Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid has passed concussion protocol and there is "optimism" about his participation in Friday's Game 3 against the Miami Heat, according to reports.

Embiid has not played so far in the second-round series, which the 76ers trail 2-0 after a defeat on Wednesday.

Tyrese Maxey did his best to make up for the Cameroonian's absence, scoring 34 points, but Heat center Bam Adebayo (23 points and nine rebounds) enjoyed another big night as Miami secured a 119-103 victory.

The 76ers will look to get on the board in Philadelphia on Friday, but doubts remain around the availability of their MVP candidate, who suffered a facial fracture and concussion against the Toronto Raptors in round one.

Embiid is currently listed as out for Game 3, but according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, he cleared concussion protocol earlier on Friday and also participated in the team's shootaround, with Charania saying there was "optimism" about his chances of featuring in Game 3.

Coach Doc Rivers was unable to offer any assurances on Thursday, telling reporters: "I really don't know [if Embiid can play].

"We talked [on Tuesday], and we talked [on Wednesday]. He looked good, as far as talking... we just have to wait and see."

In the first round against the Raptors, Embiid averaged 26.2 points per game across his six appearances, with 11.3 rebounds per game.

The Philadelphia 76ers still do not know if Joel Embiid will be able to return in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, as he still has "so many steps to go through".

Embiid has not played so far in the second-round series, in which the 76ers now trail 2-0 after another defeat on Wednesday.

Although Tyrese Maxey went off for 34 points, Heat center Bam Adebayo (23 points and nine rebounds) enjoyed another big night in Embiid's absence to inspire a 119-103 win.

The 76ers will hope to get on the board as they head home to Philadelphia, but they may again be without their MVP candidate, who suffered a facial fracture and concussion against the Toronto Raptors in round one.

Coach Doc Rivers could offer no assurances ahead of Game 3, as he told reporters: "I really don't know [if Embiid can play].

"We talked [on Tuesday], and we talked [on Wednesday]. He looked good, as far as talking.

"But he's got so many steps to go through, and I don't think he's cleared any of them right now. So, we just have to wait and see."

Despite the Heat's dominant start, coach Erik Spoelstra remains wary of the series-altering impact of a potential Embiid return.

"It changes dramatically," Spoelstra said. "You're talking about MVP talent, you know? So, we'll just have to see.

"We knew that this series was going to shift, and it was going to change pretty dramatically [if Embiid returns].

"It's better for it to change dramatically when we're able to get a couple wins, but yeah, he changes the equation quite a bit."

The Miami Heat took a commanding 2-0 series lead against the Philadelphia 76ers, comfortably winning 119-103 at home on Wednesday.

The Eastern Conference's first seed were faced with little resistance against a Sixers side without Joel Embiid protecting the paint, shooting 51.3 per cent from the floor and 48.3 per cent from beyond the arc.

Jimmy Butler was transformative on the offensive end for the Heat, finishing with 22 points on eight-of-15 shooting and 12 assists.

Four Heat players - Bam Adebayo, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Tyler Herro - had three assists, while Herro and Victor Oladipo combined for 37 points off the bench on 12-of-21 shooting.

The Sixers kept turnovers relatively low with eight but did not generate great shots either, coming up with 17 assists for the night and connecting on a poor 26.7 per cent of three-point attempts.

Suns secure 2-0 lead over Mavs

The Phoenix Suns assuredly defended home court in their series with the Dallas Mavericks, securing a 129-109 victory.

A dominant second half saw the Suns through in Game 2, scoring 71 points on 29-of-41 shooting against the Mavs' 49 points on 14-of-39 from the floor.

Devin Booker and Chris Paul took over, combining for 41 points on 16-of-21 shooting after the main change. The change in game complexion was all the more distinct with Dallas taking 16 free-throw attempts in comparison to Phoenix's five.

Booker and Paul scored 30 and 28 points respectively for the night, with the latter chipping in eight assists and six rebounds.

Luka Doncic put up 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting along with seven assists, but crucially committed as many turnovers for the Mavs.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers is leaving the door open for Joel Embiid's return to the court, following Monday's series-opening defeat to the Miami Heat, but stopped short of giving "false hope".

