NBA playoffs scores: Biggest questions looming as Clippers even series vs. Mavericks, Suns fall in 0-2 hole

The 2024 NBA playoffs continued Tuesday with a trio of Game 2s. The Mavericks and Pacers were able to even their series against the Clippers and Bucks, respectively, while the Timberwolves went up 2-0 against the Suns. Luka Doncic scored 32 points for the Mavs, who picked up the offense in the fourth quarter of a three-point win in L.A. Kawhi Leonard came back for the Clippers after missing three weeks with a knee injury, but was limited to 15 points in 34 minutes.

The Timberwolves got the night started with another emphatic home win against the Suns. Minnesota pulled away in the second half and got 25 points from Jaden McDaniels to take a 2-0 lead vs. Phoenix. The Pacers then became the first road team in these playoffs to notch a win, getting 37 points from Pascal Siakam in a 17-point victory against the Bucks.

NBA playoffs scores: Tuesday, April 23

  • Timberwolves 105, Suns 93 -- Timberwolves lead 2-0 -- Box score
  • Pacers 125, Bucks 108 -- Series tied 1-1 -- Box score
  • Mavericks 96, Clippers 93 -- Series tied 1-1 -- Box score

Now that Tuesday's slate is complete, here is one question worth asking about each series.

Will the Suns change their equation?

Through two games, let's take a look at where these teams are getting their points:

  • The Timberwolves have scored 100 points in the paint. The Suns have scored 74.
  • The Timberwolves have attempted 64 3-pointers. The Suns have attempted 50.
  • The Suns have attempted 28 mid-range shots. The Timberwolves have attempted 16.

Phoenix is a team built to win close games down the stretch. In those moments, mid-range shotmaking becomes one of the most valuable skills in basketball because those are generally the only shots that are consistently available. The trouble Phoenix has now encountered twice in a row against Minnesota is that the game isn't close at the end because they're losing the math problem so badly in the first three quarters. 

The Timberwolves are not a beacon of ideal shot-selection. They ranked 23rd in 3-point attempts in the regular season and 19th in the restricted area. But the Suns, who ranked 24th in 3-pointers, 28th in restricted area attempts and second in mid-range jumpers, are so far behind them that it has hardly mattered. Minnesota's defense is doing a great job of goading Phoenix into those shots. Kevin Durant leads the postseason in mid-range attempts largely because Minnesota is using intentional mismatches (Karl-Anthony Towns as the base matchup, but plenty of others through disadvantageous switching) to convince him to take them. He's making, but all of those low-percentage looks make it that much harder for Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, who are getting hounded by Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards, to establish their own rhythm.

If Grayson Allen misses any more time due to the right ankle sprain he suffered on Tuesday, this probably is only going to get worse. He was the NBA's leader in 3-point percentage this season, and having him around to space the floor opens critical driving lanes for everyone else. Whether he plays or not, the Suns have to at least commit to taking more 3's in Game 3. Avoiding the rim, where Rudy Gobert awaits, is an understandable strategic decision. But they can't keep losing the math battle and relying on their skill to make up the difference. It just isn't working.

When exactly is Dame Time?

Damian Lillard leads all scorers with 34 first-quarter points in the playoffs. He also leads all second-quarter scorers with 27 points through two games. He has scored just eight third-quarter points against the Pacers. He has not yet put the ball through the hoop in the fourth quarter of this first round.

Damian Lillard's clutch credentials, especially in the playoffs, are beyond reproach. We're talking about a player who has multiple walk-off buzzer-beaters here. The Pacers aren't exactly a defensive juggernaut either. They got better down the stretch of course, but they finished the season ranked 24th and, even if it's by design, have the league's worst rim-defense. So what's going on here?

Well, here's a theory: Lillard is 33 years old. He is playing without his co-star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and is therefore carrying an absolutely enormous burden early in games. And he's playing against the second-fastest team in the NBA in the Pacers. It's not exactly a leap here to wonder if Lillard is simply getting tired. Indiana really dialed up the pace and ball pressure in Game 2 to help facilitate that exhaustion, and it seemingly worked.

