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Butler scores 41, Heat take Game 1 from Celtics 118-107

11.7h ago 5/17/2022 11:41 PM ET By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer MIAMI

MIAMI (AP) — His team was down by eight at halftime, and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra went into the locker room ready to deliver a big speech.

Turns out, one wasn't needed.

Jimmy Butler decided to let his play do the talking.

Butler scored 27 of his 41 points in the second half, and a huge third quarter by the Heat carried them to a 118-107 win over the short-handed Boston Celtics 118-107 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night.

“Jimmy Butler is an elite competitor," Spoelstra said. “There's a lot of guys in this league that are playing basketball. He's competing to win. That's a totally different thing and he does that as well as anybody in this league."

Tyler Herro scored 18 and Gabe Vincent added 17 for the Heat, who outscored Boston 39-14 in the third quarter. Butler had 17 alone in the third, outscoring the Celtics by himself over those 12 minutes.

Boston shot 2 for 15 in that third quarter.

“We won three quarters other than that, but obviously that one is going to stand out," Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “We semi-bounced back in the fourth and started to play well again and matched their physicality, but 39-14 on 2-for-15 is tough to overcome."

Along with the 41 points, the rest of Butler's line: nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocked shots. Since the NBA started charting all those stat categories, only five other players — Anthony Davis, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Harden (who did it twice) — had all those numbers in a single game. None happened in a playoff game, until now.

“I continued to play basketball the right way: Shoot the ball when I’m open, attack, hit the open guy,” Butler said. “Honestly, it was a team effort.”

Max Strus scored 11 and Bam Adebayo added 10 for Miami.

Jayson Tatum scored 29 for the Celtics, who were without starters Marcus Smart (foot) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols). Jaylen Brown added 24 for Boston, which got 18 apiece from Robert Williams III and Payton Pritchard.

Game 2 is Thursday.

Boston led by 13 in the first half and took a 62-54 lead into halftime. A 22-2 run was how Miami started the second half, the run punctuated by steals that led to baskets on three consecutive possessions. Strus had one, the next two by Butler pushed the lead out to 76-64, and the Heat were off and running.

“It wasn’t anything different that they did,” Udoka said. “They just came out and imposed their will.”

The lead reached 96-76 when Herro was fouled on a 3-point try and made all three free throws early in the fourth.

Boston had a run left; a 10-0 spurt cut the deficit in half, and a 3-pointer from Tatum made it a nine-point game — outcome still very much in doubt — with 7:35 left.

But the Heat had a response. PJ Tucker answered Tatum’s 3 with one of his own. Brown then connected from deep to get Boston within single digits again, only to have that one answered by a 3 from Strus.

“Our energy shifted," Adebayo said. “That was the biggest key."

Some of the plans that both sides had for Game 1 were thrown away about 3 ½ hours before game time, when the Celtics revealed that Smart and Horford wouldn’t be playing. Smart’s absence was somewhat expected because of a mid-foot sprain he suffered in Game 7 of the East semifinals against Milwaukee on Sunday.

Horford’s absence, however, was a surprise.

He entered the league’s health and safety protocols Tuesday afternoon, which ruled him out of Game 1 and quite possibly could keep him out for multiple games going forward. Yet even without two starters, Boston had a chance.

“Other than the third quarter, I think we won every other quarter," Pritchard said. “Obviously, we try not to let that happen next time."

TIP-INS

Celtics: Boston’s biggest lead was 13 points. The Celtics are now 46-7 this season in games in which it led by at least that many. ... Boston scored 18 points of the first 6 ½ minutes of the first half, then two points in the first 6 ½ minutes of the second half. ... The Celtics trailed for only 16 seconds in the first two quarters. ... Boston has dropped 17 of its last 26 East finals games.

Heat: Former Miami guard Goran Dragic was in attendance. ... This series is the 50th in Heat postseason history. They’re now 28-22 in Game 1s. ... Butler’s 15th point — a free throw 16 seconds into the second half — gave him 14,000 for his career, including playoffs. He’s the 220th NBA player to score that many. ... Miami missed its first seven shots. ... Tucker left in the second quarter to get his right ankle re-taped, then returned for the second half.

BLOCK PARTY

There were 20 blocked shots in the game — 12 by Miami, eight by Boston.

SECOND BEST (AND WORST)

The 25-point differential in the third quarter was the second-best for the Heat and the second-worst for the Celtics this season. Miami outscored Charlotte by 27 in the third quarter on Feb. 5. Boston was outscored by 28 points in the fourth quarter by Chicago on Nov. 1.

SLOW SECOND

Boston didn’t have a field goal in the first six minutes of the second half — the slowest start to a half in any of the Celtics’ 94 games this season. The previous low for field goals made in the opening 6:00 of a half by the Celtics this season, including playoffs, was one in the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 7.

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AP source: Ham, Atkinson get second interviews with Hornets

13.2h ago 5/17/2022 10:11 PM ET By STEVE REED, AP Sports Writer CHARLOTTE, N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Hornets have scheduled second interviews with Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham and Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson this week, along with former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts for their head coaching vacancy, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team has not released a list of potential coaching candidates.

The Hornets fired James Borrego as coach after going 43-39 this season and finishing in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets have not won a playoff series in two decades.

Stotts coached nine seasons with the Blazers, with his run ending in 2021. Prior to that he coached Atlanta and Milwaukee and has compiled a 517-486 record as an NBA coach. He has never made it beyond the conference finals.

Ham and Atkinson are the first known Hornets candidate to get a second interview.

The Bucks' season ended over the weekend when they lost to the Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals. Ham has been an NBA assistant since 2011, but has never worked as a head coach in the league.

Atkinson coached the Brooklyn Nets for 3 1/2 seasons, reaching the 2019 playoffs. He and the Warriors are in the Western Conference finals.

The Hornets previously interviewed two-time NBA Coach of the Year and New Orleans Pelicans consultant Mike D’Antoni and assistant coaches Sean Sweeney of Dallas, David Vanterpool of Brooklyn and Charles Lee of Milwaukee.

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Magic Moment: Orlando wins lottery, lands No. 1 pick

14.7h ago 5/17/2022 8:41 PM ET By ANDREW SELIGMAN, AP Sports Writer CHICAGO

CHICAGO (AP) — Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman was supposed to be at the podium for the NBA draft lottery.

He benched himself in favor of coach Jamahl Mosley.

“I haven’t been very good at this,” Weltman said. “Coach was feeling lucky and we let him roll the dice. Tonight, he’s the Coach of the Year.”

And next season, he'll be coaching the No. 1 pick.

The Magic won the lottery Tuesday night and landed the top overall pick for the first time since they got Dwight Howard in 2004.

“We’re all just rooting for our team and hoping that number pops up the right way,” Weltman said. “But teams are built on these breaks.”

The Magic got a huge one, with lottery luck striking the franchise for the fourth time. Orlando also won in back-to-back years in 1992 and 1993, taking Shaquille O’Neal and then trading the rights to Chris Webber for Penny Hardaway.

The Magic finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference at 22-60 in their first season under Mosley and missed the playoffs for the eighth time in 10 years. But they got a huge win in the lottery, where they had a 14% chance landing the top pick.

“These are hard seasons when you’re not winning and that takes a lot out of you and you have to carry your belief in your team and your players and the organization through,” Weltman said. “So when you get a break, it helps, and that’s how that’s how teams are built. So tonight is a good night for us.”

