The NBA Playoffs tipped off over the weekend, and the results of every Game 1 gives us a glimpse of what we can expect in the first round. Here’s what we learned from every NBA Playoff Game 1.
If Klay Thompson keeps shooting like he did on Saturday, the Warriors won’t need Stephen Curry in the first round. He was 11-for-13 from the floor and hit five of six three-point attempts to lead the Warriors. All the Warriors’ starters had positive plus-minuses, though, so Thompson could have an off day and Golden State would still give San Antonio fits.
Dejounte Murray was the only Spurs’ starter with a positive plus-minus on Saturday. In fact, only two Spurs finished with a positive plus-minus. LaMarcus Aldridge was terrible, going five-for-12 from the field for 14 points, and the age of Manu Ginobili (-15) and Tony Parker (-17) showed, especially on defense.
You don’t need to see it to know it -- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s collective reputation precedes them. They struggle in the playoffs, and they struggled in Game 1, especially in the first half. But Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in support, as the Raptors won a Game 1 for the first time in 11 tries.
These new Raptors can win when Lowry and DeRozan struggle shooting because of their new “all hands” offensive approach. They’re seeking the most open shot, regardless of shooter, which is why DeRozan could finish six-for-17 from the floor with 17 points against the Wizards and the Raptors still won Game 1. DeRozan also had six assists, and Lowry added nine, mostly on open three-pointers. The Raptors hit 16 of their 30 three-point attempts.
Ben Simmons was a rebound away from scoring a triple-double in his first playoff game, and the Heat couldn’t contain JJ Redick or Dario Saric on the perimeter. They both went four-of-six from three-point range. Hassan Whiteside was a non-factor, playing 12 minutes. The Heat couldn’t even contain Marco Belinelli or Ersan Ilyasova, a couple of late-season waiver claims. They scored 42 minutes combined. How the Heat became the most popular pick of analysts to score an upset in Round 1 is mind-boggling.
Anthony Davis has picked up his game in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins. He scored 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and scored four blocks, and despite being just +1 on the night, his supporting cast was just good enough for the Pelicans to steal Game 1 in Portland. Nikola Mirotic hit four of his 10 three-point attempts to lead New Orleans in plus-minus (+13), and Jrue Holiday made half of his shots to finish with 21 points (+12).
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard struggled shooting inside the three-point line, going six-for-23 from the field but four-of-nine from three-point range. CJ McCollum didn’t offer much relief, going seven-for-18 from the field despite shooting four-of-10 from three-point range. Davis defended the rim effectively, and the Pelicans made the Blazers win on the perimeter. They didn’t, shooting under 31 percent from beyond the arc.
Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were good enough for Boston to beat Milwaukee in Game 1. And they can be enough to carry the underdog Celtics without Kyrie Irving over the East’s seventh-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who turned the ball over a ton. Horford was huge for Boston in Game 1 and is capable of carrying this team into the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he won’t.
Milwaukee’s defensive adjustments late in Game 1 got them back into the game, and should get them a win in Game 2. They finally started forcing turnovers to make up for the 20 they lost, and although the Bucks lost in overtime, Boston showed its susceptible to losing in front of its home crowd. Once that happens, the Bucks just have to win their home games.
The Indiana Pacers are really good. Victor Oladipo looked like a superstar in Game 1, and Lance Stephenson did what he does when he’s right, holding LeBron James to a -13 plus-minus despite scoring a triple-double with 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Every Pacers’ starter had a plus-minus of at least +14 while James was the only Cavalier starter in double figures.
LeBron James lost a Game 1 in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs for the first time in his career, and it happened on his home court. Even King James might not be able to carry these Cavs into the NBA Finals. Even if it’s not Indiana that eliminates Cleveland, Philadelphia very well could. The Cavs have already lost their home court advantage in Round 1 and won’t likely have one in Round 2.
Paul George scored 36 points and finished the night +3. Russell Westbrook scored 29 points but was -1, and Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points to finish +1. The Thunder pulled away from the Jazz when their bench was on the floor, despite Utah’s bench outscoring the Thunder bench 34-17. Alex Abrines led the Thunder in plus-minus (+14), Jerami Grant was second (+12), Raymond Felton was third (+9), Patrick Patterson was fourth (+6), and Terrance Ferguson tied George for fifth on the team in plus-minus.
Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau might lack an effective offensive strategy, but his defensive strategy against Houston seemed to be “make James Harden beat us.” He did, but it took 44 points and 58-percent shooting, including a seven-of-12 effort from beyond the arc. Harden was simply brilliant, but Houston can’t expect him to keep shooting damn near 60 percent from the floor. Once the Wolves locked down Clint Capela, who had 20 of his 24 points in the first half, the Rockets needed every one of Harden’s points to hold off Minnesota.
Is this the recipe to beat the Rockets? Sunday was the closest the Timberwolves have been to beating Houston all season. They lost all four regular season games against the Rockets -- three by 18 points and the final game by nine points. Harden was +10 in that nine-point victory, scoring 14 of his 34 points from the free throw line. Despite 44 points on Sunday night, the Rockets were just +5 with him on the floor. Had the Wolves gotten anything out of Karl-Anthony Towns, they would have stolen Game 1 in Houston. We’ll see if they can steal Game 2 instead, which would be the biggest surprise of the NBA Playoffs.
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The Minnesota Timberwolves dominated the Cleveland Cavaliers at Target Center on Monday night with local product Tyus Jones starting at point guard in place of the injured Jeff Teague. The Wolves led by as many as 41 points, as Jimmy Butler shut down LeBron James for his seventh straight win against James’s teams. It resulted in James’s worst plus-minus of his career (-39) and lowest-scoring game in a decade. Not a single Cavs starter had a positive plus-minus in the game.
Meanwhile, every Wolves starter finished with a plus-minus over 30, and Jones finished behind only Butler for the game high. While he had just six points in 28 minutes, Jones added eight assists, two steals and only one turnover. On the season, Jones sits behind Karl-Anthony Towns with the 23rd-best real plus-minus in basketball at 3.45. Teague, on the other hand, is 163rd with a real plus-minus of -.29 -- right behind former Timberwolf Kris Dunn. So is Tyus Jones making Jeff Teague expendable?
Over the last 15 games, the Timberwolves have the best offense, best net rating and the eighth-best defense in the league. Teague has missed seven of those games, but prior to going down with an MCL sprain, the Wolves were riding a five-game winning streak.
There’s been a drastic change in the number of points allowed in Teague’s absence, though. The Wolves have allowed more than 100 points just once since Teague’s been out, and that was at Milwaukee in the first game Teague missed. Minnesota is averaging 96.29 points allowed per game over the seven-game stretch without Teague, which is nine points better than their 13th-ranked season average and better than Boston’s league-best 97.6 average points allowed per game this season.
The Wolves are clearly benefiting more from Jones’s defense than Teague’s offense. Teague is a game-time decision on Wednesday when the Wolves host the Thunder, so if he doesn’t play we’ll get a chance to see how Jones fares against one of the best point guards in the world in Russell Westbrook.
Regardless of who plays, Wednesday’s matchup with OKC will be a better test for the Wolves than the Cavs were, and give us all a sense of who would win a potential playoff series between the two. Minnesota would have home-court advantage against the Thunder in the playoffs if the season ended today, and with two wins over OKC already, a win on Wednesday would improve Minnesota’s tiebreaker advantage, too.
Tom Thibodeau has put the Wolves in a tight salary cap situation. ESPN NBA front-office expert Bobby Marks crunched the numbers and found the Wolves will have just $6 million to spend on four roster spots next season if nothing else changes. So dumping Teague’s salary would put the Wolves in a better place financially, but who would take him?
My NBA front-office expert and cousin said he’d work with Phoenix to acquire Tyler Ulis to backup Jones because Towns called Ulis the best passer with whom he’s played. But no acceptable trades between the Wolves and Suns involving Teague has the Wolves improving their win total according to ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine. (Trading Aaron Brooks for Ulis was an acceptable trade that resulted in no change in wins for either team.)
Minnesota’s trade chips are just making too much money, so a third team would likely be required to make a trade of Teague possible. That said, it just doesn’t look like the Timberwolves are in a position to improve the roster through a trade of Teague – at least not at this time.
But if the Bulls intend to shop Nikola Mirotic after Jan. 14, you have to believe Thibodeau would be happy to acquire his services. Mirotic is 14th amongst power forwards in real plus-minus. He’s Taj Gibson’s complete opposite, so when the Wolves struggle on offense, Thibodeau could substitute Mirotic for Gibson to get a bucket. If it takes Teague to get him, so be it, but whether the Bulls would be willing to part with Mirotic for anything but youth and cap space is the real question. The Bulls aren’t that far away from competing now that Zach LaVine is close to returning from injury, and Lauri Markkanen seems to be working out, so don’t be surprised if the Bulls covet a veteran point guard to mentor Dunn.
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