Friday, May 24, 2024

NBA playoffs opening weekend winners and losers: Thunder persevere, Mavericks embarrassed

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Eight games opened the first round of the NBA playoffs on Saturday and Sunday, and the home team won all eight.

And for the most part, the home team produced dominant victories. Six of the eight games were decided by at least 11 points, and the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers all led by at least 29 points in their Game 1 triumphs, and the Cleveland Cavaliers were up 20 in their victory.

The best game was the last Game 1 of the weekend − Oklahoma City over New Orleans, 94-92, in a game that had 20 lead changes and 13 ties.

Here are winners and losers from the first weekend of the NBA playoffs:

WINNERS

Oklahoma City’s perseverance

It was shaky in the fourth quarter for Oklahoma City, making its playoff debut with its young roster. The Thunder had a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New Orleans and lost it. They had six turnovers in the fourth quarter, including three by MVP finalist Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. But they had just enough offense and defense to beat the gritty Pelicans. Gilgeous-Alexander scored five consecutive points to put OKC up 93-90, and Chet Holmgren had two of his five blocks in the fourth quarter.

Dame Time

Milwaukee Bucks star Damian Lillard almost outscored the Pacers by himself  in the first half − with 35 points to Indiana’s 42. Lillard finished with 35 points, and he gave the Bucks room to exhale, winning a game with Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined (left calf injury.) Lillard didn’t need to score in the second half. The damage was done in the first two quarters when Lillard was 11-for-19 from the field, including 6-for-10 on 3-pointers.

Boston’s business-like approach

Not only was a victory necessary for the Celtics in Game 1 against Miami, but it had to be a dominant victory. And that’s what the Celtics did, leaving no doubt against the Jimmy Butler-less Heat. Up by as many as 34 points, the Celtics shot 44.9% on 22 made 3s, and Jayson Tatum had a triple-double (23 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists).

The Kawhi-less Clippers

The Clippers could’ve lost Game 1 to Dallas and no one would’ve balked dropping the series opener with Kawhi Leonard (right knee inflammation) out. Instead, the Clippers destroyed Dallas. The 109-97 final is not indicative of the way this game played out − the Clippers led 56-30 at halftime and 70-41 with 7:39 left in the third quarter. James Harden had 28 points and eight assists, Paul George scored 22 points and Ivica Zubac had 20 points and 15 rebounds.

Timberwolves’ offense

Everyone knows the Timberwolves can play defense. The NBA’s No. 1 defense held the Suns, the league’s No. 10 offense, to 95 points. More important, the Timberwolves dropped 120 points on the Suns. Anthony Edwards scored 33 points, collected nine rebounds and delivered six assists, Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 points and four assists, Rudy Gobert had 14 points and 16 rebounds, and off the bench, Nickel Alexander-Walker had 18 points and Naz Reid scored 12 points. If the Timberwolves can do that with regularity in the series, they will a playoff series for the first time since 2004 − when Kevin Garnett was 28 years old and won MVP.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic

Denver’s Nikola Jokic had 32 points on 15-for-23 shooting, 12 rebounds, seven assists and two steals in Denver’s 114-103 victory against the Lakers in Game 1. It appears he is headed for his third MVP in four seasons, and Lakers great LeBron James called Jokic one of the best to ever play. The Nuggets have beaten the Lakers nine consecutive times, including a sweep in the last season’s Western Conference finals, and in those games, Jokic averages 27.2 points on 55.7% shooting, 13 rebounds and 10.8 assists, and the Nuggets have outscored the Lakers by 104 points with Jokic on the court.

Knicks’ bench

New York’s reserves outscored Philadelphia’s 42-7. Bojan Bogdanovic (13 points), Miles McBride (21 points), Mitchel Robinson (eight points) were a combined 14-for-29 from the field, including 8-for-13 on 3s from Bogdanovic and McBride. Robinson also had 12 rebounds and four blocked shot, Bogdanovic added seven rebounds and McBride had four assists, three rebounds and one steal. That kind of production takes pressure off Jalen Brunson and the other starters.

Cavaliers’ Jarrett Allen-Evan Mobley combo

Whether it was their 23 minutes on the court together or their staggered minutes where one sits and one is the bench, Cavaliers big men Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley provided a defensive boost. The Magic shot 33.3% from the field, 22.2% on 3s and were outrebounded 25-16 with Allen (16 points, 18 rebounds, two steals) and Mobley (16 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks) sharing minutes.

LOSERS

Dallas’ disaster

Duds happen in the NBA. That makes Dallas’ performance against the Clippers no less embarrassing. The Mavs had 30 points on 9-for-41 shooting in the first half, including 2-for-21 in the second quarter. This happened even with an offense as good as Dallas’ with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. With Clippers All-Star Kawhi Leonard out, this was a perfect opportunity for the Mavs to steal Game 1 on the road. Doncic had 33 points, Irving 32 and just one other Mav had more than six points.

Pacers’ poor start

Just like Dallas, the Indiana Pacers had a chance to take advantage of a team missing its star and get Game 1 on the road. The Pacers failed. Playing against Milwaukee minus Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Pacers trailed by 30 points in the first half. Concerns about the Pacers’ defense were not alleviated − 69 points allowed in the first half − and their potent offense was non-existent in the first half.

Lakers’ turnovers

Attention will be on D’Angelo Russell’s shooting performance: 6-for-20, including 1-for-9 on 3s. But there’s more to the loss than Russell’s game. Anthony Davis had 32 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and four blocks, and LeBron James had 27 points, eight assists, six rebounds, one steal and one block. That wasn’t enough because the Lakers had 12 turnovers − seven by James − that led to 14 Nuggets points, and Denver outscored the Lakers 21-14 in fastbreak points. Against the defending champs, who had just six turnovers, including zero from primary ball-handlers Jamal Murray and Jokic, empty possessions are detrimental.

Suns’ offense

Phoenix was 3-0 against Minnesota in the regular season, scoring 133, 97 and 125 points. In Game 1, the Suns shot 32.1% on 3-pointers, Devin Booker was 5-for-16 from the field, Grayson Allen, who sprained his ankle, missed his three 3-point attempts, Eric Gordon was scoreless and 0-for-4 on 3s and the Suns’ bench was outscored 41-18. The major concerns for the Suns − their offense against Minnesota’s defense, depth and size − were valid.

Sixers without Joel Embiid

Even in the best of circumstances, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid can’t play 48 minutes a game against the New York Knicks. And with Embiid less than 100% as he returns from a knee injury that sidelined in February and March, these are the best of circumstances. So the Sixers need to find way to get better minutes from the unit that is out there when Embiid is not the court. Embiid had 29 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals in New York’s 111-104 Game 1 victory, and the Sixers were plus-14 with Embiid on the court in his 36 minutes. They were outscored by 21 points in the 11 minutes, 27 seconds Embiid didn’t play. If the Sixers can minimize that difference, they have a chance against New York.

Magic’s offense

The Magic held Cleveland to 97 points, 44.4% shooting from the field and 26.7% on 3-pointers. And lost, which is almost impossible in today’s NBA. But it illustrated Orlando’s offensive problems. The Magic, which had the No. 22 offensive during the regular season, shot 32.6% from the field, 21.6% on 3-pointers and 63.3% on free throws. No matter how good the Magic’s defense is (No. 3), points are necessary. Nine Paolo Banchero turnovers didn’t help. Now, that Game 1 is out of the way, the playoff jitters must disappear. Orlando’s offense was a known issue coming into the series, but it if can’t generate better offense, it can’t beat Cleveland.

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