Duke’s Paolo Banchero, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Auburn’s Jabari Smith are widely considered the most likely candidates to be taken first. The draft is June 23 in New York.

Oklahoma City got the second pick, followed by Houston and Sacramento. The Kings moved up from the No. 7 spot entering the lottery.

Detroit picks fifth, with Indiana, Portland, New Orleans, San Antonio and Washington rounding out the top 10. The rest of the lottery results are: New York, Oklahoma City, Charlotte and Cleveland.

The lottery, with 14 ping pong balls numbered 1 through 14 placed into a hopper, sets the first four picks. The remainder of the non-playoff teams go in reverse order of their finish.

Houston, Orlando and Detroit had the best odds of winning the lottery at 14%. All three had young teams that finished at the bottom of the NBA, with the Magic having 2021 lottery picks Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner on their roster.

“It feels great,” Weltman said. “I’m so happy for our fans. They really stuck with us. And nights like this help, where you can really show the fruits of why you go through these phases and these cycles. And hopefully, they’re really excited by this.”

The Magic are committed to building through the draft after trading veterans Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon in March 2021 for first-round draft picks in 2023 and 2025. But they were missing two of the young players they are trying to build around last season with Jonathan Issac and Markelle Fultz recovering from knee injuries.

With the No. 1 pick and a new practice facility set to open in a few weeks, the Magic have some things going for them at the moment.

Banchero, Holmgren and Smith decided to turn pro after one college season while Ivey spent two years at Purdue.

The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Banchero was viewed as a likely one-and-done player before he arrived at Duke from Seattle as part of a talented recruited class. He lived up to it, helping the Blue Devils reach now-retired coach Mike Krzyzewski’s record 13th Final Four before losing to archrival North Carolina.

With his strength and perimeter skills, Banchero averaged 17.2 points and 7.8 rebounds. He scored 20 or more 15 times while failing to reach double figures only twice in 39 games.

Holmgren, a 7-footer with the ability to pass and handle the ball like a guard, was one of the most highly touted recruits ever for Gonzaga. He was the West Coast Conference newcomer of the year, defensive player of the year and a first-team all-conference selection. He averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game, and was a third-team AP All-American.

Smith also lived up to his billing as one of the top recruits ever for Auburn. The Tigers earned their first No. 1 ranking and spent three weeks in the top spot. The 6-10, 220-pounder from Fayetteville, Georgia, was a second-team, All-American and the SEC freshman of the year. He led Auburn in scoring, averaging 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. Smith was also the Tigers’ top 3-point shooter after making 79 of 188 attempts (43%).

The rest of the first round is slotted this way: Charlotte at No. 15, followed by Atlanta, Houston (from Brooklyn through the James Harden trade), Chicago, Minnesota, San Antonio, Toronto, Denver, Memphis, Philadelphia (may be conveyed to Brooklyn), Milwaukee, San Antonio, Dallas, Miami, Golden State, Memphis and Oklahoma City.

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Curry, Thompson ready to lead Warriors vs surprising Mavs

16.2h ago 5/17/2022 7:11 PM ET By JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer SAN FRANCISCO

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Many months ago and well before he returned to the court from an injury absence of more than 2 1/2 years, Klay Thompson made a bold proclamation: “It's championship or bust."

Thompson, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are one step closer to having a chance to make good on those words as they prepare to tip off Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night.

“I love the moments. I love the pressure. I love playing basketball at the highest level,” Thompson said.

He certainly looks like his old self this postseason after returning in January. Thompson had been sidelined since the 2019 NBA Finals, when he tore the ACL in his left knee during the deciding Game 6 against champion Toronto and had surgery. He was working his way back when he tore his right Achilles tendon and underwent another operation.

Thompson can't wait to lead the Warriors into the best-of-seven series against the surprising fourth-seeded Mavericks, who took down top-seeded Phoenix 123-90 in the deciding seventh game of their series Sunday.

“They’re obviously playing at a really high level. They have a lot of guys that have shined this playoff run,” Curry said.

A year ago, Giannis Antetokounmpo had his breakthrough moment on the playoff stage leading Milwaukee to a title, and now this might be Luka Doncic's time to do so for Dallas.

“Honestly, I never expected to be here. I’m living my best life. This is a dream,” Doncic said Tuesday. “Before Game 7, I was thinking this might be my last game of the NBA season. But I wasn’t ready. I wanted to play basketball. Tomorrow, another basketball game that I will enjoy.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose Warriors reached five straight NBA Finals from 2015-19, knows what his team is up against.

“He's a really unique player and clearly one of the very best players in the league. I think the ability to shoot the step-back 3 and also get to the rim and pass the ball so well makes him a really difficult cover,” Kerr said.

BREAKTHROUGH MAVS

Doncic and Mavs great Dirk Nowitzki, who led Dallas to the 2011 title, shared a moment on the court in Phoenix after Game 7. At 24, the big German was a year older than Doncic when he reached the West finals for the first time with the Mavericks in 2003. Dallas lost to San Antonio in six games and Nowitzki missed the last three with a knee injury.

Nowitzki played with Doncic when the Slovenian was a rookie in 2018-19, then retired after a record 21 seasons with the same franchise and took two years off before becoming a team consultant.

“He was just happy,” Doncic said of their conversation Sunday. “I think he gives everybody on this team a lot of confidence when you see Dirk sitting courtside. I think everybody really appreciates him because Dirk is Dirk. He’s been through everything. He’s been a champion so he knows it.”

It’s also a breakthrough of sorts for the Mavs' Jason Kidd, who is in his first season as coach of the team he helped win a title as point guard. Kidd led Brooklyn to the second round as a rookie coach in 2013-14, the season after the Hall of Famer retired as a player. Kidd couldn’t get Milwaukee out of the first round in two tries over three seasons. He was fired during his fourth season with the Bucks.

DALLAS D

The Dallas defense certainly presents a challenge for the Warriors' high-powered offense.

The Suns shot at least 50% in their first eight playoff games before Dallas held Phoenix under that mark the final five games. The Suns shot 24% in the first half of Game 7 while falling behind by 30.

The Mavericks also held Phoenix to its three lowest-scoring games, regular season included, in the series: 103-94 in Game 3, 113-86 in Game 6 and 123-90 in Game 7.

Dallas was second to Boston in fewest points allowed per game during the regular season, the highest finish in franchise history. The Celtics finished at 104.5 and the Mavs at 104.7.

“WE BELIEVE” TEAM REMEMBERED

The teams haven't met in the playoffs since coach Don Nelson's “We Believe” Warriors team of 2007 led by Baron Davis upset the top-seeded Mavericks in six games — stunning Nowitzki and Co. in one of the biggest shockers in NBA history after Dallas had lost in the 2006 NBA Finals to the Heat.

Golden State ended a franchise-worst 12-year playoff drought that season and won a best-of-seven series for the first time in 31 years.

The Warriors became only the third eighth seed to upset the No. 1 and the first since the opening round went from best-of-five to the current format. The Denver Nuggets (1994) and the New York Knicks (1999) were the other teams.

“I just remember the energy, I didn't really know much about Dub Nation at the time or what was going on out here in the Bay,” Curry said. “I was at Davidson. You could just tell how electric the building was coming through the TV.”

CLEAN IT UP

Kerr insisted he wouldn't discuss turnovers with the Warriors this time, saying he's using “the opposite theory” straight out of sitcom “Seinfeld.”

"It’s been the No. 1 key on our board for about 72 straight games so there’s no point. I think if I don’t say anything then we’re going to take care of the ball,” Kerr said.

