Phoenix Suns veteran Chris Paul is refusing to talk about a drought-breaking NBA Finals appearance despite his side taking a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference finals on Saturday.

The Suns won 84-80 over the Los Angeles Clippers to move within one victory of the franchise's first Finals appearance since 1993.

Paul, 36, debuted in the NBA in 2005 and is an 11-time All Star yet has never played in an NBA Finals series either.

"Not til the job is done. We can talk about all that then but right now it's laser focus," Paul said during the post-game news conference.

"Three wins don’t win a series. We did what we came to do. We got one of these [road wins]. We've got to stay focused. We need one more [win]."

Paul has played in 12 NBA playoffs series, coming closest to the NBA Finals in 2017-18 Conference finals with the Houston Rockets having been 3-2 up.

When asked about previously falling short, Paul added: "Everything happens for a reason. Don't dwell on things. I'm here now, excited about this opportunity. All I can worry about right now is Game 5."

Paul finished with 18 points but hit several last-quarter free-throws to ice the game after Devin Booker fouled out.

"It was crazy when I went to the free-throw line, I thought about my son," he said. "I talk to my son all the time about the importance of shooting free-throws. He's really getting into basketball.

"I seriously went to the free-throw line, I thought 'how the hell am I going to tell him to stay poised, if I don't'."

Paul, who missed both Game 1 and 2 after entering into the NBA's health and safety protocol, said he was excited to play at home for the first time in the series on Monday.

"I didn’t get a chance to feel that energy in Game 1 and 2," he said. "I was at the crib with my family. I'm excited to go back to Phoenix."

The Phoenix Suns have claimed a hard-fought road win to go 3-1 up in the Western Conference finals with an 84-80 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

DeAndre Ayton was dominant in the paint with 19 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks as the Suns triumphed, leading the whole way but having to withstand a late Clippers challenge.

Devin Booker, who took his protective face mask off in the second half, led all scorers for Phoenix with 25 points but fouled out with 1:05 to go, leaving veteran guard Chris Paul (18 points and seven assists) to finish the job with a series of late free throws.

The Clippers, once again without the injured Kawhi Leonard, got within one point in the final quarter, including with 13.2 seconds to go, but never took the lead.

The result means Phoenix are one win away from qualifying for their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993. It would also be the first Finals appearance for 11-time All-Star Paul.

Phoenix had led by 14 points at half-time, but the Clippers stormed back into the game with a 30-19 third quarter.

Paul George fought hard for the Clippers with 23 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, while Reggie Jackson scored 20 points. Ivica Zubac was admirable with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

But the Clippers struggled from beyond the arc, shooting five from 31 (16.1 per cent), with Jackson hitting two-of-nine from three-point range, while George made one-from-nine.

The Suns did not fare much better from range, with Booker missing all five three-point attempts and Paul all three.

Phoenix's 84 points was the fewest in a win this season, regular or postseason.

The series returns to Phoenix on Monday, with the Suns chasing a close-out win.

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard will miss his sixth consecutive game after being ruled out of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

Leonard has endured an injury-hit NBA playoff campaign, having not played since suffering a sprained right knee in Game 4 of the Conference semi-finals against the Utah Jazz.

The Clippers will again be without Leonard when they host the second-seeded Phoenix Suns on Saturday, looking to level the matchup at 2-2.

In this season's playoffs, two-time NBA champion Leonard has been averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists for the fourth-seeded Clippers.

The Clippers trail the Suns 2-1 in the series following Thursday's 106-92 win at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Paul George led the way with 27 points and 15 rebounds as the Clippers celebrated their first ever victory in the Western Conference Finals.

Entering the contest following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

Devin Booker refused to blame his broken nose for an ugly showing in the Phoenix Suns' Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The second-seeded Suns had stormed into a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals but saw that advantage cut in half with a 106-92 loss in LA on Thursday.

It was a tough outing for Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

That disjointed display came in the wake of Booker having been subjected to some painful treatment to put his nose back in place, but he did not want to use that as an excuse.

"The nose feels fine," Booker, who wore a face mask during the game, said in quotes reported by ESPN. "We just lost the game."

