SAN FRANCISCO: Stephen Curry scored 30 points in his return to Golden State’s starting lineup and the Warriors beat Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets 102-98 on Wednesday night to end the first-round series in five games.
Curry converted a three-point play with 1:33 left and scored again with 29 seconds remaining to help send the Warriors on to the second round in the Western Conference.
Jokic scored 12 of his 30 points in the final 3:46 and finished with 19 rebounds and eight assists.
The Warriors advanced to play the winner of the Memphis-Minnesota, with the Grizzlies up 3-2 going into Game 6 on Friday night in Minneapolis. Memphis eliminated Golden State in the play-in round last year.
Jokic tied it at 90 on an 18-footer with 2:26 remaining before Golden State’s Gary Payton II made a layup moments later. Payton also hit a go-ahead 3-pointer from the baseline corner in front of Denver’s bench with 6:57 left to put Golden State up 86-84 and finished with 15.
Jokic converted two free throws with 3:46 left after Draymond Green’s foul the Golden State defensive star wanted called on the 7-footer. Jokic wound up 12 for 18 from the floor. DeMarcus Cousins added 19 points off the bench against his former Golden State team, and Aaron Gordon had 15 points and nine rebounds.
Denver made 7 of their first 10 shots after halftime to turn a 48-48 tie into a 10-point lead, 66-56. Curry’s 3 with 4:06 left pulled the Warriors to 68-67.
Curry shot 10 of 22 with five 3-pointers. He came off the bench the first four games with the series beginning one month from when he sprained a ligament in his left foot March 16 against Boston.
Coach Steve Kerr went small with Curry, Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson as Kevon Looney came off the bench. Thompson had 15 points and nine rebounds.
Kerr challenged the Warriors to “get back to being us.” They had given up 30 points off 15 turnovers and committed 27 fouls that led to 36 free throws for Denver in a 126-121 road loss Sunday.
Bucks rout Bulls 116-100 to set up Celtics clash
MILWAUKEE: The defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks continue to produce in the postseason even without key performers.
The Chicago Bulls simply don’t have that kind of depth or playoff savvy.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and nine rebounds and the Bucks routed the Bulls 116-100 on Wednesday night to finish off their first-round series in five games.
The Bucks won the last three games by an average of 23.3 points despite playing without Khris Middleton, the All-Star who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the fourth quarter of Game 2.
The third-seeded Bucks advanced to face second-seeded Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals, with Game 1 on Sunday in Boston. The Celtics swept Brooklyn.
“After Game 2, we kind of talked about how we know what the deal was,” Antetokounmpo said. “The team knew what the deal was. We knew what we had to do. We had to be desperate. We had to go out there and compete at a high level, pay attention to detail as much as possible, help one another defensively. We’ve got to do it as a team.”
The Bucks have been through this before. They won their first title since 1971 last season despite losing Antetokounmpo for the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals due to a hyperextended knee
“We’ve been talking about the depth of the roster, the quality of the roster a lot this season,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Other guys have gotten opportunities and played well. Our defense has tightened up, and we’ve leaned hard on that these three games. We’ve got depth. We’ve got a good group.”
Antetokounpmo appeared to get his left wrist treated during the first half, but it clearly didn’t limit his effectiveness. Antetokounmpo said afterward he felt “great,” and Budenholzer added that “we think he’s fine.”
While the Bucks thrived without Middleton, Chicago didn’t handle the loss of key players quite as well.
The Bulls played without the starting backcourt they used for the first four games because two-time All-Star Zach LaVine was in health and safety protocols and Alex Caruso was in concussion protocol. Without them on the floor, the Bulls fell behind by as many as 29 points in the first half.
“This was a lot of our guys’ first rodeo, just understanding what it’s like to compete in a playoff series,” Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan said. “There’s so much you can learn from that experience, especially going against the defending champs.”
Milwaukee focused on containing DeRozan, who had scored 41 points in the Bulls’ Game 2 victory. DeRozan was held to 11 points Wednesday while shooting 5 of 10, though he also had seven assists.
“That was the game plan — make him see a lot of bodies and force everybody else to beat us,” Bucks guard Wesley Matthews said.
Antetokounmpo was 1 of 15 from the floor and 11 of 14 from the free-throw line. Pat Connaughton went 6 of 9 on 3-point attempts and scored 20 points. Bobby Portis added 14 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
Patrick Williams scored 23 points, Nikola Vucevic 19 and Coby White 17 for the Bulls. Vucevic also had 16 rebounds and six assists.
DeRozan was scoreless in the first 26 minutes of the game and attempted just one shot in the first quarter as he tried to get his teammates involved.
The problem was Chicago’s other players weren’t hitting open shots, allowing the Bucks to take command early.
“It was pretty obvious they were going to load up on DeMar,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought he played a great game. I thought he generated good shots. He didn’t have a high assist total because we really didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but he would have had an enormous amount of assists if we had shot the ball better.”
Milwaukee pulled ahead for good 3 1/2 minutes into the game and built a double-digit lead by scoring 12 straight points in the first quarter. Late in the first period, the Bucks began a 23-2 run that helped them extend the advantage to 49-20 with 7:25 left in the second period.
Chicago outscored the Bucks 22-11 the rest of the second quarter and got the margin down to 11 on Ayo Dosunmu’s 3-point play with 9:32 left in the third quarter, but that’s as close as the Bulls would get.