The Warriors committed 19.2 turnovers per game over the six contests against the Grizzlies in the conference semifinals, including one with 24 and another with 22.

Kerr acknowledged a near mishap of his own while watching the sloppy play in the Game 6 clincher Friday night while at home with COVID-19.

“The beer mug that I was drinking my beer out of was close to being shattered after a few of those turnovers,” he said with a smile.

INJURY UPDATE

Golden State forward Otto Porter Jr. was listed as probable for Game 1 after he missed Game 6 versus Memphis with soreness in his right foot.

Guard Gary Payton II hadn't been ruled out to return at some point this round from a broken left elbow he suffered when he crashed to the floor after a hard foul by Dillon Brooks that earned the Memphis forward a Flagrant 2 foul, ejection and one-game suspension.

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AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.

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Mavericks-Warriors Western Conference finals preview capsule

22.3h ago 5/17/2022 1:11 PM ET By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer

Preview capsule for the Golden State-Dallas Western Conference finals series that starts Wednesday:

No. 3 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (53-29, 8-3) vs. No. 4 DALLAS MAVERICKS (52-30, 8-5)

Season series: Mavericks, 3-1

Schedule: Wednesday and Friday at Golden State, Sunday and May 24 at Dallas, May 26 at Golden State if necessary, May 28 at Dallas if necessary, May 30 at Golden State if necessary.

How they got here: Warriors: Beat No. 6 Denver 4-1, Beat No. 2 Memphis 4-2. Mavericks: Beat No. 5 Utah 4-2, Beat No. 1 Phoenix 4-3.

Storyline: Back in the Western Conference finals for the sixth time in eight years, the Golden State Warriors face an unexpected opponent. Luka Doncic and the Mavericks ousted Phoenix, which had the NBA's best record, with a Game 7 rout in the second round. The Mavericks haven't made it this far since winning their lone NBA title in 2011. The conference finals were once just a stopping point for the Warriors, who played in five straight NBA Finals from 2015-19. They missed the playoffs the last two seasons when some serious injuries set in, but Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are all healthy now and the Warriors might just be the championship favorites again.

Key matchup: Curry, Thompson and Jordan Poole vs. Doncic, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie. This is a small-ball series — there's plenty of those around the league these days — and will likely be decided by which three-guard lineup performs better. Doncic is one of the best postseason scorers in NBA history and the Mavs' guards blew away the Suns' All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker on Sunday, with Doncic and Dinwiddie becoming the first teammates since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2002 to score 30 points in a Game 7. While Dallas will use plenty of pick-and-rolls to set up its guards for opportunities to drive to the basket, the Warriors still rely heavily on their formula of moving the ball around to get Curry and Thompson open looks behind the 3-point line.

Injury watch: The Warriors aren't ruling out a possible return of Gary Payton II sometime in this series after he broke his left elbow early in the West semifinals in Memphis. They are also hopeful Otto Porter Jr. can play in Game 1 after he missed the last two games with soreness in his right foot.

Numbers of note: It's just the second playoff meeting between the teams. The first was a historic victory for the Warriors, who became the first No. 8 seed to beat the No. 1 in a seven-game series when they stunned the 67-win Mavericks in 2007. ... Doncic is averaging 31.5 points, just behind Giannis Antetokoumpo (31.7) for most in these playoffs. Golden State already had to face the player who is third, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic (31.0) of Denver. ... The Warriors are 20-2 in Game 1s since 2015 and have won the last 12 that were played at home. ... Golden State has won 17 straight series against Western Conference teams, one shy of the record against a conference or division opponent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Boston Celtics won 18 straight between 1959-67. ... Dallas held Curry to 10-for-34 shooting (29.4%) from 3-point range during the four meetings in the regular season. Thompson appeared in only two of them and Green one. Doncic averaged 31.5 points, playing all four.

Prediction: Doncic's individual brilliance gives Dallas a chance in any playoff series, and the adjustments Jason Kidd made against Phoenix turned around that series after the Suns took a 2-0 lead. But the Warriors' core has done this too many times to fold the way the Suns did at the end. Golden State will once again be the best in the West. Warriors in 7.

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Stephen Curry earns sociology degree from Davidson College

1.6d ago 5/16/2022 10:01 PM ET By JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer SAN FRANCISCO

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — “Pomp and Circumstance” played as Stephen Curry stepped up to the podium after practice Monday as he prepared with the Golden State Warriors for the Western Conference Finals.

A playful, makeshift moment to honor his new status as college graduate.

Curry completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology to join the Davidson College class of 2022, even if he couldn't be there to walk for the commencement ceremony Sunday but watched on video.

He fulfilled a promise to mother Sonya that he would receive his degree. She had been bragging for the past decade that two of her children — son Seth and daughter Sydel — had college degrees.

“It's cool to kind of relive the sights and sounds of school and campus and all that,” Curry said. “This is a long time coming, obviously. Since I left campus it was a goal to finish. Just obviously a sense of accomplishment but a promise I made to my mom and Coach (Bob) McKillop when I left after my junior year. It was pretty special, they had the Fathead (cutout) over on campus in my honor.”

This marks another important accomplishment to add to a list that includes three NBA championships, two MVPs and a pair of scoring titles. Curry will receive his diploma at a later date. He completed his coursework 13 years after leaving Davidson a year early following his junior season, then was drafted by the Warriors seventh overall.

Next up is Gary Payton II, who said Sunday he is close to earning his degree from Oregon State in a month or so.

“It doesn't surprise me. We have guys who are really conscientious about the world beyond basketball and their impact in their communities. Also, Steph is a really curious guy, he's constantly trying to expand his horizons and getting his college degree was really important to him,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I think it's fantastic, and same with Gary. It's wonderful when you see guys go back and finish up.”

Curry also worked toward his major during the 2011 lockout then re-enrolled for this spring's semester.

His thesis was focused on advancing gender equity through sports and he even did a research project about tattoos and got his teammates who have ink involved by asking them about the meaning behind their choices and other details such as how they feel about the tattoos now.

“My guys helped me out on that research project,” Curry said.

He credited a half-dozen people for helping him get it done, including a former professor from Davidson now at UC Santa Cruz, another Davidson professor in collaboration with one at Stanford and even Davidson athletic director Chris Clunie.

Payton, one player who contributed to the tattoos project, congratulated Curry on Sunday. Curry watched the ceremony over live stream and was announced as “Wardell Stephen Curry II.”

“I told him that's huge, a big relief off his shoulders I can imagine,” Payton said. “So, yeah, I'm proud of 30 getting that done. It took a couple years after but it doesn't matter as long as you get the paper, that's all that matters. I'm proud and excited for 30.”

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Woman files for protective order against Cavs' Rajon Rondo

1.6d ago 5/16/2022 9:21 PM ET LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Players: Rajon Rondo

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Louisville woman has filed for an emergency protective order against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Rajon Rondo and alleges the former Kentucky star brandished a gun and threatened her life.

The woman alleges Rondo “became enraged” last week and filed for the EPO on Friday in Jefferson County Family Court, news outlets reported. She says in the EPO that Rondo was playing video games with a child when she asked the child to finish separating his laundry so she could wash the family’s clothes.

When the child got up to do so, she said Rondo ripped the video game console out of the wall, went downstairs, smashed a teacup plate, knocked over several water bottles and began yelling and cursing. According to the EPO, Rondo then went outside and knocked over the trash cans, stomped on the landscaping lights and drove his car onto the lawn.

