The NBA playoffs got a tip this weekend, and all eight games 1 are on the books.
On Saturday, the Brooklyn Nets and their Big Three defeated the Boston Celtics. Khris Middleton’s overtime winner drove the Milwaukee Bucks past the Miami Heat; and the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers each won in surprises to begin their series.
The defending champions Los Angeles Lakers’ rally against the Phoenix Suns lagged behind on Sunday. the Philadelphia 76ers held back the Washington Wizards; and the Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks each scored surprises in Game 1 on the Road.
What was the most surprising achievement? Which series are we hoping for seven games? Our ESPN NBA experts discuss the biggest storylines after a weekend of exciting Game 1 action.
1. What was the most surprising thing after the first game?
Kevin Arnovitz: LeBron James spent very little time moving downhill during Sunday’s Game 1 loss. James only attempted four field goals within 10 feet: one blocked, one tip-in, one layup, and one trip to the foul line. James didn’t look hesitant, just not interested in pressuring Phoenix inside. The Lakers desperately need an offensive jolt, and there’s no better marksman on the planet to deliver one – as long as he’s willing to be aggressive.
Andrew Lopez: The Lakers scored only 90 points, James only 18 points and Anthony Davis a playoff career with low points (13) and a low percentage of shooting (31.3). Nothing the Lakers did seemed to work against the Suns sixth-placed defense. The 90 points were the fewest they had in a game with James and Davis that season, and the third smallest in a game (playoffs, regular season, or play-in) that dates back to last season.
Tim MacMahon: Milwaukee managed to win Game 1 despite a massive math disadvantage as the bucks made 15 less 3-points than the heat. According to ESPN Stats & Information Research, this is the biggest differential a winning team has ever seen in a playoff game. The bucks’ central defense helped make up the difference. Miami only shot 32.7% (16 out of 49) on 2s, and NBA.com/stats attributed 17 of those shots to Brook Lopez.
Kevin Pelton: That there have been so many mismatches in shooting. Of the first six games, only one team (Boston with 37%) shot an average percentage on 3-point attempts. Lakers-Sun’s Game 1 was the first in which one team didn’t shoot at least 8% better than the other. This is a make-or-miss league, but even by those standards, 3-point shooting played an oversized role in Game 1.
Royce Young: The rather lifeless offensive performance of the Lakers. Not to discredit the suns in any way; They were totally ready for the champions’ challenge, and Devin Booker seems built for the playoffs. But the Lakers never showed any sign that they had it all. Maybe it’s the break-in hangover, maybe it’s health, maybe it’s conditioning. But then again, the Lakers got used to the game 1 flops in the bubble last year and that worked out fine for them.
2. What is an adjustment a team should make after Game 1?
MacMahon: The Clippers tried almost anything to slow Luka Doncic down except for Kawhi Leonard to be the most important defense assignment in the series. It’s time for the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year to prove he’s still that kind of stopper when the stakes are high. “I think you will get what you ask for next Tuesday,” said Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue, citing Leonard’s offensive load as a reason not to give him the full-time Luka assignment. I understand the logic of putting Leonard on Kristaps Porzingis and turning on screens, but Maverick’s trainer Rick Carlisle was glad Porzingis only cleared the ground and let Doncic determine which defender he picked.
Arnovitz: The Bucks should do more two-man actions for Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo, which they refrained from after the first quarter. Milwaukee generated some high quality looks from the perimeter in Game 1 that they just didn’t do, but they’ll need a bit more insult on top of that to win the series. As a pick and roll combo, Middleton and Antetokounmpo have been an efficient tandem for the bucks all season long. It’s an action that also enables both players to develop their strengths: Middleton as a one- or two-dribble shooter who can get every shot with little space, and Antetokounmpo as a devastating finisher when he’s in the Proximity is the tire. Antetokounmpo was outside the restricted area in game 1-0-14 and this seems like an effective way to get him to spend more time in it.
Lopez: How will Denver incorporate non-Nikola Jokic players? The Blazers’ strategy of letting Jokic score and not allowing him to involve his teammates worked when Jokic dealt with a template. Granted, according to ESPN Stats & Information Research, the nuggets on Jokic’s Passes were 1 out of 10. “They got me to work for it on every property. They kicked other people out. I might not have been able to involve other people. Just because of the templates I say that, “said Jokic after the game. If the Nuggets want to reverse their Game 1 outcome, other shots must be fired.
Young: The nuggets have to find ways to unlock the magic of the joker. The Blazer program consisted of letting Nikola Jokic score as much as he wanted and limiting his dynamic play by directly playing off individual defenses. The Nuggets need to create the space and opportunity for Jokic to unlock all of the parts that will make him an MVP this season.
Pelton: I would love to see the Davis Bertans wizards start up instead of Rui Hachimura or Raul Neto. Washington’s offense badly needs the threat Bertans’ shooting favors present to open the ground. The wizards were in Bertans ’28 minutes plus-9 on Sunday. It’s doubtful they’d stay as effective if Bertans overlapped more with Joel Embiid’s playing time, but Bertans simply has to play more than the 28 minutes he saw in Game 1. Starting is the easiest way to make this possible.