Booker had to undergo a quick fix before the Suns flew in to LA from Phoenix and it was not a pleasurable experience for the shooting guard.

"That was probably the worst part," he said.

"It's a procedure that they usually say they put you under [anaesthesia] for, but we had a flight out a couple hours later, so they just numbed it up all over the place, it felt like.

"Like eight shots to numb it up and then they go in there and put it back, they break it again. They break it back in place."

Despite the defeat, Booker is confident the Suns will put things right in the next game.

"The spirit is high," Booker said. "We move on to the next one. That's what type of team we are. We've been like that the whole season, so we'll stick with that.

"We'll come in tomorrow, go over film, regroup and get ready for Game 4."

Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol to post 15 points and 12 assists.

Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists.

Paul George hailed the toughness of the Los Angeles Clippers as they celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

Making their first foray into the Conference Finals, the Clippers slumped to a 2-0 deficit against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

With Kawhi Leonard still sidelined by a knee injury, George took centre stage as he recorded a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period.

"This team is tough," George told ESPN. "We do whatever it takes. We trust one another. We've got each other's backs, and we just play hard.

"If you're going to beat us, it's just got to be one of those nights if you beat us. I think we've just got great resilience.

"Ty Lue just does a great job making adjustments, counters. We come out and we play hard.

"We put so much into this season, we've invested so much in each other, and we're going to live with the results.

"We'll be ready for Game 4."

Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

The starting team, which featured George, Jackson, Zubac, Patrick Beverley and Terance Mann, was Lue's fifth change of line-up across the previous eight games, with the coach reaping the rewards of earning his players' trust.

"It means a lot just for those guys to trust me, to understand that whatever I'm doing is the best for the team, not for me," said Lue.

"I just want to win. Making adjustments, sometimes it's tough, because adjustments mean some guys can't play, some guys play more, and you've got to be able to accept that."

Paul George dominated as the Los Angeles Clippers celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

Featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the Clippers found themselves in a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

Even in the ongoing absence of superstar Kawhi Leonard (knee), George picked up the slack with a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period – to lift the Clippers and help reduce the series deficit to 2-1.

Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol and posted 15 points and 12 assists.

Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists in the losing effort.

It was a tough outing for star team-mate Devin Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

 

Hawks at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will look to bounce back against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday. Trae Young and the Hawks claimed the opener in Milwaukee.

Chris Paul has cleared the NBA's health and safety protocols and is available to lead the Phoenix Suns on the road to former team the Los Angeles Clippers.

As the Suns waited to learn the identity of their Western Conference Finals opponents, a COVID-19 complication saw veteran point guard Paul sidelined.

The Clippers rallied past the Utah Jazz but quickly fell 2-0 down to Phoenix even with Paul out of the lineup.

Against the Jazz, the Clippers became the first team in playoff history to recover from 2-0 behind in two series in the same postseason campaign, having also recovered against the Dallas Mavericks.

But a third straight such success seems highly unlikely as Kawhi Leonard remains out with a knee issue, and Paul's return only adds to their woes.

The 36-year-old spent six seasons in LA and is widely considered among the Clippers' greatest ever players.

In the regular season, Paul has the most assists in Clippers history (4,023), ranks sixth for points (7,674) and eighth for minutes (13,885).

 

With 15.7 points, 8.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game in the playoffs, Paul boosts the Suns, although Cam Payne has filled in admirably in his absence.

Payne, who had one Phoenix start across the regular season and postseason prior to this series, was outstanding in Game 2.

He set career highs in points (29), field goals made (12) and field-goal attempts (24).

Payne's 29 points were the most ever in the playoffs by a Suns player who averaged fewer than 10 points per game during the regular season (8.4).

Even with Paul back, Payne likely has a role to play as Phoenix pursue a 10th straight victory. Ten other teams have won nine or more in a row in the playoffs and six went on to claim the title.

While his overall numbers were far from terrible, Paul George's performance in the 2019-20 playoffs was not what he or the Los Angeles Clippers envisioned when they paired him with Kawhi Leonard.

