Suns slip up with Bucks and Heat one step away from qualifying
The highly fancied Western Conference winners are struggling postseason and are now tied 2-2 with the New Orleans Pelicans in the series.
With devastating performances from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler, the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat swept the Bulls and Hawks on Sunday to move within one win of advancing in the NBA playoffs.
In the other two games of the day, the Denver Nuggets avoided a sweep against the Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans tied their series against the Phoenix Suns.
The Giannis effect
Milwaukee, reigning champions of the North American basketball league, beat the Bulls 119-95 on the road again and will have their first chance to qualify for the second round of the Eastern Conference next Wednesday on their home court.
The Bulls, who fell by 30 points on Friday, disappointed again on Sunday in front of their United Center crowd without finding any answer to Antetokounmpo’s exuberant play.
The Greek power forward, who is abusing all his defenders in this series, had 32 points, 17 rebounds and 7 assists.
Antetokounmpo thus added his twelfth playoff game with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, second only in history to LeBron James (48 games) and Larry Bird (19).
Taking advantage of the defensive attention on Antetokounmpo, backup point guard Grayson Allen was again a luxury relief for the injured Khris Middleton with 27 points and 7 three-pointers.
On the Bulls’ side, their trio of star players was again unable to take the game. Shooting guard Zach LaVine started with 12 points in the first quarter but slowed down to finish with 24.
Veteran DeMar DeRozan continues to not weigh in this series and finished with 23 points while Montenegrin center Nikola Vucevic was held to 11.
Heat on the verge
With 36 points from Jimmy Butler, the Miami Heat beat Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks 110-86 on the road to move to 3-1 in the Eastern Conference series.
The Heat once again applied a relentless defense that left Young with just 9 points and a 3/11 shooting stat line.
The talented Young, who averages 28 points per game and was a starter in the last All-Star game, has only missed 10 points three times this season, and two of those were in this playoff series against Miami.
Only forward DeAndre Hunter, with 24 points, stepped up for the Hawks, who were hoping to be more competitive with the recovery of their starting center, Clint Capela (2 points and 7 rebounds).
Butler, the great figure of the series, added 36 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals to lead Miami’s offense, which did not suffer the loss of Kyle Lowry due to a hamstring problem.
Denver deny Warriors
In a nail-biting finish, the Denver Nuggets defeated the Golden State Warriors 126-121 to force a Game 5 of this Western Conference series.
Denver reduced its deficit to 3-1 and gave a glimpse of happiness to the fans at the Ball Arena with another exhibition of its leader, Nikola Jokic.
The Serbian center signed 37 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists to allow the Nuggets to dream of becoming the first team in history to qualify after a 3-0 deficit.
“This is what we have left, to fight. The odds are against us but we’ve broken them before, why not?” declared ‘Joker’ after the game.
With Monte Morris (24 points) and young ‘Bones’ Hylands (15) seconding Jokic, the Nuggets built as much as a 17-point lead.
The Warriors picked up the pace in the final quarter but ended up falling victim to miscues from Andrew Wiggins and Otto Porter.
Steph Curry, who again came off the bench, scored 33 points and Klay Thompson another 32 points and 7 three-pointers.
In Sunday’s final game, the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Phoenix Suns 118-103 to tie the playoffs 2-2.
The Suns, the top seed in the West, are now pushed to get a win on Tuesday on their home court to avoid being on the ropes against the Pelicans, a team that clinched a playoff berth in the playoffs.
Under the suffocating defense of Jose Alvarado, of Puerto Rican descent, veteran Chris Paul had one of the worst playoff nights of his career, with just 4 points and 11 assists.
Center DeAndre Ayton had 23 points and 8 rebounds for the Suns, who are missing the scoring ability of the injured Devin Booker, who might not play in the whole series due to his hamstring problem.
At the Smoothie King Center, Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas had an impressive performance with 26 points and 15 rebounds while forward Brandon Ingram contributed another 30 points.