Don’t count out Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers just yet.

Not even a raucous party atmosphere and big early Dallas lead in Luka Doncic’s home playoff debut could keep the Clippers from getting back in a first-round series after a two-game flop in LA.

Leonard scored 36 points and George had 22 of his 29 points in the first half to help the Clippers recover from another slow start in a 118-108 victory Friday night. Dallas takes a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 on Sunday night.

“It’s just adversity,” said George, who combined with Leonard to make 24 of 35 shots as LA finished at 58 per cent. “You’ve got to deal with adversity. We didn’t get down on ourselves. We just stayed positive. We rallied. We toughed it out. We just stuck to our principles, kept playing.”

Doncic fed the frenzy of 17,705 fans, more than three times the size of any crowd in a season that started with an empty arena, by making his first four shots, three of them 3-pointers, on his way to a playoff career-high 44 points as Dallas took a 30-11 lead.

LA’s 14-0 run erased most of the deficit before the end of the first quarter, and George gave the Clippers their first lead on a 3-pointer in the second quarter as they answered two losses at home to start the series.

“Just stay the course,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “They came out, the crowd was electric. The fans gave them a lot of juice early. Let’s just stick with the game plan. Luka’s going to hit some shots early, which he always does.”

The Clippers ended a five-game postseason losing streak going back to last year’s Florida playoff bubble, when LA beat Dallas in six games in the first round before blowing a 3-1 lead in the second round against Denver.

Leonard made his first eight shots — three of them on the 14-0 run that quieted the crowd — and George scored 22 points before halftime on 10-of-13 shooting.

By then, most of the fans were finally sitting after most of them stood, and screamed, the entire first quarter. The Clippers answered any effort by the Mavericks to whip them back into a frenzy late in the first game resembling a full American Airlines Center since March 11, 2020, the night the coronavirus shut down the NBA.

“I wish we could give them a win,” said Doncic, who had nine rebounds and nine assists. “But we’ll try again Sunday, and hopefully with the same energy.”

Marcus Morris hit three corner 3s in front of the Dallas bench in the fourth quarter to help the Clippers stay comfortably in front.

Morris turned to talk to the Dallas players a little more with each make, finally getting a technical on the third one after giving LA a 112-110 lead with less than four minutes remaining. He fouled out moments later but had already done his damage with nine of his 15 points in the fourth.

“They had a great night and we did not,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “The crowd was great. They were into it. We’ve got to get them more into it by finding ways to get more stops and rebounds.”

The first home playoff game for the Mavericks in five years was also the first at American Airlines Center for everyone on their roster except Dwight Powell, who played just three minutes late. The nerves might have shown.

While Doncic already had his third 30-point game of the series before the fourth quarter, the supporting cast wasn’t nearly as effective as it was in LA.

Kristaps Porzingis scored six points in the first five minutes but just three the rest of the way. He and Dorian Finney-Smith were 3 of 10 from the field, and Tim Hardaway Jr. was 4 of 14 and scored 12 points after averaging 25 in the first two games.

“I had great looks and I just missed the shots,” Porzingis said. “Frustrated a little bit with the shots not going in. Then again, I can’t really let that affect the rest of my game.”

Tatum’s 50-piece gives Celtics big win over Nets

Bottled up in Brooklyn, Jayson Tatum came home and showed off an array of drives, step-back jumpers and 3-pointers.

When Tatum was done, he had one of the best playoff games in Celtics history — and the Nets had themselves a series.

Tatum scored a playoff career-high 50 points to carry Boston to a 125-119 victory on Friday night that cut Brooklyn’s lead to 2-1.

“It’s just one of those nights.” Tatum said. “A tough shooting night the first game and I didn’t get to play much the last game because I got poked in the eye.”

In an emotionally charged atmosphere with the fans booing and chanting at Kyrie Irving every time he was involved in something, Tatum became the sixth player in franchise history to score 50 points in a playoff game.

“We had a lot of guys step up tonight around Jayson being special,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said.

After scoring 50 points in Boston’s play-in tournament victory, Tatum struggled in the two games in Brooklyn but steadied the Celtics in Game 3 after the Nets shot out to a quick 15-point lead.

“There’s nothing like playing at home in front of your home crowd,” he said.

He joined John Havlicek, Isaiah Thomas, Ray Allen, Sam Jones and Bob Cousy as Celtics with 50 points in a playoff game.

“He was just locked in mentally,” teammate Marcus Smart said. “We’re going up against a juggernaut of a team. Like I said before, the world knows it and we know it. It’s not going to be easy. You can’t lay down, you can’t take a step back. You have to be able to press forward and that’s what we did tonight.”

