The first round of the NBA playoffs begins today with four Game 1s. Following along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section.
- The 76ers burn up the three-point line to trounce the Heat in Philadelphia.
- The Raptors used their depth to win their first Game 1 of a playoff series since 2001.
- The Warriors are engaged and energized again, and that’s bad new for the Spurs. But the Warriors do have a weakness.
- Predicting the East and West first-round series; expect the Rockets to sweep
Holiday’s defense in final minutes lifts New Orleans in Game 1
It looked like it might be “Dame Time” once again in Portland on Saturday night.
A furious Trail Blazers comeback late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of their playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans had Portland within a point – with the ball – inside the final minute of the game.
But then Jrue Holiday stole the ball in transition. Then he poked the ball away from Meyers Leonard to prevent a layup with New Orleans up three with nine seconds left. Then he blocked a Pat Connaughton layup with five seconds remaining.
All of that led New Orleans to a 97-95 victory, and showed all the world why Holiday has been an all-defensive team-worthy player this season – not to mention a worthy sidekick to Anthony Davis in the Big Easy.
Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum – the powerful backcourt that fuels Portland – were a combined 13-for-41 (though they did start the game 1-for-15, so going 12-for-26 in the second half was blistering by comparison). Holiday, meanwhile, was 10-for-20, and combined with Davis (35 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, four blocks) to score 56 points.
But it was the Pelicans’ defense – and specifically Holiday’s – that helped Davis win the first playoff game of his career, and allowed New Orleans to steal home court in this series.
Pelicans’ stars outshine Portland’s stars in first half
The story of the first half in Portland? The Pelicans’ star tandem, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, have combined for 32 points on 15-for-28 shooting. Portland’s star combo Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, on the other hand? They have just three points on 1-for-15 shooting.
On one level, the Trail Blazers should feel fortunate they are only down nine with their leading scorers playing that badly. But Portland certainly doesn’t have much of a chance of winning this game if Lillard and McCollum don’t get going – and fast. And doing so against a defender as good as Holiday is easier said than done.
Holiday, a key for Pelicans, off to a fine start
I had two significant upset picks — Bucks in 6 over the Celtics, and Pelicans in 6 over the Trail Blazers. And while one of the league’s best players, Anthony Davis, is why I ultimately picked New Orleans, the play of Jrue Holiday this season was almost as big of a factor.
Holiday has had to deal with injuries and family health issues the past four seasons, a combination that’s caused him to miss 122 games over that stretch.
This year, though, Holiday played 81 games, and has been terrific. He averaged a career high 19 points per game to go with six assists, and was a huge difference maker defensively (I voted him onto my first team for all-defense).
So far in Game 1 against Portland? Holiday has 11 points and four rebounds in 12 minutes. If New Orleans is to pull off the upset, it’s going to need Holiday to keep producing like that, and like he has been all season long.
Thanks to a huge second half and a torrent of three-pointers, the Philadelphia 76ers cruised to a 130-103 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of their best-of-7 series.
The Sixers finished an absurd 18-for-28 from long range, led by a combined 53 points on 30 shots from J.J. Redick (28 points) and Marco Belinelli (25). Ben Simmons, meanwhile, had 17 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists in his first playoff game.
It’s hard to see Philadelphia staying that hot from the perimeter. But with Joel Embiid potentially coming back for Game 2, it may not matter.
Fultz puts defender in a blender
And, along with the Dunk of the Day from Simmons, we now have the Move of the Day from teammate Markelle Fultz: a ridiculous spin to get into the lane before he eventually scores. I know his shot is still an issue, but it was stuff like this that made Fultz the clear No. 1 pick in last year’s draft.
Caution: Ben Simmons explosion zone
We have our Dunk of the Day: Ben Simmons ends Kelly Olynyk with a ridiculous crossover, followed by a vicious slam dunk over Justise Winslow before he could even react. Yikes.
76ers lineup change also changed the game
Sixers Coach Brett Brown made the first significant tactical adjustment of his series, and it paid off in a big way.
Removing Amir Johnson from the lineup to start the third quarter and replacing him with Ersan Ilyasova turned Hassan Whiteside into a traffic cone, and, by extension, kicked off what became a 23-3 run that’s flipped a seven-point Miami advantage into a double-digit lead for Philadelphia.
