It was a dominant showing by the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, closing out their series with a 116-100 win against the Chicago Bulls, taking the series 4-1.

The Bulls had their backs up against the wall, and their plight was made even tougher when star Zach LaVine and defensive ace Alex Caruso were ruled out due to health and safety protocols.

By the end of the first quarter, Milwaukee led 34-18, and they went on to also win the second and third quarters to hold a lead of at least 20 points throughou

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks, scoring 33 points on 11-of-15 shooting, also going 11-of-14 from the free throw line.

Jrue Holiday was solid in his point guard duties, dishing nine assists to go with his 10 points and five rebounds, while Bobby Portis was a force inside, scoring 14 points and snatching down 17 rebounds.

For the Bulls, DeMar DeRozan was disappointing in a must-win clash, finishing with just 10 points and seven assists, while only attempting 10 field goal attempts in 42 minutes.

Intriguing second-year forward Patrick Williams led Chicago in scoring with 23 points on nine-of-13 shooting, going four-of-seven from long range, while Nikola Vucevic had 19 points, 16 rebounds and six assists.

The Bucks will now take on the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, with Game 1 set to take place this weekend.

Warriors roll past Nuggets with new starting-five

The Golden State Warriors had to fight back against the Denver Nuggets, closing out the series 4-1 with a 102-98 win while sporting a new-look starting five.

Stephen Curry made his first start since he was eased back from a foot injury, joined by both Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson.

The Dubs left it late though, cutting away at an eight-point deficit from the last change, before a Gary Payton II triple gave them the eventual lead with seven minutes remaining

Golden State will now take on the winner between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves, where the Grizzlies lead 3-2.

 

The Chicago Bulls supporters booing Grayson Allen no longer bothers the Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard, who propelled his side to a 3-1 playoff series lead on Sunday.

Allen fell out of favour with the Chicago faithful after his flagrant foul on guard Alex Caruso during a game in January resulted in a two-month absence for the Bulls star.

The 26-year-old, formerly of Duke, has since been greeted with boos at any opportunity as the Bucks hit the road for the playoffs in Chicago, but that has been music to Allen's ears.

He set a career-high in the playoffs in Game 3 when he scored 22 in a 111-81 triumph at the United Center, before surpassing that the following game with 27 points, including six three-pointers, in a 119-95 victory.

Allen is 18 of 24 from the field and 11 for 14 on three-pointers over the past two games, but it is the playful jeers from his own Bucks bench that has made the hostile atmosphere easier for him.

"They have so much fun doing it," he told reporters of his team-mate's decision to boo him in practice, the team hotel or film sessions.

"I think it's honestly hilarious. They've kind of turned it into a fun thing. It makes hearing it out there during the game a lot easier too because they think it's so funny.

"It's not naturally comfortable for me. I am to the point now, anytime I go out and play basketball, I just remind myself to go out and have fun with this.

"My personality is naturally uncomfortable with the attention, the booing, the heckling. It's not something I feed off of. I'm not going out searching for it."

Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo is also enjoying his team-mate thriving under the pressure and playfully suggested the Bucks fans may have to try a new way of motivating Allen.

"He's played amazing, maybe we got to boo him even more," Antetokounmpo said. "Maybe Milwaukee fans, we got to boo him ... nah, we're not going to do that."

Meanwhile, guard Jrue Holiday added: "When we booed him during the game, and he really started hooping, I think we just stuck with it."

Allen also became the first Bucks player to score 25 points and knock down six 3s in a playoff game and first Milwaukee player with at least 25 points off the bench since Tim Thomas in 2003, according to ESPN.

And Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was delighted to see Allen step up in the absence of Khris Middleton, who will miss the rest of this first-round series after sustaining an injury to his left knee.

"He's kind of quiet, but confident," Budenholzer said of Allen. "I think this is a confident group, a group that sees a player that can help them and appreciates his competitiveness.

"He's just quiet, no bull****, and comes to play. I think our guys gravitate towards that type of mentality. It's certainly been a good fit."

It was not just his Milwaukee colleagues showering Allen with praise either, Bulls guard Zach LaVine was also quick to credit his opponent.

"You got to give [Allen] credit," LaVine said. "He's hitting shots. Obviously, we know what happened [with the Caruso injury]. At the end of the day, it's basketball too. We understand it. But it's not like we're going out there saying, 'That guy can't beat us.'

