Tagged in: playoffs

Celtics defeat Heat in game 3 on Eastern conference finals

After falling 2-0 behind in the series following Thursday’s defeat, Celtics players apparently aired their frustrations in a raucous locker room and it seemed to do the trick as they were never behind in a 117-106 triumph.

The Celtics were also boosted by the return of Hayward, who scored six points in 31 minutes of a welcome return from an ankle injury that has kept him out since August 17.

“I didn’t expect to play him that much,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

“I thought he looked pretty good, he asked to come out a couple times – the wind caught up to him a couple times – but I thought he did what he’s done all year.”

Kemba Walker scored 21 points and Marcus Smart 20 as the Celtics, for whom Tatum added 14 rebounds, shot 48.2 per cent (41 of 85) as a team, outscoring Miami 60-36 in the paint.

“I’m extremely tired right now, my ankle is pretty sore, but I’m proud of the way we fought and proud of us getting the win,” Hayward stated.

“They are a hard-playing team, they compete. They are obviously extremely well coached and they don’t give up.

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“I think they also have a lot of guys that can get going, especially from the outside, so leads aren’t safe and they can score in bunches, as we’ve seen in the first two games.

“Tonight, I think me personally, just trying to help us offensively, being somebody who can get in the paint, create, also trying to help us rebound, bring the ball up. I think if we can run, that can’t set their defense and we have so many good athletes, so many guys that can score and bring up the ball – it makes it difficult for them.”

For Miami, Bam Adebayo had 27 points and 16 rebounds, while Tyler Herro scored 22 to lead six players in double figures for the Heat, who had just their second defeat in 12 playoff matches en route to their lead in the Eastern Finals.

“We didn’t play hard enough,” said Jimmy Butler, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

“We weren’t playing basketball the way that we have been to win the games that we have been winning.”

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Lakers run past Rockets for 3-1 West semifinals lead

Anthony Davis was the biggest player on the floor, and the Houston Rockets had no answers.

Davis had 29 points and 12 rebounds, LeBron James concluded one assist shy of a triple-double and the Los Angeles Lakers topped the Rockets 110-100 on Thursday night to take a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.

James had 16 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists for the Lakers, who outrebounded the Rockets 52-26. Alex Caruso scored 16 points and Rajon Rondo had 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Lakers, who held on after frittering away most of a big second-half lead.

“Turnovers,” Davis stated. “We had too many turnovers.”

That was one of the few complaints the Lakers could make after Game 4. Russell Westbrook had 25 points and James Harden had 21 for the Rockets, who got 19 from Eric Gordon and 14 from Austin Rivers.

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The Lakers were up by 23 midway through the fourth, well on their way to a blowout victory.

That’s when Houston’s offense woke up.

Westbrook made a corner 3 with 3:01 left, Harden got a steal and a pair of free throws on the next possession, and the Rockets put together a 18-2 run to get within 103-96. The Lakers turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions during that stretch, unable to get anything going.

Smartly, though, on the biggest possession of the night as the clock ticked inside the two-minute mark, they went to Davis. Gordon, who stands about half-a-foot shorter than Davis, had no opportunity as the Laker All-Star scored in the lane to push the lead back out to nine and buy the Lakers a bit of breathing room.

Caruso’s 3-pointer off a pass from James with 34.6 seconds left made it 108-100, and the Lakers escaped.

The Lakers won Game 3 by holding Houston to 38 points in the second half — and set themselves up to win Game 4 by clamping down again, this time in the first half. It was 57-41 Lakers at the break, meaning Houston had scored 79 points in its last 48 minutes of basketball.

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Bucks avoid sweep despite losing Giannis to sprained ankle

The Milwaukee Bucks staved off elimination on Sunday, defeating the Miami Heat 118-115 in overtime despite losing superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo to a right ankle sprain in the second quarter.

After being fouled by Heat forward Andre Iguodala on a drive into the paint at the 10:18 mark of the second quarter of Game 4 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, Antetokounmpo went down in a heap, yelling out in pain and clutching at his right ankle. He had to be helped off the court but later walked back on to split a pair of free throws.

