Well, that was a fun, interesting opening weekend of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, wasn’t it?
Aside from the last two games on Sunday night, which were both blowouts, Game 1 of the playoffs was full of intrigue around the bracket. Upsets, home-court advantage not being home-court advantage, scores from the mid ’90s. You name it, and the first weekend had it.
So, here are the five biggest takeaways from Saturday and Sunday.
5. Experience Matters
The San Antonio Spurs are the trendy “upset” pick in these playoffs, as they came into the postseason as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and they are battling the No. 2-seed Denver Nuggets in the first round.
Honestly, there was nothing really surprising about the Spurs’ Game 1 win over the Nuggets in the Mile High City on Saturday night, as the young Denver squad simply did not look ready for the moment while the veteran San Antonio team looked entirely comfortable.
The Nuggets shot just 42 percent from the floor and 21.4 percent from three-point range, while the Spurs shot a much more respectable 48.2 percent and made seven of their 15 long-distance tries.
Perhaps Denver will be a bit better in Game 2, but there is a reason why a lot of people are picking San Antonio to win this series.
The Nuggets didn’t exactly have the greatest second half of the season, their defense has some holes and they aren’t a great perimeter shooting team, so they are actually very hard to take seriously as a 2-seed.
Experience is on the Spurs’ side, and they showed that in Game 1.
4. The Celtics are Really, Really Good Defensively
The Boston Celtics only scored 84 points in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, and yet, they won by double figures. How, you ask? Well, they allowed just 74 points, holding the Pacers to a 29-spot in the second half.
Yes, it was an Indiana team missing Victor Oladipo, but that was still an incredibly impressive defensive outing for a Celtics team that has made defense its calling card for years now.
Boston held the Pacers to just 33.3 percent shooting, with Indiana going just 6-of-27 from three-point range. Oh, and keep in mind that this came with the C’s missing their best defensive player in Marcus Smart.
The Celtics actually trailed by double digits in the first half and went into the locker room down 45-38 at the end of the second quarter, but they began the second half on a 32-8 run and led by as many as 20 points in the final frame.
Of course, Boston is going to need to play a heck of a lot better offensively the rest of the way, but if it can maintain this level of defensive intensity throughout the playoffs, Brad Stevens’ club is never going to be out of a game.
3. The Thunder Still Can’t Shoot
Shooting has been a big issue for the Oklahoma City Thunder all year long, as they finished the 2018-19 regular season ranked just 23rd in three-point shooting percentage.
On Sunday, they lived up to that identity and then some, shooting a miserable 5-of-33 from beyond the arc in a five-point loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
This is kind of a good-news, bad-news situation.
The good news is that the Thunder really couldn’t have shot any worse from downtown, and yet they only lost by five. The bad news is that Oklahoma City doesn’t have many shooters to begin with, so it’s entirely possible that this could be the theme of the series.
If OKC can’t put together some semblance of a perimeter game in this series, it is going to be in big trouble against a Portland team that is inferior in terms of overall talent, but has a heck of a lot more shooting.
2. The Magic are Still Hot
The Orlando Magic have been one of the best teams in the league since late January and it carried over into their Game 1 matchup against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, as they staved off a Raptors rally for a 104-101 win.
And you know what the most intriguing part of that victory for the Magic was? Nikola Vucevic scored just 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting.
If you would have told me before Game 1 that Vucevic would post that kind of stat-line, I would have assumed that the Raptors would win the game by 15-20 points, but that’s not what happened.
Now, I will say that there are a couple of things that don’t seem sustainable here.
First of all, the Magic went 14-of-29 from beyond the arc in Game 1, and while it is not impossible they do that again in Game 2, it doesn’t seem all that likely. Second, Kyle Lowry scored zero points. Zero. While I understand that Lowry has had his fair share of playoff struggles, it seems fairly safe to say that he will score more than nothing in Game 2.
Regardless, Orlando showed in Game 1 that it is a threat in this series and that Toronto should not take the Magic lightly.
1. The 76ers are in Big Trouble
There were plethora of reasons why, but the standout factor right now is the health of Joel Embiid.
Embiid was listed as questionable for Game 1 due to a sore knee. He played, but he was clearly hobbled, and late in the first half, he left early to go to the locker room with his knee wrapped.
This was an issue that plagued Embiid throughout the entire second half of the season, and, to be perfectly honest, Philadelphia did a rather poor job of managing it, as the Sixers allowed their All-Star center to play through it for a few weeks before deciding to give him some rest.
The 76ers’ entire playoff hopes are pinned on their starting lineup, as they have one of the worst benches in the league and have absolutely no depth up front at all.
If Embiid remains this compromised for the rest of this series, Philly may be going home a heck of a lot earlier than anyone thought.