"The Milwaukee Bucks can't beat us and he's part of their team. Them as a whole is beating us right now. You can't just account for him. It's everybody."

Chicago have lost six straight home playoff games since beating Cleveland in Game 3 of the 2015 Eastern Conference semi-finals, losing that series in six. The Bulls will look to make amends in Game 5 on the road on Wednesday as they aim to keep the playoff series alive.

Trae Young hit a dramatic game-winner with less than five seconds remaining in the Atlanta Hawks' 111-110 home win against the Miami Heat.

The win is the Hawks' first of the series, keeping things alive at 2-1 with Game 4 remaining in Atlanta, while Kyle Lowry may be missing for the Heat after leaving Friday's game with a hamstring complaint.

Momentum switched hands throughout the contest, with Atlanta putting up 39 points in the second quarter to lead 61-54 at half-time, before the Heat came out on fire in the third, winning the frame 31-16 to take an eight-point lead into the last.

Miami extended their lead to 94-80 with 9:06 to play in the fourth quarter, when Bogdan Bogdanovic and Onyeka Okongwu began to drag the home side back into the game.

Bogdanovic hit a trio of three-pointers in less than three minutes, while Okongwu had seven points down the stretch and was the Hawks' primary defensive presence on the interior, more than holding his own against Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.

But after a P.J. Tucker three-ball put the Heat up 110-109 with 54 seconds to play, only one man was going to have the final say for the Hawks.

When Butler missed a jump shot with 12 seconds left, the Hawks opted not to call a time-out, letting Young make his way up the court quickly, weaving his way into the lane for one of his trusty floaters, getting the friendly home-rim roll.

He finished with 24 points on six-of-14 shooting, also dishing nine assists. Bogdanovic had 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and De'Andre Hunter scored 17, including some important buckets when the Hawks were sputtering.

Butler's desperation three on the buzzer fell short, but he played well, scoring 20 (eight-of-20 shooting) with 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Tyler Herro led the Heat in scoring with 24 off the bench and Max Strus had 20, hitting five-of-10 from three-point range.

Paul, Ayton carry Phoenix

The duo of Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton led the top-seeded Phoenix Suns to a crucial Game 3 114-111 win against the New Orleans Pelicans to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

With Devin Booker absent for at least this game and the next, Paul had to take on a greater offensive burden than usual, but he did it in style, racking up 14 assists and scoring 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting.

He needed someone to get hot with him, and Ayton rose to the occasion, scoring 28 points on 13-of-20 shooting and grabbing 17 rebounds, with three steals and a block. The performance demonstrated the ability to be an offensive focal point that was envisioned when he was selected number one overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.

It was far from smooth sailing for the Suns, as the Pelicans kept it close throughout, and even poked their head in front at 93-92 with less than six minutes to play.

But the Suns as has been the story of the Suns' season, they have been the best clutch team in the NBA, and once again showed why. Paul's surgical precision on the offensive end, and a sea of swarming length and physicality on the defensive end, was too much for a young Pelicans team that played three rookies in the fourth quarter (Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III and Jose Alvarado).

Brandon Ingram had 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting in a strong performance for New Orleans, and C.J. McCollum also contributed 30 points (11-of-23 shooting), but no other Pelican could score more than a dozen.

Bucks cruise without Middleton

The Milwaukee Bucks were shot out of a cannon and never allowed the Chicago Bulls a foothold into the game, winning 111-81 to take a 2-1 series lead.

With extended minutes due to Khris Middleton's knee injury, Grayson Allen set the tone to close the first quarter, scoring three consecutive three-pointers in just 62 seconds on his way to a game-high tally of 22 points.

With 1:15 to play in the first half, the Bucks opened up their lead to 60-37 as they dominated both ends of the floor.

Giannis Antetokounmpo only needed to play 29 minutes before getting an early rest, scoring 18 points (seven-of-12 shooting) with seven rebounds and nine assists, and the Bucks were plus 36 during his time on the floor.

After only playing six minutes in the Game 2 loss, Bobby Portis made his case for his playoff value with 18 points and 16 rebounds, hitting four of his eight three-point attempts.

Three-time All-Star Khris Middleton will miss the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks' first-round series against the Chicago Bulls after spraining a ligament in his left knee.

