The Toronto Raptors stayed alive, the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves 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.
“It’s about our character now,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “It’s about digging deep and having pride and finding a way over the next 48 hours to come back ready to win on Monday night.”
Once again the Celtics’ suffocating defense neutralized Brooklyn’s scoring star Kevin Durant, who finished with 16 points and attempted just 11 shots.
Brooklyn’s other big star, Kyrie Irving, also finished with just 16 points.
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.
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.”
Raptors stay alive
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 cut the deficit in their series to 3-1.
The Sixers can still advance in the best-of-seven set with a game-five victory at home on Monday, but there are injury concerns for 76ers center Joel Embiid, who played through a painful right thumb injury in producing 21 points and eight rebounds.
“I’m not really worried about what can happen, I’m worried about what I can do,” Embiid said, making it clear that even if doctors suggest surgery that won’t happen until after the post-season.
“It’s the playoffs,” he said. “Nothing is going to stop me.”
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 Gobert’s dunk proved decisive.
The Timberwolves rebounded from an embarrassing defeat to hold off the visiting Memphis Grizzlies 119-118 and knot their series at two games apiece.
Karl-Anthony Towns scored 33 points and pulled down 14 rebounds and Anthony Edwards added 24 points for the Timberwolves, who had let slip a 25-point third-quarter lead in losing the previous game.
They led by as many as 13 in the third quarter, but there were some more nervous moments as the Grizzlies, fueled by 34 points from Desmond Bane, cut the deficit to two with six seconds left.
Towns made a pair of free throws to push the lead to 119-115, and Bane’s eighth three-pointer of the night wasn’t enough.
“I’m just happy we got the win,” Towns said. “You can tell I’m not that excited because we’ve got more to do. We’ve got to fight, fight fight.”