Chris Paul makes NBA playoff history in Phoenix Suns’ closeout win over the New Orleans Pelicans

Chris Paul shot a perfect 14-of-14 from the field to help the Phoenix Suns close out their opening round playoff series with a 115-109 Game 6 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Living up to his ‘Point God’ moniker, it marked the first time in playoff history that a player made 13 or more shots without a single miss.
Paul also made all four of his free throws to finish with 33 points, while also racking up eight assists and five rebounds.
However, the 12-time All-Star was lucky not to receive a flagrant foul in the fourth quarter for a brutal elbow to the chin of New Orleans guard Jose Alvarado. The incident was missed by the referees and, despite Alvarado’s protestations, the Pelicans were unable to call for a review after having already used their coach’s challenge.
Paul spent the first six years of his illustrious career in New Orleans after being drafted fourth by the franchise — then the Hornets — in 2005 and played his fifth season with current Pelicans head coach Willie Green.

“I’m emotional every game here [in New Orleans],” he told NBA on TNT. “Willie being my brother, somebody I talk to about everything, us not talking this whole series, seeing his son sitting on the baseline.

“It’s a good win for us, there’s a reason why he’s the coach here. There ain’t been this much energy here in a long time and I’m just glad we got the win. I always say this city raised me, man. It’s tough, this is emotional for me.
“I root for this team when I’m not playing against them, so to beat them was nice to get through the first round.”
On his return from a hamstring injury suffered in Game 2 of the series, Suns shooting guard Devin Booker put up 13 points, five rebounds and three assists, while center Deandre Ayton had a bright night with 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Bucks finish off shorthanded Bulls in Game 5, advance to face Celtics in second round

The Milwaukee Bucks took care of business on Wednesday.

The defending NBA champions made sure not to prolong their first-round series and finished off the short-handed Chicago Bulls with a 116-100 victory in Game 5 at Fiserv Forum.

The best-of-7 matchup began inauspiciously for Milwaukee with a lackluster performance in Game 1 and then a 114-110 defeat in Game 2. Despite a knee injury to star Khris Middleton that will keep him out at least two weeks, the Bucks looked much crisper in winning three straight, including two in Chicago, to eliminate the Bulls.

“We’ve been talking about the depth of the roster, the quality of the roster, a lot this season,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Other guys have gotten opportunities and played well. And our defense has tightened up and we’ve leaned hard on that these three games.

“But we’ve got depth, we’ve got a good group. We miss Khris, I don’t think anyone underestimates how important and how effective he is for us. While we don’t have him, we got to be our best up and down the roster.”

Third-seeded Milwaukee will face the second-seeded Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Celtics, who swept the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, have home-court advantage and will host the first two games of the series.

Chicago wasn’t expected to give Milwaukee much of a challenge given the 3-1 series deficit and the absences of key guards Zach LaVine (health and safety protocol) and Alex Caruso (concussion protocol).

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points, with 32 coming in the first three quarters as the Bucks pulled away early and never allowed the Bulls to really threaten.

“Sometimes I got to score the ball,” Antetokounmpo said. “But in my head I don’t think about, ‘Hey, I got to score the ball. Khris is down, I got to score 40.’

It’s kind of the opposite. It’s like, ‘Khris is down now, we got to get 30-40 points from somebody else.’ So you got to move the ball.”

Pat Connaughton was …

Curry, Warriors Hold Off Jokic, Eliminate Nuggets in Game 5

Back in the starting lineup at last, Stephen Curry took over late and brought his team back just as he has so many times during Golden State’s deep postseason runs.

Curry scored 30 points in his return to the starting five and the Warriors beat Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets 102-98 on Wednesday night to win their first-round series in five games.

It has been three years since Curry carried Golden State on a big playoff stage — like those five straight trips to the NBA Finals — but he’s certainly still got it.

“Tonight was just a weird feeling because we hadn’t been there in a while,” said Curry, last season’s NBA scoring champion. “We wanted it so bad, kind of made it a lot more difficult on ourselves. But we still remember how to do it, which is a good feeling.”

