FOX Sports writers are providing takeaways from games throughout the NBA playoffs. Here are their thoughts from the first Tuesday of the postseason.
Suns 123, Clippers 109: Booker steps out of Durant shadow
Booker made us realize that was a huge mistake in the Suns’ 123-109 win over the LA Clippers in Game 2 on Tuesday, which evened the series at a game apiece.
Booker, who didn’t make the All-Star team this season, was outstanding, finishing with a game-high 38 points and nine assists.
With the score tied at 59 at halftime, Booker exploded for 18 points in the third quarter on 7-for-8 shooting, including making both of his 3-point attempts. He added another seven points in the fourth quarter to help Phoenix past the finish line.
Booker recently told FOX Sports that he thinks about the Suns’ loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals every single day, adding that since then, each season has felt like championship or bust.
“Ever since that Finals run that we had, I’m going to feel like that the rest of my career,” Booker said.
With the Suns in danger of facing an 0-2 deficit, Booker put Phoenix on his shoulders. Now, we have a series. And just in case anyone forgot, Booker is one of the most dangerous guys in the league.
Westbrook has been confident. He doesn’t defer. He finally looks like his old self. He finished with 28 points on 9-for-16 shooting, five rebounds and five assists for the Clippers, proving once again that getting dealt from the Lakers in February was perhaps the most mutually beneficial separation that has happened this season.
After how clearly miserable he was with the Lakers, it’s cool to see him thriving again. Now, it’ll be interesting to see if his team can thrive, too.
— Melissa Rohlin
Cavs 107, Knicks 90: Garland leaves mark on Game 2
You’d be forgiven if throughout the season you forgot that the Cleveland Cavaliers actually have two stars in their backcourt. Donovan Mitchell might be the Cavaliers’ best player and most explosive scorer, but for two seasons now, Darius Garland has been one of the NBA’s premier point guards.
Garland is everything you want in a floor general — silky and fluid off the bounce, a brilliant orchestrator, a steady hand, a knockdown shooter. He also spent the season doing something that most stars would have resisted: ceding the spotlight to Mitchell.
Think about it like this: How many No. 1 options would have been cool with their teams trading for another at the same position who would take the ball out of their hands? And not only that, but would have thrived in this position, would have figured out how to thread that needle of taking control when needed but also allowing another guard to serve as the offense’s engine and, while doing so, average 21.6 points and 7.8 assists per game while shooting 41% from deep?
But what makes Garland so great is that he’s capable of more. And, man, was this on display in Game 2 on Tuesday night against the New York Knicks. With the Cavaliers in a must-win game, and in the biggest game of his career and of the Cavs’ season, he was not only the best player on the floor but knocked the Knicks out before the end of the first half en route to a 107-90, series-evening win at home.
Simply put, Garland was brilliant. He dropped 26 points in the first half, giving the Cavs a 20-point lead from which the Knicks would never recover, and finished with 32. He dished seven assists. He played some of the best defensive minutes of his young career, blanketing Knicks wings — on and off the ball — all over the floor.
There are many reasons the Cavs thumped the Knicks on Tuesday night. Smothering defense (the Knicks shot an ugly 36.7% from the field and coughed the ball up 18 times, five more than they did in Game 1). They kept the Knicks off the offensive glass (just 13 offensive boards, four fewer than Game 1), taking away their primary offensive weapon. They also got 24 points from Caris LeVert, who punished the Knicks over-helping defense in a way no non-Cavs star was able to in Game 1.
But Garland’s excellence was the catalyst. That he was able to put the Cavs on his back in a game they had to have tells you everything you need to know.
— Yaron Weitzman
Celtics 119, Hawks 106: Boston races to 2-0 lead over Atlanta
Jayson Tatum had 29 points and an emphatic dunk to end a clinching late run, and the Boston Celtics beat the Atlanta Hawks 119-106 on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.
Game 3 is Friday night in Atlanta.
Down by 20, the Hawks cut it to single digits late in the third quarter. With Atlanta trailing 74-57, Young went to the bench and sat out the final 7:07 of the period, briefly visiting the locker room. His teammates picked it up without him, outscoring the Celtics 24-16 to pull within nine — at 90-81 — entering the fourth.
Young returned to begin the final period and scored four straight points with just over five minutes to play to make it 104-95.
But the Celtics responded with a 15-2 run — bookended by a 3-pointer and dunk by Tatum — to get it back up to 119-97 with 2:16 left.
While the Hawks brought a better shooting touch on Tuesday, the Celtics took their overall energy up a notch, repeatedly beating Atlanta down the court in transition and outhustling the Hawks to loose balls.
— The Associated Press
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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