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NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors rock Blazers to sweep series

NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors rock Blazers to sweep series

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Stephen Curry had 37 points before sitting out the final quarter and the Golden State Warriors welcomed back teammate Kevin Durant with a 128-103 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night to sweep their first-round playoff series.

The Warriors advanced to the conference semifinals, where they'll face the winner of the series between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers, which is tied at 2.

Golden State played for the second straight game without coach Steve Kerr, who has been experiencing a flare-up of symptoms stemming from back surgery a couple of years ago. Assistant Mike Brown has served as head coach in Kerr's absence.

Durant hadn't played since Game 1 because of a strained left calf. He started and the Warriors built a 72-48 lead by the end of the opening half (see full recap).

Powell helps Raptors beat Bucks in Game 5
TORONTO -- Putting Norm Powell in the starting lineup has changed the playoff fortunes of the Toronto Raptors.

Powell scored a career playoff-high 25 points, Kyle Lowry had 16 points and 10 assists and the Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks 118-93 in Game 5 of their first-round series on Monday night.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Powell has been "a spark plug."

"In this series, he's been the X-factor," Casey said.

Serge Ibaka scored 19 points and DeMar DeRozan had 18 for the Raptors, who can advance to face defending champion Cleveland in the second round with a victory in Game 6 at Milwaukee on Thursday night (see full recap).

Hawks hold off Wizards, even series at 2-2
ATLANTA -- In a year when the geezers are coming up big in the NBA playoffs, add another one to the list.

Jose Calderon might be the most unlikely of all.

The 35-year-old Spaniard, picked up on waivers late in the season, made a huge contribution to help the Atlanta Hawks pull away from the Washington Wizards 111-101 on Monday night, evening the opening-round series at 2-all.

Answering the call when Denis Schroder got in early foul trouble, Calderon played 20 minutes, scored 10 points and dished out five assists. He joined some old-timers such as Utah's Joe Johnson and Houston's Nene making significant contributions in the postseason (see full recap).

Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

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AP Images

Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

CLEVELAND -- There was none of the usual postgame chatter or music in the Cavaliers locker room.

The mood was somber and quiet, not the same place.

"Right now we're in Strugglesville," LeBron James said. "But it felt like a win. We needed it. Definitely."

Isaiah Thomas made two free throws with 11 seconds left and Cleveland came up with a defensive stop in the frantic final seconds after blowing a 23-point lead to beat the Orlando Magic 104-103 on Thursday night and snap a four-game losing streak.

After Thomas made his shots, Orlando's Elfrid Payton missed a contested layup with three seconds left. The three officials ruled there was an inadvertent whistle and held a jump ball at midcourt.

Magic forward Aaron Gordon grabbed the toss and sank a 45-footer as the horn sounded and Cleveland's crowd shrieked in disbelief. But Gordon committed a jump-ball violation with the move and Cleveland only had to inbound the ball to come away with a victory following a crazy and exhausting final sequence that left everyone dazed.

"No, I don't," said Thomas when asked if he knew what happened. "It was a lot of back and forth. I'm just glad we just came out with the win" (see full recap).

Rockets cruise past Timberwolves in Harden’s return
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon scored 30 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 116-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.

James Harden returned to the Rockets' lineup after missing seven games with a left hamstring strain and finished with 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting, and added seven assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes. Houston went 4-3 in his absence.

Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Clint Capela added 20 points for the Rockets. Houston has won 15 of the past 17 meetings with Minnesota, including a 10-game winning streak at home.

Gordon closed out a big third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass from a step behind the half-court line. After hitting the shot under heavy pressure from Andrew Wiggins, Gordon gave a high-five to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who was sitting courtside near the shot.

Gordon's 3-pointer helped the Rockets finish the third quarter on a 16-4 run to take an 89-70 lead into the fourth with their largest advantage of the game. Gordon made 11 of 19 shots, including 7 of 13 from 3, and fell just short of his season-high 33 points against Utah on Dec. 18.

With Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza sitting out the first part of a two-game suspension for a postgame locker room incident on Monday night in Los Angeles, Luc Mbah a Moute started in Ariza's place, scoring 14 points in 32 minutes.

Along with Ariza, reserve guard Gerald Green was also serving the first of a two-game suspension for the altercation with the Clippers (see full recap).

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

BOX SCORE

BOSTON -- What a difference two games make.

The Sixers entered this week 0-8 against the top three Eastern Conference teams: the Celtics, Cavaliers and Raptors. By Thursday night, they had picked up two straight wins over them.

The Sixers followed up Monday’s victory over the Raptors with an 89-80 win over the Celtics (see observations)

“I think we are in a good position right now,” Ben Simmons said. “Still a lot of improvement, a lot of things we’ve got to pick up on, but I think we are doing really well and getting better.” 

All season long, a downfall of the Sixers has been giving up leads. Ten, 15, 20 points have been erased just like that. 

The Sixers’ largest advantage was 21 points in the last two games, and in both instances their opponents fought back. The Raptors cut the lead to one with three minutes to play; the Celtics got within seven with two minutes on the clock.

Unlike in the past, the Sixers held on for wins.

“We’ve been in that situation too many times,” Joel Embiid said. “We just have to stay calm and keep moving the ball. We made a couple mistakes, but everything was fine and we got the win.” 

The game was missing two key players. The Celtics were shorthanded without their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving (shoulder). The Sixers were down starting shooting guard JJ Redick (leg). Brett Brown considered their absences “almost a wash.” 

Newly-announced All-Star starter Embiid led all players with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, his 19th double-double of the season. 

“They are still a great team,” Brown said of the Celtics. “For us to come in here and build a lead, hold onto the lead, close out the game, and at times not in a pretty way, is a fantastic result for us.” 

With the win, the Sixers snapped a seven-game losing streak at TD Garden dating back to April 4, 2014. They also avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics. 

The Sixers moved above .500 (21-20) and into the eight spot in the East. The Celtics and Raptors could be postseason pairings if the Sixers hold their ground in the standings, a scenario they are well aware of in these regular-season games. 

“I don’t know what seed we are going to be, but that’s a potential matchup in the playoffs,” Embiid said. “We always want to come out and try to dominate and let them know that’s it’s not going to be easy.”