The MVP candidate missed Philadelphia's 106-92 defeat in Game 1 against the Heat due to a right facial fracture, after he was hit by Pascal Siakam as they closed the series out against the Toronto Raptors last Thursday.

Embiid has been ruled out for Game 2 on Wednesday, with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reporting he could be back as soon as Game 3 when the series switches to Philadelphia.

With that in mind, Rivers tried to temper expectations but cited progress in Embiid's recovery.

"I know he did something yesterday, but not much, and I know he's feeling a better," Rivers said on Tuesday.

"I don't want to give false hope either. So I'll just stop there."

After winning the scoring title in the regular season, Embiid averaged 26.2 points on 52 per cent shooting and 11.3 rebounds in the series against the Raptors.

 

The Phoenix Suns were at their offensive best in their 121-114 Game 1 win against the Dallas Mavericks.

Led by center Deandre Ayton, who had 19 of his 25 points in the first half, the Suns scored 35 in the first quarter and 34 in the second to lead 69-56 at the long break.

The only thing keeping the Mavericks in the game was superstar Luka Doncic, who had 26 first-half points on his way to 45 on 15-of-30 shooting, while grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing eight assists.

Dallas' defense was much improved after half-time, but they struggled to cut into the lead as Devin Booker kept things ticking on his way to 23 points, with some cold shooting late bringing his figures to seven-of-20 from the field with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Cameron Johnson also chipped in with a playoff career-high 17 points off the bench in 24 productive minutes.

With a 16-point lead heading into the last frame, the Suns moved their perfect record to 51-0 this season when leading after three quarters, with only some too-little, too-late shot-making cutting the final margin to a respectable deficit.

Dallas will need much more out of guard Jalen Brunson on the attacking end to keep up with the powerful Suns offense as this series moves forward, finishing six-of-16 from the field for his 13 points, with eight of those points coming in the last quarter when the game was essentially decided.

76ers go cold against Heat

A dominant second half saw the Miami Heat pull away for a 106-92 Game 1 home victory against the Philadelphia 76ers.

It was a great start for the Heat, jumping out to a 25-11 lead, but a strong Philly fightback in the second quarter gave the road team a 51-50 advantage heading into half-time as James Harden put through his 12th point.

Harden would only score four points in the second half, which was indicative of how it went for the 76ers as the Heat raised their defense to another level in the third period.

Miami outscored the visitors 56-41 after half-time, as Tyler Herro led the way with 25 points off the bench on nine-of-17 shooting, adding seven assists.

It was also a strong scoring game for Bam Adebayo, who shot eight-for-10 for his 24 points, with 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Tobias Harris was the shining light for the 76ers, battling hard on both ends to finish with 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting, and was a big reason for Jimmy Butler's poor performance, which saw the Heat star not play a minute in the fourth quarter.

On a night where star Jimmy Butler did not have his best showing, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was full of praise for his supporting cast in their 106-92 Game 1 win against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Butler finished five-of-16 from the field for his 15 points, and did not play at all in the fourth quarter as the Heat extended their lead without him.

Young duo Bam Adebayo (24 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) and Tyler Herro (25 points and seven assists) picked up the slack, while P.J. Tucker grinded out 29 tough minutes for 10 points and seven rebounds while spending long stretches on Philadelphia's James Harden.

Speaking with post-game media, Spoelstra said he was not shaken by the 76ers leading at half-time, and he knew Herro's next big performance was just around the corner.

"First of all, 48-minute games are long, and they're a very good team, even without Embiid," he said. "You get a double-digit lead in this league, and in the playoffs, they can disappear like that.

"I think it was just a matter of time before [Herro] was going to get into his rhythm. He's a great player, and he's so skilled. 

"It is just a matter of time, and sometimes you miss shots, [but] I thought in the Atlanta series he was playing good basketball. He just wasn't making some of the shots we're used to seeing him make, then everyone jumps to conclusions about that – but he was playing winning basketball.

"The plays in between – they weren't necessarily play-calls – but it was the plays in between that he was able to be super efficient in. He's a big-time 'X-factor' for us offensively when he's in that rhythm."

Spoelstra then shifted his attention to his starting big-men.

"Those inspiring offensive rebounds, and extra possessions, and extra efforts kind of ignited the whole team," he said. "That was P.J. [Tucker] and Bam [Adebayo] – both of those guys were terrific.

