NBA playoffs scores: Winners and losers from Sunday as James Harden, Damian Lillard, Kristaps Porzingis shine

Four more first-round series in the 2024 NBA playoffs got started on Sunday, and it was another day of higher seeds defending their home courts. The Celtics, Clippers, Bucks and Thunder were all victorious on Sunday after home teams went 4-0 on Saturday. The Celtics, Clippers and Bucks all won by double-digits, and the Thunder clawed out a victory over the Pelicans in the night cap.

Damian Lillard was one of the stars of the day, scoring 35 points (all in the first half) as the Bucks got off to a strong start against the Pacers with Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined. The Clippers also won without one of their stars, using a monster first half and strong game from James Harden to beat the Mavericks as Kawhi Leonard missed the game due to a knee injury.

The Celtics -- the East's top seed -- hit 22 3-pointers and cruised to a win over the Heat. But the closest game of the night came in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder beat the Pelicans thanks to a clutch late bucket from MVP finalist Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. CJ McCollum then missed a potential game-winner in the final seconds for eighth-seeded New Orleans.

Below is a recap of the day's scores, along with a few winners and losers from each game.

NBA playoffs scores: Sunday, April 21

  • Celtics 114, Heat 94 (Celtics lead 1-0) -- Box score
  • Clippers 109, Mavericks 97 (Clippers lead 1-0) --  Box score
  • Bucks 109, Pacers 94 (Bucks lead 1-0) -- Box score
  • Thunder 94, Pelicans 92 (Thunder lead 1-0) -- Box score

Winner: Basketball curmudgeons

Remember a couple months ago when the outrage du jour was about NBA scoring being WAY TOO HIGH. Well, the vocal minority can put down their pitchforks because the Thunder and Pelicans just finished a playoff game in which neither team hit the century mark. The defense and physicality was some of the best we've seen in the postseason thus far, with Lu Dort's work on Brandon Ingram -- who went 5-for-17 from the field -- the prime example.

The Thunder and Pelicans finished the regular season fourth and sixth, respectively, in defensive efficiency, so we can reasonably expect to see more slugfests as the series progresses -- much to grandpa's delight. - Colin Ward-Henninger

Loser: Alpha Pelicans

In addition to Ingram's rough night, CJ McCollum could never find a groove on Sunday, going 9 for 22 from the field. Overall, the Pelicans' two top scorers (with Zion Williamson out) combined to go 14 for 39 from the field and 2 for 11 from 3-point range with seven turnovers. The clunky series opener was cemented by McCollum getting the ball poked away from him by rookie Cason Wallace on the final possession of the game, followed by a missed runner from beyond the arc that would have given New Orleans the lead.

Credit goes to the aforementioned lock-down OKC defense, but that kind of inefficiency from Ingram and McCollum simply isn't going to get it done this series. - Colin Ward-Henninger

Winner: Front office high fives

As Damian Lillard poured in 35 first-half points -- a Bucks playoff record -- and Pascal Siakam was going off for 36 points and 14 rebounds, you could clearly envision two groups of individuals in logo-emblazoned 3/4 zip pullovers slapping high fives in their respective front-office suites.


Lillard was brought in just before the season to do exactly what he did on Sunday, ripping the hearts out of the Pacers before they even had a chance to get their footing.

Lillard didn't score in the second half, but the increased defensive attention led to great looks for the rest of the Bucks roster.

Meanwhile on the other side, Siakam -- acquired from the Toronto Raptors in January -- was seemingly the only Pacer who could create his own shot in Game 1, lighting up the Bucks with an array of midrange jumpers and forays to the basket. If he can continue that level of performance while the rest of his team catches up, Indiana should have a shot at an upset in the series. - Colin Ward-Henninger

Loser: Tyrese Haliburton

One number from Haliburton's playoff debut stands out like a swollen, jammed finger: seven shot attempts. That's less than half his per-game average from the regular season, and is a recipe for disaster for the Pacers. Haliburton led the league in assists and is one of the best in the world at setting up teammates, but he needs to leverage his shot to keep the defense honest.

