The Boston Celtics inched closer to sweeping the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, claiming a 3-0 series lead with a 109-103 victory at the Barclays Center.

Jayson Tatum notched up 39 points on 13-of-29 shooting, six assists, five rebounds and six steals in the win for the Celtics, who continued to lock down Kevin Durant.

Though Durant shot 54.5 per cent from the floor, moving him to 17-of-52 for the series, he did it on 11 shots on Saturday as the flexible and intense Celtics defensive scheme continued to force the ball out of his hands. Kyrie Irving also went six-of-17 from the floor.

Bruce Brown was the highest scorer for the Nets with 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, but he and Durant contributed to 10 of the team's 20 turnovers, from which Boston scored 25 points.

The Celtics led for the whole of the second half and whenever the Nets would threaten with a scoring run, managed to make timely buckets and secure a big road win.

Gobert gets up for Jazz win

Luka Doncic's return from injury was not enough for the Dallas Mavericks as the Utah Jazz evened up their series at 2-2, earning a 100-99 win.

Rudy Gobert gave Utah the lead with an alley-oop dunk with 11 seconds remaining in Game 4, before Spencer Dinwiddie missed a three-ball at the buzzer for the Mavs.

While Doncic had 30 points in his first game back from a strained calf, Dallas were kept to just 18 points in the fourth quarter, shooting six-of-18 from the floor.  

Siakam sizzles as Raptors avoid sweep

Pascal Siakam scored 15 of his of 34 points in the fourth quarter as the Toronto Raptors avoided a series sweep, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 110-102.

Despite a 19-point deficit in points off turnovers, Toronto continually managed to penetrate and get on the break, holding a combined 25-point advantage for points in the paint and fast-break points.

Nursing an injured thumb, Joel Embiid shot seven-of-16 from the floor for his 21 points to go with eight rebounds, but also coughed up five turnovers.

Timberwolves level series with Grizzlies

Karl-Anthony Towns bounced back from a disappointing Game 3 to help the Minnesota Timberwolves even their playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies, winning 119-118.

After going missing in Game 3, taking only four shots as the Grizzlies overcame a 26-point deficit, Towns was more assertive from the outset, adding 13 rebounds to 33 points.

Anthony Edwards' fingerprints were all over the game however, coming up with 24 points on seven-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks.

Joel Embiid suffered a thumb injury as he led the Philadelphia 76ers to a road win at the Toronto Raptors but is confident it will not impact him in Game 4.

The 76ers took a 3-0 lead in the first-round series with Wednesday's 104-101 overtime victory, which was sealed by Embiid's turnaround three-pointer with 0.8 seconds remaining.

This two-game road trip was expected to be tricky for the 76ers, who are missing Matisse Thybulle, as he is not fully vaccinated.

But the Raptors have been without star rookie Scottie Barnes and now face the prospect of being swept when the series continues on Saturday.

Embiid is certainly hoping that will be the case, confirming he will again have a big role to play despite emerging after Game 3 with his right thumb in a brace.

"I think I might have twisted it, so we are going to see what's going on tomorrow," Embiid said before being asked if he would be kept on the sideline.

"No," he replied. "No chance, no."

As an MVP candidate and the biggest threat to the Raptors, Embiid was the centre of attention for the Scotiabank Arena crowd.

The 76ers center was jeered throughout in his first playoff game in Canada since an awful six-for-18 shooting performance in Game 7 of the 2019 Eastern Conference semi-finals, when it was Kawhi Leonard's turn to score a dramatic winner for the Raptors.

But Embiid said: "It felt great. Obviously we know what happened a couple of years ago. It just felt great.

"I just knew that coming in here tonight, it was going to be a tough place. Obviously, it's always a tough place to play, especially in the playoffs. They've got great fans, they're loud.

"I know coming into Toronto I was definitely going to be the bad guy for quite some time. So I just wanted to come out and let the game come to me. It felt great, but the job is not done."

The 21 points Embiid scored in Game 7 three years ago were actually his most on the road in that series, averaging just 15.5 per cent and 34.0 per cent shooting in playoff games at Scotiabank Arena prior to Wednesday's visit.

