MILWAUKEE/DENVER: Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and the Milwaukee Bucks rolled to a 107-96 Game 4 victory Sunday to tie the second-round playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets, who lost Kyrie Irving to a sprained right ankle.
The Bucks erased a 2-0 deficit by winning two straight in Milwaukee. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn’s immediate concern is the health of its superstar trio. Irving was hurt midway through the second quarter and didn’t return. The Nets already are missing nine-time All-Star and 2018 MVP James Harden, who hasn’t played since the opening minute of Game 1 due to right hamstring tightness.
That puts even more pressure on Kevin Durant, who has carried the Nets this series and provided 28 points and 13 rebounds Sunday. The only other player in double figures was Irving, who had 11 points before leaving.
After Irving made a basket in the paint to cut the Bucks’ lead to 44-40 midway through the second quarter, his left leg hit the right leg of Antetokounmpo on his way down and his ankle rolled. Irving landed awkwardly and clutched his right ankle as play briefly continued on the other end of the floor. Coach Steve Nash said after the game that X-rays taken on Irving’s ankle were negative.
In Denver, Colorado, the Phoenix Suns roared into the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 11 years with a testy 125-118 victory over Denver that completed a four-game sweep of the Nuggets and included MVP Nikola Jokic’s ejection.
Chris Paul scored 37 points and Devin Booker added 34 in a physical game marred by Jokic’s ejection.
Jokic was tossed with 3:52 left in the third quarter and the Nuggets trailing 83-76 after his hard right-hand windmill swipe sent the basketball flying but also caught Cameron Payne in the face.
Booker took umbrage at the hard foul and got in the big man’s face before teammates and coaches pulled everyone apart.
Officials assessed a double technical on Jokic and Booker and ejected the MVP after upping the call to a Flagrant 2. Jokic finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes.
The Nuggets and their fans at Ball Arena were frustrated that they were getting called for ticky-tack fouls yet Jokic wasn’t getting the calls expected of a Most Valuable Player.
With their franchise-record seventh straight playoff victory, the Suns advanced to the conference championship for the first time since 2010 — the last time they even reached the playoffs.
After knocking out LeBron James and the defending champion Lakers in Round 1, the Suns quickly dispatched Denver and made Jokic the first MVP to get swept in a playoff series since Magic Johnson in 1989.
Will Barton led Denver, which trailed by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, with 25 points, Michael Porter Jr. added 20 and Monte Morris 19.
The Nuggets survived the loss of star Jamal Murray to a torn ACL on April 12, winning 13 of 18 to close out the regular season and taking care of the Portland Trail Blazers in five games in the opening round.
But when second scoring option Porter tweaked his surgically repaired back in the first half of Game 1 against Phoenix, it was one injury too far for the Nuggets to overcome.
Denver coach Michael Malone said before tip-off that the Nuggets couldn’t really rely on their experience from the bubble in overcoming a pair of 3-1 deficits in the playoffs last year. For one thing, Murray’s recovering from knee surgery.
Malone said the Nuggets’ only focus was on sending this series back to Phoenix for a Game 5.
Instead, Jokic became the first MVP to get swept in a playoff series since the Pistons downed Magic Johnson and the Lakers in four in the NBA Finals in 1989.
Jokic’s ejection came 48 hours after an emotional celebration before Game 3 in which the Serbian dedicated his MVP trophy to his teammates, coaches, trainers and the front office.
The only NBA player to play all 72 games this season, Jokic spent the fourth quarter in his locker room as his teammates’ comeback without him fell short.
Despite the sweep and Jokic’s early exit, fans chanted, “MVP! MVP” as they streamed out of the arena.
Suns: Booker scored 10 points in the first quarter despite missing six of nine shots. ... Phoenix trailed just once at 2-0 before Booker’s 3-pointer put the Suns up for good.
Nuggets: Murray shot one-footed jumpers before the game and drew a loud ovation when he drained one from halfcourt as he walked off. ... Malone shook up his stagnant starting lineup, sitting Facundo Compazzo and Austin Rivers for Morris and Barton.