There is still a lot of basketball left to be played in the first round of this year’s playoffs, but you can learn a lot from the first game. I had the pleasure of watching the opening game of every series this weekend, so here are a few quick thoughts.
Chicago Bulls lead Philadelphia 76ers 1-0
It is hard to pick out anything important that happened in this game. Oh wait … Yes, the reigning MVP is now done for the season, but lets not count out the Bulls just yet. Just because they lost Derrick Rose for the rest of the playoffs does not mean their season is over. They showed all year that they can win without Rose and they showed on Saturday that they can easily get past the 76ers. If the Bulls play like they are capable, they could still potentially sweep this series. I have heard lots of people say we are headed for a Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference Finals, but the Celtics are having their own struggles with the Hawks. Without Rose, I think the Bulls are still capable of getting to the conference finals, but from there it is going to be tough.
Miami Heat lead New York Knicks 1-0
All the hopes of re-incarnating this old rivalry were tossed out the window with one game. Yes, things got chippy and the teams clearly do not like each other, but after a 33-point beatdown the chances for a long, drawn-out slugfest are all but gone. The Knicks also lost their best perimeter defender in Iman Shumpert, and the Heat have some pretty decent (sarcastic understatement) perimeter scorers. This first game has Miami fans busting out their brooms, already looking forward to their next opponent.
Orlando Magic lead Indiana Pacers 1-0
Here was an interesting surprise. I wrote off the Magic as having no chance in this series without Dwight Howard, and then they go off and steal the first game on the road. Is this a fluke or has everyone severely overrated the Pacers? I am going to go with fluke. I am not ready to believe in the Magic just yet, and I think the Pacers should make the necessary adjustments to control the rest of the series. Historically, the team that wins the first game of a seven-game series goes on to win about 75 percent of the time. That means statistically, two of the eight Game 1 winners will still drop the series. I am picking the Magic to be one of those, but anything can happen.
Oklahoma City Thunder lead Dallas Mavericks 1-0
The Thunder needed some last-second heroics from Kevin Durant to pull this one out after almost dropping the first game to the Mavs. There may still be a little hangover from last year’s Western Conference Finals. Maybe the Thunder have not realized that they are a much better team yet, or maybe the Mavs’ veteran leadership is really coming through in the playoffs. Either way, this series looks like it will not be as quickly decided as most people thought. The Mavericks are clearly out to show that they can make a run at repeating last year’s improbable title run, and the Thunder need to learn quickly that no one is going to roll over for them just because they are the favorite. Of course, I still like the Thunder to come out of this series, but they may have a few more scratches on them than they thought going in.
San Antonio Spurs lead Utah Jazz 1-0
Tony Parker LOVES to play against the Jazz. Parker dropped 28 points on Sunday and showed that the point guard advantage clearly goes to San Antonio. As predicted, the Spurs did struggle a little bit in the post, but the Jazz seemed unwilling to commit to a solid big lineup and the Spurs walked away with an easy victory. I am not sure how the Jazz play this going forward and what adjustments they will make for Game 2, but the Spurs landed a solid knockout punch in the first game and it is going to be tough for the Jazz to recover.
Los Angeles Lakers lead Denver Nuggets 1-0
People who thought the Nuggets had no chance in this serious are probably right. Led by Andrew Bynum’s triple-double that included a playoff record-tying 10 blocks, the Lakers dominated from start to finish. The Lakers were getting contributions from everyone. Pau Gasol actually led the team in assists, Steve Blake was nailing 3-pointers, Kobe was Kobe and put in 31 points, and it looks like this Lakers team is coming together at the right time. I do not give the Nuggets much of a chance to rebound, and I would watch out for the Lakers going forward.
Atlanta Hawks lead Boston Celtics 1-0
Even though they are the higher seed because they won their division, the Celtics gave up home court advantage to the Hawks in this series in order to rest their starters down the stretch of the regular season. That is starting to look like a bad decision. The Hawks jumped out to a big lead early on and held it the entire game. The Hawks looked like they were energized and ready to play and the Celtics looked old, slow and flat. The Celtics did not even look like they put in any effort, aside from Rajon Rondo, until the end of the game when they looked like they might pull it out. But ironically, Rondo’s emotional implosion (and a questionable foul call) cost them the game. Now we wait to see if Rondo gets suspended or not. If he does, the Celtics could be looking at a devastating 2-0 hole, which they may not have the energy to climb out of.
Los Angeles Clippers lead Memphis Grizzlies 1-0
I had an entirely different blurb written in my head for this game and then … collapse. I have never seen a team fall apart that quickly. Funny enough, the only break I took from watching basketball this weekend was the first hour of this game where I watched Game of Thrones (awesome show) instead. So I actually missed the part of the game where the Grizzlies dominated. What I saw was the two teams playing even for the second and third quarters and then the Clippers run away at the end, so I actually watched a 20-point Clipper win. The Grizzlies, who are not a jump-shooting team, were on fire for the whole game and then went cold in the fourth quarter. And it was like they had forgotten what made them a good team in the first place. They refused to go inside and attack the rim because they had been shooting all game and that is what was winning for them. But when the shots were not falling, the Clippers were able to close the game on a 28-3 run and steal home court advantage. It was a disaster, and even though I still think the Grizzlies are the better team, it is going to be tough to recover from that.