What to make of opening weekend
It was a busy opening weekend of the NBA playoffs. Our experts have it all covered. Let's debate!
1. What was the most pleasant surprise of the opening weekend?
Jared Dubin, Hardwood Paroxysm: Just average defensively this season, the Knicks won most of their games on the strength of a top-3 offense that didn't show up in Game 1. That they were able to jump out to a 1-0 lead on the Celtics by winning an ugly, half-court game with a fantastic defensive effort in the second half was indeed a pleasant surprise. The Knicks held Boston to just eight fourth-quarter points while forcing eight turnovers in the frame.
D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: Brooklyn's offense. Watching Brooklyn lay waste to Chicago's vaunted defense was stunning, but the Nets have been quietly great offensively for quite some time now. The Nets rank third in offensive efficiency over the past 20 games, mainly because Deron Williams is scoring at an elite level. That said, no one saw this drubbing coming.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: The Clippers look like contenders. Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph wrestled to a draw, but the Clippers collectively looked sharp and focused in Game 1. Chris Paul, in particular, was dynamite, and the Clippers' muscular, athletic performance suggests they could really threaten the Thunder should they meet in Round 2. Jerry Stackhouse nailing his rendition of the national anthem before Game 1 in Brooklyn is a close second.
Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball: Andre Miller. Denver's point guard has been more venerable than electric for several years already, but his performance on Saturday was one of the most fun efforts this season. Twenty-eight points on 11-of-16 shooting and a game-winning layup is more than enough to snag this honor.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Warriors World: It looked like Andre Miller was schooling young Draymond Green on that game-winning layup. But really, Miller was shaking Father Time himself. Miller seized the playoff stage and delivered what might be the best postseason game ever by a middle-aged man, moving at 2 mph. We are all witnesses to a 37-year-old point guard with no All-Star track record scoring 28 points in 27 minutes of court time. Incredible.
2. What was the biggest disappointment of the opening weekend?
Dubin: It took David Lee eight NBA seasons to finally make the playoffs ... and then he went down with a devastating hip flexor tear in his first game. Just a brutally sad turn of events.
Foster: David Lee going down for the season. What many thought would be the first round's most competitive series lived up to the billing, but losing Lee for the playoffs to a torn right hip flexor puts the feistiest underdog at an even bigger disadvantage. Lee may be a defensive sieve, but Golden State will miss him dearly as a catalyst offensively.
Mason: Injuries to Joakim Noah and David Lee. Brook Lopez rode roughshod over the Bulls' interior defense with Noah hobbled for his 13 minutes of court time. Lee's hip injury devastates an already thin Warriors frontcourt rotation. Two potentially fascinating series that many picked to go seven games became far less competitive.
Nowell: The Memphis Grizzlies. Last time these two met it was the Clippers who came back from the dead to make the series interesting, but after their performance this weekend, the Griz find themselves in need of defibrillation. Not one of their starters found a rhythm in Game 1, and leaning on Jerryd Bayless does not a champion make.
Strauss: The first round in general is a disappointment in the early going. No Rajon Rondo, no Derrick Rose, no Kobe, and chalk ruled the weekend. I hate to be negative, but Sunday was an NBA playoffs entertainment nadir as the four games were decided by a combined 81 points. I already miss watching the Kings on League Pass. OK, not quite, but I'd love for the playoffs to start in more than technicality.
3. Who was the most valuable player of the playoffs' opening weekend?
Dubin: LeBron James. He scored 27 points on only 11 shots to go with 10 rebounds and eight assists. He had the game in the palm of his hand, as has been the case for most of this magnificent season. The lefty dunk he threw down in the third quarter was just mean.
Foster: Andre Miller. I'll gladly eat some crow here. I thought this would be a young man's series and that Miller's lack of speed would be exposed, but it turns out the old man's game preys on inexperience. Miller's ability to get into the paint at will and take over the fourth quarter was truly a sight to see.
