Leonard scores 38 points to lead Clippers past Durant, Suns in Game 1
Kawhi Leonard scored 38 points, including a pair of late 3-pointers, and the visiting Los Angeles Clippers beat the Phoenix Suns 115-110 in the opener of their Western Conference playoff series on Sunday.
Eric Gordon added 19 points and hit a late 3 that kept the Clippers ahead. Russell Westbrook shot just 3 of 19 from the floor for Los Angeles but made a pair of free throws with 17.7 seconds left for a three-point lead, then blocked Devin Booker’s layup attempt at the other end and swatted the ball off Booker to give the Clippers the ball with 10.1 seconds remaining.
Kevin Durant scored 27 points for the Suns, who lost for the first time with him on the floor. Phoenix acquired the two-time NBA Finals MVP from Brooklyn in February and injuries limited him to eight games — all Suns wins.
The Suns trailed 109-103 with 1:33 remaining but scored the next five points. The Clippers grabbed multiple offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession before Westbrook made his critical free throws. He finished with nine points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals.
Los Angeles led for much of the evening until midway through the third quarter. Torrey Craig made back-to-back buckets, including one on a powerful fast-break dunk, to push Phoenix ahead 70-68.
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It was part of a 15-0 run that put the Suns up 77-68. The Clippers, led by Leonard’s 12 points in the third, recovered to tie the game at 81-all heading into the fourth.
Leonard — a two-time Finals MVP playing his first playoff game since June 14, 2021 — did much of his damage from the mid-range, but moved behind the 3-point arc in the game’s late moments. He hit a 3 with 2:36 left and another at the 2-minute mark, finishing 13 of 24 shooting from the field.
Gordon scored 12 points as the Clippers jumped to a 30-18 lead after one quarter. The Suns shot just 31.8% from the field in the first quarter and Durant was held scoreless.
Durant missed his first five shots from the field before finally connecting on a mid-range jumper early in the second quarter. That seemed to shake the nerves and the 34-year-old poured in 17 points before the break, helping cut the Clippers’ lead to 59-54.
Butler power Heat past Bucks
Jimmy Butler scored 35 points and the visiting Miami Heat capitalized on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s early exit to beat the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks 130-117 on Sunday in an Eastern Conference playoff opener featuring two notable injuries.
The top-seeded Bucks lost Antetokounmpo to a lower back bruise early in the second quarter. Miami’s Tyler Herro broke his right hand later in the period.
Antetokounmpo was driving to the basket with 4:13 left in the first quarter when he got fouled by Kevin Love and landed hard on his backside. The two-time MVP got up slowly, stayed in the game to take his free throws and then headed to the locker room about 2 1/2 minutes later after picking up his second foul.
Although he returned to the game with 9:56 remaining in the second quarter, Antetokounmpo went to the locker room again with 8:33 left in the half and was ruled out for the rest of the game shortly afterward.
Herro appeared to hurt his hand while diving for a loose ball late in the first half. He was in obvious pain while standing in front of Miami bench during the final minute of the second period, and the Heat disclosed the severity of his injury at halftime.
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Herro had scored 12 points before his injury. Antetokounmpo ended up with six points and three rebounds in 11 minutes.
Bam Adebayo had 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Heat. Butler had 11 assists. Love had 18 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
Miami seized control of the game before Antetokounmpo’s injury as the Bucks appeared disjointed after a long layoff. None of the Bucks’ starters had played since at least April 5, when they won at Chicago to clinch the NBA’s best regular-season record and top playoff seed.
The Heat led by as many as 14 in the first half. Antetokounmpo left the game for good during a 9-0 Bucks run that cut Miami’s lead to 43-42, but the Heat answered with a 12-2 spurt and remained in front the rest of the way.
Hachimura leads Lakers past Grizzlies
Rui Hachimura had a career-best playoff scoring performance with 29 points, including 21 in the second half, and LeBron James added 21 points and 11 rebounds as the visiting Los Angeles Lakers beat the Memphis Grizzlies 128-112 on Sunday in the opening game of their Western Conference playoff series.
Jaren Jackson Jr. led Memphis with 31 points, while Desmond Bane scored 22. Ja Morant had 18 points before leaving in the fourth quarter with an injured right hand.
Los Angeles wrested home-court advantage from the Grizzlies, who had the NBA’s best home record at 35-6. Game 2 is Wednesday at FedExForum.
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It was Hachimura from Japan who provided Los Angeles some breathing room in the third quarter, connecting on all four of his 3-point attempts. Hachimura’s only previous playoff experience was in 2021 with Washington, which lost a first-round series to Philadelphia. The Lakers acquired him from the Wizards in a mid-season trade.
Memphis finished with 51 wins, its second straight 50-victory season, to earn the No. 2 seed.
The Lakers led by as much as 10 in the first half as Memphis faced some early ballhandling woes. Jarred Vanderbilt’s defense kept Morant out of the paint for a while. But Memphis outscored the Lakers 38-27 in the second quarter to carry a 65-59 lead into the break.