NBA playoff dispatches: Booker steps out of Durant shadow; Garland shines

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FOX Sports writers offer takeaways from games during the NBA playoffs. Here are his thoughts on the first Tuesday of the postseason.

Suns 123, Clippers 109: Booker steps out of Durant’s shadow

With all the hype surrounding Kevin Durant joining the Phoenix Suns, the spotlight has turned a bit off on Devin Booker.

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 one game apiece.

Booker, who did not make the All-Star team this season, was excellent, 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-of-8 shooting, including his two 3-point attempts. He added seven more points in the fourth quarter to help Phoenix cross 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 day, adding that every season since then has felt like a championship or a bankruptcy

“From the playoffs we had, I’m going to feel that way 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 in case anyone forgot, Booker is one of the most dangerous guys in the league.

Also, on another note, who is this Russell Westbrook guy? He’s definitely not the same player who looked bad with the Lakers.

Westbrook has been confident. He doesn’t postpone. 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 hosting the Lakers in February was perhaps the most mutually beneficial separation this season.

After how miserable he was with the Lakers, it’s great to see him thrive again. Now, it will be interesting to see if his team can thrive as well.

—Melissa Rohlin

Cavs 107, Knicks 90: Garland makes his mark in Game 2

You’d be forgiven if you forgot all season long that the Cleveland Cavaliers actually have it two stars on the back track. Donovan Mitchell might be the Cavaliers’ best player and most explosive scorer, but for the past two seasons, Darius Garland has been one of the top point guards in the NBA.

Garland is everything you want in a floor general: silky smooth off the bounce, a brilliant orchestrator, a steady hand, a drop shooter. He also spent the season doing something most All-Stars would have resisted: ceding the spotlight to Mitchell.

Think of it this way: How many No. 1 picks would have been cool with their teams trading for another at the same position that took the ball out of their hands? Not only that, but he would have thrived in that position, figured out how to thread that needle of taking control when needed, but also allowing another guard to drive the offense and while doing so, 21.6 points on average and 7.8 assists. per game while shooting 41% from deep?

But what makes Garland so great is that she is capable of more. And man, did that show in Game 2 on Tuesday night against the New York Knicks. With the Cavaliers in a must-win game, and in the most important game of his career and the Cavs’ season, he was not only the best player on the court, but put the Knicks away before the end of the first half in en route to a 107-90, series victory on the evening at home.

Simply put, Garland was brilliant. He dropped 26 points in the first half, giving the Cavs a 20-point lead the Knicks would never recover from, and finished with 32. He had seven assists. He played some of the best defensive minutes of his young career, covering the Knicks’ wings, on and off the ball, all over the floor.

There are many reasons why the Cavs beat the Knicks on Tuesday night. Stifling defense (the Knicks shot an ugly 36.7% from the field and turned the ball over 18 times, five more than in Game 1). They kept the Knicks off the offensive glass (just 13 offensive boards, four fewer than Game 1), took away their primary offensive weapon. They also got 24 points from Caris LeVert, who punished the Knicks for over-helping the defense in a way that no non-Cavs star could 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.

— The Weitzman boy

Celtics 119, Hawks 106: Boston races to a 2-0 lead over Atlanta

Jayson Tatum had 29 points and a slam dunk to end a late run and the Boston Celtics beat the Atlanta Hawks 119-106 on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Derrick White added 26 points and seven rebounds, and Jaylen Brown scored 18 points. Boston outscored Atlanta 64-40 in the paint.

Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 29 points and Trae Young had 24.

Game 3 is Friday night in Atlanta.

Down 20, the Hawks cut it to single digits late in the third quarter. With Atlanta leading 74-57, Young went to the bench and sat with 7:07 left in the period, briefly visiting the locker room. His teammates took it without him, outscoring the Celtics 24-16 and trailing by nine, 90-81, entering the quarter.

Young came back to start 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 — capped by a Tatum triple and layup — to make it 119-97 with 2:16 left.

While the Hawks brought a better shooting touch on Tuesday, the Celtics increased their overall energy, repeatedly beating Atlanta down the court in transition and beating the Hawks to turnovers.

— 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 boldest process in the history of professional sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He 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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