NBA Playoffs:

Tatum, Brown spark Celtics past Sixers; Booker scores 47 as Suns beat Nuggets

ASSOCIATED PRESS – Jayson Tatum scored 27 points, Jaylen Brown had 23 and Boston Celtics spoiled Joel Embiid’s MVP coronation, beating Philadelphia 76ers 114-102 Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Game 4 is tonight in Philadelphia.
Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds in his second game back from a sprained right knee after receiving his MVP trophy in a pregame ceremony.
Boston gave 76ers fans little reason to cheer again.
The Sixers pulled within five on De’Anthony Melton’s 3-pointer to get the crowd back into the game for all of 20 seconds before Malcolm Brogdon countered with a 3 to give Boston a 100-92 lead. Al Horford crushed the Sixers again – as he has most of his career – when he buried a 3 for a seven-point lead.
Embiid, forced to try and win it alone without any serious offensive help, missed a pull-up 18-footer and Tatum drained a jumper that all but put the game away. Tatum hit one more 3 for good measure and the Celtics won their second straight.
“We just held the ball too long, too much,” Embiid said. “We don’t start our actions fast enough. That’s why it looks so slow. We’re not scoring the ball. We’re not making shots.”
Embiid was flanked by his parents and teammates as he received the MVP trophy from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver before Game 3.
Boston spiked any emotional carryover from the ceremony and raced to a quick 10-point lead.
The Sixers spent the rest of the game playing catch-up. All the energy spent to come back and take brief leads quickly evaporated and the Celtics snagged them right back.
James Harden’s 45-point effort in a Game 1 upset in Boston seemed more an aberration than a sign of things to come. Harden followed his 2 of 14 in a Game 2 loss with 3-for-14 shooting for 16 points.
Elsewhere, Devin Booker scored 47 points, Kevin Durant added 39 and the Phoenix Suns beat the Denver Nuggets 121-114 to cut Denver’s lead to 2-1 in their NBA Western Conference semifinal series.
Booker had another ultra-efficient scoring night, shooting 20 of 25 from the field, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Durant shot just 12 of 31 from the field, but made 14 of 16 free throws.
The Suns will try to even the series in Game 4 tonight in Phoenix.
The Suns took a 90-88 lead into the fourth quarter, retaking the lead after the Nuggets erased a 15-point halftime deficit. Phoenix scored the first nine points of the fourth – including the final two on Durant’s fast-break dunk – to push their advantage to 99-88.
They wouldn’t trail in the fourth quarter. Durant started 1 for 9 from the field but made 11 of his final 22.
“It’s frustrating not making shots, because that’s what I’m paid to do,” Durant said. “But there also comes a time when you’ve just got to figure it out and push through it.”
Denver’s Nikola Jokic – who finished second in the MVP voting on Tuesday to Embiid – finished with 30 points, 17 assists and 17 rebounds.
Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 32 points, while Michael Porter Jr. added 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Denver coach Michael Malone said his team played well at times, but that the defense against Booker was “unacceptable.” Booker repeatedly got near the rim for short jumpers or layups, which contributed to the 20 of 25 shooting night.
“I wasn’t a math major but that is a really high percentage,” Malone said. “We have to be a lot better.”
The Suns put Cameron Payne in the starting lineup to take the place of 12-time All-Star Chris Paul, who suffered a strained left groin in the Game 2 loss and didn’t play on Friday. Payne – a playoff hero for a few games two seasons ago when Paul was out – scored seven points, including a big 3-pointer early in the fourth.
Williams also shook up the bench rotation, giving Terrence Ross, Jock Landale and TJ Warren more minutes. Landale finished with six points and nine rebounds, while Warren hit a couple crucial buckets in the final minutes to help the Suns keep the lead.
Booker scored 27 points in the first half on 12-of-15 shooting to push the Suns ahead 67-52 by halftime. Durant added 21, including 11 points on free throws.


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