When the woman confronted Rondo, the EPO continued, he said, “You’re dead.” After briefly leaving the house, Rondo came back and beat on a window with a gun. The woman said in the EPO that the player was yelling at the kids, asking them why they were scared of him while he had a gun in his hand.

The woman called former interim Louisville Metro Police chief Yvette Gentry, who eventually arrived at the house. However, the woman said Rondo wouldn’t allow Gentry inside. The woman said she locked herself in the house with the kids, and Gentry eventually told her Rondo had left and she had his gun.

Two days after the alleged incident occurred, a judge granted the woman the protective order. The judge ordered Rondo not to communicate and to stay at least 500 feet away from her.

Rondo played 39 games last season between the Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers. He has played with eight other NBA clubs, including the Boston Celtics from 2006-14 after being drafted 21st overall in 2006.

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Spoelstra, Udoka have Heat and Celtics ready for East finals

1.7d ago 5/16/2022 5:41 PM ET By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer MIAMI

MIAMI (AP) — He grew up in Portland, basketball in his blood. Wasn’t exactly a big-time recruit before eventually playing some college ball in the West Coast Conference. Took a circuitous route into coaching, guided along the way by one of the game’s legendary sideline bosses. And last summer, he was part of the brain trust that helped USA Basketball win Olympic gold.

That is Erik Spoelstra’s story.

That is also Ime Udoka’s story.

There is enormous respect between those men, who have known one another for decades and have deep ties. Spoelstra coaches the Miami Heat, Udoka is in his first season coaching the Boston Celtics, and one of them will be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Game 1 of the East title series is Tuesday night, the top-seeded Heat playing host to the second-seeded Celtics.

“We have great respect for what they’ve done during the regular season, to develop the right habits,” said Spoelstra, now in his 14th season after taking over as Miami coach for Hall of Famer Pat Riley. “And like I said, this is the way it should be — the two teams that played most consistently at the top of the East for most of the year, and we’re meeting in the conference finals to figure it out.”

The Heat needed five games to get past Atlanta in Round 1, then six games to oust Philadelphia in the East semifinals. Boston swept Brooklyn in Round 1, then ended Milwaukee’s reign as NBA champions by finishing off a seven-game series win in the other East semi that ended Sunday.

It’s a rematch of the 2020 East finals, held in the restart bubble at Walt Disney World, when Miami topped Boston 4-2 to earn a berth in the NBA Finals. That was the third East finals loss in a four-year span for members of the Celtics — and many of the players from some of or all those defeats, like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, are Boston’s core today.

“This is the group I feel like is poised enough to get it done,” Brown said. “I feel like everything that we’ve overcome — all these battles and challenges and adversity we’ve been through this season, as well as the challenge that we just had overcoming the defending champions — I think that we are prepared. I think we’re ready to take that next step. We’ve just got to go out and take it.”

For its part, Miami — seeking a seventh trip to the NBA Finals and what would be a sixth in the last 12 seasons — isn’t looking back at the bubble win or much of anything else, All-Star forward Jimmy Butler insisted.

“We just want to focus in on today, right now, the group of guys that we get to go to war with every single day,” Butler said.

So, players might not look back.

It’s a little different for the coaches.

Udoka remembers meeting Spoelstra when he was a kid — at 44, Udoka is seven years younger than Spoelstra — and watching him play in pro-am runs alongside other Portland basketball legends like Damon Stoudemire. Udoka played against Spoelstra-coached Heat teams four times before becoming a coach, spending the bulk of his years as an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio.

Hence, the Olympic ties they share: Popovich was USA Basketball’s coach in the last Olympic cycle, and asked Udoka and Spoelstra to be part of his circle of confidants for that journey.

“He’s always had success,” Udoka said of Spoelstra. “One of the best coaches in the league, in my opinion. It’ll be a task for us because he has his team well-prepared, hard-fought, Heat Culture mentality. I got to know him on a more personal level in that time spent in Tokyo in preparations for the Olympics, but I’ve known Erik for a while.”

They’ll know each other a little better after the next couple weeks.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Boston won the regular season series 2-1; the Celtics went 1-0 at Miami and the teams split two games at Boston.

Miami has won 13 of the 23 previous playoff games between the franchises.

NEW LOOK

Of the players Miami gave minutes to in the 2020 East finals, only four — Butler, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson — remain on the roster. That doesn’t include Udonis Haslem, who didn’t play in that series.

Boston has six veterans of the 2020 series back — Tatum, Brown, Smart, Daniel Theis, Grant Williams and Robert Williams.

INJURIES

Heat point guard Kyle Lowry won’t be ready to start the series because of his balky hamstring, but Miami went 4-0 against Philadelphia without him (and 0-2 with him trying to play while still clearly laboring).

Smart has a mid-foot sprain and is questionable for Game 1.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

Brown averaged 24.7 points in the regular season series between the clubs. Butler averaged 22 per game and Miami’s Max Strus — who has had an excellent postseason, his first as a starter — went 13 for 26 from 3-point range in his two appearances against the Celtics.

ODDS ARE

FanDuel Sportsbook says Miami is a 1.5-point favorite in Game 1, but also lists Boston as the favorite to win the series.

Golden State is FanDuel’s favorite to win the NBA title, followed by Boston, Miami and Dallas.

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AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed to this report.

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Middleton might have remained out even if Bucks had advanced

1.7d ago 5/16/2022 5:41 PM ET By STEVE MEGARGEE, AP Sports Writer MILWAUKEE

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton might not have been available for the Eastern Conference finals even if the Milwaukee Bucks had made it that far.

The three-time All-Star missed the Bucks’ last 10 games after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Game 2 of a first-round series with the Chicago Bulls. Middleton sat out Milwaukee’s entire second-round series with the Boston Celtics, who beat the Bucks in seven games and open the conference finals Tuesday in Miami.

“I don’t know if I would have been ready for tomorrow,” Middleton said Monday. “I don’t know if I would have been ready if it went to Game 7. It was almost a day-by-day thing, just waking up and seeing how I felt, seeing if there’s swelling in there, and there’s a point where you have to make sure the ligament’s completely healed.”

Middleton’s absence was an unfortunate turn of events for the Bucks, who benefited from injuries to other teams during their title run last season. The Bucks won a seven-game East semifinal with the Brooklyn Nets after injuries knocked out James Harden for most of the first four games and Kyrie Irving for the last three games.

The Bucks did lose Giannis Antetokounmpo to a knee injury for two games in the East finals, but he returned to become MVP of the NBA Finals.

“It just wasn’t our time,” forward Bobby Portis said. “All teams that go through a playoff stretch have luck along the way. We had our luck last year in some series that we went through with teams that went through some injuries.”

Boston was missing forward/center Robert Williams the last four games due to a bone bruise in his right knee, but that only underscored the Celtics’ superior depth.

Williams was replaced in the starting lineup by Grant Williams, who scored a career-high 27 points and tied a Game 7 record Sunday by sinking seven 3-pointers in the Celtics’ series-clinching 109-81 victory. None of the Bucks’ role players stepped up in a similar manner.

That forced the Bucks to depend even more on Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday.

Antetokounmpo was the first player to have 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in a playoff series. Holiday, who attempted more than 21 shots in a game just twice during the regular season, averaged 22 shots per game in the Celtics series.

“If we had Khris, not that I’m trying to make excuses, but maybe a different story,” Antetokounmpo said after Sunday’s game. “But we gave everything we had. Guys came together. We realize, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get better as a team. We’ve got to want it more. We’ve got to work on our games.’ “

They also must improve their playoff 3-point shooting.