Middleton, 30, averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game this season, but has been diagnosed with a sprained MCL after coming down awkwardly in the fourth quarter of Game 2 against the Bulls.

The scoring forward played a key role in the Bucks' championship last season, increasing his averages to 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists while playing over 40 minutes per contest during the 2020-21 postseason.

In the 16 games Middleton has missed this season, the Bucks are 7-9, going 3-5 on the road. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo has played in nine games this season without his All-Star teammate, and has scored 26.6 points per game at 49 per cent shooting – both down from his full-season averages of 29.9 points at 55 per cent.

However, in the one game this season between the Bucks and Bulls where Middleton was absent, Milwaukee dominated 126-98, as Jrue Holiday picked up the slack with 27 points and seven assists.

According to the Bucks, Middleton will be re-assessed in two weeks.

The series is locked at 1-1 after two games, and heads to Chicago for Game 3 and Game 4.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says being without Khris Middleton for any length of time would be a "tremendous loss" for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Middleton sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the fourth quarter of the Bucks' 114-110 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

Head coach Mike Budenholzer confirmed Middleton will undergo an MRI scan on Thursday to determine his status for the rest of the first-round playoff series, which is level at 1-1.

At the very least, the 30-year-old faces a race against time to be ready for Game 3 on Friday, and Antetokounmpo acknowledged that would be a huge blow for his side.

"We need this guy. When he asks for a sub, you know that it's bothering him because he doesn't leave the game," Antetokounmpo said.

"You expect him to get up and walk it off and get back to the game, but you see he was limping and limping and you're thinking like, 'Oh, I hope it's not bad, I hope it's not bad."

Middleton had scored 18 points and provided eight assists before leaving the game and has averaged 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists this season.

He averaged at least 21.5 points in the past four playoff series and had 24 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in the NBA Finals.

"We have a job to do here," Antetokounmpo added. "Khris is one of the best players on the team, if he's not able to be with us, it's going to be a tremendous loss for us."

Antetokounmpo led the scoring for the Bucks with 33 points, but that was not enough as the Bulls – inspired by 41-point DeMar DeRozan – levelled up the series.

The Bucks also lost Bobby Portis in the first quarter after being caught in the face by an elbow from Tristan Thompson, but Budenholzer is optimistic he can make a swift return.

"We anticipate he should be fine with some time and that he should be good," Budenholzer said.

DeRozan's career playoff-high scoring return ensured the Bulls beat the third-seeded Bucks for just a second time in 19 meetings.

"No matter what you did in the regular season, this is a brand new start and new mindset," DeRozan said. 

"You could see it in all the guys. It doesn't matter if we'd lost 20 times to those guys. This is an opportunity for us to compete. We've got to take advantage of it."

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.

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.

Jayson Tatum's buzzer-beating layup gave the Boston Celtics a dramatic 115-114 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in their series opener on Sunday.

Tatum scored 16 of his 31 points in the second half, along with adding eight assists, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. His final two points came in the frenetic final seconds, cutting towards the basket off Kevin Durant for Marcus Smart, spinning past Kyrie Irving and finishing with as time expired.

Smart particularly showed poise, forcing the closeout from Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton before dishing, along with adding 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

While Irving scored a game-high 39 points for the Nets, Durant put up 23 points but went nine-of-24 from the floor, including some open, trailing looks in transition. One miss at 102-98 would have made it a three-possession game in Brooklyn's favour midway through the fourth quarter, but a miss leading to a Jaylen Brown dunk brought it back to one.

It was also at that point where Boston were zero-for-seven for the quarter from the floor, and momentum suddenly shifted.

Giannis yields Bucks win in opener

Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 26 points and 17 rebounds as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Chicago Bulls 93-86.

The defending NBA champions blew a 16-point lead, but recovered with a Jrue Holiday triple that triggered an 8-0 run.

The Bulls still had their chances, with Zach LaVine missing a game-tying three-pointer with 29 seconds remaining in what was a rough shooting night. LaVine and DeMar DeRozan shot a combined 12-of-44 as the team connected on only 32.3 per cent of field goal attempts.

Red-hot Robinson gives Heat opening victory

Duncan Robinson set a franchise playoff record with eight three-pointers in a catch-and-shoot clinic, leading the Miami Heat to a 115-91 win against the Atlanta Hawks in their series opener.

