The Phoenix Suns' young stars did not shy away from the moment in their first playoff game, overcoming adversity to take down the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1.
Devin Booker went for a franchise record-setting 34 points in his playoff debut, while Deandre Ayton dominated the paint to the tune of 21 points and 16 rebounds. Even with team leader Chris Paul playing the majority of the game with an ailing shoulder injury, a playoff-hungry Phoenix team brought much more intensity than the defending champion Lakers to take a 1-0 series lead.
For more on the game, we have you covered with some takeaways below.
1. Booker's franchise record-setting playoff debut
Booker waited five seasons for this moment and the All-Star guard would not let it pass him by. Even in the face of adversity when Paul went down with a shoulder injury that put his availability for the remainder of the game in jeopardy, Booker elevated his play to step up in a way that big time players do.
Booker led all scorers with 17 points at the half, shooting 8-for-14 from the field to give Phoenix a calming presence.
Booker. pic.twitter.com/lZfYkRlb83- Phoenix Suns (@Suns) May 23, 2021
He only got better as the game went on, going off for 34 points, the most in a playoff debut in Suns franchise history.
📈 Devin Booker: most points in a playoff debut in Suns history pic.twitter.com/Pq0plRRH5x- Phoenix Suns (@Suns) May 23, 2021
He had a stretch from the end of the third quarter into the fourth quarter where he scored 14 of 16 points for Phoenix to keep his team in the driver's seat. His nine points in the fourth quarter prevented the Lakers from ever closing the gap in this contest.
Booker's 34 points were accompanied by eight assists and seven rebounds, shooting an efficient 13-for-26 from the field and 3-for-7 from 3-point land.
The 24-year-old was ready for the moment.
2. Paul leaves game with shoulder injury, returns to play
The entire arena collectively held its breath when star guard Paul went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter. An awkward collision with a teammate forced the Suns' leader to the locker room, leaving doubt surrounding his return to play.
When he reappeared in the tunnel to return to the bench, the crowd erupted to see their All-Star would be okay to get back out there.
Paul was diagnosed with a shoulder contusion and certainly looked like he was playing through some pain, but that didn't prevent the trusty floor general from making clutch shots and keeping his team in line to close out a crucial Game 1.
Paul would finish with seven points, eight assists, four rebounds, a block and a steal, but his impact went far beyond the numbers on his stat sheet. His shoulder injury is certainly something to monitor ahead of Game 2.
3. Disengaged LeBron
Yes, LeBron James went for a near-triple-double of 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and he even shot the ball efficiently, too.
But something seemed off with the 36-year-old veteran, failing to flip the switch in the game's biggest moments. The Lakers had cut the Suns' lead to just seven points midway through the fourth quarter and that seemed like the perfect time for James to do what he does best in trying to carry his team past the finish line.
Instead, he would only take three more shots for the remainder of the game, missing all three attempts while dishing out zero assists in the process.
As we know by now, Los Angeles goes as LeBron goes, and the all-time great didn't have the energy level to get the job done in Game 1.
4. Davis outplayed
It was far from the best performance of Davis' playoff career, hardly making an impact from the get-go.
As one of the best players in this league and the Robin to LeBron's Batman, the Lakers desperately needed more intensity out of their All-Star forward.
Davis only scored seven points in the first half, shooting 3-for-9 from the field, settling for jumpers instead of attacking in the paint. The defensive physicality of Suns frontcourt pairing of Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton had Davis shying away from the interior battle, both doing a fantastic job in making life difficult for the superstar.
Davis only scored 13 points, shooting a rough 5-for-16 from the field. He had fewer total rebounds (7) than his counterpart Ayton had offensive rebounds (8).
He was completely outplayed by the more energetic young star making his postseason debut.
5. Ayton shines in debut, too
And speaking of... Booker wasn't the only young Suns star to step up the moment in their first playoff game - Ayton was stellar in this one, too.
His defence on Davis has already been mentioned, using his size and mobility to match that of the eight-time All-Star. And even when he wasn't marking Davis, Ayton did a great job serving as Phoenix's rim protector to play a key role in holding the Lakers to just 44 points in the paint.
His impact was felt on the glass with a game-high 16 boards and that came in a double-double effort, scoring an efficient 21 points while shooting a near-perfect 10-for-11 from the field.
Ayton's 16 rebounds were the most by a player in their playoff debut in Suns' franchise history.
He was active around the basket on the offensive end, always giving Paul or Booker a lob target as a safety valve whenever they got into the paint.
DOMINAYTON 😈😤 pic.twitter.com/banoF64dMw- Phoenix Suns (@Suns) May 23, 2021
It was a more-than-impressive first playoff appearance for the former No. 1 overall pick.
6. What's next?
The Suns and Lakers will have a day off before returning to action in Phoenix on Tuesday, May 25 at 10 p.m. ET for Game 2.
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