Devin Booker made the most of his playoff debut, scoring 34 points as the Phoenix Suns beat the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in their Western Conference series opener on Sunday.
Booker spearheaded the 99-90 win for the second-seeded Suns over the Lakers, rallying his team after an injury restricted Phoenix veteran Chris Paul’s influence.
Booker was backed by Deandre Ayton, who contributed 21 points and 16 rebounds, while Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson added 10 points apiece for Phoenix.
A physical encounter saw the Suns’ Cameron Payne ejected in the fourth quarter after a shoving match which saw players and backroom staff stream onto the court as tempers flared.
The Lakers, meanwhile, struggled to hit their stride throughout, with LeBron James finishing with 18 points and Anthony Davis with 13 points after making only five-of-16 from the field.
Barring an early spell in the first quarter when the Lakers led by five points, the Suns led throughout, maintaining a double-digit cushion for much of the second half and leading by 16 points early in the fourth.
“It was a big win for us,” Booker said, revealing that the early injury to Paul had galvanised the Suns.
“Chris went down early and I think that got our team locked in and understanding that every possession matters. We huddled up and said we’ve all got to give a little bit more.”
Bracing for backlash
Booker said the Suns would be bracing for a Lakers backlash in game two in Phoenix on Tuesday.
Lakers star Davis meanwhile took responsibility for the defeat following a below-par performance.
“There’s no way we’re winning a game, let alone a series, with me playing the way I played,” Davis said. “This was on me. I take full responsibility. I’ll be better in game two.”
In other games on Sunday, Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant combined for 57 points as the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies stunned the top-seeded Utah Jazz 112-109 in their series opener in Salt Lake City.
Canada’s Brooks had a team high 31 points and American Morant poured in 26 for the Grizzlies, who upset the NBA’s top team just two days after making the playoffs.
“They had a couple of guys that couldn’t guard me,” said Brooks.
Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 12 rebounds while Kyle Anderson added 14 points for the Grizzlies, who are in the postseason for the first time in four years.
Guard Mike Conley finished with 22 points and 11 assists, and forward Bojan Bogdanovic scored 29 points for the Jazz, who were missing all-star Donovan Mitchell for the 17th straight game.
The first-place Jazz rested through the play-in tournament but not the Grizzlies who had to win twice in a row to grab the final playoff spot.
In New York, Trae Young made a short jumper with one second left to lift the Atlanta Hawks to a 107-105 win over the New York Knicks in the first game of their East series.
Young scored a game high 32 points, 10 assists and went nine-of-nine from the free throw line Sunday at Madison Square Garden as Atlanta edged the Knicks after losing all three games to them during the regular season.
“It’s fun. In the Mecca, New York City, Times Square,” said Young. “It is about letting the game come to me and reading the game as it goes.”
The series appears to be evenly matched as the fourth-seeded Knicks and fifth-seeded Hawks each finished 41-31 on the season.
Young was the difference Sunday, getting the last shot and draining a seven-foot floater just before the final buzzer.
Bogdan Bogdanovic finished with 18 points and Lou Williams came off the bench to score 13 for Atlanta, who are a young team but have a deep bench.
Also, Tobias Harris erupted for 37 points as the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers shut down the Washington Wizards to win their Eastern Conference first round series opener 125-118.