5 Lessons Learned from the NBA Playoffs' Opening Weekend
The NBA Playoffs kicked off this weekend in fairly boring fashion. The games were close enough to keep viewers hoping for upsets and exciting endings, but -- with the exception of Portland – never produced any last-second heroics. Seven of the eight games ended with home team wins.
Interestingly enough, a few of the games ended up telling us everything we need to know about that particular series.
Five things we learned from the opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs:
1. The two number one seeds have nothing to worry about.
Ignore the naysayers, the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers made huge statements to start the playoffs.
Their message: Who are our round two opponents going to be?
On Sunday afternoon, the Lakers showed why they picked Ron Artest over Trevor Ariza last summer. Artest was a bull. He pushed Kevin Durant around, he bullied him, and he gave the youngster his first real taste of playoff basketball in a way only he could. As the game continued, Durant became visibly frustrated with Artest’s suffocating defense. When all was said and done, the young swingman ended up missing 17 of his 24 field goals.
The final score was misleading. The Oklahoma City Thunder never had a chance against the Lakers. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum brutally outplayed the Thunder’s front court, putting up 19 points/13 rebounds and 13 points/12 rebounds, respectively. Kobe Bryant came back from missing the last four out five games of the season with 21 points, and Derek Fisher added 11.
The Thunder’s advantage at point guard -- Russell Westbrook being speedier than Fisher -- never translated past empty numbers.
The Cavaliers were equally dominant on Saturday with a 96-83 victory over the Chicago Bulls. Coming out gunning in the first quarter, the Cavs established a good lead over the Bulls and never looked back. LeBron James put up a fairly modest statline by his standards with 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Antwan Jamison added 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Shaquille O’Neal put up 12 points in 24 minutes.
Despite a stellar 28 point, 10 assist, and 7 rebound performance from Derrick Rose, the Bulls were simply outplayed by a better team. The Cavs had far more size and far more depth than their opponents, and they utilized both to ensure that the Bulls never got close in the first game of the first round series.
It may take four games or it may take seven games, but one way or another, both the Lakers and Cavs will be in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
2. Kevin Garnett is passionate when the Boston Celtics are winning, and stupid when they are losing.
Two years ago when the Boston Celtics won their 17th NBA title, Kevin Garnett’s attitude was admirable. He was passionate. He was fiery. He was inspirational.
Now that the Celtics are losing, he’s a bully. He’s overly-emotional. He’s stupid.
The tide changes quickly in professional sports.
Yesterday, the league suspended Garnett for Game 2 of the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat first round series.
At the end of game one, Celtics forward Paul Pierce collapsed onto the floor with a shoulder injury. With a smirk, the Heat’s Quentin Richardson came over and had some words for Pierce. Garnett, thinking Richardson was taunting his teammate, pushed Richardson away. A tense scuffle followed and Garnett ended up elbowing Richardson in the head.
Garnett clearly deserved the punishment he got. However, it’s interesting that his passionate style of play is now his biggest weakness, considering a mere two years ago, it was his biggest strength.
3. The San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks are done.
The dynasty that used to be the San Antonio Spurs ended three seasons ago. Now with every passing playoff series, we are reminded of how old and out-of-it they look.
As Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki put up 36 points on 12 of 14 shooting, it didn’t appear to click in the Spurs’ minds that they may want to send more defenders at him.
Despite a close score throughout the game, the Mavs simply had too many weapons for the Spurs to contain. Caron Butler had 22 points and 6 rebounds in his Mavs playoff debut, and Jason Kidd added 13 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds.
The Spurs were outrebounded by eight and gave up 13 offensive rebounds. They had 17 turnovers, leading to 20 Dallas points.
The “Fear theDeer ” movement died when Andrew Bogut went down with an injury before the start of the playoffs. Despite an amazing effort from rookie Brandon Jennings, who scored a team-high 34 points, the Milwaukee Bucks were never in the hunt to win the first game of their series.
All five Atlanta Hawks starters scored in double figures, as did the frontrunner for the 6th man of the year award, Jamal Crawford. Joe Johnson led the way with 22 points, and forward Josh Smith chipped in with a 12 point and 10 rebound effort.
Much like the Lakers and Cavs, the Hawks can start looking ahead to their second round match-up.
4. The Phoenix-Portland series has the two most underrated point guards in the league.
It is hard to sell a two-time league Most Valuable Player as being underrated, but that is exactly what Steve Nash is. The Phoenix Suns point guard has gone his whole career with excuses being made for why he is as good as he is. First he played with a ton of talent in Dallas. Then, when he really started to prosper in Phoenix, it was the system he played in. And, of course, there was the one legitimate criticism he could never shake: never been to the NBA Finals.
Still, as he carried the Suns on back during a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, you had to respect Nash’s effort.. He he put up 25 points and 9 assists but missed a potential game-tying three pointer with less than 10 seconds remaining.
Like Nash, Andre Miller has always been an underrated point guard. A journeyman of sorts for his whole career, Miller has brought stability and maturity to every franchise he has ever played for.
Against the Suns, Miller continued doing what he has been known for his entire career. When the timely pass needed to be made, he made it. When the team needed a three-point bucket, he provided it. A timely stop by forcing an offensive foul? No problem.
Miller’s statline read: 31 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds.
However, despite Miller’s amazing play….
5. The Portland Trail Blazers will not beat the Phoenix Suns in a seven game series.
The Phoenix Suns played poorly yesterday. At times, it felt like the Portland Trail Blazers were trying to give the game back to them.
The Suns shot just 42 percent, and were 9 of 24 in the final quarter, including 3 of 13 on three point baskets. Grant Hill and Jason Richardson ended up going 4 for 21 for the Suns, and Jared Dudley only hit 1 of his 5 three point attempts.
The Blazers, meanwhile, were barely able to take advantage of the Suns’ horrible shooting performance. Repeatedly missing crunch-time shots and free throws Portland was lucky to win.Certainly, the Blazers provided a conversation topic for a fairly mundane NBA opening weekend after being the only away team to win a game. However, don’t expect the Suns to shoot this poorly for the entire series. The Suns were the hottest team at the end of the regular season, and they’ll be back.