Antetokounmpo then instantly checked out of the game and walked under his own power to Milwaukee’s locker room. He wouldn’t be seen again, as the Bucks ruled out their superstar forward at halftime, when they were clinging to a 50-48 lead.

“He’ll get treatment through the night, and we’ll just see how he does in the next 24 (to) 48 hours,” stated Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer after the game.

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In an inspired effort led by Khris Middleton, the Bucks managed to hold on after losing the reigning MVP to avoid a 4-0 sweep.

Middleton’s 21 points in the third quarter were the most by a Bucks player in any quarter of a playoff game since Tim Thomas’ 19 in 1996-97.

He ended with 36 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds in 48 minutes — including a clutch 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left in overtime against a Miami double-team.

As Bucks players entered the locker room, Antetokounmpo was there to congratulate them on the latest triumph, but it’s still uncertain if he’ll be able to return for Game 5 on Tuesday.

The Bucks are the first team to win in overtime when facing elimination since the Heat in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs.

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Nuggets versus Jazz game 7 preview

The Denver Nuggets came back from a two-game deficit and now have an opportunity to eliminate the Utah Jazz. It’s game 7 between these two sides, in the arguably the most interesting matchup of the playoffs so far.

As said above, this is by far the most interesting first-round matchup of them all so far. At first, Denver took the lead, after that, Utah nailed the next three events, but Denver responded, which is why we have a Game 7 coming up our way.

The stakes are high, so expect a fierce clash, like there is no tomorrow. One more info, whoever triumphs here, will meet the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals. 

Jamal Murray is in the elite echelon of scorers in the league, and that is something we knew already. But we didn’t know that the Canadian was this good. He has three consecutive games with 40 or more buckets, and two with 50+ during that time.

So far, he’s been the leading scorer in the playoffs with 37.6 points. Though, all his previous games won’t be important if, by any chance, Denver loses. He already has a label of being soft and without guts when needed the most, and this is the perfect chance for shutting down all the critics. 

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The way Murray plays, Donovan Mitchell is just one tiny bit better.

He, too, has multiple 50+ points, but unlike Murray, he is much more consistent. The Spida, however, is without the right sidekick in the last few matches, and that is why we saw the Jazz losing those matches.

In order for Quin Snyder’s team success, they have to see Mike Conley perfect. The veteran point guard is Jazz’s X-factor. Also, Joe Ingles needs to have a more important part in the attack.

The momentum is on Denver’s side, and that is why we have to back their victory in this contest. The odds are at -110 for the Nuggets to triumph. We believe that they are mentally stronger, that is have much higher morale than Utah’s guys, who are irritated with all the missed chances for securing the next stage.

Just to remind, both Gobert and Mitchell had outbursts following Game 6, smashing and bashing stuff while exiting the court.

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Pacers fire Nate McMillan after being swept in first round of playoffs

The Indiana Pacers have fired coach Nate McMillan after his team was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat.

The move comes after the Pacers had reworked the final year of McMillan’s contract for 2020-21 and added a team option for 2021-22 in the form of a soft extension earlier this month.

Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who is in the final year of his contract, will be an Indiana target should he become available, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Indiana also plans to search from a pool of candidates they would consider “program builders” over the long term, sources tell Wojnarowski. In four seasons as the Pacers’ coach, McMillan had a 183-136 record, including 3-16 in the postseason. Indiana was swept in the first round in each of the past two seasons.

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The Pacers haven’t reached the second round since appearing in the Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and 2014, and after Monday’s loss to Miami, Indiana has lost a franchise-record nine consecutive playoff games.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called McMillan’s firing “ridiculous” on Wednesday.

“It seems totally ridiculous. It seems like you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. Just two weeks ago at the beginning of our series you’re giving him an extension, but really it’s just a media fake extension to appease whatever they felt like they needed to appease. And then after this series to make that quick of an emotional decision is really disappointing,” he said.

Injuries have played a key role in the team’s failures. The Pacers played last season without two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo, who suffered a knee injury, and without All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis against the Heat because of a foot injury.

“On behalf of the Simon family and the Pacers organization, I’d like to thank Nate for his years with the team,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said in a statement.

“This was a very hard decision for us to make; but we feel it’s in the best interest of the organization to move in a different direction. Nate and I have been through the good times and the bad times; and it was an honor to work with him for those 11 years (in Indiana and Portland).”

