There has generally been a feeling that experience matters in the NBA playoffs. Devin Booker and Trae Young are eviscerating that notion.
Neither Devin Booker nor Trae Young had played a single postseason game prior to this season. Yet, the two young stars both find themselves in the conference finals.
Booker’s Phoenix Suns appeared to be susceptible after falling behind 2-1 in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the Suns tore through a Lakers team that was sans Anthony Davis for essentially the rest of the series. Phoenix then swept the Denver Nuggets and league MVP Nikola Jokic before winning Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.
Young and the Atlanta Hawks overwhelmed the New York Knicks before launching multiple comeback victories in a stunning, seven-game series win over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Hawks became the first team to reach the conference finals without an All-Star since the 1993-1994 Indiana Pacers.
Now, the total team performance has mattered to both franchises. It’s not as though Devin Booker has had to carry the Suns night in and night out. Trae Young has had help from the likes of Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Lou Williams.
Yet, it must be said Booker and Young are hardly playing scared despite the lack of playoff experience. In fact, they are playing like two guys with nothing to lose.
Booker scored 30 points in a Game 5 blowout of the Lakers before closing out L.A. with a 47-point virtuoso in Game 6. He had multiple double-doubles against the Nuggets, including a 34-point, 11-rebound showing in Game 4. The two-time All-Star took it to another level on Sunday.
Phoenix was without Chris Paul (COVID protocols) in Sunday’s Game 1 against the Clippers. No matter, Devin Booker responded with one of the greatest playoff performances ever. Booker hung 40 points on the Clippers, shooting 15-for-29 from the field and consistently filling it up in the midrange. What’s more, Booker pulled down 13 rebounds and dished out 11 assists.
It would be a remarkable game for anyone, but it was all the more remarkable for Booker because it was the first triple-double of his entire career.
“Book” became just the second player in franchise history with a 40-point playoff triple-double since Charles Barkley in 1993. That’s… pretty elite company.
— Stathead (@Stathead) June 21, 2021
Let’s not sell Trae Young’s achievements short here, either.
Young was terrific against the Knicks, averaging close to 30 points and 10 assists against the best defensive scoring team in the entire NBA. He was relentless in getting to the foul line, scoring 13 of his 36 points from the charity stripe in the closeout game.
“Ice Trae” was every bit as good against the Sixers and undaunted in the face of pretty enormous pressure. He helped the Hawks cap off a colossal comeback in what amounted to a must-win Game 5, finishing with a game-high 39 points. Young struggled for the majority of Game 7, but also made key free throws and a number of huge shots in the fourth quarter, including a long three to give Atlanta a six-point lead with just over two minutes to go.
It’s also worth noting both Devin Booker and Trae Young have been right in the middle of some patented playoff scuffles. Again, though, neither ever showed signs of backing down or shrinking under the pressure. Rather, Booker and Young have embraced the intensity.
These playoffs have provided basketball fans with endless drama. It’s the first time since the 1994 playoffs that neither No. 1 seed was able to advance to the conference finals.
The only other time since the NBA/ABA merger that the conference finals didn't have a 1-seed was '94
2 Knicks over 5 Pacers (4-3)
2 Rockets over 5 Jazz (4-1)
— Noah Coslov (@NoahCoslov) June 21, 2021
Devin Booker and Trae Young have been two of the foremost stars in an unprecedented postseason. They are also ripping apart the narrative teams need playoff experience to make a run to the NBA Finals.