From one perspective, the primary weekend of the NBA playoffs was a chaotic mess. Most the 16 groups hadn’t performed in every week. Their opponents have used all of that point to game-plan in opposition to all the pieces they’ve proven within the common season. The stress will get to some gamers and groups greater than others. Team-wide strengths fade. Weaknesses are magnified. All eight opening spherical video games have been performed inside roughly a 36-hour interval.
So you may be forgiven should you really feel a bit overwhelmed with the weekend’s slate. Fortunately, issues will settle down throughout this week. Until Saturday, solely two or three video games will likely be performed per night time, and it’ll rapidly develop into obvious which groups will retain that spirit of competitors and which of them will likely be overcome by capitulation. But for now, let’s cowl one lesson from every of the eight video games performed over the weekend.
Lakers vs. Grizzlies: L.A. cannot afford to play small
The finest participant on the court docket when the Lakers defeated the Grizzlies, 128-112, was Anthony Davis. The second-best participant on the court docket — regardless of fireworks from Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura — was Jaren Jackson Jr. Aside from his usually glorious protection, Jackson scored 31 factors on 13-of-21 capturing Sunday afternoon.
This was, to an extent, a sacrifice that L.A. was prepared to make. Both the Lakers and Grizzlies have a star defensive large man, and each of them most well-liked to make use of that participant to protect the weakest opposing scorer. Why? So that they might focus their efforts on slowing down everybody else as a help-defender. Xavier Tillman remains to be an honest sufficient put up defender, so he a minimum of made Davis work for his factors.
The identical cannot actually be stated for LeBron James and Hachimura. Jackson destroyed them for 4 quarters. Yet the Lakers selected to not even search for different countermeasures. Rather than play Wenyen Gabriel or Mo Bamba at heart when Davis went to the bench, they determined to go small and have James and Hachimura share heart duties. It went badly. They misplaced these 11 minutes by 12 factors.
This was a detailed recreation earlier than Ja Morant went down. Those 12 factors might have price the Lakers a victory. If Morant is again for Game 2, the Lakers would possibly have to chunk the bullet and let Davis defend Jackson himself. If they do not, they are going to see extra gaudy stat traces out of Jackson.
Bucks vs. Heat: Milwaukee wants Giannis … Duh!
The Bucks have a surprisingly robust historical past of profitable video games with out their finest participant. Since Mike Budenholzer took over as coach, they’re 32-33 in video games Giannis Antetokounmpo has missed. Their 11-8 file with out him this season really gave them a greater profitable share than their first-round opponent, the Miami Heat, had throughout your entire common season.
Milwaukee reached the 2021 NBA Finals regardless of Antetokounmpo lacking the final two video games of the Eastern Conference finals. This success has even been held in opposition to him within the MVP race. If the Nuggets disintegrate the second Nikola Jokic leaves the court docket, why are the Bucks basically a .500 group with out Antetokounmpo?
Well — and that is stunning — it seems the Bucks most likely want their two-time MVP in the event that they plan to make any noise on this postseason. Miami gained, 130-117, with out Milwaukee’s all-purpose defensive menace patrolling the ground, and that is an offense that solely scored 105 and 109 in its play-in video games. The Bucks must be high-quality when their finest participant comes again. But if he must miss a while, Milwaukee could be in some bother.
Suns vs. Clippers: Westbrook finds a method
It was an fascinating night time for Russell Westbrook’s doubters. His combined postseason historical past has at all times been held in opposition to him, and lots of the issues which have gone fallacious for him up to now did go fallacious on Sunday. He shot 3 of 19 from the sphere and 1 of 6 from 3-point vary, often taking the type of dangerous photographs that irk followers of the sport. More than that, his presence impacted his group’s spacing. It’s a lot simpler to protect everybody else when you do not have to protect Westbrook.
Yet Westbrook undeniably had a optimistic affect on the Clippers’ 115-110 win. He had greater than one-third of his group’s assists (eight of 23), and his offensive rebounding within the fourth quarter was important because the Clippers closed out the sport. His protection was the place his affect was felt most, although. While Westbrook may be inattentive off of the ball, his physicality makes him harmful in the suitable matchups. His block on (and deflection off) Devin Booker within the closing seconds sealed the win for the Clippers.
Westbrook’s flaws have been on show on this recreation. He overcame them by excelling in a number of different areas. If the Clippers are going to win with him, they’re going to want that to be the case often. He’s not at all times going to shoot 3 of 19, but when he defends and rebounds as arduous as he did in Game 1, the Clippers have an actual probability to maximise him this postseason.
Nuggets vs. Timberwolves: Denver is again
On March 3, the Denver Nuggets beat the Memphis Grizzlies and successfully clinched the No. 1 seed within the Western Conference. In the 5 weeks that adopted, they did all the pieces of their energy to lose it. The Nuggets had little to play for during the last quarter of the season, and it confirmed. They went 8-10 down the stretch, probably dropping Nikola Jokic the MVP award and positively dropping some respect from prognosticators across the league. They dropped from Western Conference favorites to both No. 2 or No. 3, relying on the e-book, earlier than the playoffs started.
Well, if Game 1 of the Minnesota collection was any indication, the the Nuggets are taking issues severely once more. They had the largest margin of victory of the weekend in 29-point win over the Timberwolves Sunday, and the held Minnesota to simply 80 factors, the bottom complete of the weekend. They have been so unimaginable that Jokic did not want to attain a single level within the second half. This group nonetheless has flaws, but it surely did not magically worsen in early March. The Nuggets are nonetheless the identical group that outplayed the remainder of the Western Conference for many of the season. They proved that on Sunday.
