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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  • Australian Open: Defending champion Osaka suffers third-round exit at hands of Anisimova Australian Open: Defending champion Osaka suffers third-round exit at hands of Anisimova

    Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka squandered two match points as she suffered a shock third-round exit at the hands of unseeded Amanda Anisimova on Friday.

    Osaka eased past Camila Osorio and Madison Brengle in straight sets in the first two rounds but fell to a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) loss to Anisimova in a thrilling contest.

    Anisimova, who won her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2 earlier this month and is now 8-0 for the season, will face top seed Ash Barty in the last 16.

    Two-time Australian Open winner Osaka had won 24 of her past 25 matches in Melbourne and made a fast start against Anisimova by breaking her opponent in the first game.

    She held serve to ease ahead on Margaret Court Arena, but Anisimova battled back well in the second set.

    The world number 60 broke Osaka in the fourth game with a sublime disguised backhand drop and served out the set in a relatively straightforward manner.

    Anisimova continued to dig in and saved two match points in the 10th game to help pave the way for a decisive first-to-10 tie-break.

    Osaka had no response to her opponent's accurate hitting as she fell 3-0 behind and, while she did bring it back to 3-2 and 5-4, Anisimova took five of the next six points to advance in a big upset.

    DATA SLAM: Osaka outgunned by Anisimova

    Osaka had dropped just one set in her first five matches this season and looked in the mood as she raced ahead against Anisimova.

    But the American youngster fired in 11 aces and hit more than twice the number of winners that Osaka managed (46 to 21) to pull off the victory.

    With this defeat, Osaka has now failed to defend any of her four major crowns, with Victoria Azarenka the last women's player to do so at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Anisimova – 46/44
    Osaka – 21/45

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Anisimova – 11/8
    Osaka – 5/3

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Anisimova – 1/8
    Osaka – 1/10

  • Australian Open: Defending champion Osaka suffers third-round exit at hands of Anismova Australian Open: Defending champion Osaka suffers third-round exit at hands of Anismova

    Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka squandered two match points as she suffered a shock third-round exit at the hands of unseeded Amanda Anisimova on Friday.

    Osaka eased past Camila Osorio and Madison Brengle in straight sets in the first two rounds but fell to a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) loss to Anisimova in a thrilling contest.

    Anisimova, who won her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2 earlier this month and is now 8-0 for the season, will face top seed Ash Barty in the last 16.

    Two-time Australian Open winner Osaka had won 24 of her past 25 matches in Melbourne and made a fast start against Anisimova by breaking her opponent in the first game.

    She held serve to ease ahead on Margaret Court Arena, but Anisimova battled back well in the second set.

    The world number 60 broke Osaka in the fourth game with a sublime disguised backhand drop and served out the set in a relatively straightforward manner.

    Anisimova continued to dig in and saved two match points in the 10th game to help pave the way for a decisive first-to-10 tie-break.

    Osaka had no response to her opponent's accurate hitting as she fell 3-0 behind and, while she did bring it back to 3-2 and 5-4, Anisimova took five of the next six points to advance in a big upset.

  • Australian Open: Barty brushes past Giorgi to reach last 16 Australian Open: Barty brushes past Giorgi to reach last 16

    Ash Barty continued her rampant run at the Australian Open, brushing aside Camila Giorgi in straight sets on Friday.

    The world number one has dominated during the opening week in Melbourne and quickly eased past Giorgi, the Italian 30th seed, 6-2 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena.

    Barty has dropped just eight games in the first three rounds at her home grand slam, where she is eyeing her third major title.

    The Australian is on track to face Naomi Osaka in a blockbuster fourth-round clash, although the Japanese star was involved in a tight contest with Amanda Anisimova.

    Giorgi made a nervous start and back-to-back double faults handed Barty a break of serve in the second game.

    Barty rolled into a 4-1 lead before digging herself out of a 15-40 hole to hold for 5-2.

    Speaking after her second-round win, Barty was wary of Giorgi's ability to hit players off the court, but 16 unforced errors were costly for the Italian in the first set.

    Giorgi tidied up the errors to begin the second set, but a double fault handed Barty two more break-point chances in the sixth game.

    The reigning Wimbledon champion took the second of those when Giorgi pulled a backhand well wide.

    That break proved to be enough for Barty, who closed out a fourth win in as many meetings with Giorgi.

    DATA SLAM: Barty keeps up top-seed record

    Top seeds have enjoyed good records at the Australian Open.

    In the Open Era, the top seed has only once failed to make the last 16 at the Australian Open and that came in 1979 (Virginia Ruzici). Barty ensured she did not join the Romanian.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Barty – 11/13
    Giorgi – 8/24

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Barty – 4/2
    Giorgi – 0/5

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Barty – 3/5
    Giorgi – 0/4

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