Milwaukee ranked fourth in the league in 3-pointers per game (14.1) and fifth in 3-point percentage (36.6%) during the regular season. The Bucks made 38% of their 3-point attempts in their first-round series.

That all changed in the second round as the Celtics made nearly twice as many 3-pointers as the Bucks. Milwaukee went 57 of 204 (27.9%) from beyond the arc while Boston was 110 of 292 (37.6%).

The Bucks’ challenge is finding the right guys to complement the trio of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday.

Milwaukee’s depth took a hit with the offseason departure of P.J. Tucker, now with Miami. The Bucks’ top offseason addition was Grayson Allen, who played well in the regular season and in a first-round playoff series against Chicago. But after going 3 of 6 on 3-point attempts against Boston in Game 1, Allen went 2 of 18 the next six games.

“In Game 1, I got three good open ones and knocked them down,” Allen said. “It felt like (Games) 2-7, the easy catch-and-shoot, spot-ups were very few and very hard to come by.”

At the trade deadline, the Bucks sent Donte DiVincenzo to Sacramento as part of a four-team deal that brought them Serge Ibaka, who fell out of the rotation by April. Portis and Pat Connaughton have player options for next season and could opt for free agency.

The Bucks still should continue competing for titles as long as their top three guys remain healthy, though age offers cause for concern.

The 27-year-old Antetokounmpo was one of the younger players in the Bucks’ rotation this season. Holiday turns 32 next month and Middleton turns 31 this summer. Brook Lopez is 34, Wesley Matthews 35 and George Hill 36.

This playoff exit should add motivation.

“Hopefully, this moment, instead of thinking that we lost something, we can gain and learn in order for us to put ourselves in position to win another championship,” Antetokounmpo said.

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Before NBA draft lottery, Lakers already made Pelicans lucky

1.8d ago 5/16/2022 5:11 PM ET By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer

Time for the NBA draft lottery, where some team will get a nice reward for a miserable season.

Not the Los Angeles Lakers, though. Their misery is set to make a good year even better for the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pelicans are the lone playoff team among the clubs who can get a boost from lotto luck when the drawing is conducted Tuesday night in Chicago.

The Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons all share a 14% chance of winning the lottery and the No. 1 pick for the June 23 NBA draft in New York. Auburn's Jabari Smith, Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren and Duke's Paolo Banchero are among the top college players available.

The Rockets, Magic and Pistons were young teams who finished at the bottom of the league, the kinds of teams the lottery is supposed to benefit.

Then there's the Pelicans.

They were just like most other observers in and around the NBA this season, expecting the Lakers to be a winning team, possibly a championship contender. But when the Lakers instead flopped to a 33-49 finish, eighth-worst in the league, it left New Orleans in position to cash in one of its chips from the 2019 trade that sent Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.

The Pelicans will make the pick from the Lakers as long as it lands in the top 10 — and there's about a 99.6% chance of that.

Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said nobody on the Pelicans was expecting to get a top-10 pick from the Lakers this season, in which New Orleans rebounded from a 1-12 start to make the playoffs led by All-Star Brandon Ingram — acquired in the trade with Los Angeles.

“So we got very lucky and as is often the case in our business, it’s better to be lucky than good,” Griffin said after the playoffs. “And if you can be both, you can achieve something and so we’re grateful we’re a playoff team that’s holding a lottery pick. It’s a highly unusual thing.

“So we got lucky there for sure.”

That's what Tuesday is all about.

The Pistons had the luck last year, when they won the lottery and eventually chose guard Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick. He went on to finish third in the voting for rookie of the year.

Houston and Orlando also have plenty of young talent and are prepared to add to it. All three have a better than 52% chance of landing a top-four selection.

The lottery sets the top four picks. The remainder of the non-playoff teams pick in reverse order of their finish. Besides the Rockets, Magic, Pistons and Pelicans, the other teams participating Tuesday are Oklahoma City, Indiana, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, Washington, New York, Charlotte and Cleveland.

There are only 13 teams instead of the 14 that missed the postseason, because the Thunder also own the Clippers' selection, which goes into the lottery in the No. 12 position.

Hall of Famer David Robinson will be sitting on stage to represent the Spurs, a reminder of the type of franchise-changing player that could be available to a lottery winner. The Spurs took Robinson No. 1 after winning the 1987 lottery.

The Rockets ended up with a dominant big man of their own in the lottery 20 years ago, when they selected Yao Ming of China. Now digging out from the end of the James Harden era, they finished 20-62 this season, worst in the NBA.

Houston had the No. 2 pick last year and took Jalen Green, who showed plenty of promise as a rookie. Now they might be able to add two talented young players to their roster, a top-five pick of their own and the No. 17 selection from Brooklyn that they acquired when they dealt Harden in January 2021.

“I do think we’ll be a more talented team next year than we were this year and I actually think, just in terms of talent, we were a pretty talented team,” general manager Rafael Stone said. We were just extraordinarily young. Chances are we’ll be even younger next year, but you never know."

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Suns stinker in Game 7 overshadows excellent regular season

1.8d ago 5/16/2022 5:01 PM ET By DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer PHOENIX

PHOENIX (AP) — Chris Paul worked his way around the perimeter and got the shot he wanted on the first offensive possession for the Phoenix Suns — an open 14-foot jumper near the free-throw line that he's made plenty of times during his 17-year NBA career.

It rattled in and out of the basket.

The unwelcome surprises were just beginning for the Suns.

Two hours later, the top-seeded Suns walked off their home floor after a 123-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals that will go down as one of the most embarrassing no-shows in NBA playoff history.

If it's possible, the final score didn't indicate how lopsided the game actually was. The Mavericks led by 46 points at one juncture and the game was never even remotely competitive.

Instead of going back to the NBA Finals, the Suns are left to wonder what went wrong.

“We didn’t step up to that challenge today,” Suns forward Cameron Johnson said. “I can't tell you enough how much I wish I could rewind the clock a few hours.”

It's difficult to know what to make of the Suns' season. Yes, they won a franchise-record 64 games during the regular season. Yes, they had an All-Star backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker. Yes, Monty Williams was the NBA's Coach of the Year. Yes, when they were rolling they were one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league.

And then the season ended ... like that.

Williams tried to put on a brave face following Game 7.

“We were the best team in the league all season long," Williams said. "We made it to the second round and lost in a game seven. That is no a bad team, we are a really good team. We had an off night. We probably had an inconsistent two weeks if I am directly honest. But I am proud of what we accomplished. These guys are the new standard of Suns basketball.

"That is something to be proud of.”

Maybe so. But it's going to take a while for the sting of a Game 7 stinker to wear off before that becomes clear.

THE FUTURE

Most of the Suns' nucleus is under contract for next season, including Paul, Booker, Mikal Bridges, Johnson and Jae Crowder.

But management has at least one big decision to make: Deandre Ayton's future.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2018 has had an up-and-down four seasons in the NBA. He had a slow start to his career — including a 25-game suspension for violating the league's Anti-Drug program in 2019 — but rebounded to be a key cog in the team's run to the NBA Finals last season.

Now he's a restricted free agent and wants a lucrative long-term contract. It's unclear whether the Suns are willing to give it to him. The next few months should bring some clarity to the situation.

37 AND COUNTING

Paul is a 12-time All-Star who has accomplished just about everything in the game except for winning an NBA title.

It's fair to wonder if his best chances are behind him.