The 28-year-old finished with 33 points, on 12-for-20 shooting, and 13 rebounds this time but insisted "revenge" was not on his mind.

"It's just the first round to me," Embiid said. "Honestly, I haven't really thought about what happened three years ago.

"Obviously, the shot makes me feel good about what kind of happened. But during this whole series, I haven't really thought about coming in here and trying to get my revenge.

"I think I'm more focused about trying to win the whole thing, one game at a time, and trying to do whatever's necessary to get us there."

The Boston Celtics overturned a 17-point deficit to go 2-0 up over the Brooklyn Nets in their playoff series, winning 114-107 on Wednesday.

The Nets' lack of off-ball movement eventually told against the NBA's best defensive team, as Kevin Durant scored 12 points in the second half but went zero-of-10 from the open floor and the Nets went 11-of-36 collectively.

Kyrie Irving shot one-of-seven after the main break and the Nets' iso-ball provided such a net loss, the second-half collapse came despite the Nets holding advantages in team rebounding, fast-break points and points off turnovers for the game.

Derrick White was the only Celtic not to score in double digits as Ime Udoka went with the eight-man rotation. Even with the relatively low 27 assists for the team, the Celtics still had a +11 margin over the Nets in that category.

Jayson Tatum was the only player on the floor with a double-double, putting up 19 points, 10 assists and six rebounds as the Celtics protected home court.

Sixers inch closer to series sweep

The Philadelphia 76ers took a commanding 3-0 lead in their series with the Toronto Raptors, claiming a 104-101 win in overtime on the road.

After protecting home court, the Sixers also fought their way back from a 17-point deficit to take a huge step towards claiming the first-round series.

With the game tied at 101, Joel Embiid scored the game-winning basket with 0.8 seconds remaining, evading Precious Achiuwa and receiving the inbound to bury a turnaround three-pointer off the catch.

The MVP candidate finished with 33 points on 12-of-20 shooting and 12 rebounds, while James Harden and Tyrese Maxey contributed 19 points each.

It was yet another poor shooting night for Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr, combining for 36 points but off 12-of-32 shooting from the floor, with VanVleet's two-of-10 from beyond the arc particularly damaging.

Bulls split series in Milwaukee

The Chicago Bulls have managed to split the opening two games and can potentially gain home-court advantage in the series after their 114-109 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

There was a sense the Bulls could take at least one game from Milwaukee after the opener, which saw them almost claim the win despite a horrible shooting night from Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

After a combined 21-of-71 in Game 1, the three Bulls bounced back with a combined 33-of-62 from the floor, while Alex Caruso gave them a reference point with primary ball-handling duties.

The Bucks just could not stop DeRozan getting to his mid-range spots and the five-time All-Star finished with 41 points. Caruso did a bit of everything on both ends with nine points and 10 assists as well as two blocks and two steals.

While Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 33 points, Milwaukee ultimately could not work their way back from a poor first half that opened up an 18-point deficit.

Joel Embiid told reporters he is sick of the Toronto Raptors complaining about foul calls after the Philadelphia 76ers won 112-97 on Monday to take a 2-0 lead in their first-round series.

Embiid finished with a game-high 31 points on nine-of-16 shooting and hit as many free throws (12) as the Raptors attempted as an entire team.

The 76ers also received another terrific performance from ascending guard Tyrese Maxey, who had 23 points (eight-of-11 shooting) with nine rebounds and eight assists, while James Harden chipped in with 14 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Speaking with post-game media, Embiid said he knew the Raptors would try to raise the physicality in Game 2, but he wanted to beat them to the punch, earning a technical foul 90 seconds into the action.

"I didn't really want them to set that [physical] tone," he said. "I wanted myself and us to set that tone. That's why I picked up that early technical foul.

"On defense, I just wanted to make sure the refs to let us know how physical they wanted the game to be, so that's when [OG Anunoby and I] started pushing each other and got techs.

"I knew that was their game plan, I knew that was going to be their adjustment, but I wanted to be the first one to bring the physicality."