"Defensively we really picked up the intensity, but we did it with a bit more thought and discipline. 

"On both ends of the court, [Adebayo] was so critical. In that second half, whether it was zone or man [defence], he was able to find those open gaps in the paint.

"It wasn't as if we were running specific plays for him, it was just his activity, and his relentlessness, and his assertiveness. Our guys were finding him in the paint, and when the ball was up there he was going after it.

"You can't put an analytic to it – I literally don't know what [Tucker's] stats were – but he has those momentum-shifting plays. These timely, winning plays – and he has a way of doing things that just inspires your whole team. 

"[Tucker] was tremendous on both ends of the court, and that's what winning basketball is meant to look like. He's our best communicator… and he's such an underrated, high-IQ offensive player."

The Heat looked to figure out their opponents in the second half, outscoring the 76ers 56-41 over the last two quarters, but Spoelstra said he knows there is a long series ahead, with plenty of adjustments coming from both sides.

"Doc [Rivers] is a great coach, a brilliant mind," he said. "He'll come up with something, and we'll try to make our adjustments. 

"Even without Embiid, they have some great firepower. Harden creates a lot of things you have to be ultra on-edge about, Maxey has just continued to improve, and Harris was killing us tonight."

Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry will miss the start of the team's Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Philadelphia 76ers as he continues to battle a hamstring injury.

The 36-year-old has been on the sidelines since suffering the injury during game three of the quarter-final series win over the Atlanta Hawks on April 22, as the Heat chase a first NBA championship since 2012-13.

Lowry was listed as an absence for Monday's game one in a social media update from the Heat, and though coach Erik Spoelstra says the six-time NBA all star is making good progress in his recovery, he remains unsure as to when he will return.

"I'm not even going [on] any kind of timetable," Spoelstra said after Sunday's practice. "I know he's doing more. Gym has been great. Everybody's been able to do something and to prepare for the series."

Lowry claimed his one NBA championship to date with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, and has impressed for the top-seeded Heat since joining the franchise last year.

Meanwhile, the team listed Jimmy Butler as questionable after he sat out the final game of their series win over the Hawks with a knee injury, although the 32-year-old said he was confident he would be ready to return to face the Sixers after Saturday's practice.

"We've had so many different rotations and line-ups during the course of the year that we've been forced to stay in the present moment," he added.

"And we have great care and empathy for the guys that have missed time, but we just have to totally lock into who's available. Everybody else is ready to go, and we have a big challenge.

"This is a series that could potentially change, both sides, three or four times. It could feel totally different by the middle of it, so that's why you can exhaust yourself with all the different hypotheticals. 

"We basically know, both teams, who's going to play game one, and that's the way it should be. You shouldn't be thinking about game two, game three, game four, anything past that. Just embrace the competition and what's ahead."

The Heat also have doubts over Markieff Morris, Caleb Martin, Max Strus, P. J. Tucker, and Tyler Herro ahead of their semi-final series.

The Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler expects to be fit for the start of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against Philadelphia 76ers on Monday after recovering from a knee injury.

Butler sat out the Heat's Game 5 win over the Atlanta Hawks as the team secured their first semi-finals appearance since 2019-20, when they went on to lose the NBA finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The six-time NBA all-star impressed in the first four games of the first-round series, becoming just the third player in franchise history – after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade – to post 45 points, five rebounds and five assists in a playoff match in Game 2, but missed out on the series-clinching win.

However, the 32-year-old is confident he will return for the top-seeded Heat's opening clash with the 76ers.

"It's all right," Butler said of his knee after Saturday's practice. "We got another day in between. Get out there, rip and ride.

"I know it will be ready to hold up come Monday, but the time off has been great for myself and so many other guys that are nicked up. Everybody's ready to compete."

Guard Kyle Lowry, who also missed out on the Heat's last outing, was also able to do "a little bit more" on Saturday, coach Erik Spoelstra revealed.

Butler said he would be disappointed to see former team-mate Joel Embiid miss out for the 76ers after he suffered a mild concussion and orbital fracture against the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.

"I feel bad for my guy," Butler added. "Obviously, one of my former team-mates, arguably the MVP of this league, and I think I speak for everybody that's a part of this team, we want Jo to play.

"We want to go up against them at full strength and prove that we can hang with anybody and we can beat anybody. 

