The NBA playoffs got kicked off on Saturday, April 13 with a lot of surprises. A summary of the game outcomes from this past weekend are as follows:
Brooklyn v. Philadelphia
The visiting Brooklyn Nets went into the City of Brotherly Love to begin their first-round series against the favored 76ers. The availability of Philadelphia All-Star center Joel Embiid was unknown until literally minutes before the start of the game. Unfortunately for Embiid and the 76ers, his availability has been compromised multiple times due to injury. Due to foot problems, he missed the first two years of his career in their entirety after being drafted third overall out of Kansas. Having just completed his fifth year, Embiid has played in 31, 63 and 64 games respectively each of the three years he has been able to suit up.
Philadelphia has gone “all in” to win a championship this season, as demonstrated by in-season trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, joining them with Embiid, Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick. The 76ers won 51 games and finished as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. In spite of having homecourt advantage, Brooklyn came into Philadelphia and stole Game 1, taking a 1-0 series lead. As if facing a series deficit isn’t enough, 76ers reserve Amir Johnson was fined as he was caught on camera looking at his cell phone on the bench during the game. Philly needs to get things back on track. Fast!
Indiana v. Boston
Boston 84, Indiana 74. This was the final score from Game 1 of the Celtics/Pacers series opener. Did the calendar go back in time 30 years to a different era? Boston is at full strength this postseason, after being denied the services of both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward during last season’s playoffs due to injuries.
Indiana has been without All-Star Victor Oladipo since this past January due to a horrific leg injury. While this looks to be a mismatch, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan will match wits with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, ensuring fans that both teams will leave everything on the court to determine who moves onto the next round. We can only hope that a better brand of basketball is played as the series progresses, and we as fans have something more exciting and enjoyable to watch, as this game definitely was not must-see television.
Orlando v. Toronto
The Orlando Magic returned to the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Unfortunately for the Magic, as the seventh seed they would be paired with the two seed Toronto Raptors, led by pending free agent forward Kawhi Leonard. With Orlando traveling north to play game one in Toronto, it looked to be an insurmountable task. As Lee Corso of ESPN fame loves to say, “Not so fast my friend.”
The Magic, led by D.J. Augustin, would go into Toronto and win game one, in what resembled a heavyweight boxing match, as both clubs traded shots with Augustin nailing a three-pointer with seconds remaining, catapulting Orlando to the win. Kyle Lowry posted a stinker of a game, as he finished with zero points. Ouch! Toronto has to regroup fast, as Game 2 is Tuesday night. Having lost homecourt advantage doesn’t bode well for their chances of advancing . . . or convincing Leonard to re-sign with the team for that matter.
Detroit v. Milwaukee
The Detroit Pistons kicked off their playoff series in Milwaukee against the NBA regular season best record Bucks and MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo (a/k/a The Greek Freak). Unfortunately for Detroit, while The Greek Freak was present and accounted for, they found themselves minus forward Blake Griffin, as he sat out due to a knee injury. All the Greek Freak did was post the following numbers: 24 points, 17 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal, leading the Bucks to victory by a final score of 121-86. While many feel this series will be over in four games even with Griffin at full strength, as evidenced by game one’s final score, the Pistons stand even less of a chance if Griffin is forced to sit out additional games.
Antetokounmpo only played 23 minutes, and the Bucks were able to coast to a 35 point victory. Game 2 is scheduled for this Wednesday. Perhaps the days off will aid in Griffin’s recovery and enable him to play. Regardless of his availability, it looks as if Milwaukee can gear up for the second round, as Detroit prepares their summer vacation plans, which look to be on the horizon sooner rather than later.
Utah v. Houston
The Houston/Utah series pits familiar foes, as these two faced off against each other in last year’s playoffs, with Houston advancing to the conference finals, winning the series four games to one. This year got off to a familiar start – for Houston that is. MVP candidate James Harden was two rebounds shy of a triple-double, posting 29 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds.
He led an all-around effort in which each starter scored in double figures as the Rockets won by 32, 122-90. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz combined for 41 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Houston’s offensive output. Utah has to go back to the drawing board to figure out a strategy that will keep them competitive, or this series looks to be over quickly.
Los Angeles Clippers v. Golden State
Head coach Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers have the daunting task of facing the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in the opening round of this year’s playoffs. Predictably for Golden State and unfortunately for the Clippers, the Warriors would win Game 1 by a final score of 121-104. All-Star/two-time MVP Steph Curry led the way with 38 points while placing his name in the record books (again), for most all-time three-pointers made with 386, eclipsing Hall of Famer Ray Allen. Curry accomplished this feat in a mere 91 games, while Allen made 385 three-pointers in 181 games. The legend of Curry continues.
Warriors All-Star Kevin Durant and Clippers guard Patrick Beverley were ejected with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Durant has to be careful as he already has two technical fouls, and would be subject to suspension after a sixth technical foul. While the Clippers have performed admirably winning 48 games during the regular season, it’s doubtful they will have enough in the tank to overcome the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. With a starting five of Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and DeMarcus Cousins, and bench led by former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, Los Angeles can probably start getting ready for summer, as they will most likely be ousted in four games, bringing an unexpectedly successful season to an abrupt end.
San Antonio v. Denver
The San Antonio Spurs matched an NBA record by reaching the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive season. The Denver Nuggets last made the playoffs at the close of the 2013-14 season. Although the Nuggets are the second seed in the Western Conference, the five-time NBA champion Spurs are more likely to win the series.
The Spurs championship pedigree shone through as they snatched the homecourt advantage away from the Nuggets with a victory in Game 1. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is one of the best in history at his craft, managing teams with bona fide superstars (David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard), to those with lesser talent (LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Marco Belinelli). To see Popovich at work is to watch a master ply his trade at the highest level. Denver head coach Mike Malone had best to figure out what buttons he needs to push, as Popovich assuredly already knows both how and what needs to be done to win the series.
Oklahoma City v. Portland
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook posted a triple-double – so what else is new. In spite of Westbrook’s (now routine) achievement, the Thunder came up on the wrong end of the final score, with Portland winning Game 1 by a final score of 104-99. Portland’s backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 54 points, slightly outdueling the combination of Westbrook and Paul George who combined for 50 points. While scoring 26 points, George seemed to favor his right shoulder, which has been problematic throughout the season. Hopefully, for the Thunder, he is able to fight through the pain and provide the same type of MVP caliber numbers as he did during the regular season. The Thunder will need both his and Westbrook’s triple-double level efforts to overcome the Trail Blazers, who are hell-bent on putting past postseason failures in their rearview mirror and enjoy postseason success instead.
These game one’s provided plenty of excitement, getting the 2018-19 NBA postseason off to a rousing start. With NCAA’s March Madness coming to a close with the victory by the Virginia Cavaliers over the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the National Championship Game, we now get to enjoy the professionals provide their own drama and theater as the playoffs roll, ultimately reaching the NBA Finals.
Will the Golden State Warriors repeat to claim a fourth championship in five years? Can Milwaukee’s regular season success carry over into the postseason? Will Philadelphia get on the same page and win it all as they’ve gone “all in” to do so? Can Chris Paul stay healthy to compliment James Harden and lead Houston to a championship? These and many other questions will be answered as the playoffs continue. We’re in for quite a ride!