This weekend was peppered with Game 1’s, as all eight first round series tipped off. They didn’t disappoint, and basketball fans are left with good reason to believe this playoff season could be an all-timer.
There were a couple upsets and a few more that came close. Here are my takes on which underdogs are for real and which favorites don’t actually have much to worry about.
Favorite: Boston Celtics (0-1)
Underdog: Chicago Bulls (1-0)
Isaiah Thomas played with a heavy heart in an opening loss at the hands of Chicago. I’m unsure if Boston retrieved an entire rebound all night, and any offense revolving around anyone other than IT seemed hopeless. The Celtics have a lot of really good role players, but only IT can snatch the reins offensively. When facing a defense with Butler, Rondo, and Portis, that can be an issue.
I’d be much more comfortable had the Celtics found a way to win the game. Chicago threw their best punch, and actually ran away with the game in the final minute or so. The offensive emergence of Bobby Portis is a huge red flag for Brad Stevens, as Portis is usually no more than an afterthought on that end.
Boston will need IT to step up BIG in this series if the Celtics are going to move on, and I don’t think they thought that was necessarily the case before it started. I’m not NOT worried if I’m Boston, but I’m not in a full-fledged panic, either.
Boston Panic Meter: 5/10
Favorite: Cleveland Cavaliers (1-0)
Underdog: Indiana Pacers (0-1)
The bad news for Indiana is that PG13 played out of his mind on Saturday, and they still lost. The good news is Cleveland’s defense looks incapable from stopping a Tony Bennett UVA offense. More bad news is that Indiana appears to have never defended a pick-and-roll, ever. More good news is as of this morning, Paul George is still a Pacer.
PG is capable of willing this Pacer team to a victory or two in this series, but not stealing game one when it was there for the taking is a gut-punch. I’d be surprised to see Cleveland sweep, but would be stunned if Indiana took 4 of the next 6.
Cleveland Panic Meter: 2/10
Favorite: Toronto Raptors (0-1)
Underdog: Milwaukee Bucks (1-0)
Playoff Kyle Lowry is BACK! Which is bad news for Raptors fans because, well, Lowry is kinda ass in the playoffs. He scored four points on Saturday, which, if you’re keeping track at home, isn’t a lot. Aside from the first quarter, DeRozan was again an offensive black hole (stop me, please, if you’ve heard that before). The Bucks have a ton of defenders who can force DeRozan into tough looks – they’re built perfectly to stifle Toronto’s attack. At one point in the 4th quarter, the Raptors had made 3 field goals in the second half. That’s it! Three!
For Toronto to win 4 of the next 6, they need Lowry and/or DeRozan to be the best player on the floor. Unfortunately for Canada, Giannis plays for Milwaukee, and he was far scarier than either of the Toronto tandem.
Home teams generally fare well after dropping Game 1, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Toronto catch fire from the field and knot the series at one… But back in Milwaukee? I think they got too many dudes for Toronto. The Raptors should panic.
Toronto Panic Meter: 9/10
Favorite: Washington Wizards (1-0)
Underdog: Atlanta Hawks (0-1)
After Sunday’s Game 1, Paul Millsap came out and complained that the Wizards were doing MMA and not basketball, or something along those lines. Boohoo, Paul! Washington is physical and John Wall has somehow mastered the art of simultaneously existing as a Picasso with the rock and a bull in a china shop. A true contradiction. That Washington backcourt punches you in the mouth, QUICKLY, and then with the Polish Hammer protecting the rim? Forget about it.
Atlanta won’t get swept – Washington relies fairly heavily on Beal’s success from beyond, and I anticipate him going cold for a game or two. But Washington is in no real trouble.
Washington Panic Meter: 3/10
Favorite: Golden State Warriors (1-0)
Underdog: Portland Trail Blazers (0-1)
The Blazers threw their best punch on Sunday and lost by 12. McCollum and Lillard had huge first halves, but Kerr adjusted, and flushed the perimeter in the second half, daring the Portland screeners to beat them off pops and rolls. Spoiler: they could not.
Without Nurkic, Portland lacks a third wheel. Their role players simply aren’t good enough to compete offensively. For the Dubs, it’s merely a matter of slowing down Dame and CJ – which is possible when the other three Blazers are non-threats.
If Dame and CJ simultaneously go bananas at home, maybe they’ll steal a game. That’s it, though.
Golden State Panic Meter: -6/10
Favorite: San Antonio Spurs (1-0)
Underdog: Memphis Grizzlies (0-1)
Yeah, it’s not happening, Memphis.
San Antonio Panic Meter: -9/10
Favorite: Houston Rockets (1-0)
Underdog: Oklahoma City Thunder (0-1)
Sunday night, Harden sort of just asserted his dominance over Russ… So did Pat Beverley, for that matter. That can’t happen if you’re Westbrook.
Houston is better, but Westbrook has a knack for finding wins where there don’t appear to be any. He won’t be as bad as he was a Sunday night again, but can he string together 4 supernova games out of 6? I doubt it, but damn, it’s Russell Westbrook, and I’m not in the business of doubting that man. Neither should Houston.
Houston Panic Meter: 4/10
Favorite: Los Angeles Clippers (0-1)
Underdog: Utah Jazz (1-0)
Rudy Gobert hurt his knee on the first play and proceeded to vanish into the locker room for the next 48 minutes. Oh, and the Clippers still lost.
In the fourth quarter, quite simply, Chris Paul needs more help. Griffin cannot continue to disappear in final stanzas, and JJ Redick can’t allow Joe Ingles to take him completely out of the contest. It was essentially the CP3 show for the Clippers. As a basketball fan, I’m not complaining, but against a team who defends and executes as well as Utah, it’s not going to work.
Beyond Utah just being supremely coached, they received huge contributions from Jeff Withey and Joe Johnson who both filled HUGE roles. Hayward didn’t play a great game, and obviously Gobert was out, and they STILL stole game 1 at the Staples Center. Color me damn impressed.
The Clippers shouldn’t just be worried, they should be absolutely freaking the hell out. If Gobert returns at some point? The Clips are cooked. As it stands now, they might be cooked already.
Clippers Panic Meter: 10/10 (I guess that’s nothing new, though, for Clips fans)