Today is the first day in what feels like forever that we don’t have an NBA Play-In or Playoff game to watch. Even last night’s single game did not feel like enough, but we can take advantage of this day off to take a look back at round one and a look forward at round two.
The first round of the playoffs was filled with comebacks, injuries and comebacks from injuries. The Grizzlies overcame the Timberwolves by coming back from a double digit fourth quarter deficit three different times, including one game in which they trailed by 26 points in both the second and third quarters. The Utah Jazz came from four down in the last minute to beat Dallas in Game 4 on a Rudy Gobert dunk. Toronto put a real scare into the 76ers by turning a 3-0 almost-sweep into a 3-2 nail-biter, which then led to a Joel Embiid orbital fracture late in the fourth quarter of their Game 6 blow-out. Why was he in the game at that point? Presumably because 76ers coach Doc Rivers was a bit gun-shy based on his playoff history of blowing big leads. Perhaps Doc read The Ringer on the flight to Toronto and saw this headline:
While Embiid’s injury didn’t prevent the 76ers from completing the 132-97 blowout of the Raptors, it certainly will affect their upcoming series with the Miami Heat. Other injuries were key stories from round one. Indeed, one morning ESPN included three consecutive injury updates on its main feed.
Of those three injuries, Devin Booker and Luka Doncic were able to come back to help their teams complete first round victories. The Suns might have become the second ever 1st seed upset by an 8th seed without Booker making it back for Game 6 in New Orleans. Of course, Chris Paul’s 14-14 shooting in that game also helped, perhaps erasing the memory of his much less talked about four-point outing (in 35 minutes) in a Game 4 loss to the gritty Pelicans.
The Bucks were able to vanquish the Bulls without a comeback from Khris Middleton — who has also been ruled out for round two. In the Celtics sweep of the Nets, Ben Simmons teased a comeback throughout the series but never set foot on the court — except for rebounding for his team in the pre-game shoot-around. On the opposite coast, the Golden State Warriors were thankful to have two comeback kids — Klay Thompson and Steph Curry — while their opponent was not so lucky with Michael Porter, Jr. and Jamal Murray not making it back from injury.
Despite all the injuries, upsets and comebacks, the first round eventually went chalk, with the higher-seeded team winning each series, so here are my very brief thoughts on each upcoming series:
Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Embiid’s injury probably ruins any chance for the 76ers to win this series, unless 2013 Finals DannyGreen!! makes his own comeback. Actually, the 76ers really need 2013-2018 James Harden to return, not this season’s much slower version who is hoping to get a max contract this summer, which will take him to age 38, in which he will probably weigh 250 pounds. Rooting for the Heat in this one.
Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks
While everyone is focusing on the players in this one, this ex-coach is fascinated by the battle of the coaches, both long-time Spurs assistants. Coach Mike Budenholzer will surely flash his championship ring at Celtic Coach Ime Udoka, who will in turn flash his good looks, stellar defense and (most importantly) his healthier roster. While many talk about the absence of Middleton to match up defensively against Boston’s big wings, the Bucks will miss his shot-making ability just as much. As the Nets showed, this Celtics team is tough to score against even at full strength, so while I am rooting for the Bucks, I wound not bet on it. (Side note: Bucks do-everythng guard Jrue Holiday was just named “Teammate of the Year” by fellow NBA players. Very high praise, and apparently well deserved.)
Phoenix Suns vs. Dallas Mavericks
Two teams at full-strength, with ex-Spur and great all-around guy Monty Williams at the helm of the Suns. With some excellent defenders to match up with Doncic, and a well-rounded squad, the Suns should be able to prevail in this one. The Mavs will learn that being able to score against the Jazz guards and wings does not translate to scoring so easily against Mikal Bridges, CP3, Booker and Jae Crowder, all part of an excellent defensive scheme.
Golden State Warriors vs. Memphis Grizzlies
As with the Celtics-Bucks series, both teams’ coaches have strong Spurs/Gregg Popovich connections. As a result, both teams use their entire roster instead of shortening their rotations for the playoffs. While Memphis surprisingly got home court advantage in this one as the Warriors limped to the finish line, the Warriors’ weak finish occurred largely because Curry was limping with a foot injury. While beating a hobbled Nuggets team was neither surprising or impressive, the way the Warriors did it was. They looked like the early Splash Brothers version, plus an additional Brother. Jordan Poole averaged 21 points per game against Denver on 48% shooting from three The Grizzlies got away with a ton of mistakes against the equally youthful and mistake-prone T’Wolves. I don’t expect the Warriors to make all those mistakes, or to blow big fourth-quarter leads.
Before the start of the play-offs we ran a poll asking who Spurs fans were rooting for. Winners were the Suns in the West and Celtics in the East. Both are still alive, and many are predicting them to meet in the Finals. What do you think?