What We Learned in Game 1

Milwaukee Bucks 121

Detroit Pistons 86

After what was one of the most blatant blowouts in the history of opening games in the NBA Playoffs, the Detroit Pistons got saddled with some even more sobering news; Blake Griffin will likely miss the entire first round. What that really means though is that he’s about to watch the entirety of the postseason from his couch at home.

What we learned in Game 1 of this series is that this an even more one sided affair than any of us previously thought. Most of the basketball world predicted a clean sweep by the Bucks, in one of the most glaringly one-sided matchups of the opening round. The Bucks were the league’s best team this season, and they drew the barely .500 Pistons in the opener. Giannis Antetokounmpo made the NBA’s top rebounder, Andre Drummond, a relative non-factor; and the stingy defense only allowed a single player to score at a relative high volume, as the bench-relegated Luke Kennard “snapped” for 21 points on the strength of a 4 for 5 shooting day from deep.

This Bucks team is going to be near impossible to knock off before the Finals, and after Sunday’s route it’s abundantly clear that it 100% for sure won’t be the Pistons dealing the final blow.

Orlando Magic 104

Toronto Raptors 101

In the midst of every other playoff series, teams and their fans alike broke their fixation on their own matchup and took a peak at what happened in Toronto. The “new look” Raptors came in to the Playoffs as one of the most dominant regular season squads, eager to offset this stigma that the franchise isn’t capable of performing when it matters most. A presumably easy first round draw, and no Lebron James looming down the line, this was supposed to be a relative cakewalk to the Finals for the first time in Franchise history.

Instead what we learned is that this Toronto Raptors team is as beatable as ever. Do I think the Orlando Magic will eventually bounce the 2-seed in this series? Absolutely not. But do I think this early blunder is indicative of what’s to come? Well…

Beyond the Magic, the Raptors (should they bounce back) would take on the winner of the 76ers and Nets series. The Sixers are a superstar-laden franchise with a lot more talent than their recent performances suggests. The Nets, a more explosive version of the Magic with substantially greater upset potential on the back of a heavy-three point oriented attack.

Despite the horrendous performance by Kyle Lowry in the series opener, what we learned on Saturday is that the team’s most glaring hole isn’t any of the names on the back of the jerseys…but rather the name embedded on the front.

Brooklyn Nets 111

Philadelphia 76ers 102

Prior to the start of the playoffs, I was on the record as saying that this matchup would provide us with the only real tightly contested action in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The other series’ all had a pretty clear cut favorite to take the whole thing in 4 or 5 games tops. In the Philadelphia-Brooklyn series though, the former is a relatively young superpower without any real positive postseason experience, seemingly poised to underachieve; the latter a pure scrapper, comprised of the NBA’s scrap-heap who have a win at all costs mantra and some meteoric momentum tied to some shocking wins down the stretch.

What we learned in Game 1 of this series, is that perhaps the Nets really could pull this thing off. Quite frankly the final score doesn’t tell the full story of what was never really a tightly contested game from the outset. The Nets at times almost seemed out of place towards the end of the game, because they’re unaccustomed to playing with a lead down the stretch.

Philadelphia was for all intents and purposes outclassed by a substantially less talented Brooklyn squad. The Nets’ offense is predicated on the three ball, which is why they’re always a candidate to steal a game on a hot shooting night; they executed their game almost flawlessly and controlled the pace in a way we don’t typically get to see from them. The bigger story here though was the 76ers, whose inside-out offense proved nearly non-existent. Arguably the most dominant center in the NBA right now, Joel Embiid, appeared timid at times down low, and as a result spent an absurd amount of time camped out on the perimeter.

As much as I love Jarrett Allen as a paint protector, Philly should’ve been able to handle business in the opener simply by going to the basket consistently. Instead though they tried to beat the Nets at their own game, which is impossible when you surrender nearly 50% of their three-point looks.

Boston Celtics 84

Indiana Pacers 74

Anyone who watched this snooze fest on Sunday can tell you that the score is a pretty accurate representation of the sloppy play on the court. Both teams put on unarguably the most atrocious offensive displays of the weekend, which is a true testament to how bad this was…because a Blake Griffin-less Detroit team also played this weekend.

What we learned in game 1 about the inevitable winners of this series, is that the Boston Celtics can be man-handled by a good defensive unit. On one side of this game you had the Indiana Pacers control the game defensively, holding even the C’s most prolific scorers to pretty modest numbers throughout the contest. On the other side, with no go-to scoring option in the wake of Victor Oladipo’s injury, the Pacers couldn’t capitalize on a ton of open looks surrendered by the Celtics’ lackadaisical D.

Unfortunately the remainder of the series appears pretty bleak, both in terms of upset potential and sheer watch-ability for that matter. At this point it wouldn’t phase me much to hear that neither team cracked the 100-point threshold for the rest of the series. The Celtics are going to win it eventually, and then run into the NBA’s highest rated defensive unit (per Basketball-Reference), in the form of the Milwaukee Bucks. What that ultimately means, is that this team picked by so many to represent the East in the NBA Finals prior to the start of the season is simply dead in the water at this point, prone to be picked off by the Conference’s fast emerging new super power.

