NBA: Nuggets avoid play-off sweep as Bucks, Heat take 3-1 leads

Nikola Jokic (right) puts up a shot over Nemanja Bjelica in Colorado on April 24, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Nikola Jokic scored 37 points and the Denver Nuggets avoided being swept out of the National Basketball Association play-offs on Sunday (April 24), holding off the Golden State Warriors 126-121.

The 27-year-old Serbian big man, last season's NBA Most Valuable Player, also delivered eight rebounds and six assists as the Nuggets pulled within 3-1 in their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series to force a fifth game on Wednesday in San Francisco.

The defending champions Milwaukee Bucks and the Eastern Conference top-seeded Miami Heat pushed their series leads to 3-1 with lopsided victories.

The Bucks routed the Chicago Bulls 119-95 and the Heat dominated the Atlanta Hawks 110-86.

Jokic acknowledged that the Nuggets were determined to avoid a sweep on their home floor against the Warriors.

"We put up the fight," he said. "We didn't want to get swept. We have more pride in ourselves."

After Stephen Curry nailed a long jumper to give Golden State a 121-119 lead with 1min 21sec to play, Jokic made a lay-up, Monte Morris sank a go-ahead jumper with 33 seconds remaining and, after a steal by Austin Rivers, Jokic fired a pass to Will Barton for the deciding corner three-pointer with 8.3 seconds remaining.

"I was just trying to attack and I just saw the pass in the corner," said Jokic.

No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a play-off series, but Jokic says the Nuggets have the spirit to make history.

"We've really got our second wind, so why not?" he said.

In the 2020 play-offs played in the coronavirus bubble, the Nuggets became the first team to rally from 3-1 down in a series twice in the same post-season.

"Obviously, out of all the teams in the play-offs, we're probably the most comfortable being down 3-1," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. "Can I say we have them right where we want them? No. But we're alive."

Morris had 24 points and Aaron Gordon added 21 for Denver.

Curry had 33 off the bench - 15 in the fourth quarter - to lead Golden State, while Thompson had 32 in his first 30-point play-off game since the 2019 NBA Finals.

Draymond Green scored 13 points and pulled down 11 rebounds before fouling out with just over two minutes remaining.

Giannis powers Bucks' rout

Giannis Antetokounmpo (centre) shoots over Nikola Vucevic in Chicago on April 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered game highs of 32 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Bucks in Chicago. The Greek star also passed off seven assists and blocked two shots to put the Bucks in control as they head home for Game 5 on Wednesday.

Bucks reserve Grayson Allen scored a career play-off high 27 on 10-of-12 shooting, 6-of-7 from three-point range, while Jrue Holiday added 26 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for Milwaukee.

"I've got to trust my teammates," said Antetokounmpo. "They know what the deal is. They can all make plays. The games become easy when you move the ball."

The Bulls, who have not won a home play-off game since 2015, were led by Zach LaVine with 24 points and 13 assists while DeMar DeRozan added 23 points.

The Bucks were without forward Khris Middleton, out for the remainder of the series due to a left knee injury suffered in a Game 2 loss. Portis replaced him, wearing glasses to protect an eye injury.

Jimmy Butler led the Heat in Miami, scoring 36 points to put the team on the brink of advancing.

Jimmy Butler reacts after hitting a three-point basket in Atlanta on April 24, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Miami held Atlanta star Trae Young to just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting - all three of his baskets three-pointers.

Butler added 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals for a Heat team that was without Kyle Lowry, who was sidelined with a hamstring strain but was a vocal presence on the bench.

Trailing by one after the first quarter, the Heat seized control with a 30-15 second quarter that featured a 15-0 scoring run and closed with an 11-0 surge.

It was a frustrating night for Atlanta, who had clawed back a win on Friday on a game winner by Young. The Heat will try to close it out on their home floor on Tuesday.

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