This postseason has provided an ample opportunity for atonement and George has mostly answered the call to push the Clippers into uncharted territory.

There are parts of the previous playoff campaign that clearly George would rather forget, namely his outings in Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. After scoring 27 points on 10-of-22 shooting in a series-opening victory, George averaged just 11.3 points on 10-of-47 shooting (21.3 percent) from the field, including 4 of 25 from 3-point range, in the next three games as Dallas knotted the series at two games apiece.

In the process, George made some unwanted history as he became the first player in NBA history to shoot under 25 percent from the floor in three consecutive playoff games since Bob Cousy in 1960 (minimum of 10 attempts in each game).

The former Fresno State product bounced back by scoring 35 points on 12-of-18 shooting in a Game 5 win against Dallas, but that is easily forgotten because the Clippers squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the semi-finals. George averaged 23.7 points on 46.5 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds in the first six games of that series, yet that was overshadowed by his dismal 10-point, 4-of-16 shooting display and five turnovers in a Game 7 loss.

This postseason did not get off to a great start for the Clippers, who lost the first two games at home to the Mavericks before George, Leonard and company rebounded to win the next two games in Dallas.

That series came down to Game 7 in Los Angeles and George had 22 points and 10 assists in a 126-111 victory. There were not eye-popping numbers in that first-round series for George, but he scored at least 20 points in each game, a trend he has continued in every postseason contest in 2020-21.

 

George's streak of 15 consecutive games with at least 20 points is the longest in the league this season, and only Kevin Durant (21 straight in 2018) has a longer such run since 2017-18.

George really elevated his play in the second-round win over the top-seeded Utah Jazz, averaging 29 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists in six games. After Los Angeles again found itself in an 0-2 hole, George delivered 31.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists while connecting on 15 of 34 from long range in the Clippers' run of four straight wins.

He may have had the best playoff game of his career in a pivotal Game 5 win on the road with Leonard sidelined due to a knee injury, tallying 37 points, 16 boards and five assists. It was the first-ever 35-15-5 postseason game by a Clipper and George joined Durant as the only two players this postseason to have at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a game.

George also became just the fourth player in franchise history with three straight 30-point playoff games, along with Bob McAdoo (9), Leonard (5) and Elton Brand (4). George's seven 30-point postseason games since joining the Clippers are tied with Blake Griffin for third most in franchise history, trailing McAdoo (14) and Leonard (12).

The Clippers advanced to the franchise's first-ever Western Conference Finals by overcoming a 25-point deficit in Game 6, the largest comeback by any team to clinch a series in the last 25 seasons. Teams were 2-265 in the 2020-21 regular season when trailing by 25 or more. With that comeback, Los Angeles became the first team to erase an 0-2 deficit twice in one postseason.

That's a hole the Clippers will have to climb out again after a wild 104-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 on Tuesday. George shook off a slow start to score 10 fourth-quarter points and finished with 26, but he missed two free throws with eight seconds left and the Suns capitalised, Deandre Ayton's final-second alley-oop dunk securing a stunning win. It was the franchise-record ninth straight victory in the playoffs for Phoenix, a team which is finding ways to win even without floor leader Chris Paul.

It was an extremely disheartening loss for the Clippers, who overcame terrific games from Cameron Payne and Ayton to have a golden opportunity to steal a road win despite trailing most of the night.

George has done his part to keep the Clippers afloat in Leonard's absence, averaging 30 points in the first two games of this series. However, he is 20 for 49 from the field, did not make a 3-pointer in Game 2 until 2:41 remaining and those two missed free throws ended up proving to be extremely costly, especially coming from a career 85 per cent shooter from the line.

Fatigue certainly played a role for George, who has played at least 40 minutes three times in the past four games, including a 45-plus minute stint in Game 6 against the Jazz. Still, those misses could end up haunting George and the Clippers unless he and his teammates can render them meaningless going forward.

It would be foolish to think Los Angeles is not capable of still winning this series after it survived this scenario twice already. Still, overcoming the Suns will be a tall task since Leonard was still healthy when they lost the first two games to both Dallas and Utah.