Curry scored 11 points during the fourth quarter after the Warriors began the final 12 minutes down by eight. The two-time MVP converted a three-point play with 1:33 left and scored again with 29 seconds remaining to help send the Warriors on to the second round in the Western Conference.

“I was a witness, letting him cook, create plays for him. Try to get him open looks and after that, you know what he does,” Warriors guard Gary Payton II said.

Jokic scored 12 of his 30 points in the final 3:46 and finished with 19 rebounds and eight assists.

The Warriors — thriving with the support from their raucous home crowd in their first close-out playoff game at Chase Center — advanced to play the winner of the Memphis-Minnesota series led 3-2 by the Grizzlies heading into Game 6 on Friday in Minneapolis. The Grizzlies eliminated Golden State in the play-in round last year.

Jokic tied it at 90 on an 18-footer with 2:26 remaining before Payton made a layup moments later. Payton also hit a go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner in front of Denver’s bench with 6:57 left to put Golden State up 86-84. …

Bridges shines, Suns grab 3-2 series lead

With the series tied at 2-2, the Phoenix Suns welcome the New Orleans Pelicans to their homecourt for deciding Game 5. Both teams need this win to assert their will on the series. The Suns are shorthanded with Booker still not available. The Pelicans want to take advantage of that fact and gain the momentum in the Playoffs.

The Phoenix Suns went with their starting lineup of Chris Paul, Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton. The New Orleans Pelicans started with CJ McCollum, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas.

Game Summary

With the opening tip, both teams locked horns to take the lead early on the game. The crowd was enticed with such intense battles between the two teams. Early on in the game, the duo of Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton went to work. Ayton went to the paint and attacked the rim.

The Pelicans offense got a bit cold after a few minutes and they struggled immensely. The Suns defense was tight enough to frazzle the Pelicans and they turned the ball over multiple times.

In the 2nd quarter, a display between the two guards of both teams took place as they went head to head. McCollum and Paul were the ones who went on the offensive this time and distributing the ball to their teammates. Yet the Suns early lead was more than enough to take the 1st half with a score of 59-46.

In the 2nd half, the Pelicans went entirely on the offensive led by Ingram and Valanciunas. They were getting baskets to fall so that they could cut the lead. But the Suns were not as fazed. Mikal Bridges appeared and he went on the offensive. Bridges has shown scoring spurts and this was one of those moments.

The Suns held their 10 point lead entering into the 4th quarter. During a play, Brandon Ingram had possession of the ball and was hit on his elbow by Mikal Bridges which forced him to be on the bench for …

Oladipo helps deliver clincher for Heat, who move to Round 2

It was about a year ago. Victor Oladipo was sitting alone in a dark room. The realization that he needed a second surgery on his right leg was settling in. Frustration, fear, sadness and anger just came pouring out of him.

He broke down.

“I was at the lowest point I could be at,” Oladipo said.

That moment is clearly not forgotten: Oladipo gave his recollections of what went on in that room Tuesday night, to illustrate both where he was and where he is. He scored a team-high 23 points in Miami’s series-clinching 97-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks, a victory that sent the Heat to the second round of the playoffs.

It was only the 10th game this season for Oladipo, including the regular season. But with Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry sidelined, the Heat needed someone to step up in Game 5. Many did, including Oladipo, who needed two surgeries to fix a right quadriceps tendon, spent basically a year rehabbing after each of those procedures, and has been limited to 66 games in the last three seasons combined.

“I can’t really explain why I’m going through what I went through,” Oladipo said. “I can’t really explain why I’m here today. But I’m staying in the moment and making every moment mean something. Just going out there and playing hard, man. We had a great win. A great series. But the job isn’t done yet. There is still a lot more basketball left. We’ve just got to keep getting better. That’s what I’m focused on doing.”

It’s the 12th time that the top-seeded Heat have moved into the conference semifinals; Game 1 against either fourth-seeded Philadelphia or fifth-seeded Toronto will be in Miami on Monday.

For Oladipo, it’ll be a first. He’s appeared in 18 playoff games in his career, all of them of the first-round variety.

