Thoughts and observations from yesterday’s playoff games…
The playoffs kicked off in the NBA bubble yesterday and as 17-year NBA referee Zach Zarba predicted on the Bill Rhoden On Sports podcast last week, playoff intensity was not lacking.
“These eight seeding games we’ve had have been akin to playoff games, in my mind” Zarba said last week. “They’re not playoff games, technically, but they’ve had the player intensity of playoff games.” When I asked Zarba if he thought the intensity could go to an even higher level come playoff time, he responded “Oh, we’re just getting started. Oh, yes.”
Zarba’s words proved prophetic. Yesterday’s Game 1s had at least normal playoff intensity and they again had the feel of NCAA Tournament games, with the uniform neutral courts and the sports fans’ dream: games starting at 1:30PM eastern time and ending just before midnight.
The first game of an NBA playoff series is usually the tone setter, maybe even more so now based on the condensed end of the regular season. Here are some thoughts from yesterday:
Coming into the series, it seemed obvious that the current iteration of the Jazz was strikingly similar to their playoff teams the last couple years. Without Bojan Bogdanovic (wrist) and Mike Conley (paternity leave) it would again depend on Donovan Mitchell to do everything and more on the offensive end.
Mitchell did that yesterday, dropping 57 points to go with 9 rebounds and 7 assists, but even that was not enough. Denver is just too talented and deep to let one man beat them.
Jamal Murray put on a show of his own, with 36 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds.
He and Mitchell are similar in that many fans and prognosticators are hesitant to put them in the up-and-coming superstar category, but my bet is these two will continue to force their way into that category.
Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., struggled a bit in his first playoff game. He scored 13 points on 5/13 shooting, but did grab 8 rebounds in 31 minutes. Welcome to the playoffs, young man.
There’s really not much to say about this one. The Nets are overmatched. They have a team resembling a G-League squad, thanks to many of their best players missing from the bubble. The Nets play hard and could sneak up on a team less prepared or less scrappy, but Toronto is not that team. The Raptors play just as hard, pay as much attention to detail and just happen to have much better players at the moment.
Fred VanVleet had a monster game with 30 points and 11 assists.
Caris LeVert was still impressive, however. He finished with 15 points, 15 assists and 7 rebounds. It’s all about health for LeVert.
The 76ers did show last night that this will not be an easy series for Boston just because Ben Simmons is out. Philadelphia is still a physical defensive team with heart. They will force Boston to beat them.
But, Boston just has too much fire power, led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two more budding superstars. In order for Philly to have a real shot at this series, Joel Embiid will need to match the scoring of Brown and Tatum combined and he was unable to do that in Game 1.
Embiid did post 26 and 16, but if Donovan Mitchell can drop 57, Embiid has to get you at least 40.
Gordon Hayward’s ankle injury is scary, however. Boston will need him in order to do anything serious, such as make a run to the NBA Finals.
This game was marred by the controversial ejection of Kristaps Porzingis early in the third quarter. KP was playing well and the Mavericks were up five at the time, but I’m not sure the Clippers wouldn’t have won the game anyway.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George showed up as expected, scoring 29 and 27, respectively. Marcus Morris Sr. was the third scorer, hitting some big shots on his way to 19 points.
Montrezl Harrell got his feet wet in his first action in the bubble. He logged 15 minutes and had 6 points and 2 rebounds. Expect Harrell to become more and more comfortable in the next few games and eventually become the factor he was pre pandemic.
The Clippers are deep, but their backup guard situation looks shaky, as both Reggie Jackson and Landry Shamet looked terrible last night.
Luka Doncic was unstoppable as usual last night (42, 9 & 7), but he is prone to mistakes. The Clippers forced him into 11 turnovers.
Getting back to the Porzingis ejection, the referees may be more prone to overreaction in the bubble because of the quiet gym that allows them to hear everything at an amplified level. You may see more technical fouls because the referees hear more than they would if there were 20,000 fans drowning everything else out.
“You can now hear so many more things that the crowd might normally drown out,” Zarba said. “You know, we have to learn not to be so sensitive, because a lot of it is passion and wanting to win.”