Now that one of the most memorable regular seasons in NBA history is over (already?), it’s time for the postseason. It’s a two-month slog that’s too long and too short at the same time. But if the excitement of the first two days lasts throughout the whole playoffs, no one will be complaining. Here’s a recap of the first weekend of action.
The Cavs Still Have Work To Do
Cleveland 109, Indiana 108
Cleveland put themselves in the unenviable position of facing Paul George in the first round, and had to do it in the first game of the playoffs. With all eyes on them, LeBron and Co. nearly lost a game in the first round for the first time since 2012. Not that it would be too big of a deal, but Saturday was an opportunity for the Cavs to show that their regular seasons struggles were over.
That didn’t happen. As before, the struggles were largely self-inflicted. The defense continued to struggle, and they missed 13 free throws and a number of gimmes near the rim. George didn’t score in the 4th quarter until the final minutes, but Indiana still had a shot to win at the buzzer:
— Charlie (@charlieblr) April 15, 2017
That was a genius defensive move to get George to give the ball up to CJ Miles (though he wanted it back), and they may need a few more of those to escape this series unscathed.
Also notable: THE RETURN OF PLAYOFF LANCE STEPHENSON!
Raptors Gonna Raptor
Milwaukee 97, Toronto 83
Once again, Toronto crapped the bed on their home floor in Round 1. Whether it’s against Brooklyn, Washington, Indiana or Milwaukee, the Raps just can’t win their first game of the playoffs. Four times in a row is definitely a pattern, and the Bucks are as dangerous as any of those previous first round opponents.
Giannis Antetokounmpo anchors a long and rangy defense that suffocated Toronto. Kyle Lowry scored 4 points on 18% shooting. The Raptors defense only forced 5 turnovers from a young team with little playoff experience. They should be better than this. There’s plenty of time in the series, but the warning signs are back and as bright as ever.
San Antonio 111, Memphis 82
Despite being up 13 points in the first quarter, the Grizzlies eventually came to terms with just how outmatched they are with San Antonio. Again. They were swept last year playing with basically seven healthy players, so they looked to have a puncher’s chance with a mostly full roster here. Then Tony Allen got hurt, and Memphis’s best shot of containing Kawhi Leonard was gone.
The first quarter displayed just how much fight the Grizz will show, as if there was ever a doubt. Their individual offensive matchups can work in their favor; Mike Conley won’t play that poorly the whole series. When he has a good game and the Spurs have an off shooting night, Memphis can steal a game. Let’s hope so.
Clippers Gonna Clipper
Utah 97, Los Angeles 95
The Jazz are pretty good, but there’s no way the Clippers could lose to them in spectacular fashion, right?
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 16, 2017
Okay, well at least nobody saw that coming, right?
when iso joe isos pic.twitter.com/STdeVoNyN6
— ☕netw3rk (@netw3rk) April 16, 2017
But they kept their composure about the whole thing, I’m sure…
Doc Rivers goes off when he's asked if he considered running the clock down for the final shot down two pic.twitter.com/IGs09Hm4RZ
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 16, 2017
Hoo boy, this series might be better than we could have hoped. If only Rudy Gobert hadn’t gotten hurt in literally the first possession of the series. An MRI apparently didn’t show serious damage; let’s hope he can make a return.
John Wall Is Pretty Good
Washington 114, Atlanta 107
In a noon Central matinee between four and five seeds that could have been forgotten, Wall decided to put on a show. His 32 points and 14 assists pushed Washington through a sluggish start and Bradley Beal missing nine threes.
— NBA (@NBA) April 16, 2017
Atlanta still has a strong enough defense that forced many of those missed threes, but the offense just isn’t what it used to be. According to the internet, the yearly tradition of blaming your problems on Dwight Howard is back in full. Jury’s still out on whether that has merit, but the Wiz scoring 54 points in the paint is something to work on, for sure.
Draymond Green Will Either Destroy You or Himself
Golden State 121, Portland 109
Here’s this game explained by memes:
When you think you can keep up with the Warriors bucket for bucket
— NBA (@NBA) April 17, 2017
When you think you can still salvage a win after Draymond snuffs out your soul
— NBA (@NBA) April 16, 2017
This disregard for his own well-being or anyone else’s or general common sense like “if I try this I could break my back so maybe I shouldn’t” is at once terrifying and inspiring. Best of luck, Blazers.
The MVP Who Doesn’t Know It Yet
Houston 118, Oklahoma City 87
More than likely, Russell Westbrook or James Harden will be the 2017 NBA MVP. The votes are in, so somebody knows who it is. Those two don’t, however, and they have to play each other in a playoff series that will have zero implications for the award. Plus they’re friends. It’s all very awkward.
Even more awkward was the first half of Game 1, where Russ started 2-7 and Harden 4-11. Even more more awkward was Russ ending up with a 22/7/11 on 26% shooting with 9 turnovers and Harden going 37/9/7 on 46% shooting and two turnovers. And the 31 point victory, that was awkward too. There’s just too much offense in Houston and not nearly enough in OKC. The series may not be as fun as we hoped, which isn’t really awkward but it is disappointing. But there is also this:
P&R lob to Capela causes Billy Donovan to tell Mo Cheeks, "Can't play Kanter." pic.twitter.com/4ROFSNpFw6
— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) April 17, 2017
Keep It All in Perspective
Chicago 106, Boston 102
When arguing about the MVP and or watching a playoff game come down to the final moments, it can seem like basketball is the most important thing in the world. We should always keep in mind that it’s not, that it’s not even close to it. But sometimes some things happen that jar us back to that realization, needlessly and unfairly.
Isaiah Thomas’s sister Chyna was killed in a car crash the day before Game 1. He played Sunday, and scored 33 points, and got standing ovations, and it was a touching moment, to be sure. But that’s not the real story, the primary thing.
Family is the primary here. The grief, the pain, that’s the main story. Anything else is secondary.
But it doesn’t mean the secondary things are bad, or unnecessary. Sometimes it’s the exact opposite. They can be a coping mechanism, or a momentary distraction. Things to help deal with and understand the primary thing.
Sometimes that secondary thing is basketball. It seemed to be useful to Thomas last night, and thank goodness something was. Anything that could help him through that unbearable situation is a positive thing. But don’t ever think that the secondary can take the place of or cure the primary.