10 Things We Learned From Opening Weekend of the 2015 NBA Playoffs
The first weekend of the NBA playoffs is always one of my favorite sporting events of the year. We get eight "island games," with the Game 1 of each and every series getting its own moment in the spotlight. The casual viewing public gets introduced to teams and players they haven't seen much of before, while the diehards get their best excuse since Christmas to completely ignore their families and responsibilities for roughly 20 hours of hoops.
The back-to-back-to-back-to-back format can be a little daunting over both Saturday and Sunday, so it's normal that not everyone was crazy enough to watch the whole thing (like I was). Just in case you missed some of the action, below are the big takeaways from each game and the weekend as a whole (including our updated projections for each series). Once you've read through, check the "related article" section and skim through our previews for each and every series if you haven't done so already.
For now, post-Game 1 is the time in every series when we re-affirm our predictions, make new realizations, and altogether overreact to every little thing that happened. There’s still plenty of basketball to be played in each series, teams will certainly make adjustments going forward, and we’re bound to think something completely different that we do now in a few days.
Even so, we still learned a lot this weekend. Here are 10 such things.
1. Home court advantage is apparently a big thing in the U.S., not so much in Canada.
Last year, home court advantage proved to be a bit of a myth, as five visiting teams stole Game 1 during the opening weekend of the playoffs. This year was a little different.
Seven of the eight home teams that played this weekend won their Game 1, and did so by an average margin of 11.1 points. The only home team that lost was the Toronto Raptors, who were ironically playing in front of what was arguably the most raucous home crowd (that extended well outside the stadium) and against the postseason's worst road team (the Washington Wizards, who were 17-24 on the road this season).
I guess the concept of "home court advantage," much like the dollar, simply isn't worth as much in Canada as it is in the United States of America.
2. Paul Pierce has whatever "it" is.
As usual, Paul Pierce did a lot of jawing prior to the start of the first-round series between the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards, claiming that the Raps didn't have the "it" that makes other teams worried. After the Raptors folded 93-86 at home in Game 1 against a team with Paul Pierce on the roster for the second year in a row, you can't exactly say he was wrong.
Pierce backed up his words, of course, by being a big part of what sank the Raptors. He finished the game with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field, including 4-for-7 from three-point range. I guess that's the "it" he was talking about and probably why the Wizards got him there.
3. Playoff Anthony Davis is just as awesome as regular season Anthony Davis.
Probably the most anticipated of the many interesting playoff debuts that happened this weekend, Anthony Davis delivered on his sky-high potential with a performance for the ages in the New Orleans Pelicans' 106-99 loss to the Golden State Warriors. He started off relatively slow (securing only one rebound in the first half), but he finished with one of the best final lines for a playoff debut in NBA history.
Per @bball_ref, Anthony Davis' 35 points was the highest-scoring career playoff debut for a big man since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970 (36).— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) April 19, 2015
His final line of 35 points, seven boards, one assist, one steal, four blocks, 13-for-23 shooting from the field, and 9-for-10 from the line was an absolute gem. This was just the first of many, folks.
Sure, the Pelicans probably don't stand a chance in this series, but sign me up for three to however-many-more games of playoff Brow.
4. Derrick Rose still has some greatness left in him.
Derrick Rose played in his first playoff game since tearing his ACL back in 2012 this past weekend and it exceeded most people's expectations. It's becoming increasingly probable that his troublesome legs will keep us from seeing peak MVP Derrick Rose from 2010-11 on any kind of regular basis ever again, but Saturday was a clear indication that player is still somewhere inside him and he can still bring it out for the big moments.
Rose led the Bulls to a 103-91 victory in Game 1 behind his 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field and 3-for-7 from long range, to go with seven helpers, two steals, and a block. He got to the rim with ease and knocked down shots from downtown in some pretty crucial moments. If the offensive burst that he brings to Chicago can be there on a semi-regular basis, their championship chances will grow exponentially.
5. Dirk Nowitzki, too.
Dirk Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks may have lost 118-108 to the Houston Rockets in Game 1, but the fact that Dirk was able to turn back the clock for his individual performance is a good sign for his team's chances going forward.
After a pretty miserable month of March by his standards (14.8 points on 41.7% shooting), Dirk ramped things up a bit to end the season (19.0 points on 49.5% shooting in April). Not knowing which of those two versions of the nearly 36-year-old Dirk we'd get this postseason was a concern coming in, but he put those worries to rest by putting up 24 points on 10-for-14 shooting, eight boards, and two assists in Saturday's loss. If not for the rest of his teammates being mostly invisible, the Mavericks might've even had a chance at stealing Game 1.
Dirk has shown us plenty of times before that he alone is good for a couple wins in a series, so this cross-state matchup has the potential to get very interesting if he can continue to play at this level.