He turned 37 years old during the playoffs and was inconsistent during the postseason. Paul made it clear in Sunday's postgame news conference that he's coming back and is still driven to win a championship.

“Every time you lose they are going to say it, it was your best chance,” Paul said. “I think for me, for us, we will be right back next year. I will tell you that much. I am not retiring tomorrow. Hopefully I am healthy, come back and keep playing.”

BENCH DEPTH

One of the Suns' strengths during the regular season was a second unit that sometimes played as good as the first.

That advantage didn't extend to the postseason.

Guard Cameron Payne and center JaVale McGee — stalwarts during the regular season — were essentially benched for big chunks of the Mavericks series. Landry Shamet had some good moments but was inconsistent. Torrey Craig couldn't provide the same clutch minutes that he did during Phoenix's run to the Finals last season.

There's plenty of blame to go around for this year's postseason failure, but there's little doubt changes to that group are coming.

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Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference finals preview capsule

1.9d ago 5/16/2022 2:11 PM ET By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer

Preview capsule for the Miami-Boston Eastern Conference finals series that starts Tuesday:

No. 1 MIAMI HEAT (53-29, 8-3) vs. No. 2 BOSTON CELTICS (51-31, 8-3)

Season series: Celtics, 2-1.

Schedule: Tuesday and Thursday at Miami, Saturday and May 23 at Boston, May 25 at Miami if necessary, May 27 at Boston if necessary, May 29 at Miami if necessary.

How they got here: Heat: Beat No. 8 Atlanta 4-1, Beat No. 4 Philadelphia 4-2. Celtics: Beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0, Beat No. 3 Milwaukee 4-3.

Storyline: After getting past Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum now goes against Jimmy Butler to headline the series between the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the Eastern Conference. It's the first 1 vs. 2 matchup in the conference finals since 2019, when Toronto knocked off top-seeded Milwaukee to win the East. The Heat and Celtics then met in the Eastern Conference finals the next season, with Miami winning in six games at Walt Disney World.

Key matchup: Butler vs. Tatum. Butler (28.7 points per game) and Tatum (28.3) are the Nos. 4 and 5 scorers in the postseason, with only Luka Doncic ahead of them among those who are still playing. Butler doesn't have the diversity of Tatum's offensive skills but is as good as anyone in the game at the things he does well. He has a pair of 40-point games already this postseason, one more than Tatum. Tatum, who scored 46 points with the Celtics facing elimination in Game 6 at Milwaukee, will be the focus of a Heat defense that has already slowed down high scorers Trae Young and James Harden thus far.

Injury watch: Miami starting point guard Kyle Lowry is expected to be out at least for the opener with the hamstring injury that sidelined him for the final two games against Philadelphia. Boston center Robert Williams didn't play in the last four games against Milwaukee. He sat out three with knee soreness and then didn't appear in Game 7, even though he was available in what coach Ime Udoka said would be only for certain situations.

Numbers of note: This the fifth playoff meeting between the teams. Miami has won the last three, two in the conference finals, after the Celtics took the first one in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs. ... Boston is in the conference finals for the fourth time in the last six years, but the Celtics haven't advanced further since falling in the 2010 NBA Finals. ... Butler is also leading all players in the postseason with 2.1 steals per game. ... Boston's Al Horford is the career leader in postseason games without ever reaching the NBA Finals. He has played in 135. ... The Heat are 6-0 at home in the playoffs. The Celtics are 4-1 on the road.

Prediction: These are two top defensive clubs, so points will be tough to come by even for the best players. But the Celtics appear to have more weapons on the offensive side, as they showed while hitting 22 3-pointers to take Game 7 against the Bucks on Sunday. And if the defending NBA champions couldn't stop them with two chances in the last round, it's hard to see who can now. Celtics in 6.

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After Game 7 win, Mavericks will enjoy, prepare for Warriors

2.4d ago 5/16/2022 2:50 AM ET By DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer PHOENIX

PHOENIX (AP) — Coach Jason Kidd made it clear during an interview before Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals that no matter what happened on Sunday night, the Dallas Mavericks should consider this a successful season.

A few hours later, it became even more special.

Luka Doncic scored 35 points, Spencer Dinwiddie added 30 and the Mavericks overwhelmed the top-seeded Phoenix Suns 123-90 in a Game 7 that will be remembered for the Mavericks' dominance and the Suns' disappearance.

“Amazing,” Doncic said in the postgame afterglow. “I don't know what to say.”

Now the Mavs are off to the Western Conference finals for the fifth time in franchise history and the first time since 2011. They travel to face the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 on Wednesday.

It's another difficult task for the Mavericks: The Warriors are battle-tested and still have the core of a dynasty that includes Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Then again, Dallas just beat the NBA's best team during the regular season on the road by 33 points in Game 7.

At this point, anything seems possible.

“Why would you want to put a ceiling on somebody or a team?” Kidd said. "We believe. It showed today. We've got to go through this journey. I hate when we label or cap something.

“We don't know how far this can go.”

It's been a stellar run for the Mavericks, who underwent a midseason transformation after adding Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans in a trade that sent 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis to the Wizards. Dallas emerged from the trade with less size, but also with more shooting.

Dinwiddie was spectacular off the bench on Sunday, making 11 of 15 shots, including 5 of 7 3-pointers. Doncic might be the team's unquestioned star — he's averaging more than 31 points per game in these playoffs — but it's always nice to have help.

Guys like Dinwiddie, Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber have provided it. Brunson had 24 points on Sunday and is averaging nearly 23 points per game in the playoffs. Kidd — who is in his first season as the team's coach — has made it all work at the perfect time.

“We're going to have our work cut out for us," Dinwiddie said. “We're looking forward to heading to the Bay. It's the Western Conference finals. It's what you dream of.”

The Mavericks were an offensive machine in Game 7, shooting 57% from the field and 49% from 3-point range. Those numbers might be hard to attain on a nightly basis, but there's little doubt that when this Mavs team is rolling, they have a pretty good chance against just about any opponent.

Golden State's really good and has the titles to prove it. Dallas isn't bad, either.

“We're still learning each other, we're still finding ways to get better,” Kidd said. “We're playing a very special team in the Warriors, when you talk about dynasties and one of the best coaches to ever do it.

“We'll celebrate this, enjoy it today, then close the book and get ready for Golden State.”

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Doncic leads Mavs over Suns 123-90 in Game 7 blowout

2.5d ago 5/15/2022 10:20 PM ET By DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer PHOENIX

PHOENIX (AP) — It was no surprise when Luka Doncic looked ready for Game 7, calmly draining his first three shots to give the Dallas Mavericks an early lead.

The stunner came over the next two hours: The top-seeded Phoenix Suns had no response.

Doncic scored 35 points, Spencer Dinwiddie added 30 and the Mavericks blitzed the Suns with a 123-90 knockout Sunday night, advancing to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011.

“A lot of people said it would be a blowout,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said with a grin. ”They were right."

Of course, it wasn't Dallas that was supposed to win on Sunday. The home team won the first six games of the series, but the Mavs broke through, dominating in a hostile environment from start to finish. Conversely, it was an embarrassing no-show for the playoff-tested Suns — who advanced to the NBA Finals last season with a very similar roster.

“We played all season to be in this situation," Suns guard Chris Paul said. “It didn't work out for us.”

The fourth-seeded Mavericks travel to face Golden State in Game 1 on Wednesday.

“I can't get this smile off my face,” Doncic said. “I'm just really happy. Honestly, I think we deserved this.”

