By Shawn Dennis
After a series of intense play-in games, the first game in each playoff series was pure entertainment.
In the West, the Phoenix Suns play up to their well-deserved two-seed, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers by the grace of Devin Booker’s 34 points, breaking the NBA’s record of most points scored by a player in their playoff debut. The Donovan Mitchell-less Utah Jazz couldn’t fend off the Grizzlies as Dillon Brooks dropped a team leading 31-points as Memphis gets the 112-109 win.
Portland blazed past the Denver Nuggets as the tandem in the backcourt of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard is going to be hard to get past, as Denver is really missing Jamal Murray right now. Although an argument could be made for each game being considered an upset so to speak, I think the most surprising game was between the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Remember back in late December when the Dallas Mavericks earned their first win of the year, coming against the Clippers? Perhaps you forgot that it was by a margin of 51-points and the Clippers were completely healthy for once, no load management to be found. For whatever reason, the Clippers haven’t been able to show up against Dallas and there’s simply no excuse for this team to be playing at this low of a level come playoff time with the experienced roster they have.
As much as I thought they put the pieces together this season after I ripped them apart the day after that horrendous game on December 27, 2020, my doubts have come back. Whether it’s head coach Tyronn Lue putting the pressure on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to take charge or to change up the style of play considering the Clippers shot a dismal 11-for-40 from three, this playoff curse will continue for Los Angeles if there’s no responsibility being held. I believe that’s what happened back in the early 2010’s when Chris Paul and company couldn’t make it to the Finals. There simply wasn’t someone who wanted it enough when it mattered most to take the team to the next level, but hopefully history won’t repeat itself.
Transitioning over to the East, the Brooklyn Nets took over against the Boston Celtics in the fourth quarter, as nobody on the Nets could miss when it mattered most. Jayson Tatum is going to have to drop 35-50 points a night if they want to come anywhere close to competing, especially if Kemba Walker continues to play at a mediocre level for what he’s being paid. However, the Celtics still played extremely well considering even their coach Brad Stevens has a hard time believing they’re going to win.
Bradley Beal made the Philadelphia 76ers nervous for a second, but couldn’t pull the upset off as the Washington Wizards lost 125-118. In the first half, you couldn’t guess what team was the one seed from the eighth seed as the Wizards held a 62-61 lead at the end of the second. It wasn’t Ben Simmons nor Joel Embiid that provided the most for the Philly win, it was none other than Tobias Harris, who scored 37 points in 37 minutes.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton was still feeling the pain from missing out on the Finals last season from the East Conference smackdown given at the hands of the Miami Heat, who they just so happen to be meeting in the first round this year. It took a clutch overtime game winning shot for him to begin his road of redemption as the Bucks got the 109-107 victory. I truly don’t see this series getting away from Milwaukee this time as their depth is much deeper this season and the tenacity to win a championship is at its highest due to what’s transpiring in Brooklyn as well as in Philly.
Last but certainly not least, the most exciting game of the first weekend in the NBA Playoffs was none other than a 4 vs 5 matchup. Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young made Madison Square Garden freeze over with that ice cold game winning shot. Taking an inbounds pass from behind half court, with 9.8 on the clock, game tied at 105, New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau made the questionable call of having Frank Nitilikina, who didn’t play a single minute leading up to this inbounds play, to guard Trae Young.
Whether or not you want to put the blame on Thibodeau or not, Trae Young was icy on that final play, being able to cross two defenders and throw up a timely floater takes skill. Not to mention this was also his first playoff game ever. Let’s not ignore the fact that Alec Burks was also the leading scorer with 27 for the Knicks. Love to see it.
Before I provide my playoff predictions, I want to put a point of emphasis on two other predictions.
First, if the Boston Celtics get swept, which is more likely than not to occur, Brad Stevens is out. Of course, the Celtic luck is clearly not present with who their opponent is in the first round, but they lost so many games to be put into that predicament to begin with. It’s hard to see Danny Ainge keep Brad around if he can’t live up to the expectations that the Celtics have with their young talent.
Second, I believe the Knicks vs Hawks, Mavericks vs Clippers, and Lakers vs Suns will all need seven games to declare a winner.
Here are my playoff bracket predictions! If you think another team is going to win the Finals or want to provide any insight of your own, please feel free to comment and share your thoughts!