half-time advantage in losing Tuesday's series opener to a Utah team playing without starting point guard Mike Conley.

History isn't on the Clippers' side either, as they've never advanced past the conference semis in eight previous tries.

And what about the Jazz, for that matter? Utah may not possess the Nets' overall star power and haven't displayed the same level of recent dominance as their potential Finals foes, but they did lead the league in wins this season, are capable of shooting their way out of any deficit and haven't lost a game when Donovan Mitchell has taken the court since April.

That is only a seven-game winning streak since Mitchell missed over a month with a sprained ankle, but has there been a better postseason performer than Utah's All-Star guard over the last two years?

In 12 playoff games over that period, Mitchell has averaged 34.4 points on 50.6 per cent shooting, and a 45-point masterpiece against the Clippers on Tuesday was his fourth outing with at least 44 points during that stretch.

Of course, superlative individual efforts don't always coincide with championship glory. Just ask Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.

Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George was the subject of harsh treatment from the Utah Jazz fans on Tuesday, though he very nearly took the game to overtime.

The Jazz won Game 1 of the playoff series 112-109 in Salt Lake City, as George – in inspired form in the fourth quarter – almost propelled the visitors to a comeback.

All-Star guard George was wasteful in the earlier stages of the encounter, missing 12 of his first 14 shots, but found his aim in the final quarter, converting 13 points.

His fourth-quarter tally included seven points in the last three minutes, despite the Jazz supporters' "overrated" jeers – George had previously played for Utah's rivals Oklahoma City Thunder.

Yet with fans only just starting to come back in full capacity following the coronavirus pandemic, George had no issues with the chants, but did concede he needs to improve to help the Clippers level the series in Game 2.

"I like it," George said, as reported by ESPN. "That part doesn't get to me. It's all respect. I've had good games here and I've had bad games here.

 "That's part of this game, to be honest. The crowd's going to be involved. You want that. As an opposing player, you kind of want that.

"Fact of the matter is, I didn't shoot the ball well. I thought I was indecisive on my approach. But I will be a little bit better on taking the shots that I want."

George finished the game with 20 points in total, 10 rebounds and two assists, and acknowledged that Jazz star Rudy Gobert made life difficult for the Clippers.

"The big fella is really good at just clogging the paint up and just sitting at the rim," George said of Gobert.

"A lot of plays I was just forcing myself trying to get to the basket where he's there waiting for me. So I think just being decisive on the approach of setting up, getting the shots that I want while he's in those coverages."

Donovan Mitchell starred and Rudy Gobert produced a game-clinching block as the Utah Jazz drew first blood against the Los Angeles Lakers in their Western Conference semi-final opener.

Mitchell dropped 32 of his 45 points in the second half to guide the top-seeded Jazz to a thrilling 112-109 win at home to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 on Tuesday.

Fellow All-Star Gobert – who finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds – came up big at the death, denying Marcus Morris Sr. and his potential game-winning three-pointer.

Kawhi Leonard (23 points) and Paul George (20 points and 10 rebounds) were unable to lift the fourth-seeded Clippers in Utah.

Earlier in the day, a disappointed Joel Embiid had a point to prove as he fuelled the Philadelphia 76ers' 118-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2.

Embiid's MVP hopes were dashed by Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who was crowned the league's Most Valuable Player on Tuesday.

Already frustrated following a shock loss to the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semi-final opener, Embiid came out and scored 40 points with 13 rebounds to help level the series.

Embiid became the first 76ers player with 40 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game since Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham in 1970, while his postseason career-high points haul saw him become the first Philadelphia player with 40-plus points in a playoff contest since Hall of Famer Allen Iverson in 2003.

Tobias Harris chipped in with 22 points, six rebounds and four assists for the 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, where he had 16 first-quarter points on eight-for-nine shooting.

It was not all smooth sailing after a fast start as Philadelphia squandered a 21-point advantage – Trae Young's pair of free throws giving Atlanta their first lead in the third quarter, 80-79.

But Shake Milton – who did not play in the first half – stepped up to the plate, scoring 14 points to help withstand Young (21 points and 11 assists) and visiting the Hawks.

 

Nuggets at Suns

In the only game on Wednesday, the second-seeded Phoenix Suns will look to claim a 2-0 lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference second round.

Utah Jazz All-Star Mike Conley has been ruled out for Game 1 of the Western Conference semi-finals due to a right hamstring strain.

Conley was in doubt for the second-round opener against the Los Angeles Clippers after sustaining the injury in the Jazz's series-clinching Game 5 win over the Memphis Grizzlies last week.

The 33-year-old guard – who took only four shots in his last game, his lowest total in any of his 66 playoff games – will now watch from the sidelines as the top-seeded Jazz face the Clippers on Tuesday.

"Hopefully, we'll get him back as quickly as possible," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "But those things are hard to predict."

Conley has been averaging 17.4 points, a postseason career-high 8.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds through five games in the playoffs.

