The NBA playoffs lived up to the hype through the opening weekend, with some great duels, some upsets, and just as everyone expected a Rui Hachimura explosion.
Here are our takeaways from the first eight games of the NBA playoffs.
• Adam Silver forgot to turn injuries off before the NBA playoffs started.
• The most devastating of those injuries could be the bruised back of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are saying the right things and talking “next man up,” but if this lingers beyond this first round (assuming the Bucks get out of it) it changes things at the top of the East. We’ll have to see where he is Wednesday and beyond.
Giannis with a scary fall 😳
Fortunately, he's ok 🙏 pic.twitter.com/QaShNkKoUi
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 16, 2023
• It’s a sound strategy against the Lakers: Don’t let LeBron James or Anthony Davis beat you. Make anyone else do it. For example, if Rui Hachimura wants to shoot 3-pointers, you let him, he was hitting 29.6% from beyond the arc since joining the Lakers.
Hachimura said “Bring it” and in the second half he was 5-of-5 from 3 on his way to a team-high 29 points. Here is what Desmond Bane said postgame, via Damichael Cole at the Memphis Commercial Appeal:
“That was our game plan going in,” Bane said. ” Make him hit shots, and he did. Tip your cap. That’s probably the best game he’s had in his career. Seven-game series, let’s see if he can do it again on Wednesday.”
That is the right way to approach this, make Hachimura beat you again, he has not been that consistent over his career. However, Memphis also might want to do a better job on closeouts against him.
• The other key to the Lakers’ win — something that is repeatable and we have seen increasingly since the All-Star break — is Austin Reaves as the secondary playmaker the Lakers needed behind LeBron James. And, for the closing stretch of this game (when the Lakers dominated), Reaves was the primary shot-creator for the Lakers. Reaves absolutely can do this again as he continues to play himself into a bigger and bigger contract for next season.
• Of course, what really matters in that series is the health of Ja Morant — the Grizzlies were in a back-and-forth game down four with 5:48 left when he re-injured his hand and left the game. The Grizzlies lost by 16. That’s not a coincidence. The teams play again Wednesday.
• Kawhi Leonard is insanely good at basketball. Sometimes that gets forgotten in discussing him as the poster child for load management. Sunday was a reminder of why the Clippers do that — a rested and fresh Leonard can play with anyone, and they need that in the playoffs. (Especially in this first round, without Paul George.)
KAWHI WENT OFF ‼️
Clippers win a thrilling Game 1 in Phoenix. pic.twitter.com/G1rQPOOjHe
— NBA (@NBA) April 17, 2023
• Great stat from Clippers must follow/read Justin Russo: Since KD arrived in the Valley of the Sun the team has taken 40% of its shots from between the restricted area and the 3-point arc (essentially mid-rangers, not a shock on a team with Durant/Booker/Chris Paul). In Game 1, that was 70%, and while the Suns shot well on them (49%) the Clippers are good with that shot profile. Also, the Suns’ percentage of attempts from 3 fell from 32% since Durant arrived to 23% in Game 1.
Put more simply: the Clippers’ best chance of winning this series is to win the battle from 3. Los Angeles did that by 12 points in Game 1.
• It also helps when Leonard outduels Kevin Durant. Not sure how sustainable that is.
• That game also sums up the Russell Westbrook experience with the Clippers — 3-of-17 shooting, they can’t count on him to consistently carry the offense, but since switching L.A. teams he has found ways to make plays and influence games.
Clippers take the 1-0 series lead. https://t.co/H1WB3kBKAa pic.twitter.com/s2UvAWQP0i
— NBA (@NBA) April 17, 2023
• This is why nobody wanted to play the Heat in the first round.
• But Miami losing one of its two quality playmakers in Tyler Herro is a huge blow. That puts more on Jimmy Butler‘s plate, and the Heat need Kyle Lowry (or Gabe Vincent, or Victor Oladipo, or someone) to step up.
• It’s been said a million times but it can’t be said enough: Jalen Brunson is worth every penny.
• Was Josh Hart the second-best pickup in the league at the trade deadline? (We’re still giving the top spot to that Durant guy.) He’s the perfect Tom Thibodeau player, which showed in the Knicks’ Game 1 win.
• Are we all done sleeping on the Kings?
• This is how a dangerous team answers a challenge. A Stephen Curry 3 fading into the corner is the kind of dagger shot the Warriors thrive on, but the Kings just ran their offense and Fox walked into a 3 of his own at the other end.
STEPH AND FOX TRADE THREES 💰 pic.twitter.com/JNSxqK1FJ8
— ESPN (@espn) April 16, 2023
• We’ve had evidence for 82 games these are not the same Warriors. That playoff muscle memory better kick in on Monday because if the Warriors are down 0-2…
• The Warriors did a good job holding Domantas Sabonis in check, and blowing up the Kings’ dangerous dribble-handoff game. Sabonis shot 61% from the floor this season but was 5-of-17 in Game 1 with twice as many turnovers (four) as assists (two). It will be interesting to see the adjustments Mike Brown and the Kings bring to Game 2.
• Don’t expect another huge Malik Monk outing, he has been hot and cold all season long in Sacramento. Also don’t expect Keegan Murray and Kevin Huerter, to shoot 0-of-8 from 3 again.
• James Harden looked slowed the last couple of weeks of the regular season coming off that hamstring injury, and while his raw numbers looked good in the opener against the Nets — 23 points and 13 assists — he was missing two-pointers (1-of-8). He did hit seven 3-pointers, he wasn’t terrible, but if/when the Sixers play the Celtics in the next round, Harden can’t just be good enough, he has to be elite. He has to be better than this.