If Lillard has to win this series by himself, well, the Bucks might run into some problems. They no longer have home-court advantage in this series, and after Khris Middleton rolled an ankle early in Game 2, it's not clear where the rest of their offense is going to come from. It's heartening to know that Lillard can still dominate stretches. If Antetokounmpo does make it back in time, the Bucks will be in good shape with this version of Lillard. But they've been blown out of consecutive second halves. It just isn't realistic to ask Lillard to dominate for 40 minutes anymore. He can't do this on his own.

How quickly can Kawhi Leonard recover?

Kawhi Leonard's return to the court was a bit of a mixed bag. The Clippers defended very, very well in Game 2. Leonard was a big part of that, though more as a team defender than in his traditional, isolation stopper role. The offense was where things got iffier. Leonard just didn't look like he had his usual lift as he deals with the knee inflammation that had kept him out since March 31. Leonard missed all five of his 3-point attempts. He was closer to his usual self in mid-range, but ultimately just didn't look healthy enough to create the kinds of shots the Clippers needed to win.

When people look back on the two Clippers-Mavericks heavyweight fights that preceded this series, they tend to remember Luka Doncic nearly singlehandedly leading the Mavericks to victory. What has largely been forgotten is what a titanic effort it took from Leonard to keep Doncic from ultimately pulling off the upset. In three road games in Dallas during the 2021 playoffs, Leonard scored 36, 29 and 45 points. In those games, he shot 42-of-57 (73.6%) from the field. The Clippers won all three games.

Now the series is shifting to Dallas. The Clippers will have to win on the road at least once the win the series. Leonard looked OK in Game 2, but "OK" isn't gonna cut it if the 2021 series is any indication. Doncic is older. Kyrie Irving is here. Sooner or later, the Clippers are going to need supernova Leonard. If he can return within a game or two, the Clippers have every reason to believe they can win this series. They nearly stole Game 2 despite shooting 8-of-30 on 3's. But if this is the version of Leonard they're getting, Dallas has the advantage. You don't beat Doncic at 50%. As history has shown, it takes everything Leonard has to knock him out.

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FINAL: Mavericks 96, Clippers 93

It was a back-and-forth affair, but when the dust settled, the Dallas Mavericks emerged victorious, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers, 96-93. Leading the way, as you'd expect, was Luka Doncic. The MVP finalist finished the game with 32 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and he was largely responsible for the back-to-back 3-pointers sequence late in the fourth quarter that gave Dallas the nine-point edge it needed to survive. Now, with Kawhi Leonard back on the floor, the series shifts to Dallas. It's a 1-1 tie and the Mavericks have home-court advantage, but remember, three years ago, in this very series, the Mavericks took a 2-0 series lead back to their home building. Leonard led a comeback. With him in the fold, anything is possible, and we should have plenty of great basketball left between these teams.

April 24, 2024, 4:59 AM
Apr. 24, 2024, 12:59 am EDT
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FINAL: Pacers 125, Bucks 108

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2024 NBA playoffs have officially begun as our first road team, the Indiana Pacers, have won a game. In many ways, it played out much like Game 1 did. The Pacers had to try to contain Damian Lillard, who came out of the gates scorching hot, but countered with Pascal Siakam, who finished with 37, making this the first time in his career that he's scored 35 in consecutive playoff games. Now the Pacers and Bucks will shift to Indianapolis, and it is not clear when or if Giannis Antetokounmpo will be able to return in this series.

April 24, 2024, 2:59 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:59 pm EDT
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FINAL: Timberwolves 105, Suns 93

The Minnesota Timberwolves have taken a 2-0 series lead over the Phoenix Suns by winning Game 2, 105-93. The Suns controlled much of the first half with Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined due to foul trouble, but Minnesota's role players stepped up to swipe this one. Jaden McDaniels managed to score 25 points despite playing incredible defense on Devin Booker, who he held to just 6-of-13 shooting. Mike Conley added 18 points of his own. Now the Timberwolves, who have never won a playoff series without Kevin Garnett on their roster, are two wins away from advancing to the second round. 

