The opening day of the 2016 NBA playoffs is in the books. Here's what we learned.
The East looks fun and close! The two Eastern Conference games were well-played by all four teams and featured games that were close inside the final five minutes. The Raptors' stars just wet the bed, yes, but their defense and role players both showed up. No matter. The Raptors now find themselves in a familiar playoff crisis, writes our James Herbert from Toronto.)
The Pacers, meanwhile, played well enough to put themselves in a position to let Paul George wipe out the Raptors, and he did precisely that. George was the best player on the floor, scoring 27 of his game-high 33 points in the second half as Indiana stole home-court advantage.
The Hawks and Celtics played down to the wire, and the game featured a 17-point Boston comeback. Even when down four with under ten seconds remaining and no timeouts, Isaiah Thomas hit a transition pull-up 3-pointer to cut it to one. That series looks close, destined for seven if you ask me. More on that in a moment.
Really, as good as the West's top teams looked, it's notable that the Eastern Conference, as it has all year, looked very balanced. Its lower seeds weren't competitive merely because the top seeds were incompetent; again, they all played well. It's a sign of how the competitive balance has shifted, even if the heavy artillery remains in the West. Meanwhile ...
The West is a bunch of blowouts. Stephen Curry outscored the Rockets by himself in the first quarter, and in fact was the leading scorer in the game with 24 points on five 3-pointers despite playing less than 20 minutes -- the first guy to do that in a playoff game since Ray Allen in 2013. The Warriors were up 20-plus in a blink of an eye. Curry didn't play the entire second-half -- and is questionable for Game 2 with a sprained ankle -- and yet Golden State completely dominated. Houston showed once again why it's a complete clownshow and made everyone, many of their own fans included, wish they weren't even watching. (For more on the punchline that is the Houston Rockets, read Zach Harper's dispatch from the Oracle beatdown.)
In Oklahoma City, the Thunder demolished the Mavericks in one of the most lopsided affairs in NBA playoff history. (It ranked as the third-biggest Game 1 blowout ever.) Dallas simply had no chance. So not only are the Thunder and Warriors awesome, which we knew coming in, but the bottom half of the West looks quite weak. With the Grizzlies' injury-riddled mess facing the Spurs tomorrow, only the Blazers have a chance of being a competitive lower seed in a Western series. If the Clippers, however, demolish Portland, as they very well might, it's only going to make these West series' that much more depressing to get through. But that second round ... oh my.
OKC had the best performance. The Warriors were dominant to be sure, but the Thunder pasted the Mavericks. They held Dallas to 11 points in the first quarter, 33 in the first half, and led by as many as 44 points in the second half. It was a level of destruction you rarely see in a playoff game, especially a 3-6 matchup, and it was a complete statement game.
The Mavericks got the Thunder's best swing, and they absolutely shattered when it connected.
Stephen Curry's ankle is making everyone nervous. As mentioned, Curry "tweaked" his ankle and is questionable for Game 2 vs. Houston. Curry landed awkwardly contesting a James Harden jumper and didn't return for the second half. Any time you hear the word ankle in the same sentence as Curry you get a bad feeling, but he actually has been supremely healthy the last few years and is pretty much over the ankle issues that once threatened to derail his career.
Still, he's human. And this proves just how fragile greatness can be. I don't expect this to be an issue. I think he'll play in Game 2 and generally continue to light all things on fire. But it's something to watch for sure.
Celtics-Hawks was the best game. A back-and-forth affair that saw the Hawks dominate the first half (holding Boston to just four points off turnovers as Atlanta controlled every facet of the game) before the Celtics staged one of their patented bull rushes in the second half. The Celtics scrapped and clawed their way back into it behind Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart, who hit 3-pointers as if this wasn't something to look to the sky for answers about. Smart was 5 of 10 overall and 3 of 6 from deep, and the Celtics will need a lot more of that if they're without Avery Bradley, who appeared to suffer a pretty nasty hamstring injury and could well be out for a while.
In the end, Jeff Teague made the plays to win, but the overall sense is that this series is likely to go to the wire. Boston proved it can take Atlanta's best shot and respond in kind, while Atlanta proved it can shoot badly and still win, something it struggled with last year.
The Raptors still can't win a playoff game. Toronto fell apart again, for the third year in a row with a home Game 1 loss. They blew a lead behind an absolutely atrocious performance from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and the awful, no good, very bad day. pic.twitter.com/lghamr5KvN— Matt Moore CBS (@MattMooreCBS) April 17, 2016
So now they have to try to climb out of a 1-0 hole, which they've failed to do the past two years, and the Pacers are super confident. What kind of emotional state will the Raptors be in for Game 2, let alone the rest of the series?
The Rockets still don't belong in the playoffs. Not only do they fail for large stretches to look like a competent NBA basketball team, but they can't even get along.
even current NBA players watching on TV say they could see signs of the Rockets bickering. Don't they have to solve themselves before Ws?— Michael Wilbon (@RealMikeWilbon) April 16, 2016
Meanwhile, the Warriors continue to embarrass them. The biggest thing you had to take away from Rockets-Warriors Game 1, besides Curry's injury concern, was that the playoffs would be much better with the Jazz in the eighth seed. They would still get blown out by the Warriors, but it wouldn't feel like so much of a joke. Houston is going to need a miracle to win a game in this series.
Your Saturday Playoff Under-The-Radar All-Stars:
Jonas Valanciunas: The Raptors center grabbed 19 rebounds in the loss to Indiana. Yes, many were off his own misses on 4-of-14 shooting, but he was strong in attacking inside and battled for loose balls. His defense was the best of his playoff career and had it not been for foul trouble (several on questionable calls), he might have been the difference for Toronto.
Andre Iguodala: Steve Kerr described the Warriors' anchor thusly: "Andre I thought had a brilliant game. He didn't shoot it well, but this is a typical Andre Iguodala box score. He's plus-23 and he made one shot. There is a lot more to the game than making shots, obviously. His defense was good. He had seven assists. He settled us down."
That's what Iguodala does. He calms the Warriors down. (HT: Zach Harper)
Myles Turner: The rookie center for the Pacers finished in traffic, blocked five shots and played like a veteran, as coach Frank Vogel described. Great debut for Turner who looks like Paul George's Robin for years to come.
Serge Ibaka: 7-of-8 shooting, three blocks and a plus-36 point differential. Ibaka really feasts in this matchup vs. Dallas.
Marcus Smart: The Celtics' volatile young defensive guard actually managed to hit shots Saturday to help keep the Celtics within range. This was an arrival party for Smart, and he almost helped steal them a win.
Mike Scott: 14 points in 18 minutes for the Hawks forward. Scott shot 6 of 9 from the field and 2 of 4 from deep. He was a big difference maker.
K.J. McDaniels: Two huge blocks and some athletic plays showed McDaniels as one of the few Rockets who actually gives the effort you want to see at both ends.
Questions for Game 2:
1. Can Boston still score enough without
2. Will the Rockets find a way to use their height advantage to combat Draymond Green inside?
3. Will Boston go to a three-guard lineup at any point, as going smaller seemed like an effective adjustment?
4. Will Toronto trust Patrick Patterson who was phenomenal in Game 1?
5. Will Kyle Lowry ever have a good playoff game? Like, ever?
6. Is there such a thing as a mercy rule for Thunder-Mavs?
7. Will Curry's ankle hold up?