After such a physical contest, Embiid said he was tired of hearing Raptors coach Nick Nurse complaining about the refereeing and shared what the exchange was between the two late in the fourth quarter.

"[Nurse] is a great coach, what he has been able to accomplish, I have always been a big fan, but I told him, respectfully, to stop b****ing about calls," he said.

"If you triple-team somebody all game, they're bound to get to the free throw line. If you go and push them and hold them. I feel like every foul was legit, and there probably should have been more, honestly.

"I got a lost of respect for all these coaches, but I feel like they have self-awareness about when they say this kind of stuff [about] whether the referees are not calling [fouls] any more. It's also to motivate their guys to go out and play better and really put it in the referees' hands to not call it.

"But when the fouls are as obvious as they were tonight – they put me on the floor a few times – and to me, this is where it gets interesting to me. I'm like, cool, I'm going to come back with more power.

"I think that's part of the reason I got a few offensive fouls, too. If you're going to be physical, I'm going to come back with more power and make you stop me and make it more obvious if the refs don't want to call it. 

"I think [coaches] do it because they have to, but they don't actually believe it. If you watch the clips, every single foul is a foul."

76ers coach Doc Rivers also acknowledged his side expected a more physical approach from Toronto and shared the advice he gave his star player.

"No, Jo, you be the dominant guy," he said. "[Embiid] is the most dominant player in the league.

"They wanted to muck the game up and play physical. I just told our guys to just play through it."

Jalen Brunson scored a career-high 41 points to carry the Dallas Mavericks to a 110-104 home victory, tying their series against the Utah Jazz at 1-1.

With the Mavs missing Luka Doncic for the second straight game due to injury, Brunson scored 15 of their first 18 points as the two sides went into quarter-time tied at 24. It stayed neck-and-neck until a 7-0 run late in the second quarter gave Utah a seven-point lead at the long break.

Dallas' Maxi Kleber hit one three-pointer in each of the first two quarters, but caught fire in the second half, going three-for-four from long range in the third term and repeating that effort in the fourth quarter to finish with 25 points off the bench.

Kleber's biggest shots were back-to-back bombs to turn a 98-96 deficit into a 102-98 lead, which Dallas never relinquished, on the way to finishing eight-of-11 from three, while not attempting a single a two-point field goal.

Brunson finished an incredible 15-of-25 from the field and six-of-10 from three, and added eight rebounds, five assists and two turnovers.

For Utah, Donovan Mitchell top-scored with 34 points on 13-of-30 shooting, while Rudy Gobert grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked two shots.

The series heads to Utah next for Game 3 and Game 4.

 

76ers too much for Toronto

Despite strong first and fourth quarters for the Toronto Raptors, they went down 112-97 against the Philadelphia 76ers to fall down 2-0 in the series.

In an up-tempo first quarter where both sides were making shots, Fred VanVleet was the early standout, hitting four of his seven three-point attempts to head into quarter time with 14 points and his Raptors leading 33-32.

For the next two quarters, it would be all Philadelphia, out-scoring the Raptors 63-38 over the second and third frames to take full command of the contest, peaking at a 95-66 lead with 30 seconds remaining in the third.

The 76ers' intensity dropped in the last as the game was essentially won, which allowed Toronto to pull the margin back to 11 points with 6:30 to play, but that would be as close as things got as a Tyrese Maxey three and a string of free throws kept Philly's lead in the teens as the clock winded down.

Joel Embiid was the best player on the floor, scoring 31 points on nine-of-16 shooting (12-of-14 free throws) with 11 rebounds, while Maxey was unstoppable for the second game in a row, scoring an efficient 23 points on eight-of-11 shooting and adding nine rebounds with eight assists.

Tobias Harris also earned a mention with his 20 points and 10 rebounds, while O.G. Anunoby was the lone bright spot for the Raptors, scoring 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting and flashing some intriguing ability as a primary scoring option.

Toronto will host Game 3 and Game 4 of the series, with unvaccinated players unable to enter Canada, which means Matisse Thybulle will not travel with the 76ers.

