The first round of the NBA playoffs is pretty much in the books, so let’s wrap up everything that happened and what we learned:
Heat defeat the Bucks 4-1
In one of the most stunning first round upsets in history, the eight seed Heat (though to be honest, they’re sort of the seventh seed) knocked off the Milwaukee Bucks, the one seed and owner of the best record in the NBA. Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was hindered by a back injury after falling in Game 1, and Heat superstar Jimmy Butler went full supernova, leading to a quick Miami victory.
Antetokounmpo only played in two full games in the series, and even when he took the court, looked like a shell of himself. Milwaukee, which struggles on offense at times with Antetokounmpo at full strength, looked completely out of sorts whenever they had the ball. I think Antetokounmpo playing in a limited capacity threw a wrench into the already shaky Bucks offense. This happening at the same time as Butler channeled his inner Michael Jordan ended up being terrible luck for Milwaukee.
Celtics defeat the Hawks 4-2
The only series I watched less of than this one was Philly-Brooklyn. The Hawks had no chance here. Boston is too talented, too big, and too experienced. I’m honestly surprised Atlanta pushed it to five games, let alone six. The Hawks will definitely be looking at their roster this offseason, because they need some upgrades to vault into a contender. I don’t think they can be a true championship team with Trae Young as their number one option.
Sixers defeat the Nets 4-0
This was easily the least interesting series to me. The Nets stayed scrappy after the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving trades, but really had no chance to defeat Philadelphia. Mikal Bridges got a taste of what it’s like to be the lead option on a team in the playoffs is probably the best takeaway from this postseason for Brooklyn. More importantly for the Sixers, Joel Embiid is dealing with a sprained knee after this series. Philly will need him against Boston in the next round.
Knicks defeat the Cavaliers 4-1
The universe seems to be on a mission to cause me the most Jalen Brunson adjacent pain possible. The Knicks are on to the second round for the first time since 2013, and it’s in no small part thanks to Brunson. He averaged 24 points per game against Cleveland, as well as 4.8 assists. The Knicks face off against the Heat next, which seems like a toss up unless Butler remains scorching hot and continues to score almost 40 points per game.
Nuggets defeat the Timberwolves 4-1
Nikola Jokic remains amazing to watch on the offensive end, and is truly one of the most special players the NBA has seen this generation. He just needs a special playoff run, and it’s set up for him this year. The Nuggets took care of business against Minnesota, with Jokic absolutely torching Rudy Gobert in the post. They’ll take on the Suns next, and it’ll be interesting to see how Denver defends all of the Suns’ potent offensive weapons.
Lakers defeat Grizzlies 4-2
If you come at the king, you best not miss. Wise words from The Wire’s Omar Little, and apparently a saying Dillon Brooks is unfamiliar with. Before the series started, Brooks seemed to relish the chance to take on LeBron James and the Lakers, calling James old. A couple weeks later, Brooks has nothing to say, choosing not to speak with media after several games. The Lakers will go on to a huge matchup in the second round, no matter who they face. Speaking of which...
Warriors and Kings, tied 3-3
The best series of the first round is of course the only one going all seven games. The Warriors have shown why they’ve won so many championships in the last decade, and the Kings have proven that they belong. The Warriors will have to win their second game in Sacramento, a tough task for one of the worst road teams in the NBA this season. But it would be hard to pick against them.
Suns defeat the Clippers 4-1
This was shaping up to be an all-time fun series in the first round, but got derailed by Kawhi Leonard’s knee injury. How many times have we said something similar about the Clippers? It’ll be interesting to see how the Suns use Durant against the Nuggets, because so much of this series they treated him as the world’s most talented floor spacer.
The Clippers were content to stay locked on Devin Booker and Durant, and let Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton work in the middle of the floor. Paul showed he still has plenty of juice left in the tank, and Ayton played well enough to make them pay. Early on, there was some criticism about the Suns playing so much through Paul instead of Durant and Booker, but I think that’s better than having Paul off ball, where defenses were content to help off him due to his struggling 3-point shot this season. This way, the Clippers had to actively guard him. It’ll be interesting to see the chess match between the Suns and Nuggets in regard to that.
The Mavericks need more playmakers
The Dallas Mavericks already know this. We know this. The rest of the NBA knows this. But all the teams that advanced in the playoffs have multiple players on the court at all times that can put the ball on the floor and make a play off the dribble. They were at their best last season with Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, and Spencer Dinwiddie on the floor. They into this year missing that third player, and failed to fill that role all season. They’ll need to make it a priority this summer.