Give credit to Doc Rivers and the Bucks for coming up with a solid game plan to take the ball out of his hands, but sometimes a superstar needs to take matters into their own hands. Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy talked about an 85/15 ratio that he outlined for Lauri Markkanen, meaning that 85% of the time it's fine for him to play within the system, but the remaining 15% of the time he needs to forget about the system and just make a play for himself or a teammate. The same applies to Haliburton, who will need to figure out how to get up more shots if the Pacers are going to have a chance. - Colin Ward-Henninger

Winner: James Harden

It looked like we were well on our way through another spin on the James Harden cycle. Harden gets traded? Check. Harden plays great with his new team? Check. Troubling signs emerge down the stretch? Check. Harden collapses in the playoffs?

Well, that may still eventually happen, but it certainly didn't on Sunday. Harden's time as a star appeared to be over in the regular season's final months. He averaged just 15.6 points on below 40% shooting from Feb. 1 on, and with Kawhi Leonard out, it just didn't seem realistic for him at that level to lead the Clippers on a playoff run. Fortunately, Harden didn't play at that level on Sunday. Physically, he looked great. His burst was back. His jumper was in top form. His 28 points and eight assists don't do his performance justice. Harden fully controlled the game offensively for most of the first three quarters.

This is the version of Harden the Clippers need. Some nights will have better individual numbers than others, but Harden's ability to dictate pace, organize an offense and ensure everyone gets the shots they want is what makes the Clippers so dangerous. At his best, he's the counterbalance to their mid-range heavy, isolation offense, and he played that role well in Game 1. - Sam Quinn

Loser: Jason Kidd

Sunday was a golden opportunity for the Mavericks. With Kawhi Leonard out, they were in perfect position to steal home-court advantage. Leonard might be out for Game 2. He might be back at 100%. With Kawhi, we never really know. But once he was ruled out for Game 1, the onus was on Dallas: have your best game now, because you might not have a better chance to win a road game in this series.

The Mavericks looked poorly prepared from the opening tip. They had no answer for the aggressive pick-and-roll defense the Clippers sent at Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Their own defense felt completely out of flux early, sending too much help in the wrong directions and leaving others, most notably Ivica Zubac near the rim, too many easy points and rebounds. He couldn't manufacture any easy offense for his own big men. Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively both shot better than 74% from the field this season because of the easy buckets they got in pick-and-roll. They shot 2-of-7 from the floor in this one.

Coming into this series, coaching was viewed as one of the bigger mismatches in favor of the Clippers. Ty Lue has an excellent playoff track record. Jason Kidd, aside from his 2022 run to the Western Conference Finals, does not. Lue won the Game 1 battle, and if Kidd doesn't make major adjustments, he'll win the war too. - Sam Quinn

Winner: Kristaps Porzingis

You could pick a handful of Celtics. Jayson Tatum picked up his first playoff triple-double, for example, but the most significant performance of the day came from Kristaps Porzingis. Boston acquired him largely because of its offensive woes against Miami, specifically. The idea was that a 7-foot-2 three-level scorer would not only increase the space for everyone else to work with, but would also lead to easy buckets for Porzingis himself simply because nobody is big enough to contest him at that size. Bam Adebayo, Miami's star defensive big man, is only 6-9.

Porzingis delivered proof of concept in Game 1. He made four of his eight 3-point attempts in the win, and in the process, helped get the Celtics rolling on their way to a team playoff-record 22 made 3-pointers. As predicted, Adebayo just wasn't much of a deterrent to Porzingis from deep, and his height poses problems against just about anyone. Put your center on Porzingis and suddenly your primary rim-protector is away from the rim. Put a smaller player on him and he has a mismatch to attack. If there is a good answer to that problem, Miami didn't find it in Game 1. If nobody does this postseason, the Celtics will probably be champions in June. - Sam Quinn

Loser: Tyler Herro

The idea that Tyler Herro either is a star, or perhaps more importantly, could be traded for a star, is basically on life support at this point. His first year as a starter more or less ended with the Heat going on a Finals run without him. The absence of Jimmy Butler this postseason has given him a chance to prove that he can be a primary ball-handler on a playoff offense.