3. The team that needs the most to win Game 2 is …
Pelton: The nuggets. Granted, the nuggets showed a liking for comebacks in the bladder last year. You could also get healthier over the course of the series if Will Barton and / or P.J. Dozier can return from injuries. Even so, this matchup looked like a toss before the Blazers won Game 1. If Portland take a 2-0 lead at home, Denver will be in trouble.
Arnovitz: The nuggets. The Trail Blazers have been a strong squad on the home pitch in the past, and it would be difficult if they returned 2-0 to the Moda Center while their perimeter-makers run on all cylinders.
Lopez: The Miami heat. If the heat could steal Milwaukee’s home advantage from game by winning Game 2 on Monday, the pressure would increase on Giannis Antetokounmpo & Co. not only to quit Miami, but to make it out of the first round – especially after all that Moves the bucks have made for a deep run this season.
MacMahon: The Clippers don’t exactly have a track record of responding well to adversity. So, yeah, you’d better avoid leaving the Staples Center in a 2-0 hole against Dallas. The Clippers arguably had the greatest pressure on them to enter the playoffs after imploding in the bubble against the Nuggets. The Clippers would have a monster on their backs if their playoff losing streak reached five games.
Young: The clippers. A 1-0 deficit in the series brought back the same feelings and thoughts about the collapse of the Clippers bubble last summer, but a 2-0 deficit would bring that to infinity. The Clippers are trying to re-center themselves and not get caught up in the chatter, but losing both games at their home ground would send a shock wave across the organization.
4. Let’s Have Fun: Who Is the Playoff MVP After? one Game?
Pelton: Luka Doncic. The Clippers tried a variety of defenders on Doncic in Game 1, but none could stop him. Doncic scored (31) or assisted (11) on 58 of the Mavericks’ 113 points, which was efficient thanks to 5-of-11 shots from outside the bow. He also added 10 rebounds for his third career triple-double in seven playoff games, all against the Clippers.
Young: Luka Doncic. He showed it against the Clippers in the bubble last year, but Doncic has a game that appears to be developed in a lab specifically for playoff basketball. His ability to take shots, a flair for changing moments that change the impulse, and his flair for the balance between calling his own number and including teammates make him a player you fear in a game to go. And he showed it all in game 1.
MacMahon: Luka Doncic (31-point triple-double) and Trae Young (32 points, 10 assists, game winners) made strong cases, but I’ll go with the man who is at the top of their 2018 drafting class. Sun’s center Deandre Ayton has played up to his pedigree # 1 on his playoff debut and has absolutely dominated the Lakers. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Ayton (21 points, 10-of-11 shooting, 16 rebounds) Bill Russell was the only player in postseason history to shoot at least 90% off the ground in a 20-point-15 rebound game . Ayton also anchored a Phoenix defense that kept the Lakers at 90 points.
Arnovitz: Trae Young. Khris Middleton hit the most consistent shot, while Luka Doncic and Devin Booker had the gaudiest lines. But Young went to the NBA’s most intimidating venue on his playoff debut and made his mark on that series. Madison Square Garden has always honored the game’s most charismatic players, and in Game 1, its viewers watched a pick-and-roll virtuoso dictate the terms of any offensive possession late in a back and forth nail-biter.
Lopez: Rayford Trae Young. The Hawks Point Guard had a spectacular playoff debut at Madison Square Garden on Sunday evening with 32 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds and most importantly the game-winning floater with 0.9 to give the Hawks the victory in Game 1. Young scored or assisted with 21 points in the fourth quarter, joining Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and LeBron James as the only players to have 30 points and 10 assists in their first playoff game. Young was also the first player to score 30 points and 10 assists in a playoff game at MSG since Michael Jordan did so in Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Final.
5. Which series of the first round should last seven games?
Pelton: I’m in the file saying I would like blazer nuggets a best-of-17So I guess I have to choose that, right? I think Portland is preferred right now, but if the series goes to seven the home advantage would surely set them back to Denver – despite what we saw two years ago when CJ McCollum’s 37 points took the Blazers down a straight from Game 7 win and a trip to the final of the Western Conference.
MacMahon: Suns Lakers. Don’t you want the defending champions to be marginalized? Or can Chris Paul and LeBron James’ relationship survive a seven-game series? I stick with the Lakers as my pick to win – due to my solid philosophy of never betting against James in the playoffs – but the young Suns made it clear that their lack of experience would not intimidate them an iota after the season.
Lopez: Knicks Hawks. Matchup with Chris Paul and LeBron James in a winner-take-all game 7 may be the most fun at the storyline level, but I’ll give New York and Atlanta the nod. These are two teams that few thought would fight for home court in the first round and both want to prove they are one of them. It would lead to a fun seven-game series that culminates in Madison Square Garden.
Arnovitz: Clippers-Mavericks. The Luka Doncic is the best Luka Doncic. Throw in a serving of Clippers Pathos and that’s two weeks of solid basketball entertainment.
Young: Dollar heat. Just thinking about the intensity of a Game 7 between these teams should get your playoff juices flowing. Game 1 was a brawl with a classic Eastern Conference feel and the tension that makes postseason basketball great. Including that in a winning all-rounder Game 7 with Jimmy, Bam and Spo versus Giannis, Khris and Bud would build up some serious drama. It’s hard to fight the heat in a bar fight, but it could be the kind of game Antetokounmpo needs to restore some equity.