"It's a mishap. I hope he recovers well and gets back very, very soon."

Butler, who spent part of the 2018-19 season with the Sixers, said Embiid would get his vote for MVP after the 28-year-old averaged 30.6 points per game across the regular season – the highest figure in the NBA.

"I'm not an analytics guy, obviously," he added. "But I was told that they're a much better team defensively whenever he's on the floor, as they should be. I would guess offensively as well. 

"And he makes the right plays as well - but he's been doing this a long time in this league, [I'm] damn sure has been this year. 

"He would get my vote for MVP. It's going to be a challenge, but they beat us once without him."

Narratives are being readied all over the place to make this season's NBA playoffs potentially one of the most exciting of recent times.

The first round may not have provided quite as much drama as hoped, with none of the eight clashes going to a Game 7, but looking at the contests in prospect in the Conference semi-finals, we should not be far away from some.

The top four seeds in both Conferences ultimately made it through, though that's not to say some were not given a bit of a fright, and the semis were set after the Memphis Grizzlies eventually put away the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday in Game 6.

There are stories to be written when it comes to the star players in the league, though, with some excelling as they look lead their team to glory, while others are struggling to stay on the court and off the injured list.

This leads us into some potentially fascinating encounters in the final eight, and Stats Perform has taken a look at what we can expect over the next two weeks.

Eastern Conference

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks

Frankly, these two should be perfectly fresh heading into this one.

The Celtics whitewashed the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, barely breaking a sweat in the process, while the Bucks dropped just one game in overcoming a depleted Chicago Bulls.

Jayson Tatum has unsurprisingly been the star so far for Boston in the postseason, averaging 29.5 points per game, including 39 in Game 3, as well as averaging 7.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Equally unsurprisingly, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been leading the way for the defending NBA champions, averaging 28.6 points per game from five postseason outings so far for the Bucks, as well as 6.2 assists and 13.4 rebounds.

The continued absence of Khris Middleton will be a blow for Mike Budenholzer, with the swingman still recovering from a knee injury suffered in the first round, and reports suggesting he will miss the entirety of this round as well.

These two beat each other twice during the regular season, with the Bucks getting the final win just over three weeks ago at Fiserv Forum, so it promises to be a much tighter affair than either experienced in round one.

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers

The number one seeds in the East were barely inconvenienced by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, with the Heat winning 4-1.

Jimmy Butler is bringing it in the playoffs so far, averaging 30.5 points, with an additional 5.3 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game. He missed Game 5 against the Hawks with a knee inflammation, but it is hoped he will return for Game 1 against his former team.

Kyle Lowry's participation is more of a question mark, with the 36-year-old missing since suffering a hamstring injury in Game 3.

There is an arguably worse injury situation in Philadelphia, though, with Joel Embiid out "indefinitely" with a right orbital fracture and mild concussion. The Cameroonian was averaging 26.2 points across the 4-2 first round win over the Toronto Raptors.

Despite playing with an injured thumb, Embiid was dominant as the Sixers took out Game 6, putting up 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor and nine-of-10 from the free-throw line, as well as adding 10 rebounds and three blocks, but it is unclear when he will play a part in this round.

Tyrese Maxey, along with James Harden, will need to step up even more in the absence of Embiid if the Sixers are to dump out the top seeds.

Like the Celtics and the Bucks, these two traded two wins apiece in the regular-season meetings, with the Sixers winning 113-106 at Wells Fargo Center in March without Embiid, with Maxey top-scoring with 28 points.

 

Western Conference

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies

Despite the best efforts of Nikola Jokic, the Warriors strolled past the Denver Nuggets 4-1 in the first round, but can expect a sterner test here from the Grizzlies.

Stephen Curry is on his game, averaging 28 points across those five outings, although only 3.8 three-pointers per game so far, being outshone in that metric by team-mate Klay Thompson, who has averaged 4.4.

Curry and Thompson combined to great effect in Game 5 against the Nuggets, scoring 33 and 32 points respectively.

Memphis probably struggled more than they thought they would against the Timberwolves, securing a 4-2 win in the end but being made to work for it.

Ja Morant recorded 30 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and three steals in Game 5. Only five players in the last 35 seasons have recorded such a stat line in a playoff game, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Morant himself.

