Bucks use strong start, finish to beat Clippers 112-101 (VIDEO)

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MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks can beat any team in the NBA when they keep the ball moving, even a star-studded playoff contender like the Los Angeles Clippers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points and eight assists, and the Bucks finished strong after nearly squandering an early 23-point lead in in a 112-101 victory over the turnover-prone Clippers on Friday night.

Antetokounmpo was one of three Bucks with at least eight assists. Milwaukee tried to beat the Clippers down the floor in transition and made the extra pass in halfcourt sets in accumulating 35 assists on 44 baskets.

“When the ball is moving like that and you’ve got that many assists, it’s some good shots,” said center Greg Monroe, who also had 24 points on 11-of-15 shooting.

Crisp passing, opportunistic defense and the Clippers’ sloppy play allowed the Bucks to persevere in spite of watching their early edge dwindle to 77-74 late in the third quarter following four 3s in the period by Chris Paul. He finished with 21 points, five assists and four turnovers.

The Bucks reasserted control with a 15-2 run for a 92-76 lead with about 9 minutes left, capped by Antetokounmpo’s driving dunk past Blake Griffin, and Jason Terry‘s open 3 from the corner.

Milwaukee also used a 20-2 run over the final 4:33 of the first quarter to open a 19-point lead at halftime.

Fighting to stay in the playoff picture, the Bucks played with a sense of urgency that was missing in a lackluster home loss to Denver on Wednesday night. Guard Malcolm Brogdon said coach Jason Kidd drove home the point in part by making the team run a lot in practice on Thursday.

“I thought their intent, their energy, their focus and the carry-over to tonight was very good,” Kidd said.

Mistakes crippled the Clippers throughout the night. Los Angeles had a season-high 23 turnovers, including 16 in the first half.

“We gave a young team confidence by turning it over,” coach Doc Rivers said.

THIRD WATCH

The Clippers at least played well in the third quarter, with Paul nearly singlehandedly bringing his team all the way back from the early hole. The Clippers star hit all four of his 3-point attempts in the period.

The Bucks controlled the rest of the game, outhustling the Clippers for rebounds and shots in the lane.

“The way we just started the game and they jumped on us, that hurt us,” Rivers said.

Paul and Griffin each had 21 points to lead the Clippers, while Jordan finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

PAUL’S THUMB

A sore left thumb forced Paul to the bench briefly after his fourth 3 of the third quarter to draw his team within three. The Bucks went on their late run with Paul out of the lineup.

Paul returned on Feb. 24 after missing 14 games with a torn ligament in the left thumb.

“I knew it was going to hurt one of these days whenever I got hit in it. So I got hit in it good but I’m cool. No, I wasn’t worried,” Paul said.

STAT LINES

The Clippers lost despite shooting 56 percent from the field. The Bucks had 11 steals and shot 55 percent while committing 10 turnovers, four less than their season average.

“I thought deflections and steals were high, but the passing was contagious,” Kidd said.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Rivers, who had a decorated college playing career at Marquette, spoke to the Golden Eagles players and coach Steve Wojciechowski earlier Friday at Marquette’s practice court about eight blocks from the Bradley Center. … The Clippers fell to 0-9 on the road when trailing at the half.

Bucks: G/F Khris Middleton returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the Bucks’ last game on Wednesday. Middleton has been back a month after starting the season rehabbing from a torn hamstring. He finished with 19 points and nine assists in 32 minutes. … F Michael Beasley is off crutches and riding a stationary bike four days after leaving a loss at Cleveland with a hyperextended left knee. He was due to miss the current three-game homestand, and Kidd said that Beasley would be reevaluated as planned later this weekend.

UP NEXT

Clippers: At Chicago on Saturday night.

Bucks: Host Toronto on Saturday night.

Heat’s Justise Winslow fined $15,000 for stepping on Embiid’s mask

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NEW YORK (AP) Miami’s Justise Winslow has been fined $15,000 by the NBA for attempting to damage Philadelphia center Joel Embiid‘s facemask during Game 3 of their playoff series.

Winslow intentionally stepped on Embiid’s mask after it had fallen onto the court with 7:51 remaining in the second quarter of the 76ers’ 128-108 victory on Thursday night.

The NBA cited Winslow for unsportsmanlike conduct in announcing the penalty Friday.

Embiid was wearing the mask for the first time after returning from a 10-game absence caused by a broken orbital bone around his left eye.

Philadelphia leads the series 2-1. Game 4 is Saturday.