“I really admire him. I do, for this journey for the last three seasons where he’s been dealing with injuries and frustration, and then really working to make himself available …

Doncic scores 33, Mavs rout Jazz for 3-2 series lead

Luka Doncic delighted the crowd in his first home playoff game coming off a calf injury.

Frustrated the Utah Jazz as well.

The young Dallas superstar had 33 points and 13 rebounds while also being thrown to the court on a hard foul that led to Hassan Whiteside‘s ejection as the Mavericks routed the Jazz 102-77 on Monday night for a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.

Doncic made his series debut in Game 4 at Utah, when the Jazz scored the last five points in the final 31 seconds for a one-point win that evened the series. He never let Game 5 get close.

“For his second game, it looks like he’s been playing this whole series,” coach Jason Kidd said. “His conditioning, his effort on the defensive end. As we talk about rebounding, he’s one of the best for us and he did that tonight.”

After the first four games were decided by eight points or less, Utah never had a chance after a nearly six-minute scoreless drought in the second quarter that fueled a 22-4 Dallas run on the way to a 52-36 halftime lead.

Game 6 is Thursday night in Salt Lake City, with the Jazz regaining their formidable home-court edge, but facing the long odds of just 18% of teams winning a series after dropping the fifth game when the teams split the first four.

The Mavericks haven’t advanced in the postseason since winning the 2011 championship. Utah is in the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, but has yet to get past the second round in that stretch.

Jordan Clarkson scored 20 points and Rudy Gobert added 17 points and 11 rebounds in the lowest-scoring game for the Jazz since they lost by 50 at Dallas (118-68) on Nov. 14, 2018. They were 3 of 30 from 3-point range (10%) and shot 38% overall.

Donovan Mitchell, who averaged 30 points in the first four games, scored just nine and missed all seven of his 3-pointers before leaving with a left hamstring injury …

Jayson Tatum scores 29 as Boston Celtics complete sweep of Brooklyn Nets

Jayson Tatum was stunned, yet certain. He disagreed with his sixth foul but had no doubt the Boston Celtics, with their rock-solid defense, would hold on without their scoring star.

“Couldn’t believe it at all, but I think that’s what we’re built for,” Tatum said.

They might be built for a championship.

Tatum scored 29 points, Jaylen Brown had 22 and the Celtics completed a four-game sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, becoming the first team to reach the second round of the playoffs with a 116-112 victory Monday night.

Marcus Smart added 20 points and 11 assists for the No. 2-seeded Celtics, who made easy work of what was thought could be a tough series. Boston will wait for the winner of the series between Milwaukee and Chicago, in which the defending champion Bucks hold a 3-1 lead.

The Celtics showed no fear of the Nets, who with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving didn’t have the profile of the typical low seed. Boston won on the final day of the regular season instead of losing to fall down the standings and avoid the matchup.

Turns out, there was no reason to worry.

“It’s funny to us, because we don’t duck and dodge anybody,” Smart said. “We knew what we were going to come in here and do.”

Durant had 39 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds, breaking free after the Celtics had defended him well in the first three games. But he couldn’t get the Nets the win they needed to extend what instead goes down as a massive failure of a season.

Expected to be an NBA Finals contender, the Nets needed a strong finish just to grab the No. 7 seed.

Seth Curry scored 23 points for the Nets. Irving, whose unavailability for home games much of the season because he isn’t vaccinated against the coronavirus contributed to the Nets’ performing so far below expectations, had 20 points.

“A lot of stuff that may factor into why we lose, but they were just a better team,” Durant said.…

Jokic, Nuggets avoid sweep with Game 4 victory over Warriors

The Denver Nuggets aren’t fazed.

They realize no team has ever won four elimination games in a single postseason series. They also know they’re the only team in league history to overcome back-to-back 3-1 playoff deficits.

That’s where they find themselves after avoiding a sweep by the Golden State Warriors with a 126-121 win Sunday to send the rough-and-tumble series back to San Francisco.

”Can I say we want them right where we want them? No, but we’re alive,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. ”We live to fight another day.”

Game 5 is Wednesday night.

