NBA fans were treated to a veritable cornucopia of playoff basketball over the weekend, with eight fantastic Game 1s taking place on Saturday and Sunday. It was a staunch reminder of how different postseason basketball is from the regular season, in terms of quality, intensity and overall drama.
The best part about the playoffs, however, is that the stars come out in full force. There are no more minutes limits or holding back — just my best against your best and let’s see what happens. That was certainly the case on Saturday and Sunday, but while some stars shined, others struggled. Here are the results from every Game 1, along with some winners and losers from the weekend.
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Sunday’s Game 1 results:
- (1) Philadelphia 76ers 125, (8) Washington Wizards 118
- (2) Phoenix Suns 99, (7) Los Angeles Lakers 90
- (5) Atlanta Hawks 107, (4) New York Knicks 105
- (8) Memphis Grizzlies 112, (1) Utah Jazz 109
Saturday’s Game 1 results:
Winner: Trae Young
So much for needing time to get acclimated to playoff basketball. The 22-year-old Young thoroughly dominated the Knicks in his first-ever NBA postseason game to the tune of 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and finished things off with a game-winning floater with less than a second left to silence the packed MSG crowd.
You don’t need to be a professional lip reader to see that Young was emphatically remarking about how quiet the Garden suddenly became after his floater. Afterward, Young said that the Knicks fans had been chanting “F-U” at him (you can listen to the NSFW version here) and that he was wondering where those chants went after his game-winner.
Overall, the Hawks couldn’t have asked for a better playoff debut for their franchise player.
Loser: Julius Randle
Breakout Knicks star Julius Randle averaged 37 points and shot 58 percent from the field in three games against the Hawks this season. In Sunday’s Game 1 loss, Randle scored 15 points and shot 26 percent (6-for-23) from the field. Needless to say, had Randle made just a couple more of those shots then the Knicks could have won the game. It speaks to a larger issue of how much the team depends on Randle for half-court offense, but what playoff team doesn’t heavily rely on its star? Clearly, the Hawks did something to bother Randle more than they did during the regular season, and now it will be Randle’s turn to adjust.
Winner: Alec Burks
The Knicks’ bench had a tremendous Game 1, and that’s largely thanks to Burks. The 29-year-old is on his sixth team in three seasons and had the best playoff moment of his career with a 27-point outburst, 18 of which came in the fourth quarter, in Sunday’s loss to the Hawks.
I designated Burks as New York’s X-factor heading into the series, and he showed why with his deadeye shooting in Game 1, both off the catch and off the dribble. He went 5-for-8 from the field, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line and 6-for-7 from the free throw line as he almost delivered the Knicks a win despite a brutal performance from Randle.
Winner: Devin Booker
Trae Young’s playoff debut might have been slightly better because of the game-winner, but Booker’s was right there with him. The 24-year-old had waited six years to reach the postseason, and he delivered with 34 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to lead the Suns to a Game 1 win over the Lakers.
Booker’s effort was all the more impressive because Chris Paul was severely hampered by a shoulder injury for a large portion of the game. Paul had just four points on 2-for-6 shooting following the injury, leaving Booker — who played 45 minutes — to do the heavy lifting. Any fans who somehow still considered Booker an “empty stats” player lost their last leg to stand on with his brilliant playoff debut.
Loser: Anthony Davis
Davis has been spectacular in the playoffs throughout his career, but he put up a real clunker on Sunday with 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting against the Suns. After the game, Davis acknowledged his disappointing performance, going as far as to take full blame for the loss.
“There’s no way we’re winning a game, let alone a series, with me playing the way I played,” Davis said. “So this one is on me. I take full responsibility for sure. We’ll be better in Game 2.”
Given Davis’ track record, it’s safe to assume he’ll bounce back.
Winner: Montrezl Harrell
Harrell had a solid performance for the Lakers on Sunday, scoring 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting in 15 minutes, but the reason that he made the “winner” list has nothing to do with basketball. During the fourth-quarter dust-up between the Lakers and Suns following Chris Paul’s foul on LeBron James, Harrell came running in from across the court to defend Alex Caruso, who was getting into it with Cameron Payne.