While it is unclear if Leonard will return, Paul is expected to return from the league's health and safety protocols soon, perhaps as early as Game 3.

The Phoenix Suns have listed Chris Paul as "probable" for Game 3 of their Western Conference Finals series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, while Kawhi Leonard has been ruled out.

Paul has missed the opening two games of the Conference Finals series, which the second-seeded Suns claimed in Arizona, having been placed in the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Suns star Paul, 36, entered the protocols last Wednesday and is understood to be asymptomatic, having previously tested positive for coronavirus.

Paul has averaged 15.7 points, 8.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game this postseason.

Meanwhile, the Clippers confirmed star forward Kawhi Leonard will not play in Game 3 due to a sprained right knee sustained on June 14.

Leonard will miss his fifth consecutive game because of the injury.

In the Western Conference semi-finals, the Clippers won both Game 5 and 6 against top seeds the Utah Jazz without Leonard after suffering the injury late in Game 4.

Leonard has averaged 30.4 points, 4.4 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game in this season's NBA playoffs.

Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue urged his team to "take care of business" by capitalising on home-court advantage as they seek to overturn a 2-0 deficit to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.

Deandre Ayton's dunk with less than one second to play gave the Suns a stunning 104-103 victory on Tuesday, leaving the Clippers to play catch-up.

Ayton caught a lobbed inbounds pass from Jae Crowder over the rim and slammed it home to seal the triumph, with Paul George failing to get off a buzzer-beating shot as the Clippers endured an agonising loss.

However, Lue refused to be downbeat as he was left to lament fine margins, with the Clippers coach now looking to put things right back in LA on Thursday.

"We fought well, we played well," said Lue.

"We had a chance to win the game. They won a tip-in and now we've got to go home and take care of business.

"They won two games on their home floor. We understand that. We've been in this position before, even though we hate it.

"Like I said, our guys fought and competed, but they made a big play at the end."

The initial reaction to Deandre Ayton's remarkable last-second dunk that gave the Phoenix Suns a 104-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday was disbelief, even from the man who made the shot. 

But Devin Booker knew Jae Crowder's inbounds lob to Booker that led to the game-winning basket with 0.7 seconds left was legal. 

He had seen Phoenix execute a similar play against the Memphis Grizzlies with 0.6 seconds remaining in a regular-season game in December 2017. 

"I think it's something that a lot of people don't know," Booker said. "Even talking to [the Clippers' Rajon] Rondo at half court after the game, he was like, 'It don't count,' and I was like, 'I've seen this movie before. It counts.'

"It's an incredible play, incredible execution on all ends, but Jae Crowder, that's a tough pass."

For his part in the drama, Ayton said he was just following instructions.

"I just trust my team-mates and my coaches," said the 22-year-old. "I just listened to what they told me to do and Jae made a great pass and I just finished. 

"I'm glad it counted. I didn't even know it counted. I wanted to hold in my celebration but my team-mates told me it counted and we just wanted to finish the game off strong." 

The Suns needed to defend one final attempt by the Clippers, and did so when Paul George could not get off a shot after a long inbounds pass. 

Now Phoenix will take a 2-0 series lead to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Thursday. 

"Hats off to the Clippers, they're a tough team, but once we stay together and we do what we have to do, we're a real strong unit, and that's what we did today," Ayton said. 

Deandre Ayton's dunk with less than one second to play gave the Phoenix Suns a stunning 104-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. 

Ayton was the Suns' most reliable player throughout a back-and-forth affair and came up huge in the end, soaring to catch an inbounds pass from Jae Crowder over the rim and slam it home for the final margin. 

After the last in a series of lengthy video reviews in the final two minutes, the officials put 0.7 seconds on the clock for the Clippers, but Paul George could not get off a shot before the buzzer expired. 

With the Suns missing team leader Chris Paul due to COVID-19 protocols and their star Devin Booker having a difficult night, it was Ayton who came up huge Tuesday. 

The big man scored 12 points in the first quarter on the way to a 24-point night on 12-of-15 shooting in addition to grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds. 

On a night that saw Booker make only five of 16 shots from the field and turn the ball over seven times, Paul's replacement Cam Payne was a huge factor for Phoenix. 