April 24, 2024, 2:17 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:17 pm EDT
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Luka hits the dagger!

Back-to-back clutch 3's for Dallas! On the first, Kyrie Irving was trapped by two Clippers, forcing him to pass to Luka Doncic. Paul George gambled for the steal, allowing Doncic to get into the lane and dish it out to Maxi Kleber, who hit the biggest shot of his season. Another Dallas stop gives Luka Doncic possession, and he drills a 3-pointer of his own. He's got 32. The Mavericks lead by nine with 86 seconds remaining. It looks like we're headed back to Dallas with this series tied 1-1.

April 24, 2024, 4:42 AM
Apr. 24, 2024, 12:42 am EDT
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Can the Clippers find their offense?

The Clippers have 10 points in the fourth quarter. It's been a struggle all night for both sides, but Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving and P.J. Washington have scrounged together just enough points to give the Mavericks a seven-point lead with 3:58 remaining. The question now for Los Angeles: do you prioritize shooting, now that we've reached the "slow down, grind it out" portion of the game? Russell Westbrook has been arguably their best player in the second half. He's already made one big 3, but can you trust him not to compromise your spacing?

April 24, 2024, 4:37 AM
Apr. 24, 2024, 12:37 am EDT
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We're playing small-ball

Neither team has a center on the floor. It's Maxi Kleber for the Mavericks and seemingly Paul George for the Clippers. The Clippers have opted for Russell Westbrook and four shooters. The Mavericks have their two stars in with Kleber and their athletic wings. Both teams seemingly are trying to juice their offense right now.

April 24, 2024, 4:32 AM
Apr. 24, 2024, 12:32 am EDT
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When you need him most...

Luka Doncic delivers. The game looked like it was slipping away from Dallas. The Clippers had taken a 6-0 lead. Russell Westbrook and Ivica Zubac were wreaking havoc. But Luka Doncic sets up a 9-0 run that ends with a stepback 3-pointer. The Mavericks lead by three, 76-73, with just over seven minutes remaining.

April 24, 2024, 4:28 AM
Apr. 24, 2024, 12:28 am EDT
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The Clippers have a supporting cast. The Mavericks don't

It feels that simple right now. P.J. Washington can't finish. Dereck Lively is getting worked in the post. No Mavericks role player can make a 3. Meanwhile, Ivica Zubac is getting the Clippers easy stuff near the rim. Russell Westbrook is doing the same in transition and defending his butt off. One of these teams feels like a team. The other feels like two stars and a prayer.

April 24, 2024, 4:21 AM
Apr. 24, 2024, 12:21 am EDT
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Luka trades one for two

Luka Doncic does indeed close out the third quarter with a game-tying layup... but commits the technical foul afterward because he thought he was fouled. James Harden sinks the free-throw, and the Clippers lead 66-65 with 12 minutes remaining.

April 24, 2024, 4:11 AM
Apr. 24, 2024, 12:11 am EDT
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We are really feeling how limited the Dallas supporting cast is

The Mavericks have two superstars. The rest of their roster is pretty one-dimensional. The bigs catch lobs. The wings defend. There's not a lot of creativity or even catch-and-shoot reliability. The Clippers are responding by sending doubles at Luka Doncic whenever he uses a screen, and the entry passes have been so iffy that the Clippers are generating turnovers with seeming ease. Luka and Kyrie are the only sources of shot-creation here, and that's making things so, so hard for them.

April 24, 2024, 4:07 AM
Apr. 24, 2024, 12:07 am EDT
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The Russell Westbrook effect

Which Clipper has the best plus-minus in this game? It's Russell Westbrook. He's a very valuable low-minutes weapon to have in this specific sort of series. The Mavericks, partially through roster design and partially through rotation decisions, have dictated that this is going to be a game won on defense rather than offense. Well, what happens in those sorts of games? With a lot of missed shots, there are a lot of opportunities to create offense in transition. Russell Westbrook is doing a very good job of that tonight, and it's made all of the difference for the Clippers.

