On Saturday afternoon, 16 teams began their quest for an NBA championship. The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers got the playoff action started with a close victory over the Indiana Pacers. After that, we saw the potential Most Improved Player of the Year candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo help his team steal Game 1 on the road. Finally, we also saw the Jazz play spoiler in the Staples Center and Golden State Warriors showing that the road to the NBA Finals goes through them.
Here are five other takeaways from the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs which highlight some of the great play that occurred on the hardwood.
1. The Milwaukee Bucks are not phased by the playoff spotlight – The Bucks ended the regular season, going 5-5 in their last 10 games to finish with a record of 43-40 and solidified themselves as the sixth seed. As the sixth seed, they would have the tough task of playing the Toronto Raptors, the third seed, who took the Cavaliers to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
However, the Raptors are not good in Game 1’s historically as they had a record of 1-10 heading into Saturday’s game. The Bucks — led by Giannis Antetokounmpo — turned that record to 1-11 as they defeated Toronto 97-83. The veteran, older Raptors could not stop nor contain the young Bucks as their goal was to push the pace.
They did exactly that as they forced the Raptors into 10 turnovers and held them to 7-of-35 shooting in the second half. Antetokounmpo, who I mentioned earlier, had a great game scoring 28 points on 13-of-18 shooting from the field, to go along with eight rebounds and three assists. He posed a matchup problem for Toronto as they had no answer for him. The “Greek Freak” also had an offensive rating of 130 and defensive rating of 99.
The Raptors now head into Game 2 with their backs to the wall because they cannot afford to lose another game at home. However, if DeMarre Carroll or P.J. Tucker cannot slow down Antetokounmpo, the Bucks could easily steal Game 2.
2. Do not sleep on Iso-Joe – Many folks may have forgotten that Joe Johnson is still in the league. Yes, the 35-year old is still kicking it with the upstart Utah Jazz, who are back in the NBA playoffs. Nevertheless, who would ever think that “Iso-Joe” or “J.J. the Shooter” would be a huge factor in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers? Not many. But that is what happened as Johnson came off the bench giving the Jazz a boost with the injury to center Rudy Gobert 17 seconds into the game.
Johnson scored 21 points, including shooting an efficient 9-of-14 from the field and 3-of-4 from three-point range. However, Johnson’s biggest points came in the waning moments of the game. With 13.1 seconds left in the game and the score tied at 95-95, Iso-Joe did what he does best which is go one-on-one and took Jamal Crawford to the basket for a tough, game-winning layup.
Johnson’s heroics helped the Jazz steal home court and puts the pressure on the Clippers to win Game 2.
3. John Wall is a walking human highlight film – A healthy John Wall is always a great thing not only for Washington Wizards fans but for NBA fans. On Sunday afternoon, NBA fans got a treat as Wall put on an all-around clinic as he posted a double-double, consisting of 32 points and 14 assists leading the Wizards to an 114-107 Game 1 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Wall had a great offensive game, setting up his teammates with dynamic passes and then pushing the pace for tough layups. He also got the job done on defense, making a LeBron-esque chase down block in the first quarter on Hawks point guard Dennis Schröder.
If you do not believe me, just watch the highlights from the game. You will be stunned by some of the passes from Wall and his athleticism.
4. The Golden State Warriors are still on another level – Also on Sunday afternoon, the Warriors made their 2017 NBA playoffs debut as they are looking to make amends for losing Game 7 in the NBA Finals last season to the Cavaliers. If there were any doubts about this Warriors’ team in regards, they were silenced in Game 1 against the eighth seed Portland Trailblazers.
Despite the Trailblazers’ backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 75 points, the Warriors were able to overcome that tremendous effort to win comfortably 121-109. Kevin Durant led the way with 32 points on 12-20 shooting from the field and 10 rebounds, while Curry erupted for 29 points and knocked down a few three-pointers at clutch moments of the game.
Draymond Green was also a factor in this game on both sides of the ball as he had two ridiculous blocks at the rim and contributed 19 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists. The blocks from Green were impressive as he met both Noah Vonleh and Damian Lillard at the summit and stood tall.
Nevertheless, if the Warriors are able to withstand this blitz from the Blazers’ two players and still win comfortably. It spells bad news for other teams in the NBA playoffs.
5. The Bulls, somehow, some way, upset the Celtics – It’s been a long time since an eighth seed upset the first seed in the playoffs. Matter of fact, the last time it happened was in 2012 when the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Bulls in six games. Could the 2016-17 Bulls be on the right side of history this time around?
They are on the right track as on Sunday night, Chicago pulled the upset on Boston in Game 1 winning 108-102. The Bulls won this game, first and foremost by dominating the glass. Chicago outrebounded Boston 53-36 but did not shoot better than Celtics.
However, that did not matter as Jimmy Butler went off in the fourth quarter scoring 15 points, as he finished the game with 30 and nine rebounds. The Celtics also did not have an answer for big man Bobby Portis off the bench, who scored 19 points on an efficient 8-of-10 from the field and 3-of-4 from three-point range. He also had nine rebounds.
Finally, although the Celtics lost Game 1 there is no need to panic in Beantown as Isaiah Thomas had a hell of a game scoring 30 points and playing with a heavy heart due to his little sister passing away on Saturday night.
All the C’s have to do in Game 2 is win the rebounding battle and they will give themselves a chance to at least split, before heading to Chicago for Game 3.