Payne, whose previous career playoff scoring high was 19 points, scored 29 in 37 minutes on a memorable night in Phoenix. 

The Clippers were also missing a star as Kawhi Leonard sat out a fourth consecutive game with a knee injury, and George could not lift Los Angeles to victory by himself. 

The veteran led the Clippers with 26 points but made just 10 of 23 shots and missed two critical free throws in the closing seconds to give the Suns a chance to win it. 

The series shifts to Los Angeles on Thursday with the Clippers looking to bounce back at home. 

The Los Angeles Clippers will again be without superstar Kawhi Leonard for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals due to a sprained right knee.

Leonard sat out the series-opening loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, having suffered a knee injury in Game 4 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

Clippers forward Leonard will now miss his fourth consecutive game – Tuesday's NBA playoff clash with the Suns in Phoenix, head coach Tyronn Lue confirmed.

"He just stays engaged," Lue said on Monday. "He likes to know the adjustments we're going to make. He likes to know the game plan so when he watches the game, he can understand what we're doing good and doing bad, and let the coaches know, let the players know.

"He's very engaged. Even though he's back home rehabbing, he's still locked in and tuned in."

On keeping Leonard involved while sidelined, Lue added: "Just being able to hold guys accountable, talking to guys, talking to the players, what we need to do better on what he sees. If he knows the game plan, then he can definitely do that.

"So he's talked to the guys every day, as well, not just the coaching staff. He's very engaged and that's what you need from your players. He's locked in and still in tune."

In this season's playoffs, two-time NBA champion Leonard has been averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists for the fourth-seeded Clippers.

The matchups are set for the NBA's Conference Finals – and few would have predicted these four teams would still be in the running at the start of the year.

In the East, the Brooklyn Nets' superstars fell to the Milwaukee Bucks while the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Philadelphia 76ers.

Western Conference leaders the Utah Jazz became the latest team to give up a lead to the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Clippers on Sunday lost Game 1 of their series with the Phoenix Suns, who had been resting since sweeping the Denver Nuggets.

So, which big names were key to deciding these unpredictable battles? Stats Perform takes a look in the latest edition of NBA Heat Check...
 

RUNNING HOT...

Paul George

Clippers superstar George understandably took a lot of criticism for his playoff performances last season, when he shot 39.8 per cent from the field and scored 10 points or fewer as many times as he reached 30.

But just as Kawhi Leonard went down against the Jazz with a knee injury, for which he has no return date, George found his scoring touch again.

Across four straight wins over Utah – three were last week – George contributed 31, 31, 37 and 28 points. His 37, along with 16 rebounds, came on the road in Game 5, putting the Clippers up for the first time in the series while Leonard sat out.

Even as a surely tired LA team lost to Phoenix on Sunday, George kept them in contention with 34 points to end the week averaging 32.5 per outing, as well as 9.5 rebounds (up from 23.3 and 6.7 respectively in the regular season).

Khris Middleton

Middleton is another impressive regular season performer who has been scrutinised for his postseason displays – and far more recently than last season.

Across the first five games of the Nets series, the wildly inconsistent Bucks forward shot 38.1 per cent from the field. He had 35 points and 15 rebounds in Game 3 but had gone six-for-23 in Game 1, making none of his five three-point attempts.

Yet Middleton's 38 points won Game 6, as he and Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as the only team-mates in NBA history to each have 30 points and 10 rebounds in the same game twice in the same playoff campaign.

With a key role again in the series decider, Middleton became the first player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in consecutive postseason games since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

Devin Booker

Booker played just once last week but put in a performance that cannot go unmentioned. Without veteran Chris Paul to help him, the sixth-year guard weighed in with a 40-point triple-double against the Clippers (also 13 rebounds and 11 assists).

Only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age in the playoffs than the 24-year-old, while Steve Nash – another Hall of Famer – was the previous Suns player to score a postseason triple of any kind back in 2005.

Kevin Durant

Another player whose contributions must be highlighted, even with his team now out of the playoffs, is Durant. With 43.0 points per game last week, he showed the greatest improvement in the league from his regular season performances – up 16.1 on 26.9.