 

Poole party for the Splash Brothers

After scoring a team-high 30 points in Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets, Jordan Poole was at it again in the Golden State Warriors' 126-106 win in Game 2.

While he did not top-score this time around, Poole was arguably the Warriors' best player through the first three quarters, racking up 27 of his 29 points up to three-quarter time as his side led 101-81 heading into the last.

Poole has emerged as the third 'Splash Brother' this postseason, with the original two also enjoying big games on Monday, as Stephen Curry scored a game-high 34 points in 23 minutes off the bench, while Klay Thompson chipped in with 21.

For Denver, MVP favourite Nikola Jokic was ejected in the fourth quarter for his second technical foul after accumulating 26 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes.

The Toronto Raptors will have to cope without star rookie Scottie Barnes against the Philadelphia 76ers, although the forward said he is already "feeling better".

Barnes sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 1 in the first-round playoff series, a 131-111 defeat in Philadelphia.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse subsequently acknowledged the fourth overall pick was unlikely to play in Game 2, and he was officially ruled out at shootaround on Tuesday.

Gary Trent Jr., who is ill, and Thaddeus Young, with an injured thumb, were also set to miss out, but Barnes' absence was particularly damaging after a superb season.

The 20-year-old is a Rookie of the Year finalist after averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in the regular season, ranking third and second respectively among rookies.

Barnes had 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in his playoff debut and at least assured Raptors fans he is on the road to recovery, even if there remains no return date.

"I thought it was going to be bad, man," Barnes said. "I hit the ground and I was like, 'Damn, it's just the beginning, just getting started'.

"But afterward, I was just still trying to have positive thoughts and keep myself into it.

"I don't know [when he will return]. Might be soon. We just have to see. Feeling better, though, each and every day."

Scottie Barnes is set to be listed as doubtful for the Toronto Raptors' Game 2 against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Raptors have confirmed Barnes, who is a Rookie of the Year finalist, sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter of the series-opening 131-111 loss to the 76ers.

That would put the fourth overall pick's involvement in Monday's game in Philadelphia in significant doubt, as coach Nick Nurse acknowledged.

Gary Trent Jr. is ill, meanwhile, and Thaddeus Young has injured his left thumb.

"Listen, it doesn't look good for any of those guys," Nurse said after Sunday's practice.

"They're all going to be listed as probably doubtful, so it doesn't look good for any of them. We'll evaluate them as we go and see where we end up."

Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been announced as the finalists for the 2021-22 NBA MVP award, as was widely expected.

Denver Nuggets center Jokic is the favourite to win the award for a second consecutive year, again beating out Philadelphia 76ers big man Embiid.

Antetokounmpo took the two awards before that and was the NBA Finals MVP last season as he led the Milwaukee Bucks to the title.

Embiid led the league in scoring this year with 30.6 points per game, ahead of Antetokounmpo (29.9), who was second among players to play 58 games or more.

Jokic (27.1) was sixth in those standings and eighth for assists (7.9) but second in rebounds (13.8).

Although neither Devin Booker nor Chris Paul did enough to be considered for the MVP, the league-leading Phoenix Suns got plenty of love in other NBA Awards categories.

Monty Williams is up for Coach of the Year, against the Memphis Grizzlies' Taylor Jenkins and the Miami Heat's Erik Spoelstra.

Mikal Bridges is a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, facing the Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart along with three-time winner Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz.

For Sixth Man of the Year, Cam Johnson faces competition from the Heat's Tyler Herro and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love.

Herro is the favourite, though, having scored 20.7 points despite making only 10 starts. Ricky Pierce in 1989-90 (23.0) was the last player to average more points while playing at least 50 games but starting no more than 10.

There is also recognition for the much-improved Cavaliers, with two of Love's team-mates up for awards.

Darius Garland averaged 21.7 points, up from 17.4 a year earlier, and is under consideration for Most Improved Player. His year-on-year improvement ranks 16th among players with 58 or more games.

Dejounte Murray (15.7 to 21.1) of the San Antonio Spurs ranks ninth, while the Grizzlies' Ja Morant only played in 57 games but improved from 19.1 to 27.4, which would have put him third.

