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Suns, Devin Booker strike first

Devin Booker

Devin Booker

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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While the Western Conference Finals matchup was set Friday night, one spot in the East was still up for grabs. Despite its starting point guard struggling to find his shot, Atlanta managed to win in Philadelphia for the third time in this series. As a result the Hawks are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in six years. Below is a look at what happened on Sunday, beginning with Phoenix taking a 1-0 lead on the Clippers.

Suns 120, Clippers 114: Booker leads the way in Game 1

The Western Conference Finals began Sunday afternoon, with the visiting Clippers playing less than 48 hours after it completed its series with the Jazz. Of course both teams were down a star player, with Kawhi Leonard (sprained ACL) and Chris Paul (health and safety protocols) sidelined. Neither player has a concrete timeline at this point, with Paul being at the mercy of COVID-19 testing protocols. His absence meant a move into the starting lineup for Cameron Payne, who logged 29 minutes and played quite well. Payne finished at a plus-14 (tied for second-best on the Suns), recording a line of 11 points (5-of-10 FGs), three rebounds, nine assists, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer while committing just one turnover. DFS players would be wise to look into using Payne Tuesday night, as his price tag shouldn’t be too high. [[ad:athena]]

Paul’s absence also means more time on the ball for Devin Booker, who was sensational in Game 1. Shooting 15-of-29 from the field and 7-of-7 from the foul line, Booker tallied 40 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and three 3-pointers in 44 minutes, while turning the ball over just two times. Not only was this his first career triple-double, but Booker also became the third-youngest player in league history to record a 40-point triple-double in a playoff game. Only Luka Doncic and Oscar Robertson were younger when they recorded their respective 40-point triple-doubles.

Deandre Ayton (20/9/2) shot 10-of-14 from the field, while Mikal Bridges (14/1/2/1/2 with two 3-pointers), Jae Crowder (13/6/2 with three 3-pointers) and Cameron Johnson (12/4/0/2 with two 3-pointers) also scored in double figures for the victorious Suns. Outside of Paul being sidelined, the biggest change to the rotation was the insertion of E’Twaun Moore, who played a total of six minutes (all in Game 1) in Phoenix’s second-round sweep of the Nuggets. Moore logged 11 minutes Sunday, going scoreless (0-of-1 FGs) with two assists and one steal.

As for the Clippers, due to the quick turnaround we got to see DeMarcus Cousins in action for the first time since Game 2 of L.A.'s second-round series with Utah. And to his credit Cousins was ready when his name was called, putting up 11 points (4-of-10 FGs, 2-of-3 FTs), four rebounds, one assist, one block and one 3-pointer in 13 minutes. That isn’t enough to justify rolling the dice on him for Tuesday’s DFS action, but we should see Cousins on the floor in some capacity. Rajon Rondo (8/3/7/1 with two 3-pointers) played 22 minutes and looked fine after he was limited during the latter stages of the second round by a sore knee.

Ivica Zubac, who played a total of 14 minutes in the final two games of the Jazz series, played 18 on Sunday and accounted for nine points and three rebounds. A big reason why his minutes increased was the fact that Marcus Morris was limited in the second half due to a sore left knee. Morris played 21 minutes but wasn’t all that effective, finishing with six points (3-of-11 FGs), three rebounds and one assist. To say the least, L.A. will need more out of him moving forward, especially if they stick with this small starting lineup. Terance Mann, who had the game of his life Friday, posted a line of nine points (3-of-4 FGs), four rebounds, one assist, one steal and three 3-pointers (all makes) in 27 minutes. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets more looks on Tuesday because, even with Phoenix being boasting more athletic wings than the Jazz, Mann had a good afternoon.

Paul George (34/4/5/2/1 with seven 3-pointers) and Reggie Jackson (24/6/4/1 with four 3-pointers) led the way offensively for the Clippers, with the former putting up 26 field goal attempts and the latter 19. Tyronn Lue called on ten players Sunday, but that was likely due to the turnaround more than anything. Luke Kennard played eight minutes, shooting 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, and he may be the odd man out should that be the case.