Morant has continued his great form, but Desmond Bane is also shining in the postseason, with the top average point score for the Grizzlies of 23.5, and 4.5 three-pointers made per game.

The Grizzlies could have a psychological edge in this contest, having won all of their last three meetings in the regular season, with the 28-point difference in the 123-95 win at FedExForum in late March the largest defeat of the Warriors' season.

Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks

Although ultimately through with a game to spare, it was surprising to see the Suns struggle as much as they did against the eighth-seed New Orleans Pelicans.

The outstanding Suns, who won 64 regular-season games, eventually prevailed 4-2 against the Pelicans, who by comparison won just 36 in the regular season, but that is what the playoffs bring, the threat of upsets.

Monty Williams and his team will have hardly been panicking, though, even when they were tied at 2-2 after Game 4, with a Chris Paul-inspired win in New Orleans in Game 6 sealing their passage through.

Having Devin Booker back is a big boost for West's number one seeds, with the 25-year-old returning from a hamstring injury for Game 6 that ruled him out of Games 3-5, having registered a combined 56 points in Games 1 and 2.

The Mavericks made it through the first round for the first time since they won the championship in 2011, seeing off the Utah Jazz 4-2, in a series that was also previously tied at 2-2.

It was made all the more impressive considering Luka Doncic could only play in three games, though still averaging 29.0 points in those he did, as well as 5.7 assists and 10.7 rebounds.

That meant someone else stepping up, and that someone else was Jalen Brunson, who scored 41 in Game 2 and a further 31 in Game 3, averaging 27.8 across the six games.

Dallas will need to do something about their record against Phoenix, though, having lost their last nine meetings with them, including three this season. The Mavs have not recorded a win against the Suns since November 2019.

Joel Embiid will be out of action for an indefinite period of time after a stray Pascal Siakam elbow fractured the Philadelphia 76ers center's orbital bone.

As well as the fracture, Embiid also suffered a mild concussion, meaning he will miss a minimum of five days as he works his way through the NBA's concussion protocol.

Embiid suffered a similar injury in 2018, which was diagnosed as a facial fracture. In that instance, the team opted to get him into surgery straight away, leading to a three-week absence.

It is reportedly undecided whether the MVP candidate will get surgery, with specialists trying to determine the severity of the injury and the different courses of action that can be taken.

Embiid has also been playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb, which he plans to have surgery on once the 76ers' season finishes.

A source of frustration for 76ers fans is the fact that the injury was sustained with less than four minutes to go, as they led by 29 points, with pundits such as Jalen Rose calling it a coaching failure by Doc Rivers to still have his stars in that game.

Philadelphia's Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Miami Heat begins on Monday night in South Beach, with Embiid almost guaranteed to be unavailable for Game 1.

MVP candidate Joel Embiid says the Philadelphia 76ers put in a much better effort as they defeated the Toronto Raptors 132-97 and advanced to second round of the playoffs on Thursday.

Despite playing with an injured thumb, Embiid was dominant as the Sixers took out Game 6, putting up 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor and nine-of-10 from the free-throw line, as well as adding 10 rebounds and three blocks.

The Sixers looked vulnerable after dropping two opportunities to clinch the series in Games 4 and 5, and with one possession in it on Toronto's home floor on Thursday, that feeling intensified.

Doc Rivers' side took over in the third quarter however, outscoring the Raps 37-17, with Embiid providing particular energy and coming up with two timely steals.

“We had a great practice yesterday and we needed that,” Embiid said post-game. “It was a blessing in disguise to lose those two games, because that wasn’t us.

"We didn’t play the way we wanted to. We were extremely sloppy. Tonight we wanted to come in here and play with more intensity.

"Especially me. I was really bad last game, defensively. I wanted to play with a lot of energy and be physical.”

Tyrese Maxey was dominant on the scoring end as the Sixers blew out the game and secured the series, putting up 15 of his 25 points in that third quarter.

The 21-year-old guard said post-game that Embiid provided inspiration.

“Whether we get hit in the mouth we get back up and keep fighting, and that’s what we did tonight,” Maxey said.