Garland's Cavaliers team-mate Evan Mobley is a Rookie of the Year finalist, in competition the Detroit Pistons' first overall pick Cade Cunningham and the Toronto Raptors' Scottie Barnes.

Anthony Edwards scored 36 points in his playoff debut, as the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 130-117 to take home-court advantage.

The second-year player went 12-of-23 from the floor while making all eight attempts from the free-throw line, along with adding six assists, two blocks and a steal. Meanwhile, Karl-Anthony Towns contributed 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 13 rebounds to start his second-ever playoff series.

The Wolves scored a franchise record for points in a first quarter on the way another record for points in a playoff game, shooting an even 50 per cent from the floor.

The Timberwolves, who beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the Play-In tournament to secure the seventh seed, also held a double-digit advantage in rebounding against the Grizz.  

The Grizzlies went cold from the perimeter at 25.9 per cent as a team, and Ja Morant wildly attacking the basket became a regular pattern, going 18-of-20 from the free-throw line on the way to 32 points.

Poole party for Curry's return

Jordan Poole also went off in his playoff debut, scoring 30 points in the Golden State Warriors 123-107 win over the Denver Nuggets.

The 22-year-old showed already characteristic composure, going nine-of-13 from the floor on the way to scoring 30 points, as Stephen Curry started on the bench in his return from injury, 

In his 22 minutes on the floor, Curry's return allowed the Warriors to move the ball and get great looks against the Nuggets, shooting 45.7 per cent from perimeter and creating 35 assists as a team.

Draymond Green's fingerprints were all over the game, coming up with 12 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three blocks in the series-opening win.  

Without Facundo Campazzo as well as Jamal Murray, Will Barton had to carry most of the offensive burden along with MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, with the two combining for 49 of the Nuggets' 107 points.

Maxey makes light work of Raptors

A Tyrese Maxey takeover in the third quarter handed the Philadelphia 76ers a comfortable 131-111 win at home to the Toronto Raptors to open their playoff series.

Maxey scored 21 points and connected on five three-pointers in the third term on his way.to a playoff career-high of 38 points, as fans at the Wells Fargo Center chanted his name. 

The likes of James Harden and MVP candidate Joel Embiid even deferred to him as the Sixers pulled away in the third. Harden provided a little bit of everything offensively though, shooting and distributing well as well as getting to the free-throw line, on the way to 22 points and 14 assists

The Raps simply could not keep up on the back of a poor shooting night from Gary Trent Jr. who went two-of-11 from the floor and losing Scottie Barnes to an ankle injury exacerbated matters.

In just under 32 minutes, the rookie center put up 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.    

Jazz take home-court against the Mavs

Donovan Mitchell took over for the Utah Jazz, who opened the playoffs with a 99-93 victory on the road over the Dallas Mavericks.

The 25-year-old put in a big effort playing just under 42 minutes and despite going 10-of-29 from the floor, scored 30 of his 32 points in the second half.

Also breaking the 40-minute barrier for the Jazz was Bojan Bogdanovic, who added 26 points from 11-of-20 shooting, along with five rebounds and four assists.

Luka Doncic was sorely missed for the Mavs, making their first playoff appearance since their 2011 NBA title, shooting 38.2 per cent from the floor and coming up with 17 assists as a team despite half the turnovers (7-14).

Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie shot a combined 15-of-39 from field goal attempts, while the latter contributed eight of the team's assists.

So here it is. That time of year again where we separate the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, the champions from the... rest.

The NBA playoffs get underway on Saturday with plenty of stories to be written and legacies to be cemented.

Can the Phoenix Suns turn their dominance in the regular season into a championship? Will the Milwaukee Bucks be able to retain their crown? Could someone from the play-in tournament sneak in the back door and go all the way?

These questions and plenty more will keep us glued to our screens as we watch the action unfold over the next two months.

But what of the individual stories? There are plenty of players who have made names for themselves in the business end of the season down the years, with lots of big names who will particularly want to make an impression this time around as well.

Stats Perform has selected five such players to focus on, explaining why they may just have a bit more to prove over the next few weeks than others.

