The opening weekend of the NBA playoffs was definitely not a good omen for an exciting postseason. The home team won all eight games, and after Saturday’s first two contests were decided by a total of nine points, the remaining six over the next 27 hours were decided by an average of 19.8.
The last time a road team failed to win a Game 1 in the first round? The especially horrific 2004 playoffs, which featured a total of 39 games in the opening round – just seven above the minimum. That postseason was known for the star-less Pistons winning the title, an Eastern Conference finals series that never saw anyone score more than 85 points and a 36-46 Celtics team that started Jiri Welsch, Walter McCarty, Mark Blount and Chucky Atkins. So this iteration has a lot to live up to.
Rather than doing a straight preview of the remaining four series we didn’t cover Saturday – that would be silly! – let’s take a look back and a look ahead.
4.) No. 2 New York vs. No. 7 Boston
The good: Game 1 was close throughout, with the final score – an 82-75 New York victory – also serving as the Knicks’ largest lead. Boston was ahead for some chunks of this one, and actually led by seven late in the third quarter before scoring a total of eight points in the final 13:20.
The bad: The Celtics had 20 turnovers and got four points from their bench, including zero in 30 combined minutes from Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford. Crawford actually didn’t attempt a shot in his nearly 11 minutes of action, which is thought to be a first in his basketball existence. Another lifeless performance from Terry and Crawford will cause this reaction from Celtics fans.
What’s next: Carmelo Anthony had 36 points in the opener but the Knicks got three total points from 60 percent of their starting lineup (the Chris Copeland, Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert troika). Doc Rivers needs to decide if he wants to risk sending an extra defender at ‘Melo, but that’s a risky strategy considering the Knicks will happily take advantage to find the open man and add to their NBA-record total of 3-point attempts. I wouldn’t consider Game 2 a must-win for Boston necessarily, since it’ll have a pretty sizable home-court advantage in games 3 and 4, but the Celtics certainly need to show they’re capable of playing better half-court offense. Getting some offensive rebounds would help. In three games against the Knicks since Rajon Rondo went down, New York has outscored Boston 51-24 on second-chance points.
3.) No. 1 Oklahoma City vs. No. 8 Houston
The good: This never figured to be a particularly lengthy series because of the talent and experience disparities between the two teams, but it at least seemed like it’d be entertaining for the five or so games we’d see. The Rockets played well for most of the first half on Sunday, bouncing back from an early 13-2 deficit to wind up even at 40 midway through the second quarter. They were down 50-45 with two minutes left in the half but allowed Oklahoma City to score the next 10 points, and that was that.
The bad: The Rockets got little from anyone other than James Harden, and even Harden missed 13 of his 19 shots and only got to the free-throw line seven times. Oklahoma City shot 60 percent after the first quarter, and Houston simply doesn’t have the perimeter defenders to contain dribble penetration against Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson or your neighbor’s son on his tricycle.
What’s next: The Rockets and Thunder have played four games this season. In three losses, Houston was 8 for 21, 8 for 30 and 8 for 36 from 3-point range. In the win, it was 15 for 33. The Rockets’ strategy isn’t going to change. They’re going to continue to want Harden to get into the paint, get to the line and/or kick it to Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Carlos Delfino for corner 3s. It’ll work at some point, but probably not until game 3 or 4 in Houston. The Thunder can yawn their way through this series without much of a sweat.
2.) No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Memphis
The good: When the Clippers are rolling – and that means Chris Paul dictating offensively, Jamal Crawford creating off the dribble, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan controlling the glass and getting putback points and Eric Bledsoe disrupting opposing guards on the perimeter – they’re pretty tough to beat. Paul, Crawford and Bledsoe were at their best in Game 1, and Bledsoe even added 17 points – 7 for 7 from the field – six rebounds and four assists in 17 minutes. Throw in the ghost of Chauncey Billups scoring 14 points and Matt Barnes and Caron Butler combining for 23 and this game wasn’t close.
The bad: Pretty much everything Memphis did, but most notably Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combining for six boards as the Grizzlies were outrebounded 47-23. That obviously can’t happen again, but Bledsoe’s wildly productive game and every Clippers perimeter player contributing double digits won’t happen again either.
What’s next: Though I thought this would be a 7-game series from the outset, it strikes me as the rare matchup where home-court isn’t that essential. The Clippers proved that last year when they beat Memphis on the road in Game 7 of the first round, and they won at FedEx Forum twice this season while the Grizzlies won at Staples Center once. For that reason, Monday’s Game 2 is monumental to Memphis. It can’t go home and feel confident that it’s getting a sweep in games 3 and 4, and if it plays anything like it did Saturday it might not have any confidence left. Gasol and Randolph simply have to outperform Griffin and Jordan for Memphis to win and Mike Conley needs to at least not get embarrassed by Paul. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, Conley has only made a third of his shots in five games against the Clippers this season. This team is not built to overcome early deficits, and Jerryd Bayless isn’t going to score 19 points in every game.
1.) No. 3 Denver vs. No. 6 Golden State
The good: This was the best game of the weekend by far, with Stephen Curry’s ridiculous fall-away 3-pointer to tie the score with 14 seconds left getting trumped by a 126-year-old Andre Miller blowing past Draymond Green for the game-winning layup. With Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson needing to check Ty Lawson, this series is set up for Miller to dominate, and he had a game-high 28 points in Game 1. On the plus side for the Warriors, they hung tough despite shooting only 41 percent and had a 55-45 edge on the glass. On the minus side …
The bad: David Lee suffered a torn hip flexor and is done for the playoffs. So there goes much of that rebounding edge. Not bad enough, you say? Denver rebounding machine Kenneth Faried, who missed Game 1 with an ankle injury, is getting better and could play in Game 2. So one elite rebounder out for Golden State, one in for Denver and still zero idea how to deal with the savvy Miller.
What’s next: Mark Jackson will make sure Miller doesn’t turn his half-court defense into the Washington Generals in Game 2 but it’ll come at a cost: Ty Lawson might be due for a 30-point, 9-assist performance. Golden State doesn’t defend on a level good enough to keep up with Denver – or usually the UConn women’s basketball team – so it’s going to have to exploit the Nuggets in transition and from behind the 3-point line. This is a series where it’s entirely conceivable the home team never loses, so another defeat in Game 2 doesn’t mean Golden State should panic. But having to play Festus Ezili and Green more with Lee out might be a good reason to start waving the white flag.