NBA

NBA Heat Check: Booker shines for Suns but Luka's one-man Mavs cannot eclipse Clippers

By Sports Desk June 07, 2021

A new generation of NBA superstars established themselves as the playoffs continued last week.

The first round concluded as a talented, young (with the exception of Chris Paul) Phoenix Suns team defeated LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Atlanta Hawks quickly gained an upper hand against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, too.

And although Kawhi Leonard led the Los Angeles Clippers through to round two, they also suffered at the hand of an emerging talent, as Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check shows.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Devin Booker

Booker was dominant across the board for the Suns, earning praise from James after getting the better of the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

When comparing last week's performances with regular season returns, Booker ranked third for scoring improvement, second for rebounding improvement and second for three-point makes improvement. This was a staggering show of strength.

Playing in his sixth year, it is easy to forget this was a debut postseason series for Booker, who finished with 47 points at Staples Center and will back himself to deliver again against the Denver Nuggets.

Trae Young

The biggest potential upset of the second round is already under way after the Hawks took Game 1 against the 76ers in Philly despite Joel Embiid's return to fitness.

Young – another playoff debutant – was predictably at the centre of their success, following up 36 points in Game 5 against the New York Knicks with 35 in this opener.

He had 25 in the first half on Sunday on eight-of-13 shooting as Atlanta scored 74, the most ever by a road team in a Game 1. Considering the way the Sixers battled back to make the encounter close, Young might have to be similarly outstanding again in the forthcoming meetings.

Luka Doncic

Young was traded to the Hawks as part of the deal that saw Doncic go the other way to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night in 2018. But the Slovenian will play no further part in the playoffs after Sunday's Game 7 defeat to the Clippers.

Doncic has undoubtedly proven his class in the postseason, though, even if he is yet to win a series. Already one of the league's outstanding offensive stars, his career playoff average of 33.5 points per game is the best of any player to appear in 13 or more games – surpassing Michael Jordan's 33.4.

The Mavs ace reached that mark thanks to an outstanding week that included two 40-point performances despite Dallas' eventual series defeat.

Doncic's performances through 13 career playoff games are a match for the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Only Rick Barry, Bob McAdoo and Jordan have topped his 436 total points at this stage since 1963-64. He was certainly not to blame on Sunday...
 

GOING COLD...

Kristaps Porzingis

Expensive team-mate Porzingis may well have to take some responsibility for the Mavs' failings, although he was not alone. Among the players with the largest declines in scoring over the past week from their regular season outputs, three Dallas players were in the top seven.

Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson were also in there, but Porzingis' presence should be of the most concern.

Although the big man put up 16 points and 11 rebounds – his second-most in a postseason game – on Sunday, his failure to make a single one of his five three-point attempts left Doncic short of help.

Enes Kanter

Doncic was not the only superstar left high and dry as he exited the first round. Damian Lillard did all he could to try to carry the Portland Trail Blazers past the Nuggets last week, averaging 41.5 points, but could not advance alone.

CJ McCollum underwhelmed, despite contributing 20.7 points across the series, yet it was the absence of effective defense that meant Nikola Jokic was always able to match Lillard.

Jusuf Nurkic had a combined plus/minus of 45 but fouled out of three of the six games, meaning poor Kanter had to guard Jokic on occasion and ended the series with a -34 plus/minus across only 56 minutes.

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    Joel Embiid will be "ready to go" for the Philadelphia 76ers when they host the Miami Heat, coach Nick Nurse has confirmed.

    The reigning MVP sat out the Sixers' 107-86 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Sunday's regular-season finale at Wells Fargo Center.

    Embiid returned from a two-month lay-off against the Oklahoma City Thunder two weeks ago, but his status has been questionable for every game since. 

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    However, Nurse allayed any fears regarding the fitness of Embiid, who practised with the rest of his team-mates on Saturday.

    "He did everything at practice yesterday," Nurse said after the Nets win. "But we decided out of caution to hold him out. He'll be ready to go."

    Despite winning their final eight games, the Sixers finished seventh in the Eastern Conference and are set to contest their first play-in contest.

    As a result of other results over the weekend, the Heat now stand between Philadelphia and a place in the playoffs.

    "Obviously, we've had some great battles with them, and we always expect that facing them," Nurse said.

    "The mindset is we're playing well and do everything we can, like we've been doing for the last month.

    "We're digging in and playing our guys and doing whatever we have to do to win. We've got a good mindset, and we'll take that into Wednesday."

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    Allen and the Suns agreed to a four-year, $70million extension on Monday, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

    The six-year veteran is coming off his best NBA season, averaging career highs of 13.5 points per game, 3.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.92 steals while starting 74 of 75 contests.

    He also shot a league-leading 46.1 per cent from 3-point range and averaged a career-best 2.7 made 3-pointers per game.

    He had seven games this season with at least eight made 3-pointers, and only the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry had more such games with eight.

     

    The 21st overall pick of the 2018 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz, Allen joined the Suns last off-season as part of the three-team trade that saw Damian Lillard go to the Milwaukee Bucks.

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    He averaged 9.7 points per game in his first five seasons before becoming an important part of Phoenix's offence in 2023-24.

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    LeBron James is heading into the playoffs in fine form.

    He registered his fifth triple-double of the season, finishing with 28 points, a season-high 17 assists and 11 rebounds.

    "I just read the game and I was just finding my teammates and I just tried to put the ball on time and on target for either jump shots or guys at the rim," James said.

    "I just tried to be very efficient with my play."

    James marked Zion Williamson on Sunday, with the 23-year-old limited to 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

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    "So they're going to be extremely ready for us and we have to come in with the same sense of urgency that we had the previous game."

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