Robinson scored 27 points on nine-of-10 shooting for the Eastern Conference's first seed, who had three players see over 20 minutes of game time off the bench.

Trae Young had his worst-ever shooting night for the Hawks, making one field goal out of 12 attempts, as well as committing six turnovers.

CP3 takes over for Suns

Chris Paul scored 19 points in a brilliant fourth quarter, as the Phoenix Suns secured a 110-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

As the Pelicans cut a 23-point deficit to single digits to two possessions, the Suns needed the 36-year-old, who eventually finish with 30 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals.

Despite 25 points from CJ McCollum, the Pelicans finished with the unusual statistic of a better three-point field goal percentage (39.1) than total field goal percentage (37.9).

There will be plenty to play for when the Boston Celtics arrive at Fiserv Forum to take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Heading into the game, the Celtics (50-30) occupy the Eastern Conference two seed, while the Bucks (49-30) are a half-game back in third, holding the tie-breaker over the Philadelphia 76ers (49-30) in fourth.

Since the All-Star break, no team has a better winning percentage than the Celtics (16-4), while Milwaukee are fifth over that period (13-6); but while the reigning champion Bucks find their feet, Boston have gone to a new level.

For the season, the Celtics are number one in defensive efficiency, as new head coach Ime Udoka's switching system has maximised the physical gifts of defensive stalwarts Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III.

At this point, Boston's defense is a given, but post-All-Star break, they have also had the number one offense in the league, and are putting a gap on the rest of the field. Over that time period, the closest team to Boston's 122.2 points per 100 possessions have been the Minnesota Timberwolves, 2.7 points per 100 possessions behind at 119.5.

For context, that 2.7-point gap is greater than the 2.6-point margin between the Timberwolves and the 11th-placed 76ers (116.9) for the same period, and Boston's 12.9 net-rating since All-Star weekend is a number generally reserved for some of the greatest regular season teams in league history.

However, the team right behind the Timberwolves on the list, in third place, are the Bucks, and it is no hot streak as they boast the fifth-best offensive efficiency over the whole year.

These teams are both serious contenders to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals – but they go about it in very different ways.

Primarily, that has a lot to do with the Celtics' switching defensive system.

The Celtics 'switch' screens – meaning instead of fighting over or under the screening player to recover back to your assignment, the player guarding the screener takes on the assignment of guarding the ball-handler, while the ball-handler's defender takes responsibility for the screener and his next movements.

The Bucks, on the other hand, play 'drop coverage', which means their on-ball defender tries to force the ball-handler on a predictable path around the screen, while the screener's defender peels off into a help position, with the aim of forcing the ball-handler to pull up for a mid-range shot with their defender contesting from behind.

Both systems are formed on sound logic. In switching schemes, the idea is to eliminate as much dribble penetration as possible by keeping the ball-handler in front on the perimeter, while trusting the smaller guard to be able to deny the screener an easy catch in the paint.

Drop coverage, on the other hand, forces teams to consistently attempt mid-range jump shots, which are statistically the least valuable shot in the game.

In theory, Boston's switching defense should perform well against Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the Bucks' two-time MVP thrives at attacking the rim, while Milwaukee should be able to bait Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown into mid-range jump shots that can go cold for extended stretches.

But the numbers show it may not be that simple.

Boston allow the second-fewest amount of points in the paint per game, and while Antetokounmpo lives at the rim, the Bucks actually come in last in the league with their percentage of points scored in the paint.

While that may indicate that the Celtics' defense is playing right into how the Bucks like to play, Boston also allow the second-lowest three-point percentage in the league.

It poses an interesting question about Boston – is their defense truly so good that teams can not score inside the key or from long range, or is their defense the top-ranked in the league because their opponents just keep missing threes?

Opposing three-point percentage can be a messy stat due to general shooting luck, and Boston allow opponents to get up a league-average amount of attempts, so if they are due for some regression to the mean, it means they are due to be on the wrong end of some hot shooting nights.

Boston's defense also allows the lowest amount of opposition assists per game, but Milwaukee are third-last in assist percentage, so how much are the Bucks actually trying to do the things the Celtics are built to stop?

