Orlando thought they were ready — they were a confident team coming off two playoff sweeps, their offense was clicking.
Then reality hit hard — Boston’s defense was overwhelming at the start of Game 1 for Orlando. Long arms and quick feet were everywhere. The Magic were coming off a long layoff, and there just is no way in practice to simulate what Boston does. The Celtics were up 7-1 in the blink of an eye. They led by 10 in the first quarter, as Orlando struggled to adjust. The lead got up to 15 and stayed in double digits for much of the second quarter.
The Magic adjusted — or Boston got sloppy, or some combination thereof, chose your own narrative — and almost came back to win. But that was an uphill climb.
The Lakers come into these finals confident group. They come in playing their best basketball this season, with Kobe Bryant on fire.
But they also come in off playing the defensively-challenged Phoenix Suns, who got some notoriety with their zone because it cut the Lakers shooting from an insane 58 percent in the first two games down to a just very good 50 percent in the next couple games. Before that, the Lakers played the undersized and outmanned Utah Jazz.
Could the Lakers be unprepared for the reality of the Celtics defense? Could the Celtics race off to an early lead and again hang on to steal Game 1 on the road.
Yes. Yes, they could.
You hear college football players say it all the time — you can see a team on film but the reality of their speed/size/strength doesn’t hit you until the ball is snapped. The Celtics defense is that way.
The Lakers know what is coming. They know there will be ball pressure on Kobe and others will have to step up, that ball movement is key. They have faced this defense before. But there is no way to replicate the Celtics speed, length and anticipation in practice. And coming off two soft defensive series, the Lakers have seen nothing like the Boston reality since a couple games in Oklahoma City (the Thunder are long and quick and pretty disciplined on defense).
Nothing is certain or easily predictable in this series. But don’t be shocked if the Celtics are up after a quarter against the Lakers. They bring a different reality to Staples Center than anyone before them.
Any controversy over C.J. McCollum‘s suspension for the season-opener should be put to rest. The Trail Blazers fared fine without him.
More than fine.
Portland beat the Suns, 124-76, Wednesday. The 48-point margin is the largest ever in a season opener, even as the Trail Blazers let a 58-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle.
Here are the most lopsided season-openers in NBA history (openers for both teams appearing twice):
The 48-point defeat is also the Suns’ worst lost in franchise history, topping a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1988. It could be a long year in Phoenix.
Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova thrive on aggravating opponents, so when matched up, of course they aggravated each other.
Deduct points from Smart for pulling the hold-me-back charade behind a referee. Plus, Dellavedova’s Bucks beat Smart’s Celtics, 108-100.
The Nets’ projected record this season came under greater scrutiny when the Celtics traded Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade. After finishing third-to-last and last the previous two years, were the Nets poised to take a step forward, or would they convey a very high pick to the Cavs?
Jeremy Lin, who missed 46 games last season, getting healthy was a reason for optimism in Brooklyn and pessimism in Cleveland. But it appears the veteran guard could be out a while.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Billy Reinhardt of Nets Daily:
If the injury is as bad as feared, what a bummer for Lin. He came to Brooklyn expecting to play a leading role on a developing team, and he just can’t stay healthy.
The Nets were probably more focused on developing their younger players, but – especially without their own draft picks – there was no harm in shooting for the playoffs. This appears to a blow to that (already unlikely) dream.
It’s a boon to the Cavaliers, though. And whenever something significantly affects LeBron James‘ team, it has ramifications into the entire power dynamic of the Eastern Conference. For an injury to a player on a team most expect to be bad, the medical developments here will be tracked closely around the league.
Remember when Aaron Gordon was a promising fun player?
The Magic sidetracked him by playing him at small forward most of last season. But back at power forward, Gordon showed how he could push the pace as a four in Orlando’s season-opening win over the Heat.
There’s obviously flair in passing to yourself off the backboard, but it’s a sound way to improve position. Gordon did that to fantastic effect.