What did we learn after game 1 in the NBA Playoffs?
The first weekend of NBA playoff basketball is done and dusted. In a wild second day, some stars came to play. Others have a lot of work to do. Let’s have a closer look.
Paul George: Playoff P
What a truly awful nickname that Paul George gave to himself. Still, George looked every bit the superstar the Thunder thought they traded Victor Oladipo for. PG13 (jeez, that’s an even worse self-given nickname) rained threes with ease, finishing the night 8-ll from distance including 5 for 8 on pull-ups.There was very little Utah could do to stop a guy this unconscious:
George finished with 36 points, 7 rebounds and several instigations. Joe Ingles was the source of much of George’s fury, perhaps the unlikeliest arch-enemy in league history:
Paul George hits a couple 3’s.
Like a true gentleman, he welcomes Joe Ingles to the Playoffs in Oklahoma City. pic.twitter.com/NUeOiqE7Qo
— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) April 15, 2018
George was a hound on the defensive-end, too. Ingles and the rest of the Jazz’s perimeter players found nothing easy as George fought over screens and enveloped every bit of space on the floor with his length and mobility.
Playing under the weight of expectations hasn’t been easy. The Superteam moniker is a tough one to live up to. The last few months have been tumultuous for the Thunder, and George has been the source of most of the criticism. He couldn’t buy a basket from the all-star break on.
The Thunder have a lot riding on this series. Fail to make significant progress and George might walk to greener pastures in the off-season. In many ways, it’s out of the team’s hands. If George continues to play like a top 15-type guy, Oklahoma can push anyone. If he doesn’t, the team will probably flame out.
Thunder supporters have claimed the team’s top-heavy core makes them more dangerous in the postseason than on a night-to-night basis in the regular season. That was certainly true in game one.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Defenseless
I love Karl-Anthony Towns. The guy is the most-skilled big-man in the league on the offensive end. He cares. I don’t want to pile-on.
Still, KAT played one of the most atrocious defensive games I’ve seen on the big stage in a while. A giraffe on rollerskates with a concussion could’ve performed better. At least three times on the night (maybe more, I blacked out from the pain sometime in the third-quarter), Towns allowed Clint Capela out on the break to rampage for dunks, lay-ups and free-throws.
Watch Capela stuff Derrick Rose at the basket, turn and STILL beat Towns the other end for an easy oop from Harden:
The Rockets were prepared to exploit him. KAT has an awful habit of going for offensive boards he has no chance of grabbing, instead of getting back on defense. He looked slow, failed to box-out and dithered on Harden’s forays to the hoop.
With the Rockets uncharacteristically cold from three (and Chris Paul struggling for much of the night), Capela’s big night helped buoy Houston’s offense. Though Jimmy Butler’s head-scratching hero-ball three-pointer will absorb the bulk of the blame, KAT’s defense may have cost the Timberwolves a golden opportunity to steal one on the road.
Hero ball and Strange Finishes
Just a few hours after Khris Middleton hit a barely believable three to send Bucks-Celtics into overtime, a 35-footer with less than a second left on the clock, Jimmy Butler thought he’d try something just as daring. It…didn’t go so well:
I’m lost for words. Forget the shot was monstrously difficult for a guy who averaged a hair over 30 percent a game on pull-up threes in the regular season. Forget Jeff Teague standing wide-open. Forget the fact that he’d missed a similarly ill-advised shot at the end of regulation against the Nuggets on the last night of the season. It all doesn’t matter, because his DAMN FOOT WAS ON THE LINE AND IT WOULDN’T HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE ANYWAY.
Actually, forget KAT’s defense. This was just the worst.
Pacers: We Believe?
The Pacers shocked the NBA on Sunday, taking game one in a blow-out. I’m just going to put this one out there: This Pacers’ team has more than a shade of the “We Believe” Warriors to them. For the uninformed:
The 2007 Warriors entered the playoffs as the eighth seed and massive underdogs. Squaring off against the 67-win Dallas Mavericks and league-MVP Dirk Nowitzki, the Warriors weren’t given a snowballs-chance-in-hell of pulling off the upset. They should have been. The Warriors swept the regular-season series. The Dubs combination of early small-ball shooting, pace and athleticism presented a very real match-up problem for the Mavericks and their star.
The NBA should’ve seen it coming. But of course, not many people outside of the bay were actually watching the Warriors. Just like these Pacers.
The similarities don’t end there. This Pacers team is tough, well-coached and likeable. Victor Oladipo might actually be quicker end-to-end than prime-Baron Davis. Darren Collison didn’t shoot the ball well, but his and Oladipo’s explosion caused all kinds of problems for Kevin Love, Jeff Green and the Cavs’ frontcourt:
Give Oladipo that much room to attack and he’ll smoke even the best defender. Love doesn’t stand a chance. Compounding the problem is the Cavs’ lack of rim-protection. Even if/when the LeBrons turn things around on offense, those defensive problems aren’t going anywhere.
The Pacers aren’t going to beat themselves. They committed the fewest turnovers of any team in game one. The Cavs, for all of LeBron’s individual brilliance, just haven’t been consistent all year.
The Pacers even have madcap characters in Stephen Jackson-Matt Barnes mould. How many players get so amped-up by a play they assault arena-equipment?
The Cavs shot just 8-34 on threes, a number which seems fairly unsustainable. This could be a classic game 1 overreaction. Still, the King and his men have been given something to think about.
You can follow Paul Headley on twitter here. Also be sure to subscribe to the Wraparound NBA podcast, the latest episode with James Herbert covers the first two days of the playoffs in detail.
All stats courtesy of NBA stats and info.