Milwaukee play at the fifth-highest pace in the league, while Boston play at the fifth-lowest – all signs point to the fact that something has to give, and whoever can play the game at their tempo may just hold the keys.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Boston Celtics – Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart is not the best scorer on the Celtics, or the best ball-handler, but he excels in the areas that have made this Boston team great during the second half of this season.

He is the bookmakers' favourite to win Defensive Player of the Year due to his ability to switch off of point guards and bang bodies down low against the bigs, unlocking the true upside of a switching system as post players regularly fail to take advantage of their significant height advantage.

The Bucks are a big team, so for the Celtics defense to rise to the occasion once again against a true contender, Smart will need to hang with Jrue Holiday on the perimeter, as well as keep Antetokounmpo out of the lane.

 

Milwaukee Bucks – Brook Lopez

Antetokounmpo is Milwaukee's best and most valuable player. However, the centrepiece of the Bucks' drop coverage is Brook Lopez.

Lopez will be the biggest player, with the longest arms, for either team, and Milwaukee's entire defensive scheme will revolve around forcing players to take and make shots over his outstretched arms.

He also has the size, and the underrated post game, to make life miserable for whichever undersized guard gets caught in screening actions and needs to switch onto the seven-footer.

Smart will be able to hold up if he establishes good early position, but if the Bucks can get Derrick White or Payton Pritchard involved in the switch, it could be a long night inside for Boston's defense.

 

KEY BATTLES – Who can get the most 'easy' points?

In a game that will likely resemble a playoff atmosphere, the winning team may simply be the side who make life easiest on themselves.

Fast-break points and free throws limit the amount of possessions a team needs to grind their way through a set half-court defense, and provide the easiest avenues to uncontested points.

Milwaukee rank as the eighth-best team at getting to the free-throw line, and fourth-best at denying their opposition free throws, while Boston are 21st at getting to the line.

As mentioned, Boston like to play at a methodical pace, ranking 20th in fast-break points, while Milwaukee have the fifth-best transition defense in the league.

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD

These two sides have met three times this season – all before the All-Star break.

Boston won the first two home fixtures – including an overtime win where Dennis Schroeder scored a game-high 38 points, before being traded to the Houston Rockets – while Milwaukee won the last meeting, and the only one at Fiserv Forum, 117-113.

The Miami Heat moved a step closer to claiming the Eastern Conference's first seed with a 114-109 win on the road against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.

Kyle Lowry put up 16 points and 10 assists in an emotional return to the Air Canada Centre against his old team, while Victor Oladipo scored a season-high 21 points.

Lowry had not played in Toronto since February 2020, when he was still a member of the Raptors, weeks before that season was shut down and moved to a bubble due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Heat had a healthy spread of scorers as Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo scored 18 and 16 points respectively, on the way to winning their fourth consecutive game.

Miami remain two games clear of the Boston Celtics atop the standings in the East, while both teams have only three games remaining in the regular season.

Toronto now hold an equal record with the fifth-placed Chicago Bulls, but the Bulls hold the tiebreaker. However, they remain 2.5 games clear of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in spots.

Bucks no match for Luka magic 

Luka Doncic was unstoppable as his Dallas Mavericks defeated the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks 118-112.

Doncic had 32 points on nine-of-22 shooting, as well as 15 assists, eight rebounds and three steals in a game that saw both coaches cut their rotation down to nine players and extend the minutes of their stars.

Giannis Antetokounmpo top-scored for the Bucks with 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting, but was a costly 50 per cent from the free throw line, going four-of-eight.

Clippers clinch play-in double chance 

The Los Angeles Clippers secured eighth spot in the Western Conference on Sunday, defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 119-100.

Marcus Morris made four three-pointers on the way to 22 points, while the Clippers went 21-of-44 from total beyond the arc and connected on all eight attempts in the first quarter.

The Clips guaranteed the double chance in the play-in with the win, meaning if they lose to the seventh seed, they would face the winner between the ninth and 10th seed for an eventual play-off spot.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant vented his frustration over perceived dirty play by the Milwaukee Bucks in Thursday's defeat but begrudgingly acknowledged they did an effective job on him.

Durant missed a three-point shot on the buzzer that would have given his Nets the win, but they ultimately went down 120-119 in overtime.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 44 points (14-of-21 shooting) for the Bucks to go with 14 rebounds and six assists, while Jrue Holiday finished with a game-high six steals.