“Joel [Embiid] told me on the plane on the way up here, ‘We lose if we don’t be aggressive’, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Philadelphia will now face the Miami Heat for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Phoenix Suns booked their spot in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, securing the series with a 115-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Devin Booker's return from injury gave Chris Paul more room to attack, and Paul obliged with the best shooting night in NBA playoff history.

He went a perfect 14-of-14 from the floor on the way to a game-high 33 points, making the most field goals without a miss in a single playoff game.

The Suns did not have it easy though, with Booker's three-pointer putting the Suns ahead at 106-104 with 1:42 remaining. A CJ McCollum turnover on the next possession effectively secured the Suns the series.

The Pels were up 10 at the half, but foul trouble for McCollum, Herbert Jones and Jose Alvarado made lineups and finding consequent balance complicated for first-year head coach Willie Green.

Sixers snap up Raptors

The Philadelphia 76ers will face the Miami Heat in the second round after they defeated the Toronto Raptors 132-97 in Game 6 of their series.

Joel Embiid and James Harden ultimately stepped up when required, combining for 55 points off 19-of-30 shooting. Embiid added 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals while Harden masterfully distributed the ball with 15 assists and committed just three turnovers.

The Raptors had a brutal third quarter with their season on the line, going five-of-19 from the floor for 17 points, before Pascal Siakam eventually fouled out with 24 points.

Jazz miss chance to extend season

The Utah Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs, with the Dallas Mavericks winning Game 6 98-96 and progressing to the second round.

With 4.3 seconds remaining on the clock, Bojan Bogdanovic got the ideal look to win the game from a drawn-up play off an inbound. Spencer Dinwiddie scrambled and bought the initial pump-fake, but Bogdanovic could not convert the open look, ending the Jazz's season.

Luka Doncic was everywhere for the Mavs however, coming up with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, as well as two steals and blocks.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers hit back at reporters on Wednesday, defending his playoff resume from the insinuation that he is responsible for some memorable collapses.

The 76ers are a team under pressure against the Toronto Raptors in their first round series, as they strive to avoid the dubious honour of becoming the first team to ever blow a 3-0 series lead.

After controlling the first three fixtures, the 76ers fell by eight points in Game 4, and 15 points in Game 5 as star Joel Embiid battles a thumb injury that will likely require surgery once Philadelphia's season is over.

Rivers, who won the 2008 NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics, pushed back when questioned about his reputation in the playoffs.

"Well, it's easy to use me as an example," he said "But I wish y'all would tell the whole story with me. All right?

"My Orlando team [in 2003] was the eighth seed. No one gives me credit for getting up against the [Detroit] Pistons, who won the title. 

"That was an eighth seed. I want you to go back and look at that roster. I dare you to go back and look at that roster. And you would say, 'What a hell of a coaching job.' Really.

"I mean, the Clipper team [in 2015] that we lost 3-1, Chris Paul didn't play the first two games, and was playing on one leg, and we didn't have home court. 

"And then the last one [when the Clippers lost to the Denver Nuggets in 2020], to me, is the one we blew. That's the one I took. We blew that. 

"And that was in the bubble. And anything can happen in the bubble. There's no home court. Game 7 would have been in LA."

After highlighting his most famous playoff shortcomings, Rivers insisted it is not a theme, and sometimes it is just the way the cookie crumbles.

"But, it just happens," he said. "So I would say with me... some of it is, I gotta do better, always.

"I always take my own responsibility. And then some of it is, circumstances happen. This one, let's win it, and we don't have to talk about it.

"Being up 3-0, especially 3-0, I would say that [teams feel differently].

"A lot of teams don't win those games. The Celtics are the only one that won that game [in the first round of this year's playoffs]. Everyone else lost that game.

"From a coaching standpoint, you hate that, because you feel like, 'Let's just take care of it.' Then you get to Game 5 the other night, and [Toronto] played better. 

"We didn't play well. We didn't play with a sense of urgency. So clearly now, I think both teams have kind of served notice and both teams have the other team's attention.

"If you don't have that, then we're all in trouble."

The Boston Celtics have emerged as the favourites to make it through the Eastern Conference after a 116-112 win against the Brooklyn Nets confirmed a 4-0 series sweep.

In what was billed as arguably the most competitive first round series in recent memory, the Celtics were simply too good on the defensive end to let the frightening Nets offense find any rhythm or flow.