He shot 9-of-27 against the 76ers in the first Play-In game, rebounded nicely against the Bulls in the second, but fell back down to 4-of-13 against Boston on Sunday. Herro is now in his fifth season. He's playing on an expensive contract. And at this stage, it's looking likelier and likelier that he is merely a good role player as opposed to someone who can help lead Miami over that last hurdle it needs to make in order to win a championship. It's not easy to score on Jrue Holiday and Derrick White, but that's what stars do. If Herro can't, well, that might be the final nail in that coffin. - Sam Quinn

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FINAL - Thunder 94, Pelicans 92

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 28 pts, 6 reb, 4 ast
  • Jalen Williams: 19 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast
  • Chet Holmgren: 15 pts, 11 reb, 5 blk
  • Trey Murphy III: 21 pts, 5-12 3P
  • CJ McCollum: 20 pts, 6 ast
  • Brandon Ingram: 12 pts, 6 reb, 3 ast, 5-17 FG
  • Jonas Valanciunas: 13 pts, 20 reb (9 off.)
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FINAL - Bucks 109, Pacers 94

  • Damian Lillard: 35 pts, 6 reb, 3 ast, 6-11 3P
  • Khris Middleton: 25 pts, 10 reb, 4 ast
  • Pascal Siakam: 36 pts, 14 reb, 15-25 FG
  • Tyrese Haliburton: 9 pts, 8 ast, 7 reb, 4-7 FG
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FINAL: Clippers 109, Mavericks 97

That'll do it in Los Angeles. The Mavericks put up a bit of a fight in the fourth quarter, but the dominant Clippers first half gave them the 109-97 victory. The story of the game? How about the resurgence of James Harden, who struggled down the stretch of the regular season, but came up huge with 28 points and eight assists. Behind Harden's stellar performance, the Clippers shot 18-of-36 from deep in their victory. With Kawhi Leonard sidelined, the Clippers needed one of their other stars to step up in his place, and boy, did Harden deliver in this one.

April 21, 2024, 10:04 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 6:04 pm EDT
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FINAL: Celtics 114, Heat 94

The Celtics are expected to roll through the Eastern Conference this postseason, and so far, they're living up to that expectation. The Celtics controlled their 114-94 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1 from the start. They raced out to a 17-2 lead, and while the Heat did go on a few runs, the games was never seriously in doubt. Jayson Tatum picked up his first career playoff triple-double with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. As a team, the Celtics tied their franchise record with 22 3-pointers in a postseason game. This was always a mismatch with Jimmy Butler sidelined, and Game 1 showed just how wide the gap between these two teams really is.

April 21, 2024, 7:28 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 3:28 pm EDT
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Now or never for Pels

CJ McCollum? Brandon Ingram? One of the shooters in the corner? The Pelicans have one shot, down by two points, to tie the game or take the lead. You'd have to imagine that OKC will knock down their next free throws or, up three, foul and make it impossible to tie. Let's see.

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Weirdest challenge ever?

The Thunder lost the ball, but they won the challenge. Huh? Technically because the call was changed from a jump ball to New Orleans possession, the OKC challenge was successful. So they retain their challenge and timeout, but lose the ball. UPDATE: They actually lost their timeout. I have no idea what's happening.

Welcome to the playoffs, friends!

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Where do the Pelicans go?

Lu Dort is absolutely draped on Brandon Ingram -- the Pelicans' normal go-to guy down the stretch with Zion out -- so perhaps they'll put the ball in CJ McCollum's hands a bit more. Jonas Valanciunas was doing well as the focal point of the offense, but Larry Nance Jr. is a better defensive fit against OKC in crunch time. A lot of decisions forthcoming, but ultimately it will come down to execution. You know the Thunder will let their MVP finalist Shai Gilgeous-Alexander take the reins in the final four minutes.

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Pelicans won't quit

New Orleans found some success working through Jonas Valanciunas in the post, which led to some free throws and kick-out 3-pointers. Meanwhile the defense generated turnovers, allowing New Orleans to get out in transition, which has been rare tonight. As a result, they've gotten the lead down to a single possession and have given themselves a chance, with two players -- CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram -- more than capable of generating offense down the stretch.

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End of 3rd quarter - Thunder 74, Pelicans 68

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 21 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast
  • Jalen Williams: 18 pts, 6 reb, 8-16 FG
  • Chet Holmgren: 9 pts, 9 reb, 3 blk
  • Trey Murphy III: 16 pts, 4-9 3P
  • CJ McCollum: 13 pts, 5 ast
  • Brandon Ingram: 10 pts, 4 reb
  • Jonas Valanciunas: 8 pts, 17 reb
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Defensive clinic

If you happen to be training a young player on how to defend, sit them in front of the screen for this game. Between Herb Jones, Lu Dort, Jalen Williams, Chet Holmgren and Jose Alvarado, there are some sparkling examples of individual defense. All of those guys, plus more, are making this a low-scoring game, but if you dig into the minutiae on each possession, you'll see what it takes to defend at the highest level.