The hotly contested matchup between two teams that played out a seven-game series in last year's playoffs featured a contentious moment late in overtime as Durant was fouled on a three-point attempt by Wesley Matthews, which was reviewed as a potential flagrant.

Speaking to post-game media, Durant made a point of it being the second time in as many games that he feels he was targeted with a dangerous foul.

"We all thought that was reckless, right?" Durant asked the media in attendance.

"I think technically, I have to be in the air and come down on his foot, and that's the flagrant… but as soon as I hit the floor, here he comes running at my leg.

"It wasn't a [basketball play] – I thought it was supposed to be a flagrant. But I didn't make the correct play to get a flagrant, I was supposed to still be in the air while he's underneath me.

"I'm hurting. That's two games in a row where players have walked up underneath me while I'm trying to make a basketball play, so my ankle hurts."

After discussion moved to the game itself, Durant got frustrated when a reporter asked if the reason the Nets lost this game had anything to do with chemistry, a subject often brought up in reference to Durant's close friend Kyrie Irving.

"It was just basketball mistakes – we're not going to play a perfect basketball game," he said.

"It always sucks when you lose, and you tend to think back on the mistakes that you made, but we try to play mistake-free basketball – everyone in this league does.

"Giannis [Antetokounmpo] had eight turnovers, Jrue [Holiday] had six. They had 14 turnovers between their two best players – I'm sure they don't want that either, but that's just the game.

"They hit one more shot than we did. I don't think it's because of a lack of chemistry, or we didn't play hard. It's just one of those games that didn't fall our way at the end."

Durant then paid some respect to the reigning champions and gave some details about the way the Bucks defended against him.

"They did a good job – they know [who I am], they know what it is," he said.

"If I get the ball out top, I'm seeing the whole team looking at me. Kyrie got the same treatment.

"Brook Lopez, he's played against me in the playoffs before. This team knows how to prepare for me.

"If I get a drive, if I get a lane, I'm hearing guys coming over to help, and they're calling for more help. It's only going to make me better as a player to see those looks.

"We shot the ball pretty well [as a team] – I think that's because we were making the right plays."

When asked if his sore ankle could force him to miss any games, Durant said no chance.

"No, I'm good," he said. "It's a little sore, you know how it goes."

Giannis Antetokounmpo saved some veiled censure for James Harden, as he surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the Milwaukee Bucks' all-time leading scorer on Thursday.

With 44 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a big 120-119 overtime win against Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets.

Drilling a step-back three to tie the game at the end of regulation, the 27-year-old broke the Bucks franchise record in the process.

Responding to prior criticism from James Harden that he only "runs and dunks" as a consequence of his height and mobility, the Greek forward was evidently pleased to have broken the record with elite skill on the step-back triple.

"I did not know about it, but it's good," he said post-game. "It's good because I'm changing the narrative. You know, I don't want to be the guy that only dunks and runs. I can make a three," Antetokounmpo said.

For the two-time MVP, his priorities remain based in team success.

"It doesn't really matter, because at the end of the day, if you don't have a successful season and if you don't try to keep getting better, and staying humble, and staying hungry to play all the way until May and June, nobody is going to remember this," Antetokounmpo added.

"So I just want to stay humble, I want us to stay humble. I feel like the more humble I get, and the more hungry I stay, the more things I can accomplish, the more art I can create... I just gotta keep staying humble, make my teammates great, win games, and good things like tonight are going to happen."

After a hard-fought seven-game series in last year's NBA playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets added another chapter to their recent rivalry with an overtime thriller.

The Bucks ended up coming out on top 120-119 thanks to a mammoth performance from two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, finishing with 44 points on 14-of-21 shooting to go with 14 rebounds and six assists.

It was not just the raw numbers for Antetokounmpo, but the situations where he delivered, hitting a crucial step-back three to tie the game at 110-110 with less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation.

Down 118-119 with three seconds left in overtime, Antetokounmpo was fouled, and connected on both free throws to give the Bucks the lead and the win.

Jrue Holiday was crucial for the reigning champions, claiming six steals to go with his 19 points (six-of-18 shooting), eight rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Durant was terrific for the Nets, scoring 26 points on 10-of-21 from the field (three-of-six from long range) and also dishing out 11 assists, while Kyrie Irving chipped in with 25 points (nine-of-22 from the field) with five assists.