Golden State Warriors 121

Los Angeles Clippers 104

Did anyone really think this was going to be a series? I mean sure it’s a feel good story to see the resident little brother of the Western Conference exceed expectations without a single superstar on their roster (yet), but then the Clippers ran into the back-to-back champs and their 5 superstar starting lineup. The Patrick Beverly shenanigans is always a fun watch, which is why I hope he finds himself in a deep playoff push situation next season…could you imagine that in the Finals…

But alas my dream of seeing a 1 seed ousted early in the playoffs appears to be just that, a dream. What we learned in Game 1, is that the Warriors are probably going all the way yet again. I know it’s a cardinal sin in sports to look beyond your current opponent, that’s how upsets happen, but it’s hard not to at this point. Who can run with these guys for an entire series? In the West, you’ve got the inexperienced Nuggets, the underwhelming Rockets, and maybe the Thunder on a good day. The Dubs appear to be on a Finals collision course with their Eastern Conference counterpart, the Bucks.

Their ability to dominate on both sides of the ball is unprecedented, and I don’t think they’ve even hit their ceiling yet considering the fact that Boogie Cousins is still struggling to become a positive force in their lineup.¬†Imagine what this team is capable of if Demarcus Cousins selflessly decides to lower his personal standards, to benefit the team. If Boogie becomes an efficient all-purpose big man without the need for a high volume of shots then this Warriors team is going to be impossibly to beat…I don’t care who they’re up against.

San Antonio Spurs 101

Denver Nuggets 96

It borders on a travesty that after the impeccable season, and drought-ending playoff berth that saw them claw all the way to a two seed, the Denver Nuggets drew Greg freaking Popovich in round one. I mean seriously, God definitely isn’t a Nuggets fan. Forget for a moment that the Spurs’ roster packs a punch with Derozan and Aldridge leading the charge, Pop is arguably the greatest coach in the history of the NBA; and he could probably coach the damn Knicks to at least one win against the Nuggets in a best of seven series.

What we learned in Game 1 is that Greg Popovich is for real, and because of that, nothing is a given in the Western Conference. It defies conventional wisdom that a guy drawing X’s and O’s on the sideline can really alter the course of the game to the same degree as the players themselves, but that definitely is the case here. Had the Nuggets drawn a different team in the first round, whether it be the Clippers or Thunder (8 & 6 respectively) I think they have a more well-defined advantage than they do against the Spurs.

In order for Denver to advance to the Conference Semis in all likelihood they’re going to have to be prepared to do battle with the Spurs for 6 or 7 games in this round. If they come out on the other end, they’ll be a much better team for it. but in the interim, the ever scheming Popovich is going to ensure that this series is never really out of hand for the San Antonio Spurs…7th seed or not.

Portland Trail Blazers 104

Oklahoma Thunder 99

Had you asked me to pick a fun first round series to watch in the Western Conference Playoffs, I whole-heartedly would’ve pointed you to Blazers vs. Thunder. They’re a pair of teams who despite the actual seeding are relatively interchangeable in terms of both roster makeup and play style. So naturally, this was always going to be an incredible watch regardless of how many games it ends up going. There’s some added narrative here with the now lengthy history of Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook jawing at one another amid back and forth 30 point performances. Throw-ins, like a rise to MVP candidate status for Paul George and the resurgence of Enes Kanter in the wake of his off-the-court struggles with his home country (Kanter is currently wanted by the Turkish government for his alleged part in a plot to overthrow the government), make this series even sweeter for viewers.

What we learned in Game 1 is that the Portland Trail Blazers might not be the first round pushovers of years past. In a year where conventional thinking might’ve dictated that they should look to blowup the roster and start fresh after years of unsuccessful attempts…they actually look like a strong contender. Winning an opening game at home doesn’t necessarily tip the scales anymore in their favor than they were a few days ago, but it does snap a 3 year losing streak in the playoffs for this Portland team.

The puts pressure on a Thunder team that many thought had a clear-cut edge in the series despite the 3 vs 6 seeding. If they can’t pull out a victory on Tuesday night then they go back home already in danger of a quick and untimely exit.

Houston Rockets 122

Utah Jazz 90

Ouch, this one stung quite a bit I think for a lot of people. For sports writers like me, who pegged this as a series to watch because of the great offense vs great defense narrative that exists here, we already look a bit foolish. But more so for the Utah Jazz, who already find themselves having flashbacks to a year ago when the Rockets ousted them from the playoffs as well.

What we learned in Game 1 of this series is that truthfully there is no defensive answer to James Harden. Nobody in the NBA seems to have found a means of stopping the NBA’s scoring champ when he decides he wants to put the ball in the bucket. Nor have they been able to stifle his play-making ability either, as he led off the series with a triple-double. For the Jazz, staunch defense has been their calling card all year long, and it was evident heading into the playoffs that nothing would be changing on that front. What the takeaway there though is: defense can keep you in ball games but it can’t win you ball games.

The Jazz are likely getting bounced in the early days of the playoffs this year, in-spite of what I thought to be some upset potential. They’ll have to spend the rest of the Summer seething over the deja-vu of a loss to the Rockets, but more so trying to figure out how they can pad their offensive attack without sacrificing more their defensive cornerstones.

For the Rockets, I saw them do something I expected of the 76ers and Celtics out East…shake off an underwhelming regular season by exploding onto the playoff scene in 2019. It remains to be seen if the others can follow suit, but at least for the Rockets we can say they got their mojo back…for now…

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