Defense found: Bucks overwhelm Celtics for 116-92 win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 and the Milwaukee Bucks used a dominating first half to overwhelm the Boston Celtics 116-92 on Friday night, narrowing their deficit in the first-round playoff series to 2-1.

Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker each added 17 for the energized Bucks, who held the Celtics without a field goal for nearly an 11-minute stretch of the first half.

Milwaukee found its defense after a disheartening 14-point loss in Game 2, getting contributions from up and down the roster.

Backup center Thon Maker scored 14 points and had five of the Bucks’ 12 blocks. Pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova, a veteran of a championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped hold young Celtics point guard Terry Rozier to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“The activity, if you take the stat sheet out of it, the activity and the energy that we brought … as you go through the game, that’s what you need, is the energy first,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Al Horford scored 16 for the Celtics, who fell behind by 23 at halftime and got no closer than 76-62 with 3:06 left in the third quarter on Jayson Tatum‘s 3-pointer.

The game was so well in hand that the Bucks closed out the victory even with Antetokounmpo on the bench for much of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Middleton had eight points in the fourth.

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee. The Celtics will need to get off to a much better start if they want to avoid going home for Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie.

“We got into a hole. This is new for our group,” Horford said. “They had it going … and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

Milwaukee hustled for loose balls and stayed active around the paint, used its length to get deflections and disrupt Boston in the lane.

The 7-foot-1 Maker, in particular, provided a huge boost to help Milwaukee counter what had been a decisive edge off the bench for the Celtics. Maker got extended minutes only because starting center John Henson missed the game with a sore back.

Nearly everything else went Milwaukee’s way, too.

Parker, who voiced displeasure this week after playing just 24 minutes over the first two games, was 7 of 12 from the field and played 30 minutes. Bledsoe, outplayed by Rozier in the first two games, shot 8 of 13.

“Good win, lots of positives tonight. Quick turnaround … so we’ll have to do it again on Sunday,” Prunty said.

 

Wizards show some fight, top Raps 122-103, get series to 2-1

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WASHINGTON (AP) — All of about 2 1/2 minutes into the game, Washington forward Markieff Morris and Toronto’s OG Anunoby needed to be separated after a near-fight that drew in other players.

Early in the third quarter Friday night, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was called for a flagrant foul when he swiped a hand across Bradley Beal‘s forehead as the Wizards guard went in for a breakaway layup. Later in that period, things really came close to spiraling out of control, but John Wall‘s bodyguard interceded when Washington’s All-Star jawed with Toronto’s Serge Ibaka.

As that scene unfolded on the court, spectators directed “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chants at the opponents from Canada, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” blared over the arena’s speakers. Amid all the ruckus, Beal and Wall kept their heads and helped the Wizards pull further and further away for a 122-103 victory.

What was once a dull, lopsided series is suddenly quite interesting.

Beal heeded his coach’s plea to “do his job” by scoring 21 of his 28 points in the first half, Wall delivered 28 points and 14 assists, and the eighth-seeded Wizards cut their Eastern Conference first-round playoff deficit to 2-1.

“We’re not going out to try to box every game,” Beal said, before describing Morris as “a bully with a smile.”

Added Beal: “We came out tonight with an edge about ourselves.”

After letting the Raptors grab the first 2-0 series lead in franchise history, the Wizards came home and checked off every box coach Scott Brooks presented. They got Beal more involved after he made only three shots in Game 2; they actually led after the first quarter, 30-29; they produced 19 turnovers that led to 28 points.

“They came out and punched us,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “And we allowed them to.”

He meant that figuratively, of course, but the choice of words sure seemed apt.

The Raptors did appear to take the worse of the physical nature of the game.

DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 23 points, wore a Band-Aid under his right eye afterward. Reserve Pascal Siakam held a bag of ice over a cut on his lip that required three stitches.

“Ain’t nobody fighting out here,” said Lowry, who had 19 points and eight assists. “I mean, it got physical, but ain’t nobody fighting. It’s a heated moment, but that’s the game of basketball.”

Each team boasts a pair of elite, All-Star guards. This time, Washington’s pair came out on top.

The start initially had the look of “Here we go again,” as Toronto moved ahead 27-18. The Raptors, after all, outscored Washington by an average of 11 points in the first period over Games 1 and 2. But this time, Washington responded with a 12-point run capped by Beal’s 3 with under a minute left.

Beal scored 12 in the quarter a day after he, Wall and Brooks met to discuss ways to get Beal more involved in the offense. Entering Friday, Beal was averaging only 14 points in the playoffs, well below his 22.6 average during the regular season.

“We need both our guys to step up,” Brooks said about Beal and Wall. “It was good tonight.”

 

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..