6. Kyrie Irving is ready for the big stage.
A lot of the "playoff debut" buzz this weekend was rightfully focused on Anthony Davis, but Cleveland's Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were also ending their individual playoff droughts after four and eight seasons, respectively.
Love was plenty effective with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists, but it was Irving that stole the show in the Cavs' 113-100 win over the Boston Celtics.
On the other side of the court, Isaiah Thomas joined Oscar Robertson and his opponent LeBron James as the only players to ever put up a line of at least 22 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds in a playoff debut. Still, the lights shined brightest for Kyrie Irving, as he put his range and ball handling abilities on full display for the whole world to see while propelling his team to victory.
7. The Atlanta Hawks don't have to play well to beat the Brooklyn Nets.
With a team nERD of 41.0, the 38-44 Brooklyn Nets are easily the lowest ranked team from our NBA Team Power Rankings that made the postseason this year. Considering they're facing the 60-22 Atlanta Hawks, our fourth-best team with a nERD of 64.8 (and the highest-ranked in the Eastern Conference), no one really expected this to be a competitive series.
So, don't let the close 99-92 Game 1 score fool you. The Hawks simply weren't in rhythm on Sunday, after spending the last month or so of the season playing meaningless basketball (as they had the 1-seed locked up in late March). The Hawks shot an uncharacteristic 33.3% from deep (10-for-30) -- compared to their 38.0% mark from the regular season -- were outrebounded 47-39, and saw three of their four All-Stars struggle (with Kyle Korver being the exception with 21 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the floor and 5-for-11 from deep, seven boards, three helpers, two steals, and a block).
They'll be fine and this series should still be quick.
8. Beno Udrih had this year's first unexpected "podium game."
The NBA playoffs are often littered with high-level performances from the most unlikely of heroes. The basketball blogosphere and Twitterverse affectionately refer to these performances as "podium games."
Unlike the regular season, NBA playoff games are followed by a period of media availability at a podium by the matches best performers and the coaches. The players that take part are usually the expected All-Stars and starters, but sometimes role players step up and earn themselves some time in front of a microphone. The first such unexpected performance of the 2015 playoffs was Beno Udrih.
Beno came off the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies and helped propel them to a commanding 100-86 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night, scoring 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the floor, while adding seven rebounds and seven assists in 24 minutes played. Considering his season averages of 7.7 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, I doubt the Blazers saw it coming.
9. If the Clippers starters can play the majority of each game, they might be able to dethrone the champs.
The Clippers' bench is terrible -- to put it lightly. Despite that major shortcoming, Los Angeles was able to beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs 107-92 in the final Game 1 of the playoffs' opening weekend on Sunday night.
LA's starting lineup of Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan played a whopping 25.1 minutes together in Game 1 (the most of any lineup put out by any team this weekend by nearly six minutes), and no one on their bench outside of Jamal Crawford (22.6 minutes played) cracked 13 minutes on the court.
The league's top offense (112.4 Offensive Rating, according to our numbers) was on full display in this one and LA's efficiency and athleticism seemed to be too much for the aging and banged up Spurs in the end. Both CP3 (32 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and Blake (26 points, 12 boards, six helpers, three steals, and three blocks) were phenomenal and as long as Los Angeles can maximize their floor time at the expense of regular rotation guys like Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Hedo Turkoglu (yuck), they could very well overcome losing as a rare series underdog with home court advantage.
10. Winning Game 1 isn't everything, but it certainly helps your odds of winning the series.
As is the case with just about every Game 2 ever played, you will soon hear ad nauseum that the team that has won Game 1 in a best-of-seven series in the NBA has gone on to win said series 76.9% of the time. Well, that's the past and doesn't remotely take into account who these teams are, how they perform at home and on the road, etc, etc. Luckily, we've got a more customized way of projecting these series after all those Game 1's. Check it out and enjoy all the Game 2's about to happen over the next few days!
|Series||Winner (Pre Gm1)||% Odds||Winner (Post Gm 1)||% Odds|
|(1) Warriors vs. (8) Pelicans||Warriors||86.42%||Warriors||91.86%|
|(4) Blazers vs. (5) Grizzlies||Grizzlies||51.03%||Grizzlies||64.23%|
|(2) Rockets vs. (7) Mavericks||Rockets||52.92%||Rockets||64.70%|
|(3) Clippers vs. (6) Spurs||Clippers||50.18%||Clippers||69.97%|
|(1) Hawks vs. (8) Nets||Hawks||80.45%||Hawks||87.68%|
|(4) Raptors vs. (5) Wizards||Raptors||58.54%||Wizards||60.75%|
|(2) Cavaliers vs. (7) Celtics||Cavaliers||66.76%||Cavaliers||77.18%|
|(3) Bulls vs. (6) Bucks||Bulls||67.99%||Bulls||78.93%|