NEW YORK (AFP) – The Toronto Raptors stayed alive, the Utah Jazz pulled level and the Boston Celtics pushed the Brooklyn Nets to the brink of elimination in the NBA playoffs on Saturday.
Jayson Tatum scored 39 points to lead the Celtics in a 109-103 victory over the Nets in Brooklyn that pushed their lead in the NBA Eastern Conference first-round series to 3-0.
No NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, and the Celtics will try to wrap this one up on the Nets’ home floor on Monday.
Once again the Celtics’ suffocating defense neutralized Brooklyn’s scoring star Kevin Durant, who finished with 16 points.
Durant grabbed eight rebounds and handed out eight assists but attempted just 11 shots. It was Bruce Bown who led the Nets with 26 points as Brooklyn’s other big star, Kyrie Irving, also finished with 16 points after playing through foul trouble.
“We know what he’s capable of, everybody does,” Tatum said of Durant. “Someone like him, you can’t let it be easy.”
The Celtics led most of the game before the Nets cut the deficit to three points late in the third quarter.
Boston responded with two baskets from Marcus Smart and a steal and dunk from Jaylen Brown to take an 81-72 lead into the fourth.
Jaylen Brown finished with 23 points for the Celtics, who pushed the lead to 15 in the fourth quarter before the Nets closed in again, pulling within five points with 22 seconds remaining.
Tatum made two free throws and came up with a steal and a final dunk to end it.
“I think it just shows the growth of our team,” Tatum said. “Early in the season, we gave up big leads all the time. And we figured it out. You’re never going to be perfect, it’s all about how you respond. We kept responding.”
In Toronto, forward Pascal Siakam scored a playoff career-high 34 points and Gary Trent Jr. added 24 in the Raptors’ 110-102 triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers to stay alive in their series, trimming the deficit to 3-1.
“We played hard,” Siakam said. “Whenever I get it going, we know that’s going to be dangerous.”
The Sixers can still advance in the best-of-seven set with a game-five victory at home on Monday.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and do whatever it takes to be better,” 76ers star center Joel Embiid said.
Embiid, the NBA scoring leader, was nagged by a right thumb injury, reportedly torn ligaments, despite producing 21 points and eight rebounds.
Siakam scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, holding off a Sixers fightback attempt in the final minutes, especially silencing Embiid.
– Jazz hold off Mavs –
In Salt Lake City, Rudy Gobert’s slam dunk with 11 seconds remaining gave the Utah Jazz a 100-99 victory over the Dallas Mavericks that knotted their Western Conference series at two games apiece.
The Jazz spoiled the return from injury of Mavericks guard Luka Doncic.
The Slovenian star, who hadn’t played since April 10 due to a left calf strain, scored 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while pulling down 10 rebounds.
“I was really excited,” Doncic said of getting back on court. “I missed basketball.”
Doncic sank a jumper to put Dallas ahead and added a 3-pointer with 39 seconds remaining to give the Mavericks a 99-95 lead.
But Utah’s Donovan Mitchell answered with a 3-point play and after Dwight Powell missed two free throws for Dallas, Gobert’s slam dunk produced the deciding points.
Dallas had one last possession but Utah defenders swarmed Doncic, who passed to Spencer Dinwiddie only to watch the final shot fall short.
“We tried to get it out of Luka’s hands, tried to make him pass,” said Gobert, who finished with 17 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.