Whiteside will be needed when Joel Embiid returns from injury. But until then? It’s hard to argue that Miami is better off with him on the court given Philadelphia can take advantage of him defensively on every posession.
The way Philadelphia got going against him in Game 1 may prove to be the difference in this one.
Sixers, Heat wearing out the three-point line
The Heat and Sixers have turned Game 1 of their playoff series into a shooting gallery.
In the first half, Miami went 7-for-14 from behind the three-point arc, while Philadelphia shot 7-for-13. Given how both of these teams are trending toward playing, particularly while Joel Embiid is out, expect the threes to continue pouring in.
Another thing to watch: the Sixers only had four fast break points at halftime, a big reason why Miami enjoyed a four-point lead. There have been so many foul calls in this game that it has bogged things down and kept Philadelphia from getting out and running, which, without Embiid, is a huge part of what the Sixers do.
As such, one other thing to watch in the second half is foul trouble. Robert Covington is the only player with three fouls, but eight players — Ben Simmons, Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova for Philadelphia, Kylly Olynyk, Justise Winslow, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic — all have two.
Whiteside a non-factor for Miami in first half
With Joel Embiid sidelined, there was some thought Hassan Whiteside could make an outsized impact on the Sixers-Heat series until he came back. So far in Game 1, though, Whiteside has largely been invisible. He has two points in eight minutes, along with four rebounds, two blocks (and two turnovers). More importantly, the Heat are -6 with him on the court.
After his latest ineffectual stint, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra pulled Whiteside in favor of going smaller, with Kelly Olynyk at center instead. Miami may be better going that way, as it allows the Heat to space the floor with at least four shooters on the court at all times.
Heat’s offense shows out early
As the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat begin what should be a really intriguing series, two questions could determine how this goes: Can Miami score in the halfcourt, and can it control Ben Simmons?
So far, Miami’s offense is winning.
Simmons already has seven points, four rebounds and three assists, and while he’s missed three of his four shots, he’s been able to get wherever he wants on the court.
But the Heat went on a 23-10 run to close the first quarter, and did so for the same reason it reached the postseason in the first place: depth across the roster. Seven players have already scored, and the Heat has 18 points off the bench in the first quarter alone.
If Miami is going to win this series, that’s what it’s going to need, especially since Philadelphia’s size and length on the perimeter is going to give problems to Goran Dragic, Miami’s all-star guard, who opened the game with misses on three of his first four shots.
When the playoffs arrive, talk begins about teams shortening their depth, and how depth doesn’t even really matter. Toronto proved that wrong in its 114-106 Game 1 victory over Washington.
Not only did the Raptors play 11 guys, not including their top reserve, Fred VanVleet, but they got plenty of production from their second unit. The result was Toronto finally snapping its 10-game losing streak in Game 1s, and showing this year might finally be different in Toronto.
The Raptors doubled up the Wizards in bench scoring (42-21), including 18 points in 25 minutes for Delon Wright, who stepped into VanVleet’s role behind Kyle Lowry. C.J. Miles chipped in with four three-pointers.
Washington, meanwhile, got 17 points from Mike Scott off the bench, but virtually nothing from its other reserves, most notably Kelly Oubre, Jr., who had just three points on 1-for-4 shooting in 16 minutes.
Careless Wizards costing themselves in final quarter
When a lower seeded team is trying to pull off an upset win on the road, it can’t be making dumb plays. Unfortunately for the Wizards, they tend to specialize in dumb plays, and two of them early in the fourth quarter could prove to be costly.
A flagrant foul by Mike Scott resulted in two free throws for Kyle Lowry and a four-point play overall for the Raptors. Then, just a few minutes later, Kelly Oubre’s casual pass to Bradley Beal under the Wizards’ basket became a turnover that led to a C.J. Miles three-pointer.
That has allowed the Raptors to go on a 10-0 run that’s put Toronto ahead by nine a little over midway through the fourth.
If the Wizards lose this game, they’ll point to this stretch as the reason why.
Guards will be the difference in Toronto
This Raptors-Wizards series was billed as a battle of all-star backcourts. With Toronto holding a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter, that’s exactly how Game 1 has played out.