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Halftime - Pelicans 43, Thunder 43

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 11 pts, 4 reb, 4-8 FG
  • Chet Holmgren: 7 pts, 7 reb, 3 blk
  • Jalen Williams: 9 pts, 4-8 FG
  • CJ McCollum: 9 pts, 2 ast, 4-12 FG
  • Brandon Ingram: 8 pts, 3 reb
  • Jonas Valanciunas: 6 pts, 10 reb
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Valanciunas making presence felt

Although he might not always be able to keep up with the pace of this series, Jonas Valanciunas has made an immediate impact through his rebounding -- particularly on the offensive end. The veteran center has nine rebounds already, including four on the offensive end that have helped lead to 10 Pelicans second-chance points. Chet Holmgren can stretch Valanciunas out to the 3-point line, but Valanciunas can use his size and strength to bully Holmgren on the boards. Should be a fascinating matchup.

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End of 1st quarter - Pelicans 17, Thunder 17

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 9 pts, 3 reb, 4-6 FG
  • Chet Holmgren: 3 pts, 5 reb, 1 blk, 1-7 FG
  • Herb Jones: 5 pts, 3 reb, 1-6 FG
  • CJ McCollum/Jonas Valanciunas: 4 pts each
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Ugly start in OKC

If you're a fan of missed shots, you're loving Game 1 between the Thunder and Pelicans. Both teams have struggled to score, combining to go 10 for 31 from the floor and 2 for 12 from 3-point range. There could be some jitters, but these are also two of the league's best defenses, so this could have been expected. We'll see if things open up as the game goes along.

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Thunder-Pelicans up next

OKC's postseason debut will come after New Orleans had to win two games just to advance to the first round. With Zion Williamson out, key matchups include Pelicans scorer extraordinaire Brandon Ingram going up against defensive monster Lu Dort, along with spindly, versatile center Chet Holmgren battling the brute force of post-up specialist Jonas Valanciunas. Also look for some brilliant individual shot-making from MVP finalist Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and veteran Pelicans guard CJ McCollum. It should be a fun one.

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End of 3rd quarter - Bucks 83, Pacers 71

  • Damian Lillard: 35 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast, 6-11 3P
  • Khris Middleton: 16 pts, 9 reb, 3 ast, 7-10 FG
  • Pascal Siakam: 27 pts, 9 reb, 11-18 FG
  • Tyrese Haliburton: 9 pts, 5 ast, 6 reb, 4-5 FG
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Siakam a one-man show

If you looked at Pascal Siakam's stats, you'd probably think the Pacers were doing pretty well -- 27 points, eight rebounds, 11 for 18 from the field. The problem is, his teammates haven't been able to help him out consistently. Another issue is Tyrese Haliburton, who is shooting well but has only attempted five shots. As the team's leader, he might need to be more aggressive looking for his own shot moving forward.

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Halftime - Bucks 69, Pacers 42

  • Damian Lillard: 35 pts, 3 reb, 2 ast, 6-10 3P
  • Khris Middleton: 8 pts, 7 reb, 3 ast
  • Pascal Siakam: 19 pts, 5 reb, 7-13 FG
  • Tyrese Haliburton: 7 pts, 3 ast, 4 reb, 3-4 FG
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Reasons for Pacers optimism?

It might be time for the Pacers to aggressively take the ball out of Damian Lillard's hands, but they've been so bad in rotation tonight that it could be a daunting proposition for Rick Carlisle. If you're Indiana, you look at the scoreboard and see that you're 0 for 12 from 3-point range and have to think that you'll eventually start knocking down some of these open looks. Get a little more physical with Lillard and hope that your offense eventually shows up like it has all season.

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Bucks offense feeding defense

The Pacers only have four fast-break points so far, and while credit should of course go to the Bucks' defense, a big reason is actually the Bucks' offense. By putting the ball in the basket (which started with Damian Lillard and has been picked up by Bobby Portis), Milwaukee severely limits Indiana's transition opportunities. The Pacers were fourth in the NBA this season with almost 17 fast-break points per game, and they're well below that pace in Game 1. Advantage, Bucks.