Boston's Jayson Tatum scored a team-high 29 points on nine-of-16 shooting (four-of-six from distance) before getting fouled out late in the fourth quarter, while Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart showed his offensive skills with 20 points and 11 assists.

Grant Williams did a superb job for the Celtics, coming off the bench to hit four of his six three point attempts, while also playing smothering defense on Kevin Durant and swatting away three shots.

Despite Williams' best efforts, Durant was still a force offensively, scoring a game-high 39 points on 13-of-31 shooting while adding nine assists and seven rebounds in 47 minutes.

Kyrie Irving played 45 minutes, and finished with a respectable line of 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, but he went missing for long stretches of the must-win game. Irving attempted just 13 shots, which was the same number as Seth Curry, who outscored him with 23 points.

An early storyline in the game, and ultimately one of the deciding factors, was Brooklyn's reserve center Nic Claxton missing the first 10 free throws he attempted, finishing the game one-for-11.

Raptors make things interesting

The Toronto Raptors refuse to lay down against the Philadelphia 76ers, winning Game 5 103-88 on the road to pull the series back to 3-2, with Game 6 heading back to Canada.

Toronto trailed 3-0 after three games, but have won back-to-back fixtures with their season on the line to put the pressure back on Philadelphia.

Game 5 was won on the defensive end, as the Raptors took control of the contest with a 25-14 second quarter.

Toronto forced 16 Philadelphia turnovers while only committing nine themselves, and they held the home side to 38 per cent shooting (31-of-81), with the visitors shooting 51 per cent (42-of-82).

With Fred VanVleet out of action, Pascal Siakam assumed point guard duties for Toronto, finishing with 23 points (10-of-17 shooting) with 10 rebounds and seven assists, while Precious Achiuwa added 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes off the bench.

Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes showed his talent in his return to the starting line up, scoring 12 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing four assists and snatching a game-high three steals.

For the 76ers, Joel Embiid was kept quiet by his standards with 20 points and 11 rebounds from just 15 field goal attempts as the Raptors consistently double-teamed him and forced Philadelphia's role players to hit shots.

James Harden was disappointing, with just 15 points and seven assists to go with five turnovers.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit.

 

Dallas' defense hits new heights

The last game of the night was also the least competitive, as the Dallas Mavericks flashed some unbelievable defensive upside in a 102-77 win against the Utah Jazz.

Prior to the game, Utah's lowest score of the season was a 124-90 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in March, with the 77-point figure being their lowest score since November 2018 – in a 118-68 loss to the Mavericks.

Dallas now leads the series 3-2, with Game 6 to be played in Utah, and while the Mavs' defense stole the show, Luka Doncic was the best player on the floor.

Doncic had 33 points (11-of-22 shooting) in 33 minutes, with 13 rebounds and five assists, while partner-in-crime Jalen Brunson chipped in with 24 points on nine-of-20 shooting with four assists and just one turnover.

Utah only scored more than 19 points in one quarter – the last, when the game was sealed – as the Mavericks won the first three frames by margins of 24-18, 28-18 and 29-19.

It was the lowest-scoring game of Donovan Mitchell's playoff career, finishing with just nine points on four-of-15 shooting. Of Mitchell's four career playoff games with 12 points or fewer, this was the first since April 2019.

Joel Embiid has been fined $15,000 for being critical of the officials in the Philadelphia 76ers' playoff defeat to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday.

The Sixers still lead 3-1 in the series, but were unable to secure their passage to the Eastern Conference semi-finals at Scotiabank Arena.

It was not a great night for Embiid, who scored more than 30 points in both Game 2 and 3 of the series, but only managed 21 in Game 4, hitting seven of 16 field goal attempts.

Embiid was not happy with several calls from the officials in the game, and spoke to reporters after the 110-102 loss, saying: "I'm going to take my own advice and not complain about it.

"If they want to give fouls or want to call really no fouls, we've got to really make them earn it and really be physical."

A statement from the league via the NBA Communications Twitter page on Monday confirmed that Embiid had been fined for his comments.

"Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, President, League Operations," the statement read.

"Embiid made his remarks to the media following the 76ers' 110-102 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series on April 23 at Scotiabank Arena." 

The MVP contender has been suffering with a torn thumb ligament, but Sixers coach Doc Rivers has insisted it will not impact his availability in the playoffs.

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