Although none of the 143 other teams who faced a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs ever bounced back to advance, the Nuggets became the league’s first team ever to overcome 3-1 deficits in consecutive series two years ago when they bounced the Jazz and Clippers in the Orlando bubble.

”The odds are against us,” said MVP favorite Nikola Jokic. ”But we’ve beaten the odds a couple of times, so why not?”

Jokic scored 37 points and fed Will Barton for a 3-pointer from the left corner with 8.3 seconds left after Monte Morris’ short jumper broke a 121-all tie and Austin Rivers stole Otto Porter Jr.’s pass.

It was a reversal of final-minute fortunes for the Nuggets, who faltered down the stretch in a five-point loss in Game 3.

”We felt like it could have been 2-2 if we didn’t drop that last game,” said Rivers, who noted the Nuggets finally matched the Warriors’ physicality, especially down the stretch.

Morris finished with 24 points. He hit five 3-pointers in the third quarter, the most in a quarter by any player in these NBA playoffs.

Aaron Gordon chipped in 21 points and helped stifle Jordan Poole, who came in averaging 28.7 points this series but was held to 11.

Steph Curry led the Warriors with 33 points despite missing 13 of 23 shots, going 3 for 11 from long range and missing four free throws for the first time in his career, whether in the …

Jimmy Butler, Heat crush Hawks for 3-1 playoff series lead

Jimmy Butler erupted for 36 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals to lead the Miami Heat to a dominant 110-86 win over the Atlanta Hawks and a 3-1 lead in the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

The top-seeded Heat led by as many as 27 points in the victory Sunday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

“I’m not the only one who is in rhythm,” Butler told reporters. “I feel like we are playing great basketball and getting stops whenever our spacing correct. This was a good one, but we have another one to get.”

With another win, the Heat can claim the best-of-seven series and advance to a second-round matchup with the No. 4 Philadelphia 76ers or No. 5 Toronto Raptors. Sunday’s Game 4 featured 10 lead changes and was tied five times. The Heat outscored the No. 8 Hawks 48-26 in the paint and 8-0 off fast breaks. The Hawks made just 40% of their field goal attempts. The Heat totaled just six turnovers, with zero in the first half.

The also Heat played without veteran guard Kyle Lowry, who is dealing with a hamstring strain.

“We just wanted to be organized,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of playing without Lowry. “We didn’t have our quarterback and Jimmy and Bam [Adebayo] allowed us to get settled, particularly in the first half. “We had to find a way to win this game. A lot of it was our defense and versatility.”

Forward De’Andre Hunter scored 11 points and went 3 for 3 on 3-point attempts to help the Hawks earn a 26-25 lead through the first quarter. The Hawks started the second on a 9-2 run, but the Heat responded with a 15-2 run to take a 44-37 lead 3:58 before halftime.

The Heat also scored 11 unanswered points to end the quarter for a 55-41 advantage at the break. Butler scored 13 points in the second. The Heat outscored the Hawks 25-20 in the third and took an 80-61 edge into the fourth. Butler scored a …

Pelicans tie Booker-less Suns with 118-103 win in Game 4

Brandon Ingram scored 16 of his 30 points in the third quarter and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Phoenix Suns — playing without injured star Devin Booker — 118-103 in Game 4 on Sunday night to tie the first-round series.

Jonas Valanciunas reasserted himself in the middle with 26 points and 15 rebounds to help the Pelicans pull even heading back to Phoenix for Game 5 on Tuesday night.

Booker strained his right straight after scoring 31 first-half points in the top-seeded Suns’ Game 2 loss. Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 23 points and eight rebounds, and fellow center JaVale McGee had 14 points.

Chris Paul, who had 19-point fourth quarters in the Suns’ two playoff wins, was held to four points in 35 minutes. He had 11 assists, but committed three turnovers.

The Pelicans led 89-85 with 8:05 left and used a 12-0 run to ice it. Valanciunas, limited to six points in a Game 3 loss, scored 10 points in a 3:34 span of the fourth quarter to help the Pelicans pull away. He punctuated his scoring spree with a 3-pointer from the left wing.

Joel Embiid’s 3-pointer in final second leads 76ers past Raptors in OT

Joel Embiid made a 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left in overtime to give the Philadelphia 76ers a 104-101 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night and a 3-0 lead in their first-round series.

