NBA playoffs: Young stars Devin Booker, Trae Young, Ja Morant up to the challenge in postseason debuts

The future of the NBA is in good hands.

Fans got a glimpse of what's to come for the league during Sunday's slate of playoff games, as a handful of young stars came up big in their postseason debuts to lead their teams to wins in their first-round series openers.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, who toiled under .500 for the first five seasons of his career, closed out the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers with his backcourt mate Chris Paul compromised by a shoulder injury. Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young finished off the New York Knicks with a beautiful game-winner despite the world's most famous arena raining down profane boos.

And in the biggest upset from the first weekend of the playoffs, Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks showed no fear in leading the Memphis Grizzlies, the youngest playoff team in a decade, past the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

Trae Young stole Game 1 for the Hawks with his last-second winner. (Photo: Seth Wenig, pool photo via USA TODAY Sports)

Here's the breakdown of all the best from Sunday's NBA playoff games:

Suns 99, Lakers 90

Devin Booker went toe-to-toe with the defending champs in his playoff debut and showed he is more than ready for the challenge. Booker scored a game-high 34 points to lead the Suns to the big win in their first playoff game in 11 years. The Lakers are an unprecedented favorite as the seventh seed, but Booker came up big for the Suns while Chris Paul labored through a shoulder injury. Deandre Ayton, another young Phoenix cornerstone, had 21 points and 16 rebounds and outplayed Anthony Davis, who scored just 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting. "I was just ready for it, very excited for it," Booker said. "From this whole week of building it up, and these whole past six years of getting ready for this moment."

State of the series: Suns lead 1-0. Game 2 is Tuesday in Phoenix (10 p.m. ET, TNT).

9 points in the 1st.
8 points in the 2nd.
8 points in the 3rd.
9 points in the 4th.

Quarter by quarter, @DevinBook got buckets for @Suns in his #NBAPlayoffs debut.

PHX up 1-0.. Game 2 ⤵️
Tuesday, 10:00 PM ET, TNT pic.twitter.com/OwjHEpTihr

Hawks 107, Knicks 105

Playoff basketball returned to Madison Square Garden, but Trae Young spoiled the party. Young silenced MSG by sinking a running floater in the lane with less than a second left to give Atlanta the two-point win. The third-year guard finished with a game-high 32 points on 11-of-23 shooting with 10 assists and seven rebounds. The New York crowd was fired up for the Knicks' first playoff game in eight years and greeted Young with a profane chant, but the Hawks star embraced the chance to quiet the fans: "If they hate me that much, I'm obviously doing something right. I've just got to let my play do the talking. At the end of the day, fans can only talk. They can't guard me."

State of the series: Hawks lead 1-0. Game 2 is Wednesday in New York (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

Size up the defense, cross over, float it up and score.. EVERY ANGLE of @TheTraeYoung’s game-winner! [email protected] seek a 2-0 series lead Wed. at 7:30pm/et on TNT. #NBAPlayoffspic.twitter.com/WOgFyhgCSJ

Grizzlies 112, Jazz 109

After winning two games in the play-in tournament to clinch the eighth seed, the Grizzlies warned the Jazz they're not just happy to be here by stealing the first-round opener. Ja Morant scored 10 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, and Dillon Brooks had a game-high 31 as Memphis held on for the upset. The Grizzlies weren't intimidated by the top-seeded Jazz, even after falling behind by as many as 14 points in the first half. Utah leading scorer Donovan Mitchell was a late scratch with a sprained right ankle. The Jazz missed his playmaking and shot just 12-of-47 from 3-point range (25.5%). Bojan Bogdanovic led Utah with 29 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter.

State of the series: Grizzlies lead 1-0. Game 2 is Wednesday in Utah (10 p.m. ET, TNT).

The @memgrizz backcourt duo went off in their #NBAPlayoffs debuts. [email protected]: 31 [email protected]: 26 PTS

MEM/UTA, Game 2 ⤵️
Wednesday, 10:00pm/et, TNT pic.twitter.com/UY3lwYTvKJ

Sixers 125, Wizards 118

The top-seeded Sixers had a rough start to the series opener, but they prevailed in a way that could buoy their championship hopes. MVP finalist and leading scorer Joel Embiid was limited by foul trouble to 10 minutes in a frustrating first half. Tobias Harris picked up the slack and scored 28 of his playoff career-high 37 points in the first half to keep Philadelphia in the game against a Washington team that did not back down. Embiid then woke up in the second half with 21 of his 30 points to help the Sixers put away the Wizards. It was an encouraging result for the Sixers to take care of business in a game where their best player wasn't always at his best.

State of the series: Sixers lead 1-0. Game 2 is Wednesday in Philadelphia (7 p.m. ET, NBATV).

37 points for @tobias31 (#NBAPlayoffs career-high).

30 points for @JoelEmbiid (21 in 2nd half).

1-0 series lead for @sixers.

Game 2 – Wed, 7pm/et, NBA TV pic.twitter.com/UZgw1XmjIQ

*****

Here's where the rest of the first-round series stand after the weekend:

Bucks vs. Heat

The Bucks knew the Heat would make them work for everything, and that bore out in the opener as Milwaukee needed Khris Middleton's last-second shot for the win. The Bucks also shot just 5-of-31 from 3-point range (16.1%) and 20-of-33 on free throws (60.6%).

State of the series: Bucks lead 1-0. Game 2 is Monday in Milwaukee (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

Nuggets vs. Blazers

It seems hasty to say a team must win after dropping one game, but falling behind 2-0 at home would be disastrous for Denver. Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. combined for 59 points on 14-of-26 shooting, but they'll need far more support.

State of the series: Blazers lead 1-0. Game 2 is Monday in Denver (10 p.m. ET, TNT).

Nets vs. Celtics

After just eight games together in the regular season, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden gave us a glimpse of how good they can be in the opener. And there's reason to believe the Nets trio can be even better after they had to shrug off a slow start.

State of the series: Nets lead 1-0. Game 2 is Tuesday in Brooklyn (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

Clippers vs. Mavericks

The Clippers aren't panicking after dropping their fourth straight playoff game in the opener, but the pressure is immense to even the series in Game 2. Luka Doncic and the Mavs' confidence will only continue to grow the longer they stay in the series.

State of the series: Mavericks lead 1-0. Game 2 is Tuesday in Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET, NBATV).

Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.  

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