Lakers celebrate playoff homecoming to take series lead over Suns
Bucks leave Heat on brink, Denver take 2nd straight to go up 2-1 on Portland
Anthony Davis had 34 points and 11 rebounds, LeBron James added 21 points and nine assist and the Los Angeles Lakers celebrated their first home playoff game in more than eight years with a 109-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night in Game 3.
Dennis Schroder added 20 points and the seventh-seeded defending NBA champs took a 2-1 lead with their second straight victory in the first-round series. Los Angeles pulled away from erratic Phoenix in the second half for the second straight game, and a fierce late rally by the Suns came up short.
Game 4 is Sunday in Los Angeles.
Deandre Ayton had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who are in an early hole in their first postseason series in 11 years. Phoenix also came unglued in the final minute when Devin Booker and Jae Crowder both were sent to the locker room early.
Booker scored 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting, but the star guard was ejected with 35.4 seconds to play after committing a flagrant foul against Schroder. Moments later, Crowder got a technical foul, following Booker off the court after apparently trying to confront Schroder.
Phoenix also got another quiet game from Chris Paul, who played just 2 1/2 minutes in the fourth quarter even though coach Monty Williams said the star point guard's shoulder had healed. Paul had seven points and six assists in 27 minutes.
Roughly 7,000 masked fans watched inside Staples Center as the Lakers hosted their first playoff game in their downtown arena since April 28, 2013. Los Angeles won its 17th title in the Florida bubble last October and the legions of fans confined to watching their beloved team's rebirth on television turned up in force for this streak-breaking win.
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Davis scored 18 points in the third quarter while staking the Lakers to a 17-point lead, and Wesley Matthews hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter while Los Angeles pushed its margin to 21.
Cameron Payne hit three 3-pointers in a late rally, but the Suns couldn't get closer than eight points.
Phoenix won the series opener in impressive fashion, but the Lakers answered with much-improved play in a 109-102 victory in Game 2. The Suns were the NBA's best road team during their outstanding regular season, but the Lakers are proving to be the nightmare matchup most expected when the champs slipped to the bottom of the bracket due to injuries.
Williams said before the game that Paul was "a full go" after his bruised right shoulder that clearly limited him in both games in Phoenix. The 11-time All-Star point guard still didn't appear to be playing at his usual strengths at Staples Center, his former home with the Clippers.
Both teams got off to solid offensive starts in Game 3, but both then fumbled through a dismal second quarter featuring just 28 points on combined 9-for-39 shooting. The Lakers also got a worry when Davis came down awkwardly and appeared to be moving gingerly both before and after halftime.
But Los Angeles made a 16-6 run out of the break led by James, who increased his aggression and broke down Phoenix's defense. The Lakers took their biggest lead of the series midway through the third quarter when Schr├╢der's three-point play put them up 67-51, and Davis made a series of tough buckets to keep LA's lead at double digits even without a 3-pointer in the quarter.
Denver beats Portland
Nikola Jokic had 36 points and 11 rebounds, the Denver Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-115 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.
Austin Rivers hit four consecutive 3 pointers during a crucial stretch in the final quarter and finished with 21 points for third-seeded Denver, which had 20 3s overall.
The Blazers struggled from 3-point range and got poor shooting from their bench players despite cheers from the biggest home crowd allowed at the Moda Center this season. Damian Lillard led all scorers with 37 points.
Game 4 is Saturday at the Moda Center.
Denver led 84-79 heading into the final period, but Portland tied it at 91 on Carmelo Anthony's 3-pointer with just under seven minutes to play.
Rivers' third straight 3-pointer put the Nuggets up 102-94 with 3:49 left and his teammates rushed over to celebrate with him as a timeout was called.
The Blazers were hurt when Jusuf Nurkic fouled out with 5:15 left. Nurkic finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Portland pulled within 108-103 after Lillard's dunk with 1:38 left, but Rivers answered with another 3-pointer that all but sealed it. Rivers had five 3-pointers.
Sixth-seeded Portland opened the first round with a 123-109 victory in Denver. But the Nuggets adjusted to take Game 2 128-109.
The playoffs have been a scrappy battle for points between Lillard and Jokic. Lillard was averaging 38 points and 11.5 rebounds through the first two games, while Jokic averaged 36 points and 12 rebounds.
The Nuggets led by as many as 12 points in the opening half as Portland uncharacteristically struggled from the perimeter. The Blazers' bench also struggled, with just three points collectively in the opening half.
Denver made 12 of its 20 3-point attempts and led 64-59 at the break.
Jokic made back-to-back 3 pointers to put the Nuggets up 75-64, but Portland responded with a 11-2 run to get within 77-75.
Portland made just 14 of 45 3-point attempts in the game.
Denver's playoff record for 3s in a game is 22, set last year in the opening round against Utah.
Bucks ease past Heat
Khris Middleton scored 22 points, Jrue Holiday added 19 points and 12 assists and the Milwaukee Bucks moved a win from a berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals after easing past the Miami Heat 113-84.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds for the Bucks. They lead the first-round series 3-0 and will try for a sweep of the reigning East champions on Saturday.
The Bucks won Game 2 by 34 points and made Game 3 just as decisive, leading by as many as 32. Brook Lopez scored 13 points, while Bryn Forbes and Bobby Portis each had 11 for Milwaukee.
Jimmy Butler scored 19 points and Bam Adebayo had 17 for Miami. Nemanja Bjelica — little-used by Miami this season, then called upon Thursday out of desperation for any sort of outside shooting — scored 14 points.
Milwaukee outrebounded Miami 56-41, held the Heat to 38 per cent shooting and became the first team to top Miami by at least 29 points twice in the same playoff series.
And that's after the Bucks beat Miami by 47, in Miami, back in December.
The biggest crowd of the season, by far — the Heat were expecting 17,000 in a building that in normal times called 19,600 a sellout — showed up, most of them in their seats by tip-off, hoping that they would see the start of a turnaround.
Instead, in the biggest game of the season, they saw Miami's slowest start of the season.
The Heat managed only eight points in the game's first nine minutes, the fewest they managed in such a game-opening span since last August and the fewest to open a game on their home floor since Nov. 14, 2018.
It was 26-14 Milwaukee after one quarter, then the lead swelled to as much as 19 — 44-25 late in the second before got to 49-36 at the half. That matched the fewest points allowed by the Bucks in a first half in more than three years.
And in the third, whenever Miami seemed like it could get close Milwaukee had a rebuttal.
Butler scored to get Miami within 14; Forbes followed with a 3-pointer. Adebayo had a three-point play to make it 14 again; Antetokounmpo answered with a jumper. Tyler Herro hit a 3-pointer to get Miami within 14 a third time; the Bucks scored the next five points.
The margin swelled to 27 in the third quarter. More than a few of those 17,000 fans didn't stick around too much longer.