McMillan has a 661-588 career record in 16 seasons as a head coach for Seattle, Portland and Indiana.

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Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni: Russell Westbrook’s quad healing, but still no timetable for return

Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni still uncertain of when or if All-Star guard Russell Westbrook will be available during the team’s first-round series versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.

D’Antoni said before Tuesday’s 123-108 Game 1 victory that Westbrook’s strained right quadriceps is healing, but the team does not have a specific timetable for his return.
“Can’t rule anything out, but don’t rule anything in,” D’Antoni said.

“He’s getting a lot better,” D’Antoni said. “The good news: it’s healing. We’ll just have to wait and see. I really don’t know at this point. Can’t rule anything out, but don’t rule anything in.” Westbrook was programmed to undergo an MRI on Tuesday, and the results were not immediately revealed.

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Westbrook, who was a late arrival to the NBA’s Walt Disney World Resort campus because he tested positive for COVID-19, felt soreness in his right quadriceps after the Rockets’ loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Aug. 4.

He sat out the next two games because of a right quad contusion, according to the team.

Russ’s absence will be a tough one for the Rockets to cope with. His ability to use dribble penetration and generate open 3-pointers for others on the team is unparalleled across the NBA. The Rockets rely on heavy doses of 3-point shooting.

Westbrook played 28 minutes in Houston’s Aug. 11 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, recording 20 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. The Rockets revealed the next day that an MRI had revealed that Westbrook had a strained muscle in his quad.

A nine-time All-Star acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Thunder last summer, Westbrook has averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in his first season with the Rockets.

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Chiefs rally to beat Texans 51-31 in playoffs

Patrick Mahomes stalked up and down the sideline like a field marshal rallying his troops, the brilliant young quarterback imploring the Kansas City Chiefs to stay together even as the Houston Texans were on the verge of taking them apart.

The Chiefs already faced a 24-0 hole, bigger than any deficit they had overcome in franchise history.

”The biggest thing I was preaching,” Mahomes said later, ”was, ‘Let’s go do something special. Everybody is counting us out. Let’s go out there and play by play put it out there.’ And play by play, we did what we were supposed to do.”

Beginning with the first of his five touchdown passes, Mahomes and the Chiefs slowly chipped away at Houston’s seemingly insuperable lead. They continued to pick up momentum, outscoring the Texans 28-0 during the second quarter alone, and eventually reeled off 41 consecutive points before cruising the rest of the way to a 51-31 triumph Sunday that propelled Kansas City back to the AFC championship match for the second consecutive season.

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The Chiefs (13-4) became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff match by at least 20 points after trailing by at least 20.

They matched the fourth-biggest comeback in playoff history while winning a postseason game in back-to-back seasons for the first time. 

Travis Kelce and Damien Williams scored three touchdowns apiece, joining the 49ers’ Jerry Rice and Ricky Waters in Super Bowl 29 as the only teammates to score that many times in a postseason game.

Meanwhile, Mahomes led by example as much as by voice. He ended with 321 yards passing, becoming the first player in postseason history with at least 300 yards passing and five touchdowns while running for at least 50 more yards.

”You saw him going up and down the bench, he was talking to everybody, – ‘Just settle down,”’ Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. ”As a head coach, you can’t ask for more than that. When he’s the leader of your team and he’s going, ‘Hey, we’re going to be fine. Let’s not wait for the fourth quarter. Let’s go!’ And he did that.”

Now, after losing to the Patriots in overtime in last year’s conference title game, the Chiefs are back on the brink of their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years.

They will host Tennessee next Sunday in a rematch from earlier this season after the Titans upset Lamar Jackson and the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.

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Niners get kwon Alexander, others back for Saturday

Linebacker Kwon Alexander will be back on the field Saturday when the 49ers open the playoffs, but he likely won’t step into his old every-down role quite yet.

Alexander is just nine weeks removed from surgery to repair a torn pectoral. He returned to practice last week and still on IR.

The 49ers plan to activate him to the 53-man roster to play Saturday versus the Minnesota Vikings at Levi’s Stadium in the NFC divisional round.