His 12.3 rebounds per game put the two-time Finals MVP second in improvement in that regard, too, but it was not quite enough.

A toe on the three-point line meant Durant's late leveller in Game 7 against the Bucks was not a game-winner, before the Nets lost in overtime despite his 48 points – one short of a heroic Game 5 tally and two shy of his career postseason best.
 

GOING COLD...

James Harden

That Durant was asked to do so much was due to injuries to both the other members of Brooklyn's 'Big Three'. Kyrie Irving did not play after Game 4 against the Bucks due to an ankle sprain, while Harden returned in Game 5 after missing the previous three.

To anyone watching, though, it was clear Harden was not healthy.

One of the league's great scorers, he made one of 10 field goals in his first game back, with five points in 45 minutes. Harden had never previously scored as few as five in half an hour of play or more.

His form did improve slightly with returns of 16 and 22 points, but Milwaukee won both, with Harden shooting 29.4 per cent from the field as he proved more of a hindrance than a help to Durant with their season on the line.

Ben Simmons

When Harden moved to Brooklyn, Philadelphia was seen as the potential alternative destination, although that would likely have meant the 76ers reluctantly giving up Simmons. After the defeat to Atlanta, Simmons may now leave regardless.

An outstanding defender, the guard's offense has long been a concern and so it proved again as he averaged 7.5 points last week, significantly down on his modest regular season (14.3).

Simmons made single figures in three straight games, twice shooting only four times from the field despite being on the floor for 38 and 35 minutes respectively.

His eight-point effort on Wednesday included going four-of-14 when shooting from the foul line.

Rudy Gobert

This is the first time since 1994 that both top seeds have failed to make the Conference Finals. The Jazz, just like the Sixers, needed more from their second star.

Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year but looked a liability as the Clippers went small in Game 6, when his plus/minus was a dismal -24.

The Frenchman's output was down in all three defeats last week as he averaged 9.3 rebounds per game, having put up 13.5 in the regular season.

The Philadelphia 76ers' crashed out of the NBA playoffs amid a chorus of boos after the top seeds were sensationally upstaged by the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Back on home court for the series decider, the 76ers were tipped to close out the matchup at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, but the fifth-seeded Hawks had other ideas following a stunning 103-96 victory.

Despite Trae Young's off night (21 points on just five-for-23 shooting), the Hawks still managed to conquer Joel Embiid and the 76ers thanks to unheralded guard Kevin Huerter.

Huerter had a team-high 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists as the Hawks returned to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2015, setting up a showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was a topsy-turvy battle in Philadelphia, where the 76ers trailed 76-71 at the start of the fourth quarter before rallying to lead by as many as four points in the final period.

However, the Hawks refused to surrender and pounced on the sloppy 76ers, who finished with 17 turnovers en route to bowing out of the postseason.

Double-doubles from MVP runner-up Embiid (31 points and 11 rebounds) and Tobias Harris (24 points and 14 rebounds) were not enough for the 76ers, with Ben Simmons (five points, 13 assists and eight rebounds) the subject of boos in his home arena after attempting just four shots throughout.

With Atlanta's victory, it is the first time since 1994 both number one seeds in the playoffs failed to make the Conference Finals after the Utah Jazz were ousted by the Los Angeles Clippers, according to Stats Perform.

Earlier in the day, the Phoenix Suns were 120-114 winners over the Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Devin Booker recorded his first career triple-double, posting 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for the second-seeded Suns in the absence of Chris Paul (COVID-19 health and safety protocols).

Booker – in the midst of his maiden NBA playoffs campaign – became the first Suns player to register a triple-double in the postseason since Hall of Famer Steve Nash in 2005.

The 24-year-old also became the third youngest player in NBA history to record a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs – only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age.

The Clippers – featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in their history – were without star Kawhi Leonard for a third consecutive game due to a knee injury.

Paul George (34 points) and Reggie Jackson (24 points) tried to inspire the fourth seeds on the road in the series opener.

 

Clippers at Suns

After a day off, the playoffs resume with the Suns hosting the Clippers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.

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