After 76ers coach Doc Rivers called timeout to save the possession as the shot clock was running down, Embiid took an inbounds pass from Danny Green and hit a turnaround shot from near the sideline before running back to his bench in celebration.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.

Embiid had 33 points and 13 rebounds, helping the 76ers rally from a 17-point deficit. James Harden had 19 points and 10 assists before fouling out in the closing seconds of regulation.

Tyrese Maxey scored 19 points and Tobias Harris had 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, who can wrap up the series in Game 4 on Saturday.

Anunoby scored 26 points, Gary Trent Jr. had a playoff-high 24, and Precious Achiuwa had 20 for the Raptors.

Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet each had 12 points. VanVleet shot 3 for 13, going 2 for 10 from 3-point range.

Philadelphia never held a lead in regulation, finally grabbing a 99-97 edge on Maxey’s shot with 3:27 left in overtime.

Anunoby’s 3 briefly put Toronto back on top, but Embiid’s basket with 2:36 left made it 101-100 for the Sixers.

Embiid fouled Anunoby with 26 seconds left, and the Toronto forward made the first but missed the second, knotting it at 101-all.

Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes sat for the second straight game because of the sprained left ankle that knocked him out of Game 1. Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Barnes is making progress and could return Saturday.

The 76ers, who shot at least 30 free throws in each of the first two games of the series, went 15 for 20 from the line in Game 3, with Embiid making six of nine attempts.

Trent was limited to 10 minutes of action in Game 2 because of illness, and didn’t play in …

DeMar DeRozan scores 41, sends Bulls-Bucks back to Chicago tied at 1

DeMar DeRozan made sure the Chicago Bulls altered their painful recent history against the Milwaukee Bucks and gave this first-round series a fresh new start.

Now it’s the defending champion Bucks who are suddenly hurting as the teams head to Chicago all tied up.

DeRozan scored a career playoff-high 41 points and the Bulls outlasted the Bucks 114-110 on Wednesday night in Game 2. Nikola Vucevic added 24 points and 13 rebounds, while Zach LaVine had 20 points as the sixth-seeded Bulls beat the third-seeded Bucks for just the second time in their last 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 big question now is what shape the Bucks will be in when this series resumes Friday.

Bobby Portis left the game with a right eye abrasion after the first quarter and Khris Middleton exited with 6:49 left after his left leg gave out while he tried to plant on a spin move.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said after the game that Middleton has a sprained medial collateral ligament and will undergo an MRI exam on Thursday.

“He’s always been positive and he knows the type of team that we are and how resilient we are,” Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said. “We just want him to get back as quickly as possible and be healthy so he can come out here and help us win games.”

Budenholzer said that Portis “should be fine with some time.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 33 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists, putting him one assist from his second career playoff triple-double. Antetokounmpo increased his career postseason point total to 1,715 to overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,692) for the most in Bucks history.

Brook Lopez had 25 points for the Bucks. Middleton scored 18 …

Pelicans stun Suns, 125-114, as Devin Booker gets injured

The New Orleans Pelicans’ shocking run to the 2022 NBA Playoffs took another turn Tuesday evening against the NBA-best Phoenix Suns.

Down 1-0 in the first-round playoff series after a blowout Game 1 loss, New Orleans put up a shocking performance. With a Devin Booker third quarter hamstring injury acting as a backdrop, New Orleans came out on top by the score of 125-114 in Phoenix.

It’s hard to describe exactly what happened inside Footprint Center in Arizona Tuesday evening. Losers of 46 regular-season games, New Orleans went into Phoenix and defeated the 64-win Suns by 11 points.

Former Los Angeles Lakers lottery pick Brandon Ingram put up a career-defining performance — scoring 37 points on 13-of-21 shooting. A top-10 NBA Rookie of the Year candidate, Herbert Jones added 14 points. Meanwhile, trade deadline acquisition C.J. McCollum continued his stellar performance after being obtained from Portland. The guard scored 23 points on 6-of-10 shooting from distance.