Mason: Andre Miller. I started to write Carmelo Anthony, but Miller not only dropped 20 points and four assists in the second half, he gets style points for hitting the winning shot. The best performance in the best game of the weekend.
Nowell: LeBron was the best player, but that's old news, so I'll say Paul George. Indy's young cornerstone ran 44 minutes and uncorked his second career triple-double by bullying his way to 18 free throws. He powered a blowout in one of the weekend's most eye-opening team and individual performances.
Strauss: LeBron James is always the most valuable player unless something has gone terribly wrong for him. Nobody was surprised when he shot 81 percent against Milwaukee while adding 10 boards and eight assists. It's just another game for James, whose consistent brilliance is either transfixing or boring by now, depending on your perspective.
4. Which outcome of the playoffs' opening weekend was most telling?
Dubin: The Lakers didn't seriously challenge the Spurs, even in a game in which San Antonio shot about as poorly (37.6 percent) as it's ever going to shoot. Los Angeles was riding a narrative wave, and San Antonio looked banged up coming into the postseason, so many predicted a long series. But if Game 1 is any indication, the Spurs could get things over with quickly.
Foster: The Knicks over the Celtics. It's not just that Boston scored 25 points in the second half -- it's the way it happened. The Knicks were able to switch all screens defensively, but the resulting "mismatches" yielded very few positive results for the Celtics. Paul Pierce is the only capable isolation player on the roster, and that should spell doom for the C's sooner rather than later.
Mason: The Spurs dispatch the Lakers despite their own mediocre performance. Kobe Bryant tweeted, "This game has a 'steal one' written all over it for us" as the Spurs struggled to find the basket early on. Yet the Lakers could never create consistent offense of their own, and it's hard to imagine them scoring against San Antonio's third-ranked defense well enough to keep pace for an entire game.
Nowell: Having shown the Pacers some love, I'll point to the Lakers, who got monster double-doubles from Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol but still failed to be competitive. Sunday showed it's going to take more than just inspired play from its two best players for L.A. to keep pace with San Antonio, and this series looks as short as the seeds might indicate.
Strauss: OKC's demolition of Houston was a telling reminder that reality doesn't always love our precious playoff narratives. Would it be entertaining to see James Harden unleash a maestro performance in a victory over his old team? Sure, but Harden's old team is just too good. Again, this first round has gotten off to a rather boring start.
5. Who most needs to step it up going forward?
Dubin: Mike Conley. His numbers -- 12 points, five assists -- don't look terrible, but he got worked over by Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe on both ends Saturday night. As Memphis' only true off-the-dribble threat, Conley needs to be able to get in the lane and create opportunities for himself and his teammates. His defense also needs to be better at the point of attack.
Foster: Marc Gasol. Memphis most likely has to win the possession battle to win this series, but that won't come via turnovers with Chris Paul on the floor. That leaves the onus to Gasol on the glass, but he collected just two rebounds in 41 minutes in the series opener. That simply can't happen again.
Mason: Kevin Garnett. The 18-year veteran bears a heavy load on defense, but Boston is going to lose this series quickly if Garnett can't help more on offense. Whether it was knocking down jumpers or turning over his right shoulder, Garnett was a go-to threat for the Celtics in playoffs past. He'll need to rediscover those performances to push this series past five games.
Nowell: Larry Drew. The Hawks' coach relegated Al Horford to the bench like the Hawks were playing on a Tuesday in February. Atlanta hardly has championship aspirations, but its exit will be a dull and quick one if its best player is active for less than 30 minutes.
Strauss: Stephen Curry's team desperately needs him right now. David Lee is out for the playoffs with a torn hip flexor, and the Warriors are cooked if they lose Game 2. Curry had a bad Game 1, and a repeat performance all but ensures a Warriors defeat. He will be the focal point of Golden State's offense and the focus of George Karl's hounding defense. No pressure, Steph.
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