The speed and aggressiveness with which Harrell bumped into Payne was acknowledged with a technical foul, but it could have been much worse if Harrell wasn’t smart enough — and quick enough — to catch Payne and prevent him from hitting the floor. We know the NBA is all about optics, and if Payne would have gone tumbling to the hardwood, it’s quite possible that Harrell could have been ejected and maybe even suspended. TV cameras appeared to catch Payne discussing this exact scenario with his teammates during the ensuing timeout, miming that he was ready to flop to the floor before Harrell caught him.
It’s not a major thing, but the Lakers will need every option they can get against the Suns, so Harrell avoiding further punishment by catching Payne could prove important.
Loser: Jazz 3-point shooting
Utah led the NBA in 3-pointers made and attempted this season, and the biggest fear heading into the playoffs was what would happen if the shots didn’t fall. Well, we found out on Sunday — and it wasn’t pretty. The Jazz went 12-for-47 (25.5 percent) from the 3-point line in the Game 1 loss to Memphis, a far cry from the 38.9 percent they shot during the regular season. Here’s a breakdown of Utah’s 3-point shooters on Sunday:
- Bojan Bogdanovic: 4-for-11
- Mike Conley: 3-for-11
- Jordan Clarkson: 0-for-8
- Joe Ingles: 3-for-7
- Georges Niang: 1-for-6
- Royce O’Neale: 1-for-3
- Miye Oni: 0-for-1
Woof. The off night was exacerbated by the fact that they didn’t have Donovan Mitchell, the most adept Utah player at breaking down the defense off the dribble to create offense. This is the modern NBA and shooters are going to have nights like this, but the Jazz can take pride in the fact that they only lost by three points despite their horrid shooting.
Winners: Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant
The Grizzlies showed the NBA world just how tough and talented they are in Sunday’s Game 1 upset win over the top-seeded Jazz, and they were led by incredible performances from Brooks and Morant — both making their playoff debuts. Brooks carried the offense for the majority of the game, scoring 29 points in the first three quarters on 12-for-22 shooting and setting a franchise record for points in a playoff debut.
He only scored two points in the fourth quarter, but that’s when Morant took over, putting up 10 of his 26 points in the final frame. The second-year point guard came up with clutch bucket after clutch bucket to help stave off Utah’s furious comeback attempt.
Memphis is the youngest team to make the NBA playoffs since the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook-James Harden Thunder, and they showed absolutely no fear against the league’s best team behind huge performances from Morant and Brooks. We’ve got ourselves a series.
Winner: Tobias Harris
Joel Embiid only played 10 minutes in the first half of the 76ers’ Game 1 win over the Wizards due to foul trouble, and they could have been in real trouble were it not for the heroics of Tobias Harris. The Sixers forward put up 28 points in the first half alone on 12-for-19 shooting, en route to a playoff career-high 37 points for the game.
Embiid avoided fouls in the second half and wound up with 30 points, but the 76ers could have dug themselves into a large hole were it not for Harris keeping them afloat in the first half.
Winner: Nets Big Three
Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined to go 11-for-32 from the field in the first half against the Celtics, and the Nets trailed by six heading into the locker room. Then the league’s newest Big Three proved how quickly they can turn things around, going 15-for-26 while outscoring the Celtics by 17 in the second half to cruise to a Game 1 win.
The Nets’ stars also deserve credit on defense, particularly Durant and Harden, who combined for four steals and a block in the second half to help stifle the Celtics attack. It was just a glimpse of how dangerous this team can be when all three of those guys are clicking.
Loser: Celtics offense
The Nets averaged 118.6 points per game during the regular season. If you hold them to 104 points, as the Celtics did on Saturday, you HAVE to win that game. Instead the Celtics only mustered 93 points, and missed a valuable chance to steal a game from Brooklyn on a subpar offensive night. The Nets played good defense, but ultimately Boston was just unable to make shots — Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum combined to go 11-for-36 from the field. Holding the Nets under 110 points is probably not going to happen often during this series, so the Celtics might be kicking themselves for going ice-cold in the second half and letting this one get away.
