There is no better weekend of playoff basketball then the first weekend of the NBA Playoffs. Eight games in two days, all setting the tone for two months of phenomenal basketball.
And what a first weekend it was. Five (5!) road teams went out and took home-court advantage in their series openers, including a shocking win in dominant fashion by the 8th-seeded Atlanta Hawks over the suddenly-not-as-good-as-their-seeding Indiana Pacers.
Key road wins for the Nets, Wizards, Warriors and Blazers rounded out the 5-3 weekend for road squads. Only the Heat, Thunder and Spurs were able to hold home-court, and things should only get better from here.
Here are eight key takeaways from the eight playoff openers we had this weekend.
1. The Indiana Pacers are in way more trouble than any of us predicted.
One of the hottest topics heading into the playoffs was the struggles down the stretch of the Indiana Pacers, who basically backed into the top-seed out East. Most figured their struggles would hurt them in a potential second-round series with the Brooklyn Nets, but after watching the Hawks dominate the Pacers in Indiana, we might have to start questioning if the Pacers will even make it that far.
I don’t know what is going on in that locker room, but Indiana needs to get their stuff together ASAP. Paul George needs to stop fishing between playoff games, Roy Hibbert needs to start crashing the boards, and Evan Turner needs to keep his ankles intact. Otherwise, we might be looking at a historic upset a week from now.
2. Al Jefferson is going to give the Miami Heat a lot of trouble, if he can actually play.
Al Jefferson is a very big, very skilled post player for the Charlotte Bobcats, and the Miami Heat have exactly zero players that can hang with him in the post. Chris Bosh is the Heat big man, but he plays more like a 3 than a 5, and is not built to bang inside with Jefferson.
The only problem for Jefferson? He’s in a walking boot right now after suffering a strained plantar fascia in the first quarter of the series opener. Jefferson still returned to put up 18 and 10 despite the very painful injury. If he can play at a high level, the Bobcats have a chance to steal a few games. If not, Miami will make quick work of the soon-to-be Hornets.
3. Sometimes, being old is an advantage. Just ask the Brooklyn Nets.
Much was made of the young gun Raptors taking on the old, creaky, injury-prone Brooklyn Nets. I mean, it gave us quite possibly the best headline of this NBA season. The Raptors were a popular pick to beat Brooklyn and move on to the second round out East, and there’s still a good chance that they will.
But man, the Nets veterans put on a clinic in their opener. In a tight game, experience won out over youth. Paul Pierce couldn’t hit a shot the entire game, then scored 9 points in the final three minutes to ice the road win for the Nets. The old men are going to put up a fight before passing the baton to the young guns. This series is going to be a lot of fun.
4. The Wiz Kids are for real.
A lot of the focus of the Bulls-Wizards first round series has been on how well Chicago has been playing and whether or not they can seriously challenge out East. There really hasn’t been much attention on the Wizards, other than them being an inexperienced road bump along the Bulls path to the second round.
Only the Wizards aren’t as inexperienced as you might think. Actually, outside of John Wall and Bradley Beal their roster is full of playoff veterans. And they came out in Game 1 in Chicago and showed that they belong in this series. The Bulls are definitely in for a dog-fight this series.
5. Tony Parker is the most underrated superstar of the past 15 years.
The San Antonio Spurs are a well-oiled machine, with so many strong working parts that you rarely focus on individual talent. On top of that, when you do finally look to recognize an individual on that team, Tim Duncan aka the greatest power forward of all-time generally gets that recognition.
But man oh man is Tony Parker good. Like really good. Like probably the best point guard to ever come out of Europe and a top 10 player for the past ten seasons good. The crazy thing is he almost never gets recognized for it. While watching him take over in the Spurs comeback win against Dallas in Game 1, it struck me how criminally underrated Parker is.
Yeah Parker has played in a bunch of All-Star games, but playing in San Antonio has really suppressed his stardom. If he played for the Lakers or Knicks, he would have been the starting point guard for the West in every All-Star game the last ten seasons. We should all take some time out to appreciate the greatness that is Tony Parker.
6. Kevin Durant is really, really ridiculously good at basketball.
Okay so this is something that we’ve all known for a long time, but man watching KD take over a game never gets old. After the Grizzlies had cut what was once a 20+ point Thunder lead down to two, Durant went into “Nah” mode and basically snuffed out the Memphis comeback all on his own, leading the Thunder to a Game 1 win.
The craziest thing about KD’s game is how much more room he has for development. He’s only 25! The best scorer in the league and one of the greatest scorers of all-time already, he hasn’t even hit his prime yet. The rest of the league has to be terrified at how good this kid is gonna be three years from now.
7. The Warriors are perfectly-built to upset the Clippers in Round 1.
Now one game is just that, one game. You never want to overreact to one playoff game, especially in a seven-game series. But if you watched Game 1 between the Warriors and Clippers (and shame on you if you didn’t), you noticed how great the Dubs match-up with Lob City. Klay Thompson is a long, pesky defender who absolutely affected Chris Paul in Game 1. Paul shot 3-11 against Thompson and 7-12 against everyone else in the opener.
Even without Andrew Bogut, the Warriors can give Los Angeles a run for their money this series. Granted, Blake Griffin probably won’t foul out in under 20 minutes again this series, but neither will Andre Iguodala. If Thompson can hinder Paul’s scoring and the Warriors can continue to frustrate Griffin, this may be a big upset out West.
8. The Blazers might have the best big/guard combo. Not just against Houston, but in the league.
Man, Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge are one lethal combination. Just look at what the duo did in a Game 1 road win against Houston. Aldridge went 46-18 with a couple blocks, the first player to put up those numbers since Hakeem in the 87 playoffs. Oh and Lillard had 31 and 9 in his playoff debut. They’re the first teammates to have 45+ and 30+ in the same playoff game since some guys named Jordan and Pippen back in the 92 playoffs. Seriously, not even Shaq and Kobe managed to pull that off.
Portland is going to be a problem out West for years to come with a top-5 point guard in Lillard and a top-3 big man in Aldridge. After stealing home-court from the always-combustible Dwight Howard and the suddenly invisible-in-the-playoffs James Harden, the Blazers look like a legit threat to advance deep out West.