During the regular season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

The Jazz have won all three previous playoff series between these teams in 1992, 1997, and 2017. That is Utah's most playoff series wins without a loss against one opponent, and it is the Clippers' most losses without a victory against one foe.

The Jazz have scored 120 or more points in each of their last four games, tying the longest streak in team playoff history (first achieved last August). Utah have had five consecutive games of 120-plus points in the regular season only twice, in 1982 and 1984.

Reggie Jackson paid tribute to Kawhi Leonard for instigating the Los Angeles Clippers' crucial Game 7 win over the Dallas Mavericks to secure progression to the NBA Western Conference semi-finals.

The Clippers were 126-111 victors on Sunday as they finally got the job done in the last game of the series, going some way to exorcising their 2020 demons.

Last year, the Clippers missed out on a spot in the Western Conference finals as they blew a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets, who eventually saw them off 104-89 in Game 7 in September.

The Nuggets became the first NBA team to overcome a 3-1 deficit twice in the same playoffs and had been used as a stick to beat the Clippers with practically ever since.

While the Mavs put the Clippers under pressure, with Luka Doncic setting a new Game 7 record for 77 points scored or assisted, it was not enough as two-time Finals MVP Leonard played a starring role.

Although he did not match 22-year-old Doncic's stunning 46-point haul – which made him the youngest player in NBA history to average 35 points each game in a playoff series – Leonard only just missed out on a triple-double, recording 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Almost half (13) of those points came in an emphatic opening quarter, which Jackson felt was vital in setting the tone.

"I think it all started with Kawhi," Jackson said. "Kawhi came in with a mentality that he was going to take this game today.

"He was going to come in and lead and wasn't going to be shy about his play at all. He really got it going early and once he got it going early, guys had to load up and defenses had to change their coverages."

As for the Clippers moving past the disappointment of 2020, coach Ty Lue seemed relieved to look past it.

"Last year was last year," Lue said. "We talked about it when the season started, that's over and we've got to look going forward.

"We can't keep looking behind and what happened in the bubble. That s***'s over."

On the other side of the coin, much like Leonard in last year's semi-finals, Doncic's brilliance came to nothing in the end.

The Slovenian was the star of the series, with numerous Clippers applauding his performances after Game 7, but he cut a dejected figure and feels he has not proven anything about himself because he is paid to win.

Asked what he felt he had proved, Doncic said: "I mean, nothing yet. We made the playoffs twice since I've been here. We lost both times. At the end, you get paid to win. We didn't do it."

The Clippers will go on to face top seeds the Utah Jazz in the semi-finals after they eased past the Memphis Grizzlies 4-1 in the first round.

Kawhi Leonard was the hero again for the Los Angeles Clippers, who completed their comeback against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 to progress to the Western Conference semi-finals.

A deciding game was needed in the opening-round series after Leonard erupted for 45 points to help the Clippers avoid elimination in the NBA playoffs on Friday.

In the winner-takes-all showdown at Staples Center, Clippers superstar Leonard stepped up to the plate with a double-double as the Clippers prevailed 126-111 to clinch the series 4-3 on Sunday.

Leonard posted 28 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals to lead the Clippers to a date with the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the second round, starting on Tuesday.

Luka Doncic carried the load for the visiting Mavericks in Los Angeles, but the All-Star's 46 points and 14 assists were not enough.

The fourth-seeded Clippers were 3-5 in Game 7 in franchise history – losers in each of their last three appearances (2015 Western Conference semi-finals, 2017 first round and 2020 Western Conference semi-finals) and looking to avoid becoming the fifth team in NBA history to lose four consecutive Game 7s.

While the Clippers led by eight points at half-time, the fifth-seeded Mavericks outscored the home team 19-6 to open the third period for an 81-76 advantage.

That sparked the Clippers, who responded with a 24-4 run for a 100-85 lead entering the fourth quarter and while the Mavericks chipped away at the deficit, there was no denying Leonard and the championship hopefuls – who became the first home team to win in this series.

In the earlier game, MVP finalist Joel Embiid made his return but top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers were upstaged 128-124 by the Atlanta Hawks in their Eastern Conference semi-final opener.

Embiid made his way back to the court following a meniscus tear and while he put up 39 points, the Hawks silenced a hostile crowd to draw first blood at Wells Fargo Center.

Trae Young had 25 of his 35 points in the first half as the fifth-seeded Hawks made a blistering start to the contest in Philadelphia.

Atlanta led Philadelphia 75-54 at half-time. According to Stats Perform, that is the highest first-half point total by a road team in a postseason series opener in history.

Young joined Lew Alcindor as the only players in NBA history to score 30-plus points in each of the first four road games of their playoff careers, while he became the first Hawks player in history to have 35-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason game.

 

Nuggets at Suns

The Phoenix Suns will host the Denver Nuggets in their Western Conference semi-final opener on Monday. In the east, the Brooklyn Nets can take a 2-0 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.