NBA playoffs 2017: Celtics return to form, Thunder outlast Rockets, Chris Paul saves Clippers

Let's take a look at what happened in Friday night's NBA playoff games, including the best highlights, turning points and X-factors.

Friday night's NBA playoff games saw the Eastern Conference's one seed finally play like a one seed and two Western Conference battles that went down to the wire.

The Celtics showed up in Chicago to shrink the Bulls' advantage in the series to 2-1. The Thunder outlasted the Rockets after James Harden's potential game-winner hit the rim and bounced safely to the ground. Chris Paul turned into the "Point God," saving the Clippers and giving LA home-court advantage once again.

MORE: 14 worst choke-jobs in NBA playoff history

Let's take a look at what happened in each playoff game, along with the turning points and X-factors that helped shape the final scores.

NBA playoffs: Scores, highlights

Celtics 104, Bulls 87

What happened: The Bulls missed Rajon Rondo, who could be out for the rest of the series with a fractured thumb. The offense was out of sync early, and the Bulls often settled for outside shots and isolation plays rather than ball movement. The Celtics jumped out to a 33-15 lead, shooting 12 of 21 from the field and 7 of 11 from 3-point range in the first quarter. While Chicago did close the gap with a 24-7 run to end the first half, Boston attacked in the second half and never let the Bulls close the gap.

Turning point: The Celtics overwhelmed the Bulls in the third behind the play of Isaiah Thomas. The diminutive All-Star had eight points on 3-of-5 shooting with three assists in the third quarter alone, finishing with 16 points and a game-high nine assists. Thomas was willing to be a distributor and make his reads off high pick-and-roll plays (a terrific adjustment by Brad Stevens), and it opened up plenty of opportunities for his teammates.

While Thomas was busy dominating, the Bulls failed to get an assist in the third quarter as team. Yikes.

MORE: Wait, did Rondo try to trip Jae Crowder?

X-factor: Not only did Avery Bradley play his usual outstanding defense, he also provided a scoring punch. Bradley had 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting (4 of 6 on 3-pointers) along with seven rebounds and seven assists. He harassed Jimmy Butler all night long, limiting the Bulls star to 14 points on 7 of 21 from the field.

With the way Chicago's offense looked minus Rondo, coach Fred Hoiberg may want to consider putting Butler at point guard. Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams are not the answers here. The two combined to shoot 3 of 10 with three assists. They simply don't provide the same level of playmaking and basketball intellect as Rondo.

Highlight you need to see: Thomas will hit you with that hesitation.

Next game: Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

Thunder 115, Rockets 113

What happened: This one went down to the final second. The Thunder came out with great energy, starting Game 3 on an 11-2 run and pushing Harden out of his comfort zone early. OKC shot over 60 percent from the field in the first half, but the Thunder only held a seven-point lead heading into the locker room. The Rockets started the second half on a 9-0 run, then the Thunder countered with a 28-16 run of their own to end the third. It went back and forth until Harden's 3-pointer from the top of the key came up short, giving OKC a much-needed win.


Turning point: With Westbrook sitting on the bench to start the fourth, the Rockets hit the Thunder with a 7-0 run. We had seen this script before. This time, however, the Thunder didn't collapse without Westbrook in the lineup. Doug McDermott answered the run with a huge 3-pointer, and Enes Kanter finished a close shot in the paint to prevent the ship from sinking. Westbrook re-entered the game with OKC ahead 98-92. It wasn't easy with Russ out (it never is), but the Thunder did just enough to enable Billy Donovan to allow his star to rest key minutes.

MORE: Russ or Harden for MVP? SN's Sean Deveney gives his final vote

X-factor: Stealing Taj Gibson from the Bulls looked even better Friday night than it did at the trade deadline, and it looked pretty good then. The veteran forward scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter, finishing with 20 points on 10 of 13 from the field in 29 minutes. He was a capable defender when switched out on Harden, limiting him to 1-of-5 shooting as the primary defender. Just a terrific effort after subpar performances in Games 1 and 2.

On the flip side, Patrick Beverley was not nearly as effective as he was in Houston. Beverley did not make any of his six field-goal attempts, had one point on a single trip to the free-throw line and fouled out after 25 minutes of play. He dealt with foul trouble all night after being hit with his second foul halfway through the second quarter. He was a minus-7 overall. The Rockets will need him to stay on the floor in Game 4.

Highlight you need to see: Victor Oladipo goes with the behind-the-back save and gets rewarded for his effort.


Next game: Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Clippers 111, Jazz 106

What happened: Behind an explosive first quarter from Gordon Hayward, the Jazz looked unstoppable. Hayward scored 12 of Utah's first 16 points, and Joe Johnson came off the bench to continue what has been a strong series for him so far. The crowd was electric and fully behind this Jazz team.

"They're playing so much harder and with so much more passion than us right now," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said during his in-game interview with ESPN after the first quarter. "We gotta get involved in this game, or this score's gonna continue to grow."

The Clippers found an answer, trimming the Jazz lead down to single digits before halftime. Unfortunately for LA, the team had to do so without Blake Griffin, who injured his right big toe in the second quarter and did not return to the game. (The Clippers later announced Griffin will miss the rest of the playoffs.) So what do you do with one of your best players sidelined? You give the ball to Chris Paul, and you get the hell out of the way.

Turning point: The man called "CP3" began to perform black magic in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Jazz by himself 13-8 in clutch time, per ESPN Stats and Info. He sensed his team needed him to switch into scoring mode, and that's exactly what he did. Floaters, splitting traps, 3-pointers, didn't matter. Paul had it all working in the final minutes, and the Jazz never gave a solid response.

As great as Hayward was throughout the game, he had four points on 1-of-4 shooting with two turnovers in the fourth quarter, including a horrible inbound pass with 3.3 seconds left. That sealed the deal for the Clippers.

MORE: NBA playoff scores | Saturday's schedule

X-factor: In clutch time, can the Jazz turn to someone other than Johnson? At one point in the fourth quarter, Utah went more than six minutes without a bucket after being stuck with 96 points from 8:00 to 1:54 on the clock. The guy who finally broke that scoreless streak? Joe Johnson. Hayward and George Hill scored 66 of Utah's 106 points for the game, so it feels odd to criticize those two, but they do need offer Johnson some sort of assistance in the final minutes.

Hill's performance also highlighted the backup point guard issue on the Jazz bench. Quin Snyder may need to hand Raul Neto some of Shelvin Mack's minutes because Mack isn't producing much. The former Butler star has five points in 33 minutes for the entire series, while Neto scored five points in three minutes in Game 3 after not playing in Games 1 or 2. There at least needs to be a threat at the position, and right now, it's not Mack.

Highlight you need to see: HAYWARD ANGRY! HAYWARD SMASH!


Yes, Paul is a wizard.


Next game: Sunday at 9 p.m. ET (TNT)

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes