NBA: MVP Front-Runners Start Playoffs Strong

Day 1 of the NBA Playoffs delivered a host of notable upsets. But there were no such surprises in Day 2 as all four of the higher seeds went on to win.

The Bucks and Rockets looked particularly impressive as their MVP-caliber superstars — Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden — led them to dominant blow-out wins.

Meanwhile, the Celtics and Blazers overcame some rough shooting to take the lead over the Pacers and Thunder, respectively.

And even though only one game has been played in those four matchups, some troubling signs emerged in three of them which suggest those series may not last very long.

Indiana Pacers 74-84 Boston Celtics

For the third time in the space of a couple of weeks, the Celtics once again got the better of the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers. It was truly a struggle for the Pacers to score in Game 1; they shot just 33 per cent from the field and had a franchise-low eight points in the third quarter.

The Celtics didn’t play so great themselves. Kyrie Irving had 20 points on a mere 6-of-17 shooting as they shot only 36 per cent as a team. But their defence completely smothered the Pacers, who have sorely missed the presence of their All-Star shooting guard after initially playing well without him.

While it’s safe to assume some better shooting from Boston in the next few games, the same can’t be said for Indiana. Without Oladipo, the Pacers simply don’t seem to have enough firepower to hang with the Celtics, who have the superior scoring talent.

Oklahoma City Thunder 99-104 Portland Trail Blazers

Paul George failed to impress during the NBA Playoffs against the Trail Blazers

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George drives around Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu in Game 1 of their NBA Playoff series

After getting swept in each of the last two playoffs, the Blazers finally ended their postseason losing skid with a hard-fought win over the Thunder.

The dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum didn’t shoot the ball well — they went just 18-of-45 –but they did combine for 54 points. Meanwhile, former Thunder big man Enes Kanter, who’s starting for the injured Jusuf Nurkic, came up huge with 20 points and 18 boards against his old team.

Russell Westbrook delivered his obligatory triple-double, but Paul George continued to struggle with his shot. The All-Star wing, who has been plagued by shoulder issues over the past few months, went just 8-of-24 from the field and 4-of-15 on 3-pointers.

After the game, George revealed he couldn’t even lift his shoulder four days prior. But he believes his poor shooting was just a lack of rhythm.

With OKC so highly reliant on Westbrook and George on offence, they just can’t afford those types of shooting nights from PG-13. Their hopes of getting past Portland will quite simply come down to whether he can overcome his ailing shoulder and hit more shots in this series.

Detroit Pistons 86-121 Milwaukee Bucks

The poor Pistons had some huge NBA 2019 news that they would be without star big man Blake Griffin for Game 1. As a result, they were completely blown out by the No. 1-seeded Bucks.

Much like the 76ers’ Joel Embiid, Griffin had been plagued by knee issues which saw him miss key games at the end of the regular season. And as the series opener showed, the Pistons have absolutely no shot to even be competitive against Milwaukee without their All-Star.

It was so one-sided that no Bucks starter even exceeded 25 minutes. Potential NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo put up his 24 points and 17 boards in only 23 minutes of play.

Even if Griffin were fully healthy, this series likely wasn’t going to get past five games at most. The Bucks were the best team in the regular season for a reason, and the Pistons just didn’t have the tools needed to threaten them.

But if Griffin remains out, Detroit could quite realistically suffer a couple more 35-point blowout losses en route to an utterly dominant Bucks sweep. For us basketball fans looking for a sure thing, this is just about the closest one to it in the first round.

Utah Jazz 90-122 Houston Rockets

The Rockets had relatively few problems with the Jazz when they beat them 4-1 in last year’s West semi-finals. And if Game 1 of their first-round series is any indication, James Harden and co. could once again make short work of Utah.

The scary part for the Jazz was that Harden didn’t even play all that well in Game 1, and Houston still won by 32. While he did have 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists, he went just 11-of-26 from the field and had only three free-throw attempts. His supporting cast of Eric Gordon, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela also made big contributions to the win.

The Jazz may have had the No. 2-ranked defence in the league, but it was the Rockets who showcased some stellar D. They forced Utah to just 39 per cent shooting (7-of-27 on 3-pointers) and forced 18 turnovers.

The Rockets’ defence was a key factor in their run to the conference finals last year. And if they can keep an already limited Jazz offence from scoring efficiently, this could be another short series.

 

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