Mavericks-Clippers, Heat-Celtics set for pivotal Game 5s in their first-round series

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks are all tied up after four games in a series that’s been a back-and-forth thriller with big finishes, surprising twists and an intriguingly counterintuitive narrative.

The Boston Celtics know they should really try to finish off the Miami Heat before their own series edges toward classic status as well.

Two big Game 5s loom on the NBA calendar Wednesday night as the opening round of the postseason reaches its final days.

Top-seeded Boston has its first chance to eliminate defending conference champion Miami at TD Garden. A win would give the Celtics valuable rest time before the second round and eliminate the chance for the Heat to do what the Celtics did to them last year by stretching their Eastern Conference finals matchup out to seven exhausting games after Miami had taken a 3-0 lead.

The Clippers are at home in the doubleheader’s nightcap, hosting the Mavs in the next chapter of a tremendously entertaining series. Los Angeles evened it in Game 4 on Sunday with a 116-111 win at Dallas despite playing without Kawhi Leonard and blowing a 31-point lead.

Leonard is out again for Game 5 with right knee inflammation, but James Harden and Paul George have been good enough to win without their two-time NBA champion teammate.

“I think we’ve seen the blueprint, what it’s going to take in order to beat this team,” Harden said. “For us, it’s just watching film, getting better and finding ways to do it consistently throughout a four-quarter game. Easier said than done. But for us, it’s just we can’t have any wasted possessions, because this team is so gifted offensively, they can make you pay for it.”

Dallas’ best player is also struggling on an injured right knee: Luka Doncic missed eight of his nine 3-point attempts in Game 4, making the Mavs’ comeback even more remarkable.

Leonard missed the final eight games of the regular season and Game 1 against Dallas. He returned for the next two games of the series, but sat out Game 4.

The star’s absence has affected the Clippers, but not in the way you might expect: They’ve beaten Dallas in both of the games Leonard missed, and they’ve lost both games in which he played.

Boston leads 3-1. Game 5, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: Derrick White poured a career-high 38 points, Jayson Tatum added 20 points and 10 rebounds, and the Celtics beat the Heat 102-88 to push their lead to 3-1 in their Eastern Conference first-round series. The win didn’t come without a price. Kristaps Porzingis, the Celtics’ versatile 7-foot-2 center, played only 14 minutes before leaving in the second quarter with what the team called a right calf tightness. He didn’t return. If he’s out for Game 5, veteran Al Horford would take his place in the lineup, with support off the bench from Luke Kornet.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Miami’s 3-point production. Quite simply, making 3s is the only chance the Heat have of beating the Celtics. In Miami’s three losses it has gone just 30 of 98 (31%) beyond the arc. Boston has shot 47 of 123 in its three victories. The only game in which the Heat won the 3-point scoring battle was Game 2, when they outscored the Celtics 69-24.

— INJURY WATCH: Porzingis is the only question mark for the Celtics. Miami rookie starter Jaime Jaquez Jr. is out after developing a right hip flexor strain in the second half of Game 4. Miami will remain without Jimmy Butler (right knee) and Terry Rozier (neck).

— PRESSURE IS ON: The Heat. It’s win or head to vacation for Miami, which will be looking to recover some of the magic from its Game 2 win at Boston in hopes of extending the series and avoiding its first exit in the first round in four seasons.

Series tied 2-2. Game 5, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: Leonard clearly wasn’t at his best in his two games back, and the Clippers’ entire game suffered because of it. He went 0 for 5 on 3-point attempts in Game 2 before not even shooting a 3 in Game 3, and his teammates likely deferred too much to their most accomplished leader. With Leonard out, the Clippers shot the ball better. That might be a coincidence, but even Dallas’ Kyrie Irving has noticed the Clips play with “liberation” when Leonard isn’t on the floor.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Dallas’ perimeter defense, which should be a barometer for the direction of Game 5. The Clippers are leading the postseason with 43.5% shooting on 3-point attempts while hitting 13.5 3s per game. LA hit 18 3-pointers in each of its victories in the series, but hit just 18 total 3s in its two losses.

— INJURY WATCH: While Leonard is out again, Doncic is probable on his sprained right knee. The Mavs’ Tim Hardaway Jr. (sprained right ankle) is out as well after having a setback while going through a post-practice scrimmage this week.

— PRESSURE IS ON: The reserves. Both teams need somebody to step up with Leonard out and Doncic likely limited again. Los Angeles could use more ball movement and spot defense from its bench, while Dallas must keep up the defensive mentality on which its surge into the postseason was built. Both teams already have a road win in the series, so home-court advantage isn’t paramount — but neither team wants to go to the brink of elimination.


AP Sports Writers Kyle Hightower in Boston and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.



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