The first weekend of the 2016 NBA Playoffs saw all eight series get underway with four Game 1s happening on Saturday and another four Game 1s happening on Sunday. Although we did see some close, exciting games (Cleveland-Detroit surprisingly being the best of the bunch), the weekend was marked by one blowout after another.
Five of the first eight games in these NBA playoffs were decided by 20 or more points.
Last year, it was five of the first 51.
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) April 18, 2016
That’s right, more than half of the games over the weekend were absolute laughers. The average margin of victory for the opening games in each series was 20.5 PPG. And that includes one game decided by a solitary point and another game decided by five.
Sunday was particularly gruesome with three of the four games being decided by more than 20 points. According to ESPN and Stats LLC, that was only the fourth time in NBA history that we’ve seen a single day like that in the postseason and the first such occurrence since 1999.
The biggest problem for the NBA is that few people expect most of these series to be competitive, especially in the Western Conference, whose closest Game 1 was the Clippers beating the Blazers on their home floor 115-95.
** Top seed Golden State was up by 27 points over Houston at halftime and could even afford to rest Steph Curry and his bum ankle for most of the game. The Warriors ended up winning by 26, 104-78.
** Two seed San Antonio used a 33-14 fourth quarter to easily dispatch Memphis, who was led by Vince Carter in scoring. In 2016! The Spurs blew out the Grizzlies by a mere 32 points, 106-74.
** Three seed Oklahoma City embarrassed Dallas, holding the Mavericks to a franchise record low for points in a playoff game. The final score was 108-70, in favor of the Thunder.
** And finally, four seed Los Angeles defeated Portland by 20 in a game that started to get out of hand midway through the third quarter.
Aside from the extreme margin of victory in some of these games, the results out west weren’t particularly surprising. All four of the top seeds should advance with relative ease and the Warriors and Spurs would be disappointed with anything but comprehensive sweeps. One would think at least Dallas and Portland could be competitive and take a series to six games, but based on those Game 1 results, that’s looking increasingly unlikely.
What about in the Eastern Conference? Well, with the increased depth in the East and the fact that they seem to be deeper than the West for the first time in almost two decades, that’s our only hope for some first-round excitement.
The Eastern Conference had four teams — Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte, and Boston — each finish with an identical 48-34 record. However, one of those games did produce a massive blowout, with the Heat torching the Hornets 123-91. Boston was down 17 at the half to Atlanta and it looked like another game heading that direction, then rallied to actually lead in the fourth quarter before the Hawks eventually won.
The Pistons gave the Cavaliers everything they could handle in the opening game to the 1-8 matchup… and still came up just short. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Detroit can duplicate shooting 15-of-29 from downtown and over 50 percent from the floor once again. The Pistons are talented enough where they might be able to scratch out one game at home, but it takes a lot of faith to see this series going six games or more.
The one series that could actually provide a bit of drama and intrigue, and upset potential, is the 2-7 matchup in the East, where Indiana was the only road team that won over the opening weekend in Toronto. Paul George (33 points) played like a superstar while the top scorers for the Raptors did not. A Game 1 upset is always a great way to start a series from a neutral perspective, but like the Cleveland-Detroit series, it’s hard to call it a forebearer of what’s to come over a long series. The top three scorers for Toronto (DeRozan, Lowry, Valanciunas) shot a combined 12-of-46 from the field, a robust 26 percent.
As much as fans might be unimpressed, this is the reality of today’s NBA. It is a very top-heavy league where we know going into the postseason that only a few teams have a legitimate chance of winning it all in the end. It’s quite the opposite of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, where any of the 16 teams that make the postseason have a real chance to make it to the final and win it all.
Go ahead and count them, odds are you won’t need more than one hand. Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland… maybe Oklahoma City or the Clippers if a major upset (or two) happens out west? That’s at least three teams and at most five if you really want to stretch logic. Could you imagine any team beating the Warriors AND Spurs in a seven-game series?
All totaled, it’d be so much better for the NBA postseason if the first round of the playoffs returned to a Best-of-5 format. Not only would there be more of a chance for upsets like Pacers-Raptors in a shorter series, but it would mean that we could at least get it over with quicker, with the brooms likely to be out in full force. At this rate, with the first round stretched out so long, it’s going to give the top veteran stars more rest than they ever thought they needed.
With so many results seemingly inevitable and so many non-competitive games, fans are just hoping the second round gets here as soon as possible. Then it might feel like the NBA Playoffs will truly begin.