April 24, 2024, 4:02 AM
Apr. 24, 2024, 12:02 am EDT
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Nightmare sequence for P.J. Washington

P.J. Washington just fumbled a lob, allowed Kawhi Leonard to make a mid-range jumper in his face, and then committed a totally unnecessary travel. The Clipper role players have all been here before. For most of the Mavericks outside of their stars? The playoffs are new, and you can feel it.

April 24, 2024, 3:58 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 11:58 pm EDT
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Tim Hardaway Jr. out for the night

Tim Hardaway Jr. has a sprained ankle and he is done for the night. That's a big loss for Dallas. We're seeing how much extra attention the Clippers can pay to Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving offensively in this game because of how many defense-first role players the Mavericks play. Hardaway is one of their few offensive options aside from their two stars.

April 24, 2024, 3:51 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 11:51 pm EDT
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Kyrie Irving is having an incredible night

Kyrie Irving only has 12 points, but don't let that fool you. He is having an absolutely incredible game. His defense has been relentless. This is the sort of energy you'd expect out of a bench player who doesn't have to carry a heavy offensive burden. Irving obviously needs to do quite a bit for Dallas offensively. Heck, look at this incredible save and pass to P.J. Washington for 3.

April 24, 2024, 3:47 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 11:47 pm EDT
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Lively starting over Gafford

Interesting note here, and it's unclear if this is based on Daniel Gafford's back injury or possible matchup issues, but Dereck Lively is starting the second half at center for Dallas. They are very similar players, so there's not an obvious strategic wrinkle at play here. Perhaps Jason Kidd just thinks Lively has looked better tonight?

April 24, 2024, 3:41 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 11:41 pm EDT
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Halftime: Mavericks 45, Clippers 41

It's been a sloppy first half between the Clippers and Mavericks in Game 2. The Mavericks can't seem to hold onto the ball, committing eight turnovers. The Clippers can't make a shot, going 2-of-13 from deep in the first half. Luka Doncic has 18 points, but his control of the game isn't quite as firm as we're used to. Right now, it feels like anyone could step and take control of this thing in the third quarter.

April 24, 2024, 3:24 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 11:24 pm EDT
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Tim Hardaway Jr. in pain

An injury defined Game 1 of Clippers vs. Mavericks. Kawhi Leonard missed the game, but the Clippers won anyway. Now, it's the Mavericks dealing with the injury bug. Daniel Gafford is playing through a back injury, and it looks like Tim Hardaway Jr. stepped on Paul George's foot during that 3-point attempt. He's essential to a Dallas team that has built primarily around defensive-minded role players. Without Hardaway, an even greater shot-creating burden falls on Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. He's on the bench at the moment.

April 24, 2024, 3:12 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 11:12 pm EDT
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That might do it

Myles Turner from the corner, and the Pacers have pushed their lead up to 20. With only 6:22 remaining, that might do it for the Bucks. It looks like we're headed back to Indianapolis with this series tied at 1-1... and no immediate timetable for the return of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

April 24, 2024, 2:44 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:44 pm EDT
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Just a brutal sequence of events for Doc Rivers

I don't know if I've ever seen this: Doc Rivers just called a timeout to avoid an eight-second violation... only to then get called for a five-second violation. Just unreal game-management from the Bucks, who now trail by 15.

April 24, 2024, 2:42 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:42 pm EDT
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The benefits of pressuring in the back court

The Pacers, with their youth and energy, are still pressuring full-court in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. They were so good at it there that Doc Rivers had to use a timeout to avoid an eight-second call. This is where being the younger team has its advantages. You're fresher late in games. 

April 24, 2024, 2:40 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:40 pm EDT
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It's Siakam Time!

Welp... so much for Dame time. Pascal Siakam is now up to 36 points. Indiana's lead is up to 12. Lillard has been spectacular all series, but Siakam, acquired in a mid-season deal with the Toronto Raptors, has been right there with him. It's funny. The Bucks don't have their best player (Giannis Antetokounmpo). Indiana's best player (Tyrese Haliburton) has taken on more of a background role in this series. But the No. 2 options for both sides have been otherworldly.