76ers vs. Nets: Brooklyn cannot double Embiid
Joel Embiid has been torturing his opponents as a scorer all season. He not solely gained the scoring title at 33.1 factors per recreation, however he grew to become the primary seven-footer to win two consecutive scoring titles since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar greater than 40 years in the past. In an ideal world, a protection would do all the pieces in its energy to cease him from scoring. Well, Saturday was an excellent instance of why defenses cannot actually do this in opposition to Embiid.
The Nets doubled Embiid often of their 121-101 loss to Philadelphia. So the 76ers shrug, moved the ball round and in the end made 21 of their 43 3-point photographs. This is a Daryl Morey group, in spite of everything. If you give them open appears, they are going to take and make them. The different troubling factor right here is that doubling Embiid barely even slowed him down. He completed the sport with 26 factors. There’s not an excellent reply to Philadelphia’s dominant offense. If Brooklyn stays at house on shooters, Embiid would possibly simply rating 46 factors in response. But we noticed precisely why doubling him is so harmful. The 76ers aren’t a one-man band.
Celtics vs. Hawks: Young nonetheless has playoff woes
Trae Young’s first-round loss to the Miami Heat final season was embarrassing, however nearly comprehensible in context. True, he averaged simply 15.4 factors on below 32% capturing, however he was taking part in in opposition to a No. 1 seed, had no co-star, and lots of of his finest teammates have been both out or restricted by nagging accidents. None of that was the case on Saturday in Atlanta’s 112-99 loss. The Hawks spent three first-round picks on Dejounte Murray. They are largely wholesome. Boston is clearly a NBA Finals contender, however the Hawks a minimum of received three days off after final week’s play-in win.
So how did Young reply? He scored 16 factors on five-of-18 capturing in opposition to Boston’s No. 2 protection. In the method, he made a little bit of historical past — should you embody earlier seasons, he has now shot 8 of 49 from 3-point vary in his previous seven playoff video games. That is the worst seven-game 3-point capturing stretch in postseason historical past. Scoring within the playoffs tends to be considerably tougher for small guards. Most of them make up for the whistles they not get close to the basket by growing their 3-point quantity. Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard are so good from deep that they’ll punish even the perfect postseason defenses. Young, it appears, isn’t. Without his 3’s falling, the remainder of his offense has suffered tremendously, and the Hawks discover themselves on life help after solely Game 1.
Cavaliers vs. Knicks: Cleveland has trusts points
New York got here away with a 101-97 victory in Cleveland regardless of getting solely 9 first-half minutes out of Jalen Brunson on account of foul bother. Depth is commonly missed within the postseason, however it’s crucial for the Knicks. Playing with out Brunson can be a dying sentence to most groups. Having Sixth Man of the Year finalist Immanuel Quickley accessible to sub in for softens that blow considerably. The Knicks have 9 gamers that they belief.
Reserves Quickley, Isaiah Hartenstein, Obi Toppin and Josh Hart do not simply survive their minutes. The actively complement New York’s beginning lineup and provides them flexibility to assault no matter matchups they need. Hart, Quickley and Hartenstein even often shut video games when wanted. Every member of New York’s rotation fills a particular area of interest.
Cleveland? Yeah … not a lot. They have 4 core gamers: Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Those gamers mixed to attain 77 of their 97 factors and take 64 of their 83 subject objectives. Cedi Osman was the one reserve that appeared remotely playable. Dean Wade (minus-14 in seven minutes), Caris LeVert (minus-14 in 18 minutes) and Ricky Rubio (minus-9 in six minutes) all had horrible point-differentials and proved largely unplayable. Isaac Okoro was fully ignored as a shooter. Cedi Osman could not keep in entrance of Brunson.
You can survive with seven gamers within the postseason. Perhaps even six. But basically, a basketball group has 5 gamers on the ground always. If you solely belief 4 of them, you are in deep trouble in opposition to a group as deep because the Knicks.
Kings vs. Warriors: Speedy guards will preserve beam lit
Despite their small-ball id, the Warriors even have a powerful playoff historical past in opposition to star facilities. They beat Nikola Jokic handily a season in the past. They’ve by no means misplaced to Anthony Davis. In reality, the beginning facilities on the 2 groups to beat them since Steve Kerr took over as coach have been Tristan Thompson and Marc Gasol. Those aren’t precisely big-time scorers. Draymond Green can deal with star facilities regardless of his dimension.
But fast guards? Those are extra of an issue. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk mixed for 70 factors within the Kings’ 126-123 win. It’s a tiny pattern, however the Kings posted a powerful 121.7 offensive ranking within the 20 minutes Gary Payton II performed. The Warriors traded for Payton for matchups like this. Stephen Curry is an effective group defender, however he has by no means been tasked with troublesome one-on-one assignments. Klay Thompson was as soon as among the many finest defensive guards within the NBA. He’s not fast sufficient laterally to stay with Fox or Monk anymore.
The Warriors held Domantas Sabonis to 12 factors on 5-of-17 capturing on Saturday. He’ll seemingly enhance, however the concept they’ll restrict Sacramento’s All-Star is pretty affordable. Right now, it appears just like the Warriors don’t have any reply in any way for Sacramento’s guards. If the Warriors are going to win this factor, it may have to come back by means of shootouts.
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