James Harden – Philadelphia 76ers

It may feel slightly like shooting fish in a barrel to start with a player who is known for not being able to get over the line in the postseason, but we are not above easy wins here.

Harden has been to the NBA Finals just once in 12 postseason appearances, and that came 10 years ago with Oklahoma City Thunder.

Strictly speaking, his playoff averages have been impressive. While with the Houston Rockets, he averaged at least 26.3 points per game (PPG) in the playoffs, including an impressive 31.6 in the 2018-19 season.

However, it has more been one-off performances, invariably at crucial moments, that have let him down. This was summarised perfectly last year in Game 7 for the Brooklyn Nets against the Bucks, when he sank only five of 17 field goal attempts.

Now at the Sixers after a huge trade earlier in the season, and with the league's top scorer Joel Embiid on his side, Harden will surely be determined to silence his doubters and reach the second NBA Finals of his career. 

Chris Paul – Phoenix Suns

This is likely the best chance the Suns will ever have to win an NBA championship, and ditto Paul.

An incredible regular season record of 64-18 saw them finish atop the Western Conference with a win percentage of 78.0, almost 10 per cent more than the second-place Memphis Grizzlies (68.3 per cent).

For Paul, this, therefore, is almost certainly his strongest chance to finally win a championship ring, especially having come so close last year.

The 12-time All-Star has the most assists per game in the league this season (10.8), and only Trae Young (737) has more overall assists than his 702, though the Atlanta Hawks star has played 11 more games.

At 36 years of age, Paul will not have many more opportunities, and will want to make this one count.

 

Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks

It has been another memorable season for the young Slovenian, averaging 28.4 PPG as well as 8.7 assists and 9.1 rebounds.

In his two previous playoff campaigns, Doncic has stepped his game up even more, averaging 31.0 PPG in 2019-20 and a remarkable 35.7 PPG last year. However, on both occasions, the Mavericks still could not make it past the first round.

Dallas ended the regular season with a record of 52-30, winning seven of their last eight games, and will go up against the Utah Jazz in the first round, a team they have beaten twice in the last six weeks.

It is not so much that Doncic himself has a point to prove, but he will be looking for more help from his team-mates as he looks to get to the latter stages, where a player of his talent surely belongs.

Tyler Herro – Miami Heat

Another young player who has already put in some strong postseason showings in his short career so far.

Herro impressed in the 2020 playoffs, but last year the Heat were whitewashed by the Bucks in the first round. As the number one seeds in the East this year, all eyes will be on them to do much better.

While Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo will of course be important, Herro could well be the difference-maker.

The 22-year-old point guard has comfortably produced his best regular season so far, averaging 20.7 PPG, as well as 4.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds.

Many expect it to be Miami v Phoenix in a battle of two number one seeds in the Finals this year, in which case Herro will be looking to repeat his second-best scoring performance of the season when he came away with 33 points in the Footprint Center in January's 123-100 win against the Suns.

Ben Simmons – Brooklyn Nets

It has been a nervous wait for Simmons, not just to return to fitness, but to see if he would even have the chance to turn out for the Nets this season.

While it has not been suggested the 25-year-old will return from back problems imminently, it has been reported the Nets are looking to use the player they traded Harden for in February sparingly towards the end of the first round.

Thankfully for him, his team-mates made it through their play-in game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday and so take their place in the playoffs, where they will start off in a fascinating encounter against the Boston Celtics.

Simmons has not played a single minute of basketball this season, not since his notorious performances in last year's postseason with the Sixers that saw him draw the ire of Joel Embiid and coach Doc Rivers.

Although Embiid accused Simmons of wanting to be a star more than wanting to win, that he won't necessarily need to fire from the off could help him, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in excellent form for Brooklyn.

Simmons will want to discover the sort of form he showed in the 2018-19 campaign, when he averaged 16.9 PPG, as well as 7.7 assists and 8.8 rebounds.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant believes Joel Embiid should win this season's NBA MVP award.

The Philadelphia 76ers center and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic are the clear favourites for this season's award, with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the running, too.