It was Irving’s first game in front of Boston’s fans since he left via free agency in 2019.

James Harden led the Nets with 41 points, Kevin Durant had 39 and Irving finished with 16 on 6-of-17 shooting.

“They made shots tonight, especially Tatum,” Durant said. “He hit some tough ones over us. I don’t think he made anything easy.”

Boston shot 50.6 per cent, including 16 of 39 on 3s after shooting just 39.7 per cent overall in the first two games.

Game 4 is set for Sunday night in Boston, where the Celtics will be allowed to have a near-capacity crowd in TD Garden when Massachusetts lifts the limits Saturday on crowd sizes due to the pandemic. It was limited to 25 per cent on Friday.

Smart added 23 points, Tristan Thompson gave Boston a huge lift with 19 points and 13 rebounds and Evan Fournier added 17 points. Kemba Walker had a rough night, scoring only six on 3-of-14 shooting.

“I think they were a little desperate and became the aggressor after our hot start,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “They were the ones looking to drive the ball and they were the ones looking to step in with 3s. They got themselves going, took the momentum, got the crowd going and started feeling confidence for the first time in three games.”

Irving was booed when he came out for warmups, during pregame introductions and each time he touched the ball, with those turning into loud cheers when he missed shots.

Things turned somewhat ugly when some fans briefly broke into a vulgar chant toward Irving a few times.

“It’s basketball. I’ve been in a few environments in my life,” Irving said. “Like I said, as long as it’s just strictly the nature of basketball out there and there’s nothing extra, I’m cool with it.”

Brooklyn cut a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit to five with just under a minute left but Tatum nailed a step-back jumper from the top and Boston held on.

Tatum scored 11 points in the final 4:46 of the third, helping Boston turn a one-point deficit into a 96-84 lead entering the final quarter.

The Nets started fast, hitting 4-of-5 shots from behind the arc to pull in front 19-4 before Tatum sparked Boston’s comeback with 21 points in the opening half that carried the Celtics to a 61-57 halftime edge. Harden and Durant nearly matched him with 17 apiece.

Tatum returned to the lineup after playing just 21 minutes in Game 2 because he was accidently poked in the right eye by Durant.

Hawks spit back at Knicks

Shaking off a spitting incident at Madison Square Garden, Trae Young dazzled in the first home playoff game of his career, scoring 21 points and dishing out 14 assists to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 105-94 victory over the New York Knicks in Game 3 of their opening-round series Friday night.

Spurred on by a raucous crowd of 15,743, by far the largest of the season in Atlanta, the Hawks pulled ahead 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

Game 4 is Sunday in Atlanta.

This one was tight through much of the first half, but the Hawks closed the second quarter on a Young-powered, 22-5 run that sent the arena into an uproar.

The third-year point guard, who has complained of the Hawks being overlooked and was especially perturbed to be passed over for this year’s All-Star Game in his own city, was determined to make an impression in his first trip to the postseason.

How’s that going?

In Game 1, Young hit the winning basket to silence the crowd at Madison Square Garden’s first playoff contest since 2013.. He certainly shined during the spurt that essentially decided the most lopsided game of the series, having a hand in 18 of the 22 points.

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Young scored five points himself, hitting a 3 and a step-back jumper, but spent most of his time scooting around the court, creating for teammates.

A lob pass to John Collins for a thunderous dunk. A pass to set up Collins for an open 3. Another alley-oop to Clint Capela for a slam that prompted both players to unleash emphatic screams. A nifty pass to find Bogdan Bogdanovic all alone for a 3. And, finally, one more dish to set up De’Andre Hunter’s jumper beyond the arc.

The Hawks led 58-44 at the half. The Knicks never got the margin below double figures the rest of the way.

During Game 2 in New York, a Knicks fan spit on Young as he was inbounding the ball during the fourth quarter of a tight contest — one of three incidents in a matter of hours at NBA arenas across the country, renewing calls for increased security and other measures to deal with unruly fans.

A total of five fans in New York, Philadelphia and Utah were banned from games for their misbehaviour.

With Young spreading the wealth, the Hawks put their depth to good use. Seven players scored in double figures, including Collins with 14 points after he was held scoreless in Game 2 while dealing with foul trouble.

Meanwhile, all-star Julius Randle had another tough night and was serenaded constantly with chants of “Overrated! Overrated! Overrated!”

With the Hawks sagging on him in the lane and making every look a tough one, Randle was held to 14 points on 2-of-15 shooting. For the series, he has made just 13 of 54 from the field.

Derrick Rose led the Knicks with 30 points.