DeRozan's 50-piece leads comeback

The Chicago Bulls came back from an 11-point deficit with 4:58 remaining in regulation to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 135-130 in overtime.

After DeMar DeRozan hit three free throws in the final five seconds to tie the game and force overtime, the Clippers were forced to contest the extra period without star Paul George, who had hit his minutes restriction as he returns from a long-term elbow injury.

DeRozan went on to score 50 points on 17-of-26 shooting, while highly-regarded second-year forward Patrick Williams caught the eye coming off the bench, scoring 10 points without missing a shot while adding 12 rebounds and two blocks.

Cunningham shows class

Number one pick from this year's rookie class, Cade Cunningham, showed why he is viewed as a future star in this league as he led his Detroit Pistons to a 102-94 upset against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Cunningham was Detroit's best player, finishing with 27 points (12-of-20 shooting) to go with six assists and four steals and the Pistons out-scored the 76ers 29-15 in the final frame.

Joel Embiid was not to blame for the 76ers struggles, scoring 37 points on 11-of-19 shooting with 15 rebounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says his game-winning block was all about trusting his instincts as the Milwaukee Bucks claimed an important 118-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP made a crucial block to deny Joel Embiid a lay-up to tie the game up with under two seconds left on the clock after James Harden's three-point attempt rimmed out.

Antetokounmpo had already scored 40 points with 14 rebounds and six assists, with his third block proving a decisive intervention.

"Just let my instincts play," Antetokounmpo told reporters. "The ball went to Embiid and I just tried to jump as high as I can and try to make a play.

"I knew it was going to be a quick one. I felt it. When you get in that position and you're down one, with the clock running, you get it and go quick. I tried to time it.

"It worked out, sometimes it doesn’t work out. This time it worked out in our favour."

The play was reviewed after it was initially seen as a goal tend which was cleared, forcing a jump ball which allowed the clock to wind down.

Embiid said: "I thought it was close. I probably should’ve gone up harder. In that situation I didn’t know how much time was left.

"I was just trying to get the ball off quickly. I thought it was close. I didn’t know if it was a goal tend or not."

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said it was "just a special block", while 76ers counterpart Doc Rivers labelled it "spectacular".

The result means the Bucks move into second spot in the Eastern Conference with a 47-28 record, behind the Miami Heat (48-28), with the Boston Celtics (47-29) in third and the 76ers (46-29) in fourth.

The 76ers have suffered successive losses to last season's NBA Finalists, the Bucks and the Phoenix Suns, in a wake-up call to their title credentials.

"We've got to do a better job," Embiid said. "Against Phoenix we were right there. Tonight we had a lead, just like against Phoenix.

"It's a game of runs. Every team is going to make their runs. We just need to stay calm and know what we need to do. Last game showed why those two teams went to the finals."

Giannis Antetokounmpo came up with a game-winning block on Joel Embiid after scoring 40 points in the Milwaukee Bucks' crucial 118-116 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo rose to block Embiid's attempt to level the scores with less than two seconds left on the clock, with head coach Mike Budenholzer labelling it "special".

The Greek superstar finished with 40 points on 66 per cent shooting with 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.

The Bucks win is significant in the race for Eastern Conference seeds, moving Milwaukee (47-28) into second behind the Miami Heat (48-28), while the 76ers (46-29) slip to fourth.

Khris Middleton added 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Jrue Holiday contributed 18 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.

Embiid finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, while James Harden had 32 points making four-of-10 from beyond the arc, with five rebounds and nine assists.

 

George returns in Clippers comeback win

Paul George marked his first game since December 22 with 34 points including six three-pointers as the Los Angeles Clippers fought back from 25 points down to win 121-115 over the Utah Jazz who have lost five in a row. The Clippers finished the game on a 34-12 run.

Kevin Durant scored 41 points with 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks while Kyrie Irving managed 24 points in his second home appearance as the Brooklyn Nets won 130-123 over the Detroit Pistons.

The Chicago Bulls found some form after winning only four of their past 15 games with an important 107-94 win over the Washington Wizards led by DeMar DeRozan with 32 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

 

Lakers slide continues

The Los Angeles Lakers' struggles continued with a heavy 128-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks as Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. The Mavs led by as much as 37 points. The Lakers, who were without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, are 31-44 and slip to 11th out of the west's play-in spots.

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