Durant, who was the MVP in 2014, pointed to Embiid's scoring when he said he deserved the nod marginally ahead of Denver Nuggets big man Jokic.

"If I had to choose, I would go Joel Embiid," Durant told reporters.

"He led the league in scoring, double-doubles, his team won 50 games this year. His numbers were incredible. It's a great year.

"But you can just close your eyes and just pick any one of the guys out of the top six or seven, and you can have a good MVP this year.

"That shows how great our league is right now and how talented our league is from top to bottom, but I would go with Embiid if I had to choose."

Embiid finished the regular season with the scoring title, averaging 30.6 points per game, along with 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He also had 46 double-doubles.

Jokic was second in the NBA across the regular season for rebounds, averaging 13.8. The Serbian center also contributed 27.1 points and 7.9 assists, with 66 double-doubles and 19 triple-doubles – two league highs.

The 76ers finished with a 51-31 record to claim fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Nuggets were sixth in the West with a 48-34 record.

Durant was also critical of MVP voting, claiming a player's narrative or story too often fed into the results.

"It's unfortunate," Durant said. "There's a lot of players that have been controlled by their narrative.

"Some of it has been because of the player, some of it just has been because of the perception of other people about that player.

"In Joel's case, more people just like Giannis and Jokic. It's as simple as that. They just prefer them more than Embiid's personality or his story, I guess."

Embiid was the runner-up for last season's MVP behind Jokic, with Stephen Curry in third.

Matisse Thybulle is ineligible for the third and fourth games of the Philadelphia 76ers upcoming playoff series with the Toronto Raptors, due to his vaccination status.

Following the Sixers' 118-106 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, Thybulle confirmed he has only received one dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Canada has a Covid-19 vaccine mandate to enter the country and because of Thybulle's vaccination status, he is unable to enter the country and play any playoff games in Toronto.

"I'm not fully vaccinated," Thybulle said post-match. "I made this decision a while ago where this situation I'm facing right now was not a factor.

"It wasn't part of any of the decision making because at the time I would be available for my team and I would be available to play and not restricted in any way to do my job.

"Having had this stance I've had for almost a year now, I just felt like it couldn't be something I could be forced to do because of rules or regulation changes. And it just seemed like the right thing for me just to see it through. And unfortunately, the repercussions of that are going to mean missing games and not being there for my teammates."

The 25-year-old Australian was a member of the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2021 and is third for the 76ers this season in net rating, only behind Joel Embiid and James Harden.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid's 41 points in Saturday's 133-120 win over the Indiana Pacers has ensured he will average 30 points this season and he has already set his sights on his next goal.

Embiid becomes the first center to average 30 points in a season since 1981-82 when Moses Malone averaged 31.1 per game for the Houston Rockets.

The 76ers center's achievement further enhanced his credentials to be this season's MVP but he was already eyeing off Malone's mark.

"Well, that’s the challenge for next year," Embiid joked with reporters after the game. "So, next year, I gotta come out and average more than him.

"But it’s great. Obviously, he's a legend. Especially as a big in this era, it’s been a long time, 40 years it hasn’t been done. That’s something that I think is great.

"I hope guys coming up more, especially bigs coming up, are able to do even more. I think the biggest thing with me is that I feel comfortable with it because I feel like I didn’t force anything. I feel like I just played within the flow of the offense.

"Before we had James (Harden). Obviously, I had a much larger role in the offense whether it was playmaking or scoring and since we added him, I try to share the load which has been great. Great stats and I guess I’m happy about it."

Embiid's 30.4 points per game is a career-best for the 28-year-old, shooting at 49.5 per cent. He is also averaging 11.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists this season.

The All-Star also became the first player this season to have 40 or more points and 20 or more rebounds in a game against the Pacers.

"It's methodical and historical. Whatever the calls you want to put on it, it's what's he's been," 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said.

Embiid sits atop the NBA scoring charts this season, ahead of LeBron James (30.3) and Kevin Durant (30.1) for points per game and Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle added to the plaudits.

"We haven’t seen a guy like this in the history of the league who has this kind of power and skill,” Carlisle said about Embiid.