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End of 1st Quarter - Bucks 30, Pacers 21

  • Damian Lillard: 19 pts, 3 reb, 3-5 3P
  • Pascal Siakam: 8 pts, 3 reb, 4-5 FG
  • Tyrese Haliburton: 4 pts, 3 ast, 2 reb
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Dame Time already?

Damian Lillard isn't waiting until the fourth quarter to get aggressive -- he's scored 10 of the Bucks' first 14 points on 3-for-5 shooting. We'll see if the Pacers elect to trap and try to take the ball out of his hands if he keeps cooking, since the individual matchups don't seem to be getting it done to start the game.

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Pacers-Bucks underway

With no Giannis Antetokounmpo, the offensive burden is going to fall to Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis. They have a tall task ahead of them facing the second-best offense in the NBA this season. Milwaukee will need to score in order to keep the Pacers out of transition, where they're absolutely deadly.

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Have the Mavericks picked anything up that will help in Game 2?

The Mavericks have done a good job reacting to these Clipper traps in the fourth quarter, making the quick pass to the short-roller and forcing their way to the foul line. The 3-point shooting should improve on Tuesday, and hopefully, the Mavericks will have a revamped game-plan on offense. 

April 21, 2024, 9:52 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 5:52 pm EDT
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An obvious hostile act

Ivica Zubac just threw Maxi Kleber to the ground with his elbow as they fought for position on that free throw. You can't do that. Zubac is quickly called for a flagrant-1 foul and a technical foul upon review. The Mavericks get three shots and the ball, but Zubac is not ejected.

April 21, 2024, 9:45 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 5:45 pm EDT
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So much for the Dallas run

When the Mavericks cut the lead to 15 with around eight minutes to play, it looked like they could make a real run at this game. Instead, it's a 22-point game behind a Paul George barrage and a Terence Mann 3-pointer. We are well on our way to a Game 1 win for the Clippers.

April 21, 2024, 9:41 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 5:41 pm EDT
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Slow and steady

Despite horrible early shooting, bad luck at the rim, and getting totally bullied inside by Ivica Zubac, the Mavericks are still hanging around here. The 29-point lead has been trimmed to 15. With over eight minutes to play, the Clippers are going to have to get some stops to win this game. That came easy in the first half. It's been another story here in the second.

April 21, 2024, 9:34 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 5:34 pm EDT
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Here's what shooting variance can do

The Mavericks started this game 2-of-18 from 3. They're predictably down double-digits despite being favored. Remember, though, when Dallas took a 2-0 lead on the Clippers in 2021, they shot just under 58% on wide-open 3's in those two initial road games. The Clippers have made half of their 3's and the Mavericks have made 27% of theirs. Odds are, those numbers equalize a bit as the series progresses. If they do, this series looks a lot closer.

April 21, 2024, 9:33 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 5:33 pm EDT
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Kyrie goes for 20 in the quarter... and it means nothing

Dallas scored 30 points in the entire first half. They outdid themselves in the third quarter with 34 points, but it means nothing because the Clippers scored 31 themselves. Kyrie Irving alone had 20 points in the quarter and has 26 on the night. Doesn't matter. It's 87-64 Clippers. The offense seems to be moving in the right direction. Defensively? They have no answer for James Harden and Ivica Zubac.

April 21, 2024, 9:24 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 5:24 pm EDT
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Mavericks experimenting with small-ball

Richard Jefferson just explained this well on the broadcast, but to reiterate, Dallas has gone small with Maxi Kleber at center. This isn't something they've done much of since acquiring Daniel Gafford, but it's a weapon they've had in their back pocket for years. It comes with defensive vulnerabilities, especially with Ivica Zubac scoring so well near the basket, but it maximizes spacing and switchability, creating more variance. You need extreme variance swings to come back when you've trailed by 30, and even if it doesn't work, it's at least an experiment that might pay off in a closer game later in the series.

April 21, 2024, 9:12 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 5:12 pm EDT
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This isn't a typo:

The Mavericks have scored more points in the first 2:55 of the third quarter than they did IN THE ENTIRE SECOND QUARTER! They have nine, one off of their lone 3-pointer, six more in the paint, and the Clippers call a quick timeout. Up 22, they are still firmly in control here, but they don't want to give the Mavericks momentum that could carry either into an extended run today or momentum they could bring into Game 2.

April 21, 2024, 9:03 PM
Apr. 21, 2024, 5:03 pm EDT
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