April 24, 2024, 2:35 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:35 pm EDT
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Lillard returns

Huge, huge work by the Bucks to not only sneak in 2.5 minutes of rest for Damian Lillard, but to gain ground on the scoreboard in the process. He left down eight. He returns down four. This is the point on the clock when the game so often shifts to Dame Time.

April 24, 2024, 2:32 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:32 pm EDT
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The biggest call of the night

Tony Brothers just announced that the foul on Pat Connaughton has been upgraded to a flagrant. That means Connaughton will have two chances to make one free throw, and then the Bucks will get possession. That's an absolutely enormous swing.

April 24, 2024, 2:29 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:29 pm EDT
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The biggest 43 seconds of the game

Four quick Bucks points. A foul to give Pat Connaughton a free throw. A quick Rick Carlisle timeout. All of this would be great for the Bucks under any circumstances, but it also equals more rest for Damian Lillard. He left the game with the Bucks trailing by eight. He might wind up returning with the Bucks having gained ground during his absence, an enormous win.

April 24, 2024, 2:27 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:27 pm EDT
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The Pacers lead by nine after three, but now it's Dame time

The Pacers have done everything right tonight. They're playing with their typical pace, trying to tire out the older Bucks. Their shots are falling. Pascal Siakam has been incredible again, tonight scoring 29 through three quarters. But we know what tends to happen in fourth quarters. It's Dame time. He has played all but around three minutes so far. He's scored 34 points. So, can Lillard work his magic again? Or will Indy tie this series at one?

April 24, 2024, 2:22 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:22 pm EDT
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How long can Doc leave Lillard out?

Doc Rivers just took Damian Lillard out with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter. He's been sensational tonight, and with Giannis Antetokounmpo injured, the Bucks are sorely thin when it comes to star power. Can Rivers afford to leave Lillard out for more than the rest of the third quarter? What is his priority: having a rested Lillard at the end, or having any Lillard as much as possible?

April 24, 2024, 2:20 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:20 pm EDT
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Stick a fork in the Suns

Jaden McDaniels just drilled a corner 3 to get to 25 points and push the Minnesota lead up to 19. With less than five minutes to go, this one is just about over. The Timberwolves just bullied the Suns across these two home games in Minneapolis. Now, it's up to the Suns to find a response at home.

April 24, 2024, 2:06 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:06 pm EDT
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How creative will Phoenix get?

Look, it's a 15-point game. The Suns probably aren't going to come back, and this is a terrible series to try this in, but... it's worth noting that the Suns haven't tried their super small-ball lineup with Kevin Durant at center yet. Perhaps the absence of Grayson Allen makes it infeasible, but when you're this desperate late in a game and desperately need quick offense, going five-out is a way to do that.

April 24, 2024, 2:01 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 10:01 pm EDT
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Ladies and gentlemen: depth

Think of how many Timberwolves have made an enormous impact in this series outside of the stars. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Naz Reid off the bench in Game 1. Jaden McDaniels on both ends through two full games. Mike Conley's scoring in the second quarter when nobody else could generate offense. The Timberwolves are a team. But outside of Phoenix's stars, who has really made a positive impact? Jusuf Nurkic tonight. Otherwise? It just feels like their offense is entirely dependent on the big three, and the defense just doesn't have much talent to begin with.

April 24, 2024, 1:55 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 9:55 pm EDT
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Mike Conley is the hero tonight

Mike Conley kept the Timberwolves afloat as a scorer when Karl-Anthony Towns was out with foul trouble and Anthony Edwards couldn't buy a bucket. He's calmed their half-court offense through every storm, giving them stability in the pick-and-roll on every possession. His 3-pointer just gave the Timberwolves a 13-point lead, their biggest of the night. This is Conley's night, and the Timberwolves look like they're on their way to a 2-0 lead.

April 24, 2024, 1:53 AM
Apr. 23, 2024, 9:53 pm EDT
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