"He's able to score on all three levels effortlessly. He's an amazing player and it will be interesting to see what teams do in the playoffs to try to slow him down."

The 76ers are fourth in the east but can still finish above the third-placed Boston Celtics pending the final regular-season results.

Philadelphia will face either the Toronto Raptors or Chicago Bulls depending on where they finish but Embiid had no preference.

"I just want to win tomorrow [against the Detroit Pistons]," Embiid said. "I don’t really care who we play. I feel pretty confident about both match-ups."

Joel Embiid made his closing statement for the MVP award and all but wrapped up the NBA scoring title in the Philadelphia 76ers' 133-120 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

Embiid put up monster numbers of 41 points, 20 rebounds and four assists, while going 14-of-17 from the floor and 11-of-15 from the free-throw line. It was the first time this NBA season that a player scored 40 points or more and had 20 or more rebounds in a game.

The 28-year-old is currently the league's scoring leader, averaging an astounding 30.6 points per game, just ahead of LeBron James' 30.3 and Kevin Durant's 30.1 points per game.

James Harden had 22 points and 14 assists for Philadelphia, who had a healthy spread of scorers with Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey both scoring 18 points, and Danny Green adding 15.

The Sixers remain in the hunt for the Eastern Conference's third seed with the win, moving to the same record as the Boston Celtics at 50-31, while the Milwaukee Bucks are second at 51-30.

A win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday combined with a Boston loss to the Memphis Grizzlies would move the Sixers into the third seed.

Morant makes timely return for Grizzlies

Ja Morant returned to action after a nine-game absence on Saturday night, as the Memphis Grizzlies secured a comfortable 141-114 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Morant finished with 21 points off seven-of-14 shooting, along with nine assists and four rebounds, while Jaren Jackson Jr. contributed a solid 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.

The Grizzlies are set to finish second in the Western Conference, to face the winner of the 7-8 matchup in the play-in between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers.

Warriors continue winning run

The Golden State Warriors claimed their fourth consecutive victory despite an off shooting night from Jordan Poole, defeating the San Antonio Spurs on the road 100-94.

With Stephen Curry yet to return from injury and Klay Thompson rested, Poole had to take on more offensive responsibility and went three-of-19 from the floor in win.

A combined 30 points at nine-of-14 shooting off the bench from Jonathan Kuminga and Nemanja Bjelica was able to counteract it, along with 12 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists from Draymond Green.

The Miami Heat clinched the first seed in the Eastern Conference, as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Boston Celtics 127-121 on Thursday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday each scored 29 points in the win, while the former also added 11 rebounds and five assists. Khris Middleton was close to a triple-double with 22 points on nine-of-18 shooting, along with eight rebounds and nine assists.

On the second night of a back-to-back after their win in Chicago, the Celtics rested Jayson Tatum and Al Horford, and only just lost on the road against a fellow contender in the East.

Marcus Smart shot seven-of-12 from beyond the arc and was the Celtics' leading scorer with a season-high 29 points. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown came up with a triple-double of 22 points, a career-high 11 assists, along with 10 rebounds.

With the win, however, the Bucks moved past the Celtics into second spot in the East, effectively clinching home court for Miami in the playoffs.

Raps edge past short-handed Sixers

Pascal Siakam put up a triple-double in the Toronto Raptors' 119-114 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Matisse Thybulle missed the game, raising speculation over whether he is vaccinated against coronavirus, with unvaccinated foreign nationals prohibited from entering Canada.

Siakam's consequent ability to get into the paint counteracted his one-of-seven from the perimeter, putting up 37 points on 14-of-28 shooting, along with 12 assists and 11 rebounds.

Warriors win builds pre-playoff confidence

The Golden State Warriors continued to build momentum without the injured Stephen Curry, securing a 128-112 victory at home to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Having already been eliminated from play-in contention, the Lakers were without LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook. Talen Horton-Tucker scored a career-high 40 points on 15-of-28 shooting.

It was the Dubs' third consecutive win and their last game in the Bay Area before the playoffs, heading on the road to San Antonio and New Orleans to close out the regular season.

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