Predicting the NBA awards during the offseason is always tough to get right, but everyone loves whacking together a few bold predictions to see how wrong they are this time next year.
The first night of NBA playoff action had a little bit of everything. A buzzer beater, a missed game winner, an upset and an array of superstars doing exactly what they do best.
Let’s delve into the four games.
Utah Jazz 97 LA Clippers 95
The Jazz overcame an early injury to defensive anchor Rudy Gobert and a big night from Clippers forward Blake Griffin to take game 1 on the road in Los Angeles.
On the very first possession of the game the Jazz suffered a heart-wrenching blow as defensive standout Gobert injured his knee setting a screen on Luc Mbah a Moute. Gobert was helped off the court by his teammates and did not return to the game.
Fortunately for the Jazz a big night from Gordon Hayward, 19 points and 10 boards, kept Utah in the game before Joe Johnson took over. Johnson consistently got buckets down the stretch finishing with a team-high 21 points.
But it was in the final moments where Iso-Joe really shone. With the score tied at 95 Johnson drove into the paint, backing down Clipper’s guard Jamal Crawford and releasing an impossibly high floater over the desperate swatting arm of Deandre Jordan. For a moment it seemed like he had put too much on the shot but a kind bounce off the iron allowed it to fall at the buzzer and Utah celebrated a game one victory.
The Jazz will wait anxiously for news of Gobert’s injury as his ability to return could decide the series. Game 2 is in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
Indiana Pacers 108 Cleveland Cavaliers 109
The same defensive issues that have plagued the later half of Cleveland’s season reared their head again last night at the Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs allowed Indy to shoot 50 per cent from the floor and 46% from beyond the arc as they clung on for a 1-point victory.
Both LeBron James and Paul George lived up to their all-star billing as they duelled throughout the game putting up gaudy numbers and making crucial shots. James had 32 points to go with 6 rebounds and 13 assists while George lead the Pacers with 29 points including some clutch buckets down the stretch.
For the Cavs, although they got the win, there remain serious concerns. The four players they brought of the bench have a combined age of 137, hardly a recipe for success in the physical arena of playoff basketball. This combined with defence that a matador would be proud of mean all is not rosy in the garden of Cleveland.
The Pacers will be gutted. If they are to make any noise in this series these are the sort of games they have to steal. They staged a furious rally in the fourth and took the lead with around tw0 minutes to play. However, a vicious LeBron dunk combined with a silky Kyrie Irving step back jumper restored the Cavs’ lead and CJ Miles’ last-second game winner fell agonisingly short.
Game 2 is on Monday night in Cleveland.
Milwaukee Bucks 97 Toronto Raptors 83
My oh my it must be difficult to be a Raptors fan. Just when you think your team has banished their playoff woes, coming through 2 intense 7 game series last year, they pull you right back in with a horrendous second half performance against the young Milwaukee Bucks.
Toronto’s offence deserted them in the second half as they scored only 32 points and the Bucks pulled away behind and outstanding display from Greek superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo (I have a horrible feeling I will be trying to spell that name a lot in the future).
Much of the blame for the Raptor’s turgid display must be laid at the feet of their all-star backcourt – DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry. Between them the duo went 9 for 32 from the field with DeRozan making six of his seven shots in the first half. When the shots aren’t falling for these two Toronto become painful to watch and I fear another nail biting postseason is in store for the Raps.
For Milwaukee, with Antetokounmpo at the helm, turgid offensive basketball is not on the agenda. When he is flowing like he was last night, pouring in 28 points to go with 8 boards, there is nobody better to watch in the NBA. The sheer athleticism of the ‘Greek Freak’ is a sight to behold and one the Raptors might be sick to death of by the end of the series.
Game 2 is on Tuesday night in Toronto.
Memphis Grizzlies 82 San Antonio Spurs 111
In what was the most low key game of the night the Spurs did what the Spurs do – win. San Antonio blew out the dangerous Grizzlies at the AT&T centre powered by another virtuoso performance from Kawhi Leonard.
It is fitting that the most low key game of the night was dominated by the most low key MVP candidate. Kawhi might not grab the eye as much as Westbrook or Harden but don’t be surprised if he is at the top of many ballots.
In what could have been a tricky game against a defensively solid team Leonard simply took over. He scored 32 points, on a near flawless 11 for 14 from the field, while providing his customary lockdown defence. Memphis simply had no answer to the softly spoken assassin from Los Angeles.
In what ultimately became a sideshow Marc Gasol won the individual match up with his older brother Pau. The younger Spaniard scored 32 points including a tasty spin move and hook shot over his veteran brother. However, in the end the Spurs simply had far to much for Memphis.
Game 2 is on Monday night in San Antonio.