Hawks 103, 76ers 96: “Red Velvet” steps up in Game 7

Tell the average NBA fan that Trae Young shot 5-of-23 from the field and Bogdan Bogdanovic was limited to 21 minutes due to a sore knee, and they’d likely assume that Atlanta was headed home. That was not the case Sunday night in Philadelphia, as multiple players stepped up to help lead the Hawks into the Eastern Conference Finals. Kevin Huerter (27/7/3/1 with two 3-pointers) shot 10-of-18 from the field and proved to be Atlanta’s most effective scorer, while Danilo Gallinari chipped in with 17 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in 30 minutes off the bench. John Collins (14/16/1/1/1) and Clint Capela (13/6/1/1) also scored in double figures for the winners, who will open the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night in Milwaukee.

It’s worth noting that, even with his poor shooting from the field, Young still managed to post a line of 21 points, three rebounds, ten assists and two 3-pointers in 43 minutes played. After shouldering much of the scoring load in Games 5 and 6, Young struggled for much of the night but did manage to hit a couple huge shots (two floaters and a deep three) during the fourth quarter. The good news for Atlanta from a scheduling standpoint is that they’ve got two days to prepare for Milwaukee, and that time could also be beneficial for Bogdanovic. He played just 21 minutes and did not look all that comfortable on the court, finishing with four points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Given Atlanta’s lack of depth on the wing, as Cam Reddish remains out indefinitely and De’Andre Hunter is done for the season, they’ll need Bogdanovic to be at his best (or, at the very least, close to it). Young should see a lot of Jrue Holiday in the next round, and with that being the case, a healthy Bogdanovic would go a long way for the Hawks.

One of the few constants for Philadelphia in this series was Joel Embiid, despite the fact that he was playing on a torn meniscus. While the big fella did turn the ball over eight times in Game 7, he posted an overall line of 31 points (11-of-21 FGs, 7-of-10 FTs), 11 rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers in 41 minutes. Embiid scored 27 or more in five of the seven games in this series, shooting 50% or better from the field in each of those outings. Unfortunately for Embiid and the 76ers, he didn’t get as much help from his teammates as the aforementioned Young.

Tobias Harris (24/14/4/2 with two 3-pointers) shot 8-of-24 from the field, and Seth Curry (16/2/2/1/1 with three 3-pointers) was Philadelphia’s only other double-digit scorer. While Matisse Thybulle (8/5/0/1/1 with one 3-pointer) gave the 76ers some solid minutes off the bench, that was about it. Furkan Korkmaz scored five points in Game 7, and a total of 20 points in the final three games of the series. He was responsible for a total of 24 points in Games 3 and 4. But the man who will be the focus of many in the aftermath of this defeat is Ben Simmons, and with good reason.

Shooting 2-of-4 from the field and 1-of-2 from the foul line, Simmons finished with five points, eight rebounds, 13 assists and one steal in 36 minutes. But the reluctance to shoot, likely due to his struggles from the foul line, made Simmons unplayable down the stretch. He passed up what appeared to be a sure dunk, instead passing the ball to Thybulle for a contested attempt at the rim. After being fouled, Thybulle made just one of two from the charity stripe. For the series Simmons shot 15-of-45 from the foul line, and he attempted just three field goal attempts in the fourth quarter. Simmons made all three of those shots, but he didn’t put up a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter of any of the final four games of the series.

So the question has to be asked: can Philadelphia win a title with Simmons serving as its primary playmaker? Doc Rivers didn’t offer up the most convincing answer when asked this following Game 7. This is the most important question that Daryl Morey and the 76ers’ decision-makers will have to answer this offseason. What is known at this point is that Simmons can’t continue to play the way that he did in this series, be it in Philadelphia or somewhere else.

Nets’ Dinwiddie expected to decline option

With Brooklyn’s season having come to an end Saturday night, point guard Spencer Dinwiddie was “on the clock” with regard to his player option. Dinwiddie, who appeared in just three games this season due to a torn right ACL, has until Monday night to decide whether or not he’ll pick up his player option for next season. It was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the point guard has decided to decline the option worth $12.3 million, which would make him an unrestricted free agent this summer. Dinwiddie doing this comes as no surprise, as even with the knee injury, he’s expected to be one of the top point guards on the market.

His rehab is progressing well, to the point that there was some chatter that Dinwiddie could return for the NBA Finals if the Nets managed to play that deep into the playoffs. The hope is that he’ll get back to the form that he displayed last season, averaging 20.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.9 3-pointers in 31.2 minutes per game (64 games; 49 starts). He would certainly be an asset to the Nets if they can re-sign him, but Dinwiddie’s price tag could wind up being too high for a team that will need to fill out its roster around stars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.