Having scored 31 points in the first half, one of the NBA’s best players in Devin Booker exited the game with hamstring tightness. At that point, it was a close affair. With Booker sidelined, Phoenix yielded 35 fourth-quarter points. As double-digit underdogs heading into the game, the New Orleans Pelicans absolutely shocked the world. They won 28 fewer games than the Suns during the regular season. They have now just taken home-court advantage from a team that many expected to be odds-on favorites to win the title.…

Jimmy Butler puts Heat up 2-0 on Hawks with playoff-high 45 points

Jimmy Butler walked off the floor when his night’s work was complete, lifted his arms in the air and heard a sold-out arena serenade him with screams.

That didn’t happen in the bubble two years ago, since nobody was there.

But Butler was every bit as good Tuesday night as he was during that bubble run — and the Miami Heat needed all his heroics.

Butler scored a playoff career-high 45 points, including a personal 7-0 run down the stretch to decide the game, and the Heat held off the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round series Tuesday night.

“We go as he goes,” Heat guard Gabe Vincent said.

Butler was 15 of 25 from the floor, 11 for 12 from the line and 4 of 7 from 3-point range. As such, the top-seeded Heat are going to Atlanta with a 2-0 lead.

Tyler Herro scored 15 for Miami, while Max Strus scored 14 and Vincent added 11 for top-seeded Miami.

Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 19 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter for Atlanta. Trae Young got his scoring touch back — he had 25 points in Game 2, after being held to eight in Game 1 — but also had a career-worst 10 turnovers for the eighth-seeded Hawks.

Jimmy Butler goes up for a shot while being fouled during the Heat’s Game 2 win over the Hawks.
USA TODAY Sports

“If the refs are going to let them be as physical as they are and not call fouls, it’s going to be hard to really do anything anyways,” Young said.

De’Andre Hunter had 16 and John Collins finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks.

Butler’s previous playoff best was 40, done twice, both in the bubble when the Heat made the 2020 NBA Finals. The Heat needed all of his heroics then, and they needed them all on Tuesday as well.

Bogdanovic’s 3-pointer with 3:15 left got Atlanta within 104-101.

From there, it was all Butler.

“Big-time basketball from a …

Things get chippy as Sixers cruise to 2-0 series lead over Raptors

 

Coming into the 2022 NBA playoffs, the sentiment was that the series between the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors would be a close one. Through two games, it has been anything but.

Joel Embiid had 29 points and 11 rebounds, while Tyrese Maxey added 21 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, leading the Sixers to 112-97 win over the Raptors to take a 2-0 series lead.

After a close first quarter that saw Toronto hold a one-point advantage, Philly dominated the rest of the way. The Sixers outscored the Raptors 35-19 to take a 15-point lead at half-time and never looked back.

This was the second-straight blowout win for the Sixers, who have looked like the much sharper team on both ends of the floor. Philly shot 52.2 percent from the field, while its defense was stellar once again. Toronto could not get consistent penetration, and the Sixers held the Raptors to just 34.4 shooting from outside.

Pre-game

  • It is LOUD at the Center. The fans went crazy when North Philly’s Dawn Staley was introduced as tonight’s bell ringer. The South Carolina women’s basketball coach just led the Gamecocks to their second national title in the last six seasons.
  • After his dynamite performance in Game 1, Tyrese Maxey gets an appreciative roar from the crowd when he’s introduced as part of the starting lineup.
  • Scottie Barnes is out with an ankle injury, but Gary Trent Jr. and Thad Young are playing.

First quarter

  • The Raptors came out hot to begin the game. They connected on two three-point attempts and jumped out to an early 8-0 lead.
  • There is a ton of intensity to start. Embiid and Anunoby got into it, and the refs gave them each a technical foul.
  • Philly got buckets from Embiid and Harden to get on the board. Then, Joel was absolutely mauled by Pascal Siakam during this play:
  • That play seemed to wake the Sixers up. After being down 11-2, Philly went on an 11-2 run to tie up. Harden found Embiid in transition for

Warriors’ lethal three-guard lineup overwhelms Denver in Game 2 rout

Here are three takeaways from Game 2 on Monday night, when the Warriors cranked up their crazy show, tossed in a little Harlem Globetrotters flair and rolled to a 126-106 victory over Denver to take a 2-0 series lead:

• The lethal lineup: Once again, head coach Steve Kerr closed the first half with his small-ball, three-guard lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole with forwards Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins.

