NBA playoffs Day 1: Rough start for home teams
Masai Ujiri threw out the ceremonial first expletive just prior to the start of the NBA playoffs on Saturday. The F-bomb was a perfect way to start a postseason the swears to be entertaining. Heck, Blake Griffin even tossed a cup of water on a Golden State Warriors fan.
NETS 94, RAPTORS 87
Nets lead series 1-0
Takeaway: So apparently the time machine Mikhail Prokhorov paid to invent is working. Paul Pierce wore the cape for Brooklyn late in the fourth quarter to take Game 1, channeling those old Celtics runs. The Nets’ most-discussed edge entering the series was experience, and it proved the difference. Late in the game, Brooklyn had all the wisdom while Toronto lacked poise. Toronto settled for bad looks and was far too generous in turning the ball over. The Raptors got nothing from DeMar DeRozan in his playoff debut (3-of-13 shooting), and the Raptors stand no chance if their All-Star doesn’t get it going.
Star review: Pierce is going to inspire a lot of 36-year-olds in their rec-league games this weekend. The Nets gave up plenty this offseason for exactly what the future Hall of Famer delivered. If he continues to produce late in close games, Brooklyn is going to be tough to beat.
Looking ahead: Game 2 at Toronto, Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET
Look for Toronto to utilize more of its dangerous dual point guard set, since Brooklyn couldn’t keep Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez from breaking down the center of the defense. The Nets cheated in shifting their defense at DeRozan, but these two guards can get him loose.
WARRIORS 109, CLIPPERS 105
Warriors lead series 1-0
Takeaway: The Warriors discovered a fortuitous strategy to answer the absence of starting center Andrew Bogut: It’s much easier to deal with Blake Griffin when he’s sitting. The Clippers superstar fouled out and played just 19 minutes, which was key in allowing the Warriors to take advantage of a smaller lineup. Even with Andre Iguodala fouling out after just 20 minutes, the Warriors still won the rebound battle while getting offensive advantage from a lineup with David Lee at center and either Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green at the 4. The offense stretched out the Clippers defense, and by putting bigger guard Klay Thompson in the extended post to draw doubles, Lee moved free on cuts. Repeating that smaller lineup’s success may not work for the Warriors going forward, though, if Griffin isn’t in foul trouble.
Star review: The Clippers have to be happy with the job they did on Stephen Curry, never giving way to one of his brazen runs of three-pointers and limiting him to 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting and 2-of-6 from behind the arc. Curry will get loose eventually though, and he may need to for the Warriors to win three more.
Looking ahead: Game 2 at Los Angeles, Monday at 10:30 p.m. ET
The dynamic shooting of these two teams took stage for only stretches in Game 1, only when whistles weren’t stopping play every other possession. When the game does get more of a flow, expect to see both Chris Paul and Curry take over a bit more.
HAWKS 101, PACERS 93
Hawks lead series 1-0
Takeaway: The nightmare continues into the postseason. Remember, there used to be a time when Indy’s defense could mask its offensive woes, but the freefall began when the Pacers couldn’t get stops. That was the story for Game 1, as Indy shot 15-of-41 in the second half but without a defense to respond. Atlanta spread the Pacers and made them pay with 11 three-pointers. The bigger picture reveals a still freefalling Pacers team that Frank Vogel has obviously lost. Game 1 is a clear sign the Hawks can definitely win the series — which somehow isn’t a surprise considering it’s a top seed vs. a losing record.
Star review: Roy Hibbert is the punchline in this joke of collapse of the Pacers. He finished with eight points, eight rebounds and zero blocks in Game 1, which aren’t too different from his regular-season numbers but are much different from his 17-point and 9.9-rebound averages last postseason. Paul George handled his business for the most part, but Hibbert needs to find himself if the Pacers hope to escape the first round.
Looking ahead: Game 2 at Indiana, Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET
How’s this for a reward for six months of hard work? The Pacers fight for a No. 1 seed and then drop the first game against the No. 8 seed. All that effort, and just like that a below-.500 team has stolen away homecourt. As bad as the Pacers have been, though, it’s hard to imagine the league’s best home team will drop both games 1 and 2. Expect the Pacers to bounce back.
THUNDER 100, GRIZZLIES 86
Takeaway: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are already in high gear. The league’s best scoring duo bolted out of the gates in a race toward a finals return. We knew heading into this series that the lugs of Memphis, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, can bully the middle. And that they did, leading Memphis to a 50-36 advantage in the paint. But bulls struggle to keep up with thoroughbreds in the open, and the difference was the Thunder’s 32 fast-break points. Don’t confuse this with a power vs. finesse series, though, as Serge Ibaka torments opponents inside, and he had four of OKC’s 10 blocks. Remember, the Thunder were a top-five defensive team in the regular season. Memphis did cut a 22-point halftime deficit to just two points with its tormenting, slow-it-down style in the third quarter. If the Grizzlies can control that pace for even two to three quarters, that’s how they’ll beat the Thunder. Of course, slowing the league’s best scorer is easier said than done.
Star review: Durant understands what’s at stake. The narrative has shifted, and no longer is Durant playing with house money. Expectations are high, and this is the season he needs to make a push to win a championship. So far, so good. He kept to his usual extraterrestrial numbers, tallying 33 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Looking ahead: Game 2 at Oklahoma City, Monday at 8 p.m. ET
Oklahoma City was the only home team to win on Day 1 of the NBA playoffs. But Game 2 is going to be just as important for the Thunder, as splitting at home won’t provide much comfort before going to Memphis, where the Grizzlies have won 14 straight.