NBA Playoffs Game 1 Wrap Up – Who were the X-Factors?
Now that this year’s batch of first round Game 1’s is in the books, let’s take a look at some of the key difference-makers, in the games that we have already seen, and going forward:
Wizards vs. Raptors
Toronto’s Depth: While usual stars Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan may have struggled from the field, going a combined 28 points on 10-26 shooting, the Raptors’ supporting cast more than made up for it. Serge Ibaka did what he is being paid big bucks to do, finishing with 23 and 12, while bench players Delon Wright and Lucas Nogueira stepped up on both offence and defence, especially in the 4th quarter. If the Raptors are going to come out of the East, their depth will be a huge reason why.
Spurs vs. Warriors
Kawhi Leonard: Without their usual MVP candidate, San Antonio had no answer for Golden State, on both ends of the court. The Spurs were famously up 23 on the Warriors in Game 1 of last year’s Conference Finals, before falling apart once Leonard went down. If they are to have any semblance of hope against the defending champs, they will need him back.
Heat vs. 76ers
Ben Simmons: When Joel Embiid was diagnosed with an orbital fracture and concussion, much was made of Philadelphia’s struggles when he doesn’t play. Lately, however, the Sixers have flipped the script, led by their uniquely talented rookie point guard. Simmons scored 17 points, with 14 assists and 9 rebounds, as Philadelphia destroyed Miami for their 17th straight win, and their 9th in a row without Embiid. Trust the process indeed, perhaps even when its most recognizable face is absent.
Pelicans vs. Trail Blazers
The Pelicans’ Guards: Everyone knows about the superstar that is Anthony Davis. However, New Orleans does not win this game without Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo. Holiday scored 21 points, while Rondo added 17 assists. Moreover, both played excellent defence limiting Portland’s star backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to a combined 13-41 shooting. Holiday, in particular, came up with a huge block to seal the win in the dying seconds. In Demarcus Cousins’ absence, big contributions like these from the supporting cast are crucial.
Bucks vs. Celtics
Terry Rozier: With Kyrie Irving out, perhaps no one is more important to the Celtics than his replacement. “I just know I gotta step up,” said Rozier after the game. Scary Terry stepped up big time, scoring 23 in Boston’s overtime win.
Pacers vs. Cavaliers
Cleveland’s Supporting Cast: LeBron did his thing, finishing with 24 points and a triple-double. It wasn’t nearly enough. James was the only member of the Cavs’ starting lineup to reach double figures in points. Kevin Love, all-star and supposed second banana, finished with 9. Jeff Green had 0. If Lebron continues to get a lack of help, forget the Finals. Cleveland might not make it out of the first round.
Jazz vs. Thunder
Paul George: Despite his obvious talents, George hit a rough patch after the all-star break, with a true shooting percentage of .526, compared to .589 before the break. He had no problem finding his shot against Utah, hitting a franchise playoff record 8 three-pointers. OKC will need George’s full array of skills in order to get past the red-hot Jazz, and move deeper into the playoffs.
Timberwolves vs. Rockets
Jimmy Butler: Is there anyone that can stop James Harden? The likely MVP finished with 44 points on only 26 shots, adding 8 assists. If someone on Minnesota is going to derail the Harden freight train, it may as well be Butler, the 3-time All-Defensive Team member. It sure didn’t happen on Sunday.