Doncic earned the Mavs an early lead, making his first three shots, including two 3-pointers. That helped Dallas push to a 27-17 advantage in the first quarter and a whopping 57-27 cushion at the halftime break.

Doncic and Dinwiddie, who came off the bench, combined to pour in 48 of the Mavericks' 57 points. Doncic's 27 points in the first half matched the Suns' team total.

Game 7 drama? Not in the desert.

“It's still kind of shocking,” Dinwiddie said.

Simply put, the Suns looked overwhelmed by the pressure of a Game 7. They missed shots they usually make, made bad passes they usually don't make and looked nothing like the team that won an NBA-best 64 games during the regular season.

“That group has a lot of character and integrity and I know how bad they wanted it,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We just could not execute tonight. Couldn’t make a shot early, that messed with us a little bit and Dallas played their tails of from start to finish.”

By halftime, many Suns fans were booing at the unsightly display.

The series might have been close but the individual games usually were not. Three of the first six games were decided by at least 20 points and none of the games came down to the final possession.

Game 7 followed a similar pattern, except the team doing all the damage was the road team. The Mavs led this one by 46 points.

Doncic was fantastic, making shots from all over the floor and finishing 12 of 19 from the field, including 6 of 11 on 3s. He also got some help: Dinwiddie was stellar in the first half with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.

They became the eighth pair of teammates to score 30 points in a Game 7, the first since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2002.

Meanwhile, Phoenix's All-Star backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker was never a factor. The 37-year-old Paul is a 12-time All-Star that has done just about everything possible in the game except win a championship.

After this setback, it's fair to wonder if there will be many more opportunities. Booker finished with 11 points and shot 3 of 14. Paul had 10 points and four assists. The Suns shot just 37.9% from the field.

“You could see some of the pressure was on them early,” Kidd said. “They missed some shots they normally make.”

Dallas beat the odds with the win: After the Celtics defeated the Bucks earlier Sunday, the home team was 110-33 (77%) in NBA Game 7s.

It's the second straight year the Suns have lost a playoff series after having a 2-0 lead. They won the first two games against the Bucks in the NBA Finals last season before losing four straight games.

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Doncic and Dinwiddie were the first teammates to have at least 20 points in a half in Game 7 since Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston did it for the Knicks in 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Suns: Phoenix shot just 6 of 23 (26.1%) from the field in the first quarter. ... The Suns hosted another sellout crowd at Footprint Center. Celebrities in attendance included baseball great Alex Rodriguez and rapper Lil' Wayne. ... The Suns are the second team in NBA history to win at least 64 games in the regular season and not make the conference finals. The other was the Mavericks in 2007. ... Phoenix has still never won a title since coming into the league in 1968. ... Deandre Ayton played just 18 minutes and finished with five points and four rebounds. When asked about Ayton's lack of playing time, Williams responded “It's internal.” Ayton did not speak to the media postgame.

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Tiring Giannis, Bucks fall short in NBA title repeat bid

2.6d ago 5/15/2022 9:00 PM ET By JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer

Giannis Antetokounmpo powered his way to the rim, trying to keep the Milwaukee Bucks’ title defense alive. Again and again, the ball just wouldn’t drop.

Layups, putbacks — shots that are usually automatic for the two-time MVP and reigning NBA champion — bounced fruitlessly away. And the Bucks kept dropping further behind.

“I’d rather miss a bunch of shots and keep playing, keep coming and keep being aggressive ... than go into passive mode,” the Bucks star said after the Celtics won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals 109-81 on Sunday to end Milwaukee’s hopes of back-to-back titles.

“I can live with that. I can live with giving everything for the game,” Antetokounmpo said. “Shots that I usually make weren’t going in. But that’s basketball. That’s sports. ... You’ve just got to live with it.”

One year after leading Milwaukee to the NBA title and being voted finals MVP, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks wilted in the final quarter of their final game. The Greek Freak scored 25 points with 20 rebounds and nine assists in all, but he shot 10 for 26 in the game, missing six of seven shots in the fourth quarter -- four of them from inside of 6 feet.

Asked if his legs were heavy after playing a season-high 43 minutes, 9 seconds — including all of the second half until the game was out of reach — Antetokounmpo said: “Legs heavy. Body heavy. Mind heavy. Everything was heavy.”

“I was just trying to be aggressive,” he added. “At the end of the day, it’s Game 7 and I’m not going to hold the ball and not look at the rim.”

Antetokounmpo still had a series for the record books, recording a triple-double in Game 1 and missing one in the finale by a single assist. He scored 40 or more points three times, and had 20 rebounds twice.

Over the seven games, he averaged 29.6 points, 14.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists. He is the first player in NBA history to record 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in a playoff series.

“The way Giannis evolved throughout this series, the way Giannis played against a very good defensive team, against a lot of good individual defenders, was like another one of those growth moments, growth opportunities," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

"I thought he was phenomenal. His scoring, his attacking, his playmaking, his unselfishness,” he said. “I was beyond impressed.”

After winning his first NBA title — and the Bucks' first since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then still Lew Alcindor) led them to the championship in 1971 — Antetokounmpo averaged 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists this season. He was second in scoring, sixth in rebounds and third in the MVP voting while leading Milwaukee to 51 wins and a No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The defending champions eliminated the Bulls in five games and opened a 3-2 lead in the second round. But the Celtics ran away with Game 6 in Milwaukee, and did it again in the clincher.

Without No. 2 scorer Khris Middleton, who missed the series with sprained left knee ligaments, Budenholzer relied heavily on his star. Antetokounmpo played 21 of 24 minutes in the first half, all of the third quarter and only came out in the fourth for garbage time.

It was his fourth straight game playing more than 40 minutes.

“We definitely played those guys out for as long and as much as we could. Maybe that had some small impact on it," Budenholzer said. “Some nights the ball, you just can’t get it in the basket. ... It would have been great if we’d make a few more, whether it’s layups or open 3’s and things like that, or shots that were in and out, but that’s the sport.”

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Williams has 27, Celtics make 22 3s in Game 7 rout of Bucks

2.7d ago 5/15/2022 6:30 PM ET By KYLE HIGHTOWER, AP Sports Writer BOSTON

BOSTON (AP) — In the fog of the Celtics’ Game 5 loss to Milwaukee that dropped his team into a 3-2 series hole, Boston coach Ime Udoka made a prediction.

“It’ll make it sweeter when we bounce back,” he said.

Two wins later, the Celtics turned their coach’s prophecy into reality.

Grant Williams scored a career-high 27 points and hit seven 3-pointers, Jayson Tatum added 23 and Boston set a Game 7 record with 22 3-pointers to eliminate the NBA champion Bucks 109-81 on Sunday in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Celtics will face top-seeded Miami beginning Tuesday in a rematch of the 2020 East finals. The Heat beat the Celtics in six games in that series at Walt Disney World.

Tatum said his team embraced the “backs against the wall” moments it faced in having to win the final two games after their late collapse in their previous home game.

“As much as it hurt to lose Game 5, I was looking forward to that challenge,” Tatum said. “I believe in myself, I believe in this team. I expected to play the way I did and for us to respond the way we did.”

The Celtics trailed early in Game 7 before outscoring the Bucks 61- 38 in the second half to cruise to the victory. Boston used a whopping 54-point advantage from behind the arc to improve to 25-9 in decisive seventh games.

The Bucks are now 3-9. They went 4 for 33 (12.1%) from the 3-point line. That’s the second-worst 3-point percentage in a playoff game ever (minimum 30 attempts).