The 49ers know what to expect from Alexander. But they also do not know exactly what to expect.

“I know Kwon will fly around,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area. “He’ll hit. He’ll be energetic. He’ll get everyone going. I think everyone will feel his energy on the field. And we’ll see how it goes.

“We’re not going to throw him out there, just down-in and down-out. But we don’t have a plan, where it’s only going to be ‘this’ amount. He’s looked good in practice, but we’re also not laying people out in practice.”

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Rookie Dre Greenlaw played the weakside linebacker position during the second half of the season in Alexander’s absence.

Greenlaw made the big defensive play of the season in Week 17 when he stopped Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister just inches short of the goal line on a late-game fourth-down play.

The tackle preserved the 49ers’ 26-21 victory and wrapped up the NFC West and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The 49ers’ three linebacker positions are similar, so the team will have some decisions to make on how they want to use Greenlaw and Alexander alongside middle linebacker Fred Warner.

Shanahan said a lot of the team’s in-game decision-making will be in reaction to Alexander’s effectiveness.

“You got to wait to see how the tackling goes and how he feels,” Shanahan said. “(He is) someone we’ll be communicating with throughout the game.”

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Kirk Cousins delivers for Vikings in Overtime to pick up first playoff victory

It will be the Minnesota Vikings, and not the New Orleans Saints, moving on to the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs.

After letting the Saints to tie up the game late in the fourth, the Vikings were guided down the field by Cousins and stunned the home crowd with walk-off touchdown to Zach Rudolph.

Cousins, who has been criticized throughout his entire career–including during his tenure in the nation’s capital–for not being able to deliver when the team needs him most, booked the Vikings a trip to San Francisco for a date with Jimmy Garappolo and the San Francisco 49ers. 

The 31-year-old Cousins lost his only previous playoff start — during the 2015 campaign with the Washington Redskins — and came up short of a playoff berth in the Vikings’ final game last season.

He also struggled in a handful of other high-profile matchups in prime time in 2019, but he delivered in Minnesota’s first road playoff victory since Jan. 9, 2005, when the Vikings defeated the rival Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the wild-card round.

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“I’m just happy we won,” Cousins said. “It was a great, great game, two good football teams.”

New Orleans fans surely begged to differ after seeing the NFC South champions’ season end in overtime at home for a second straight year.

The latest disappointing end for the Saints (13-4) came the year after they lost in the NFC championship game to the Los Angeles Rams in a matchup marred by blatant penalties not being called against the Rams late in regulation.

This time, replays on video boards showed a possible push-off by Rudolph against defensive back P.J. Williams moments before he jumped to snag the winning catch.

NFL president of officiating Al Riveron said the league reviewed numerous replay angles, and though officials saw contact by both players, “none of that contact rises to the level of a foul.”

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Steelers to play starters with shot at No. 1-2 seed

The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up at least the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs by defeating the Houston Texans on Monday.

Pittsburgh will have a bye to the divisional round of the tournament and can still earn the No. 1 seed by defeating the Cleveland Browns and by having the New Jets beat the New England Patriots.

But Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he won’t let the fact the No. 1 seed in the AFC is still in play factor into his decision-making on who he will dress for the Browns game.

“I’m undecided as I stand here right now,” Tomlin said Tuesday afternoon at his weekly news conference. “It’s obvious those discussions are in play. We’ll do what’s best for us short-term and long, and we won’t look back.”

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The Steelers-Browns game kicks off at 1 p.m., the same time the Patriots-Jets game starts.

There is a scenario where Tomlin and his staff can watch the scoreboard to see if there is a chance the Patriots could be upset, but that would require Tomlin to play his starters for at least one half and perhaps more if that game is close.

“We have no control over that,” Tomlin said. “We better take care of the business in our stadium. We better focus on the challenges in our stadium and take care of the business that’s in our control. That will be my mentality as we prepare this week and as we walk into the stadium.”

Regardless of whether Tomlin decides to sit or play his stars, the Steelers have an oportunity to go undefeated in the AFC North for the first time since the 2008 season.

Tomlin said there were no significant injuries to come out of the Houston match. He did not have an update on wide receiver Antonio Brown, but he did rule him out for the Browns game.

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