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NBA's young superstars showing their time is now in playoffs

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young reacts during the second half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

NEW YORK – Trae Young didn’t look like a postseason rookie in silencing a rocking road crowd in New York.

“The moment wasn’t too big for him,” Atlanta teammate Lou Williams said.

Nor for Ja Morant or Devin Booker, who were just as impressive in their debuts. Throw in Luka Doncic picking up where he left off last year, and the opening weekend of the playoffs may have proven that the time is now for some of the NBA’s best young guards.

“The great players, in every era, that’s what they do,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They pose problems.”

Booker and Doncic will be back in action Tuesday, hoping to send the two Los Angeles teams into 2-0 holes.

Phoenix beat the Lakers 99-90 on Sunday behind 34 points from Booker. In his sixth season, he's got much more NBA experience than Young, Morant or Doncic. But he's still only 24 years old, and no amount of regular-season games is preparation for LeBron James and the defending champions in the postseason.

Phoenix coach Monty Williams said Booker has worked on his game to be in this position.

“He trusts the work. I’ve always said this about Devin, he’s not afraid of the moment. He’s not afraid of these games," Williams said. “He actually wants to be in these games. That’s what I attribute it to -- his ability to focus and play the same way no matter the stage."

Doncic hit a buzzer beater against the Clippers to win a game in last year's postseason, but this is his first time facing a playoff road crowd. No problem with that — or Kawhi Leonard or Paul George — so far, finishing with 31 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in Dallas' 113-103 victory at Staples Center on Saturday. He has three triple-doubles in seven postseason games.

Memphis and Atlanta wrapped up the weekend with road victories. The Grizzlies, just days after winning at Golden State just to earn the final postseason berth, beat No. 1 seed Utah 112-109. Morant scored 26 points, becoming the ninth player 22 or younger since 1984 to score 25 or more in a postseason debut — which Doncic did last year.

Young had 32 points and 10 assists in New York, where his floater in the lane with 0.9 seconds left gave the Hawks a 107-105 victory. He's had to face comparisons to Doncic ever since their draft rights were swapped for each other in 2018, with Dallas moving up two spots to No. 3 to take the eventual Rookie of the Year.

Young finally got the Hawks back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 and made it a memorable return.

“He belongs,” Lou Williams said. “He’s a postseason player. He showed it tonight.”

The young stars are doing plenty of that so far.

Tuesday’s games:

CELTICS AT NETS

Brooklyn leads 1-0. Game 2, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.

— NEED TO KNOW: The Nets got a combined 82 points from Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving in their 104-93 victory in Game 1, though the three stars were far from their best. Irving and Harden were just 2 for 8 from 3-point range, while Durant was 1 for 8.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Jayson Tatum. The Celtics star seemed to lack energy after scoring 50 points earlier in the week in the play-in tournament. He didn't have a basket in the second half and finished 6 for 20.

— INJURY WATCH: Nothing new for the Nets, good news for them after having to play without Durant and Harden so often during the season. Boston's Robert Williams III is expected to play. He has battled turf toe and wasn't certain for Game 1 until going through warmups, but had no problems while finishing with 11 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks.

— PRESSURE IS ON: The Celtics' offense. Coach Brad Stevens has said the Celtics can't count on holding down the high-scoring Nets, so will have to put points on the board. So Boston will have to do much better than the 40 points it managed in the second half and 37% shooting overall in the opener.

LAKERS AT SUNS

Phoenix leads 1-0. Game 2, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT.

— NEED TO KNOW: The Lakers are back in the same spot they were in last season. They dropped Game 1 in the first round against Portland, and again in the Western Conference semifinals against Houston. They didn't lose again in either series.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Deandre Ayton. If the Suns center comes anywhere close to his 21-point, 16-rebound effort from Game 1, it negates what was expected to be a big front-court advantage for the Lakers.

— INJURY WATCH: Both James and Chris Paul are expected to be ready to go after sustaining shoulder injuries in Game 1.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Anthony Davis. The Lakers superstar big man put it there himself after shooting 5 for 16 in Game 1. “There is no way we are winning a game, let alone a series with the way I played," Davis said. "This is on me.”

MAVERICKS AT CLIPPERS

Dallas leads 1-0. Game 2, 10:30 p.m. EDT, NBA TV.

— NEED TO KNOW: Doncic was even slightly better in the opener than he was last year against the Clippers, when he averaged 31 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists in the six-game series.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: The 3-point arc. Dallas controlled it in Game 1, with Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. both making five 3-pointers and Dorian Finney-Smith making four. The Clippers, who shot an NBA-best 41% from 3-point range during the season, were just 11 for 40 (27.5%).

— INJURY WATCH: JJ Redick missed Game 1 for Dallas with Achilles soreness.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Marcus Morris. The starting forward missed all six 3-point attempts and the Clippers were outscored by 23 points in his 33 minutes.

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