Williams was timid early, missing 5 of his first 7 3-point attempts. It was a pep talk he got from Jaylen Brown during a timeout after Williams passed on a open shot that changed his mindset.

“For me it was like, they're encouraging it, I might as well take advantage,” Williams said. “Each one as time got on got more comfortable.”

Williams finished 7 for 18 behind the arc. The Celtics were 22 for 55.

It helped silence another relentless night from Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 25 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists. But he was just 3 of 11 in the paint in the second half, including 1 for 6 the fourth quarter.

“Shots that I usually make wasn’t going in. That’s basketball. That’s sports,” Antetokounmpo said. "Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. There’s a winner. There’s a loser. You’ve just got to live with it.”

Jrue Holiday added 21 points and eight assists. Brook Lopez finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Boston started the second half on an 11-4 run to open a 59-47 lead.

It was 63-53 when Tatum went to the bench after being whistled for his fourth foul. But the Celtics rallied without him, outscoring the Bucks 16-11 the rest of the quarter to take a 79-64 lead to the fourth.

Udoka said he’s mostly been able to maintain tunnel vision throughout his first season as a head coach, but said he allowed himself to take in the roar of the TD Garden crowd in the closing seconds.

He said being able to have Game 7 at home mattered. The Celtics won on the final day of the regular season to earn it for this matchup when the Bucks rested their regulars and were blown out 133-115 by Cleveland.

“This is what we played for, why we played the season out, to have home-court advantage in a Game 7,” Udoka said. “If you believe in the basketball gods, those things matter.”

Brown said their coach has been the catalyst to put them in this position.

“We didn’t want it to be over. We didn’t overcome all the stuff we did during the regular season for that to be it. .. At the end of the day, we wanted to come out, leave it all out there. I think we did.”

TIP-INS

Bucks: There was a pregame moment of silence held for the victims of mass shootings this past week in Milwaukee and Buffalo. … F Khris Middleton missed his 10th straight playoff game with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. … Milwaukee missed their final 11 3-point attempts of the first half.

Celtics: Were 9 of 22 from the 3-point line in the first half. … Patriots team owner Robert Kraft sat courtside, along with Patriots quarterback Mac Jones and receiver Kendrick Bourne.

NO WILLIAMS

Celtics center Robert Williams III was available to play after missing three straight games with soreness and a bone bruise in his surgically repaired left knee. But he didn’t play.

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Warriors welcome back coach Steve Kerr from COVID protocols

2.8d ago 5/15/2022 4:30 PM ET By JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer SAN FRANCISCO

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Steve Kerr is out of the NBA's health and safety protocols and preparing to coach the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals after missing the last three games of the semifinal round against Memphis with COVID-19.

Kerr said his symptoms were mild with a cough and congestion but his biggest concern was not to get anyone around him sick. He departed less than two hours before tipoff of Game 4 against the Grizzlies last Monday after arriving at Chase Center and testing positive.

“It really wasn't too bad,” Kerr said Sunday, still waiting on his team's opponent from Game 7 of the Mavericks-Suns series.

Associate head coach Mike Brown, who last weekend became the next coach of the Sacramento Kings, filled in for Kerr as Golden State wrapped up the series with a 110-96 win in Game 6 on Friday night.

Guard Gary Payton II said everyone is thrilled to have Kerr back in the building and locker room.

“Just good to see him,” Payton said. “We're glad that he made it out OK, made it good, came back healthier.”

Kerr encouraged Brown “to follow his gut. He couldn't sit there and think, ‘What would I do?’” and that led to the Warriors staff starting Kevon Looney in the clincher. Then he went out and grabbed 22 of Golden State's 70 rebounds.

The Warriors are hopeful forward Otto Porter Jr. will be available for Game 1 on Wednesday night after missing the previous two games with soreness in his right foot. In addition, Payton is recovering well from a broken left elbow and might be fine to play at some point during this round, Kerr said.

Payton was injured when he fell hard after driving for a layup and getting struck on the head by Dillon Brooks in Game 2, with Brooks receiving a Flagrant 2 foul, ejection and one-game suspension.

“Time, it's going to take time,” said Payton, who is left-handed and is regaining strength in his dominant arm doing daily tasks such as brushing his teeth.

Payton said he couldn't catch himself when he went down, saying, “Things happen, but it's past me. I'm just trying to work and continue to strengthen my arm and get it back ready and come back and help my team.”

He did speak to Brooks.

“We talked, it's all good, it's a basketball play,” Payton said. “I know he didn't mean it. No hard feelings, no bad blood. It's all good, it's playoff basketball.”

Golden State has one group of scouts preparing for Dallas and another for Phoenix and will present a game plan to the Warriors at practice Monday afternoon. An advanced scout has watched every game of the Mavs-Suns series, too.

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GM says Grizzlies will spend to keep Morant, core together

2.8d ago 5/15/2022 3:50 PM ET By CLAY BAILEY, Associated Press MEMPHIS, Tenn.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies are willing to spend whatever necessary to keep their core together, including signing All-Star guard Ja Morant to a contract extension this offseason.

Zach Kleiman, the Grizzlies' general manager and vice president of basketball operations, made that very clear Sunday. Memphis finished with the second-best record in the NBA and its highest playoff seeding at No. 2 in the Western Conference. Memphis was eliminated in six games by Golden State in the semifinals Friday night.

“We’re not going to have any issues paying anyone who we want to pay,” Kleiman said of the future. “There’s never going to be any issue with retention here.”

Kleiman emphasized that is what owner Robert Pera wants. Memphis' goal is maintaining team chemistry while working toward winning a championship despite being one of the NBA's small-market teams. Memphis ranked 10th in the league for merchandise sales recently with Morant ninth among players.

“We’re not worried about small market notions or any of this or that,” said Kleiman, this season's NBA executive of the year. “We’re not going to have any issue whatsoever keeping together whoever we ultimately decide along the way.”

That certainly includes Morant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, who has improved from Rookie of the Year in 2020 to All-Star starter this season and as the NBA's Most Improved Player who also finished seventh in MVP voting. Morant is eligible for a five-year maximum contract extension this offseason.

And Kleiman made it as clear as possible that he intends to make sure Morant is in Memphis for a long time.

“Whatever I’m allowed to say under the NBA rules without violating the CBA, I hereby say about what our plans would be for Ja,” Kleiman said.

Morant's desire is keeping the Grizzlies intact as well, starting with himself.

“I’m definitely happy to be here. Memphis is my home,” said Morant, who knows his contract situation will be a hot topic this offseason. “If your (question) is: Do I want to be in Memphis? Hell, yeah.”

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Celtics big man Williams available for Game 7, won't start

2.9d ago 5/15/2022 2:50 PM ET BOSTON

BOSTON (AP) — Celtics big man Robert Williams III will be available to play when Boston hosts the Bucks Sunday in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup.

Williams has missed three straight games with soreness and a bone bruise in his surgically repaired left knee. He played the first three games of the series and has missed the past three.

Boston coach Ime Udoka said Williams won't start and would be used as needed. Grant Williams will remain in the starting lineup.

Williams has averaged 8.7 points and 5.6 rebounds during this series. Those are below his regular-season averages (10 points and 9.6 rebounds).

But Boston is hoping his presence will be boost to its defense as it tries to slow down Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 35.3 points, 13.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists in this series.

Sunday's winner will take on the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. That series will begin Tuesday in Miami.

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