The Boston Celtics have taken part in a hell of a lot of playoff games, so when you put your name in the franchise record books it’s a pretty incredible accomplishment. Williams blocked nine shots in the series opener against the Nets, setting a new Celtics record for a playoff game.
He wound up one rebound and one block short of a triple-double with 11 points and nine rebounds to go with the blocks, and did all of this in just 22 minutes. I listed Williams as the Celtics’ X-factor heading into this series, and he certainly showed what he’s capable of in Game 1.
31 points. 11 assists. 10 rebounds. Plus a Game 1 win over a team some are calling the title favorite. Not bad for a 22-year-old. It was Doncic’s third triple-double in seven career postseason games.
Doncic was plus-19 in his 41 minutes, and the Mavericks scored an absurd 130.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor on Saturday. The Clippers are going to have their hands full in this series.
Oh boy, the Kristaps hate sure was flowing on Saturday evening. The 7-foot-3 center scored 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting, including 1-for-5 from 3-point range while pulling down just four rebounds. He even drew some ire from Dallas sports legend Dez Bryant after a deep 3-point attempt barely caught a piece of the backboard in a two-point game in the fourth quarter.
As great as Doncic was in Game 1, the Mavs are going to need Porzingis to play better if they’re going to upset the Clippers in the first round.
Loser: Clippers in the clutch
After last postseason’s repeated, embarrassing fourth-quarter meltdowns against the Nuggets, you’d imagine the Clippers would want to start this playoff run with a strong clutch performance. Well, that didn’t happen. In fact, they were downright awful, being outscored 18-5 in the last six minutes of the game. If you’re counting at home, that’s a clutch net rating of minus-121.4, and a clutch offensive rating of 28.6. Kawhi Leonard scored just three points in the fourth quarter on 1-for-4 shooting. Yikes.
Among the teams with the league’s top 12 records during the regular season, the Clippers had by far the worst clutch net rating, so this isn’t exactly a new problem. They’ll need to clean it up quickly, especially against a player like Luka Doncic.
It’s easy to identify a player as a “winner” when he quite literally wins the game for his team. Middleton was the main source of offense for the Bucks on Saturday with 27 points, six rebounds and six assists, and he buried the Heat with an incredibly difficult game-winning fadeaway jumper with less than a second remaining in overtime.
Because of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s limitations in the half-court, Middleton has become the Bucks’ go-to scorer down the stretch of games, and has a history of coming up clutch. Coming off of a five-game loss to the Heat last postseason, this was a huge win for the Bucks’ confidence moving forward, and it may not have happened without Middleton’s heroics.
Yes, he made a tremendous play to get the game to overtime, but Butler went 4-for-22 from the field, including 2-for-9 from 3-point range. Considering they were one Khris Middleton jump shot away from double overtime, just a couple more made buckets from Jimmy Buckets could have given the Heat a Game 1 win. For what it’s worth, Butler didn’t seem too concerned after the game.
“You miss shots. You’ve got days like that. That’s OK. The whole thing is you’ve just gotta bounce back, figure out ways how you can be better,” Butler said. “We will continue to take the ones that we missed, because they will fall.”
Due to Denver’s injury issues, many feel that the No. 6 Blazers have a good shot at a first-round upset. It certainly helps when Damian Lillard plays the way he did in Game 1. Lillard put up 34 points and 13 assists on 5-for-12 3-point shooting as the Blazers pulled away in the second half for a convincing win on Saturday to steal home-court advantage from the Nuggets.
Lillard had three subpar scoring efforts against Denver during the regular season, but he made up for that quickly despite hounding defense from Facu Campazzo all night long. Nikola Jokic will probably win MVP, but his supporting cast just won’t be enough to keep up with Portland if Lillard continues to play like this.