Once again, this quintet made Denver head coach Michael Malone’s head spin.

The Warriors trailed 43-35 when Thompson replaced Otto Porter Jr. with 6:02 left in the second quarter. Soon, the game exploded into a blur of wide-open driving lanes, crazy passes and acrobatic layups.

Here’s the thing: The Warriors didn’t blitz the Nuggets with an avalanche of 3-point shots. They spread the court and scared the Nuggets with the threat of an avalanche of 3-point shots — and then scurried to the basket, time after crowd-energizing time.

Kerr’s lethal lineup outscored Denver 22-7 over a span of five-plus minutes. The Warriors led 57-50 when Kevon Looney subbed out Green with 46 seconds left before halftime (between Nikola Jokic free throws). One key to the equation, as Green pointed out after Sunday’s practice: This lineup must get stops on defense. And that’s exactly what happened Monday night. He made sure Curry and Co. were engaged defensively — Green tends to demand his teammates’ attention — and those stops sparked the game-turning run.

If the lethal lineup keeps playing defense like this, well, we’re going to see more of it. A lot more.

• Steph the enforcer: Curry added a new skill to his repertoire late in the first quarter when he got in Jokic’s face. No, really, he did.

Blame it all on Gary Payton II. He blocked one of Jokic’s shots in the lane — the third Payton block of Jokic this season, despite their eight-inch height disparity — and animatedly posed in celebration. Ten seconds later, when the Nuggets called timeout, Payton and Jokic crossed

Young, Hunter lead Hawks to 132-103 play-in rout of Hornets

For one night, at least, the Atlanta Hawks looked like the team that made a stunning run to the Eastern Conference final last summer.

Trae Young bounced back from a sluggish start to score 24 points and De’Andre Hunter led a third-quarter surge Wednesday that carried the Hawks to a 132-103 rout of the Charlotte Hornets in a play-in game.

We’re definitely confident right now,” Hunter said. “But we’ve got a lot more work to do. We’re not satisfied yet.”

The Hawks were a bit of a disappointment during the regular season, finishing ninth in the East after their surprising playoff success in 2021.

They’ve still got to win one more play-in game just to make the playoffs, heading to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Friday night. The winner claims the No. 8 seed in the East and will face the top-seeded Miami Heat in the opening round of the playoffs.

The season is over for the Hornets, who were overwhelmed in the 9-10 play-in game for the second year in a row and haven’t made the playoffs since 2016.

Still, coach James Borrego called it another step forward for a rebuilding team.

“A lot of good things have happened for this franchise based on where we’re at today compared to where we were two or three years ago,” he said.

Miles Bridges was ejected in the fourth quarter and could be facing additional punishment from the league office after he appeared to strike a young fan with his mouthpiece.

All five Atlanta starters scored in double figures, as did Bogdan Bogdanovic off the bench. It was Hunter who came up big in the decisive third period, bursting out with 16 points after being held to 3 in the first half.

“I think I’m a big part of this team,” Hunter said. ”Me being aggressive, scoring and defending, helps this team a lot.”

Hunter finished with 22 points, while Danilo Gallinari added 18 and Clint Capela 15. Kevin Huerter and Bogdanovic chipped in with 13 apiece.

The Hornets closed …

CJ McCollum leads Pelicans past Spurs in play-in game

CJ McCollum got New Orleans going early and Brandon Ingram took over late to send the Pelicans to Los Angeles for a chance at the final playoff spot.

McCollum scored 27 of his 32 points in the first half to carry the young Pelicans to a 113-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. New Orleans will face the LA Clippers on Friday night for the eighth playoff seed.

“He was great,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of McCollum. “He set the tone early. He understood the moment, and it sort of calmed the rest of the guys down. We just got the ball to him and he made play after play, score after score, and then the rest of the guys that just started to feed off CJ.”