So far, John Wall (18 points and 14 assists), Bradley Beal (17 points and three steals) and DeMar DeRozan (17 points and six assists) have showed up. Kyle Lowry (nine points, five assists, four turnovers) has not.
How those four guys play in the final 12 minutes will determine whether the Wizards pull off an upset or the Raptors finally end their Game 1 losing streak.
Warriors win. No surprise here.
OAKLAND, Calif. — The final score here at Oracle Arena: Golden State 113, San Antonio 92.
The Warriors State did what they had to do: show up. The Spurs proved their doubters right about what they couldn’t do: score enough to make this competitive.
The result was an easy Golden State victory that should begin putting some of the doubts about their ability to repeat as champions to rest.
It also didn’t hurt that Klay Thompson had 27 points on 11-for-13 shooting, Kevin Durant had 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and Draymond Green added 12 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists.
Golden State is going to win this game (barring unforeseen events taking place). But even in a win, there is something to monitor about the Warriors, both today and moving forward: the outside shooting of Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.
If the Warriors have a weakness (excluding health), it is those two struggling to consistently knock down open three-point shots. If they do, Golden State is virtually unbeatable. If they do not? Well, then things could be interesting later against better opponents than San Antonio.
Through three periods of Game 1, though, they are hitting them. Green is 2 for 5, while Iguodala is 1 for 2.
If they can hit three of every seven threes they attempt between them over the next two months, the Warriors will be thrilled.
It’s not a coincidence that in a game they are shooting well, Golden State leads by 23 after three quarters.
Spurs make a lineup change at half
San Antonio came out in the second half with a new look: Rudy Gay replacing Kyle Anderson in its starting lineup. Then, two minutes into the third quarter, Tony Parker came in for Dejounte Murray.
Clearly, Gregg Popovich decided that there was no way his team was going to be able to make a game of this with LaMarcus Aldridge on the court with two non-shooters. Gay has been excellent so far, scoring 14 points to give the Spurs another consistent offensive threat, while Parker is a far more dynamic offensive player — even at this late stage of his career — than Murray.
If San Antonio has any hopes of making this competitive, it’s going to have to score with Golden State. Even without Stephen Curry, the Warriors still have far more firepower than the Spurs.
There were two significant questions entering this Warriors-Spurs series: Would Golden State be engaged and energized after finally making the playoffs, and would San Antonio be able to score?
So far, the answers are yes, and no. If they stay that way, this will be a short series.
It certainly looks like it will be at halftime of Game 1, with Golden State holding a 57-41 lead over San Antonio. The Spurs have had no answers for Kevin Durant, who has 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting and has been able to get whatever he has wanted. At the other end, LaMarcus Aldridge has struggled mightily with Golden State’s length all across the court, scoring eight points on eight shots (while picking up three fouls to boot).
If it wasn’t for the Spurs going 6 for 11 from three and 7 for 8 from the foul line, this game would be an even bigger blowout than it already appears headed towards being. The Warriors also gifted the Spurs five points combined at the ends of the first and second quarters to allow San Antonio to be a bit closer than it should be.
The bottom line, though, is that through one half, at least, San Antonio doesn’t look like it can keep up.
Raptors in 7: I want to pick Washington to win this series. The Wizards match up well with Toronto and have shown no fear for them this season (splitting four games without John Wall playing in any of them). But it’s just impossible to put that much faith in this Wizards team after the way they’ve played this season. So while Toronto will once again have a hard time, they will find a way to advance.
Bucks in 6: Upset! I feel equally unsure about this series, as I can’t trust Milwaukee and Boston has a million injuries. But the Bucks do have Giannis Antetokounmpo — and I’m picking The Greek Freak to have his first playoff moment and lead the Bucks to the second round.
Sixers in 7: Another tough series to call. Philadelphia has a lot more talent than Miami — but a lot less experience. Teams generally have to take gradual steps in the playoffs — and rarely make it to the conference finals on their first try, as the Sixers are predicted to do. But with Joel Embiid likely to come back early in the series, we’ll tip the odds, ever so slightly, in Philadelphia’s direction.
Cavs in 5: LeBron James has made it to the NBA Finals for seven straight seasons. He isn’t losing in the first round. It’s been a tremendous season for the Indiana Pacers and former DeMatha star Victor Oladipo, but it ends here.
