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Chris Paul talks Monty Williams out of sitting him for Game 4, responds with 18 points in Suns’ victory

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LOS ANGELES — Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams initially planned to sit Chris Paul for Game 4 against the Lakers. A persistent shoulder injury had reduced the point guard to a fraction of himself, and Williams didn’t think Paul could help in a crucial game.

Paul changed his coach’s mind in an emotional pregame conversation Sunday.

“He said, ‘Coach, let me start, and if you don’t think I’m looking like I normally do, then take me out and we’ll have to go in a different direction,'” Williams said. “This is one of those situations that I had to trust the player.”

By the time Paul was finished orchestrating their superb second half, the Suns were headed in only one direction: back to Phoenix with a 2-2 series and greatly increased confidence in these playoff newcomers’ ability to knock off the defending champs.

Paul had 18 points and nine assists, Devin Booker and Jae Crowder added 17 points apiece and the Suns leveled the first-round series with a 100-92 victory.

Deandre Ayton had 14 points and 17 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who took advantage of Anthony Davis‘ absence from the second half with a groin injury to reclaim home-court advantage in the series after two straight losses.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Phoenix.

Paul was largely a non-factor in Game 3 of his first postseason with his new team, clearly struggling to put up shots with his ailing right arm. After two days in which he didn’t touch a basketball, Paul looked better in Sunday’s pregame workout — and then looked a whole lot sharper in the game, contributing 12 points and all his assists in the second half of the Suns’ first road playoff victory in over 11 years.

The last one came in San Antonio on May 9, 2010, when Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire completed a four-game sweep of the Spurs in the second round before falling to the soon-to-be repeat champion Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

Paul was grateful Williams was receptive to his fervent desire to play. He also assured his teammates that he would only persevere if he could help: “I told them, ‘I don’t know how long it’s going to be, but if you all feel like I’m out here looking like some trash, just tell me and I’ll get out.'”

“I hadn’t touched a basketball or anything since the last game,” Paul added. “We didn’t have a lot of guys that missed a lot of games this season, so we’re used to playing a certain way. I was just glad I could be out there and help.”

Davis’ absence aside, the Suns sharply improved their effort and poise in Game 4. Phoenix made a 32-15 run starting shortly before halftime and encompassing the whole third, during which it held the Lakers to 15 points on 3-for-16 shooting.

The Suns led by 18 with less than nine minutes to play, but James led a 19-8 run and trimmed the lead to 95-88 with 2:40 left. Phoenix hung on when Paul hung in the air to steal a pass with 1:59 to play before Crowder hit an uncontested 3-pointer in front of the Suns’ bench with 1:23 left to seal it.

Booker, responding to the first postseason pressure of his six-year NBA career, also played with improved focus after getting kicked out of Game 3 in the final minute of a sub-par performance for the high-scoring guard.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Brooklyn Nets to be without Kyrie Irving for Game 5 against Milwaukee Bucks

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Nets star Kyrie Irving will miss Game 5 against the Bucks on Tuesday with a sprained right ankle, coach Steve Nash told reporters Monday.

Irving, hurt in Game 4 on Sunday, had an MRI that showed the sprain.

Nash added that he has “no idea” whether Irving will be able to return in this series vs. Milwaukee, which is tied at 2 as it heads back to Brooklyn.

Irving made a layup midway through the second quarter Sunday and came down and landed on Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s foot. Irving’s right foot bent significantly, and he immediately was in pain, staying on the floor for several minutes. Eventually, he got to his feet, walking to the visiting locker room without assistance but with a pronounced limp. He was later ruled out for the game.

Nash also said that James Harden (hamstring) is currently working out but did not know his status for Tuesday’s Game 5.

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Jazz guard Mike Conley to miss fourth straight game vs. Clippers with tight hamstring

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Jazz guard Mike Conley will not play Monday in Game 4 of Utah’s postseason series against the Clippers because of a right hamstring strain.

Conley has been sidelined since June 2 and hasn’t played yet in this best-of-seven series. The Jazz enter Monday’s road game with a 2-1 series lead.

Conley, 33, has missed significant time because of injuries to both hamstrings during his two seasons in Utah. He missed six games in February and nine games in late April and May because of tightness in his right hamstring.

Joe Ingles replaced Conley in the starting lineup in each of the first three games against the Clippers and is averaging 15.3 points and 4.3 assists over that stretch.

Conley averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 assists per game in the top-seeded Jazz’s first-round series against his former team, the Grizzlies.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

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Brooklyn Nets remain favorite to win NBA championship, but now underdogs in series vs. Milwaukee Bucks

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Injuries to Kyrie Irving and James Harden have flipped the odds on the Brooklyn NetsMilwaukee Bucks Eastern Conference playoff series, putting sportsbooks in a unique position where the current favorite to win the NBA title is now an underdog in the conference semifinal round.

The Bucks tied the series 2-2 with a 107-96 victory Sunday over the Nets in Game 4. Irving left the game and not return after suffering an ankle injury in the second quarter, and Harden has not played since injuring his hamstring early in Game 1.

With the uncertain status of the two Nets stars, sportsbooks have made Milwaukee the favorite to win the series. The Bucks are as high as -150 favorites in the series, with Brooklyn sitting around +120 underdogs.

But the Nets remain the favorite to win the Eastern Conference and NBA championship. At Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, Brooklyn is +155 to win the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Bucks at +175, and +260 to win the NBA title, ahead of the Utah Jazz at +325.

“The philosophy is if they can overcome the injuries in the short term against the Bucks, they will be well-placed long term to win the conference and championship,” Jason Scott, vice president of trading for BetMGM, told ESPN. “However, if they both are ruled out long term, those futures markets will change. It’s very fluid right now.”

At Caesars/William Hill, the Nets were commanding -440 favorites over the Bucks after winning the first two games of the series. A week later, they’re injury-riddled underdogs.

Nets coach Steve Nash said after Sunday’s game that X-rays on Irving’s ankle were negative, but the star guard’s availability for Tuesday’s Game 5 is uncertain. Harden also is questionable for Tuesday’s game in Brooklyn. Harden has been doing on-court work in recent days, according to Nash, but his availability for Game 5 was unknown as of Sunday.

The Bucks have been installed as three-point favorites in Game 5.

Jeff Sherman, who oversees NBA odds for the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, expects the Game 5 line to move closer to pick ’em if Harden were to be cleared to play.

“We’re expecting to see Milwaukee money, especially if those guys get announced out,” Sherman said.

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