Playing in his 57th playoff game, McCollum displayed a calming presence to his younger teammates. Rookies Herb Jones, José Alvarado and Trey Murphy played large chunks of the fourth quarter.

“I was just trying to be locked in and aggressive early,” McCollum said. “The playoffs is a lot of antics, a lot of momentum plays, a lot of back and forth. You’ve got to be stable and mentally locked in to withstand a certain level of (chaos). … There’s going to be a lot of winning in our future.”

McCollum wasn’t alone. Ingram shook foul trouble to add 27 points and center Jonas Valanciunas added 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Pelicans’ stars delivered under pressure of New Orleans’ first postseason game since 2018.

“The three best players for New Orleans all played great, and if that happens, you’re going to lose,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of his team’s inability to contain McCollum, Ingram and Valanciunas. “We stayed in it and got back in it, but then we made the same mistakes as we did in the first three quarters – non physical defense.”

“We’re just playing for each other,” Valanciunas said of combining for 81 points with McCollum and Ingram. “When things struggle, we need somebody …

Sixers sweep Cavs to clinch playoff berth, Embiid drops 44

The Philadelphia 76ers are in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

Philadelphia clinched a postseason berth Sunday with a 112-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Field House. A 44-point performance from Joel Embiid helped the Sixers hold off a late push from the Cavs.

This was a different route to the playoffs for the Sixers than it was in the previous four years.

All of the headlines coming into the season revolved around Ben Simmons’ future with the team. The three-time All-Star requested a trade in August during a meeting with Sixers management.

It took until the Feb. 10 trade deadline, but Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey took advantage of James Harden’s unhappiness with the Brooklyn Nets to add the former NBA MVP in a blockbuster trade involving Simmons.

Even before the trade was made, Philadelphia was firmly in playoff contention thanks to Embiid.

Embiid remains the center around whom everything works. He is having an MVP-caliber season, entering Sunday averaging 30.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from deep.

Tyrese Maxey is in the midst of a breakout season as the starting point guard. The second-year standout entered Sunday putting up 17.2 points and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 41.6 percent from three-point range. And Matisse Thybulle has solidified himself as one of the best wing defenders in the NBA.

After missing eight straight games with a hamstring injury, Harden’s debut for the 76ers was a massive success. He dropped 27 points and dished out 12 assists in a 133-102 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 25.

That was probably the most wide-open I’ve ever been in my career,” Embiid joked with reporters after that game, in which he scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Bringing in Harden is supposed to be the next step in the process for a 76ers team that is trying to get over the hump in the playoffs.

The Sixers haven’t advanced past …

Ball scores 33 points, Hornets spoil Irving’s home debut

Kyrie Irving waited all season for a chance to play in front of his home fans, and this sure wasn’t the way he envisioned it going.

“Not the result we wanted, I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted,” Irving said. “Basically none of the things I had hoped for going well tonight just didn’t happen, and that’s just the flow of basketball.”

It went much better for the other point guard.

LaMelo Ball had 33 points, nine assists and seven rebounds and the Charlotte Hornets spoiled Irving’s first home game of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 119-110 on Sunday night.

Irving misfired for 3 1/2 quarters, finally warmed up to give the Nets the lead, and then the Hornets regained control with clutch 3-point shooting to give them a victory that tied them with Brooklyn for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Irving finished with 16 points and tied his season high with 11 assists but shot 6 for 22 from the field. He hadn’t been able to play at home this season until Mayor Eric Adams last week exempted athletes and performers from the New York City’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.

“It was great to see him out there, good to see the fans excited for him,” Kevin Durant said. “Unfortunately we took the ‘L’ though, but we move forward knowing that we have him here and build on what we have and try to get a win next game.”

Miles Bridges scored 24 points and PJ Washington had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Hornets, who won for the seventh time in eight games. They beat the Nets for the second time in three meetings this season, clinching a potential head-to-head tiebreaker.

Durant had 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, playing the entire second half on the second night of a back-to-back. He shot just 9 for 24. Andre Drummond had 20 points and 16 rebounds.

Irving missed 15 of his first 17 shots, but then made two layups and a short jumper to …