Rockets in 4: Minnesota simply can’t guard Houston. This should be a high scoring — but short — series.
Warriors in 5: With Stephen Curry hurt, Golden State limping into the playoffs and San Antonio’s pedigree, the Spurs will get a game. But if this series is any more competitive than that, the questions about Golden State’s ability to repeat as champions will gain far more credibility in my eyes.
Pelicans in 6: This should be a really fun series, and Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has a penchant for coming up big in big moments. But Anthony Davis has taken a step forward this season and established himself as a top five player in the NBA, and he has yet to win a playoff game. This is his time to make a statement, and I think he will by getting the Pelicans to the second round.
Thunder in 7: This is, without question, the best and most compelling series of the first round. But the Thunder have a couple things going for them. The first is home court — which, in a close series, is a huge edge. The second is that Paul George, one of the NBA’s best players and wing defenders, is going to be guarding Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell. It’s been an incredible debut from the Louisville product, but asking him to be the leading scorer on a playoff team against an all-world defender like George feels like too much for Utah to overcome. But this is easily the series I’m most looking forward to watching.
A Game 1 win would mean more in Toronto
Before every playoff series, teams speak about the importance of winning Game 1. But for the Toronto Raptors, Saturday’s opening game of the playoffs against the Washington Wizards has an added level of urgency.
The top-seeded Raptors, who just completed the best regular season in franchise history, enter the postseason with a staggering streak of 10 straight losses in Game 1s. Toronto’s last victory in the opening game of a playoff series was on May 6, 2001 — when Vince Carter (35 points) outdueled Allen Iverson (36) to give Toronto a 96-93 victory in the opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
That also remains the only Game 1 victory the Raptors have across the 13 playoff series in which they have played.
So, yes, it is imperative for the Raptors to beat the eighth-seeded Wizards on Saturday night — not only to stop the legions of fans north of the border from simultaneously freaking out and bringing back all of the bad memories of prior playoff meltdowns, but also to keep the Wizards from getting any momentum in this series.
Washington is one of the league’s most confusing teams. One night, the Wizards look like they can play with anyone. The next, they look like they can lose to anyone. But assuming Otto Porter is recovered from a recent calf strain, the Wizards have the talent to go toe-to-toe with Toronto, and the confidence earned from a four-game sweep in 2015 to know they can beat the Raptors on this stage.
This has been a wonderful season so far in Toronto. But everything that’s happened — the record win total, the stylistic changes, the improvement of the bench — has all been geared toward finally carrying the franchise’s now-consistent regular season play over to the playoffs. Nothing would signify that has happened more than a victory Saturday night — and nothing would make observers more skeptical that it has than a loss.
Elsewhere, Anthony Davis has never won a playoff series. In fact, he’s never won a playoff game.
So all eyes will be on Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night, when they face the Trail Blazers in Portland. Despite being the lower-seeded team — and being without DeMarcus Cousins, who tore his Achilles’ tendon back in January — this is a series New Orleans is more than capable of winning. For as good as Portland’s backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is, they aren’t on the level of Davis, who is good enough to swing a series by himself.
He has yet to have his playoff moment. This series could provide it — and breathe some hope into the long-term future of this franchise that could desperately use it.
- Golden State Warriors 113, San Antonio Spurs 92,
- Toronto Raptors 114, Washington Wizards 106
- Philadelphia 76ers 130, Miami Heat 103
- New Orleans Pelicans 97, Portland Trail Blazers 95
The Warriors and Cavaliers have met in three straight NBA Finals, but The Post’s Neil Greenberg writes that neither team should be considered a favorite entering the playoffs. That shouldn’t be too surprisingly, considering the Houston Rockets went wire-to-wire this season as the league’s best team; they have a 39 percent chance of winning the title, which would be their first since going back-to-back in the 1994 and ’95 Finals. But what might surprise you is which teams Greenberg has following the Rockets with the best odds to win it all. (Hint: It’s not Golden State or Cleveland.) In fact, Greenberg also writes that the Warriors should be on upset alert in the first round, having to host the always dangerous Spurs.
Hop into the comments section below starting at 2:30 p.m. to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.