NBA Playoffs First Round recap


Gobierno CDMX on Wikimedia Commons

The NBA playoffs consists of sixteen teams battling each other until one is crowned FInals Champion.

Sam Dare, Staff Writer

It’s now time for the glorious stretch of basketball that is the NBA postseason. Sixteen teams battle each other to take home the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Only one team will come out of the bloodbath. After an electric first round of playoff basketball, only eight teams remain. I’ll go series by series and recap each team’s performance.


Eastern Conference

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Miami Heat (Miami wins 4-1)

Jimmy Butler and the Heat pulled off the shock upset of the Bucks in the first round, marking only the fifth time in history that a one seed has lost in the first round of the NBA playoffs. It hasn’t happened in twelve years. It also marks the first time that a play-in tournament team has advanced in the playoffs since its introduction last year. 

Jimmy Butler averaged 37.6/6.0/4.8 on 67.1% true shooting percentage in the first round against the Bucks, truly a masterful performance. He scored 42 points in Game 5, leading the Heat on a comeback to send the game to overtime and ultimately seal the series. In Game 4, he scored 56 points, tied for fourth most ever in a postseason game. The Heat battled through injury and decimated the betting-favorite Bucks. 

The Bucks didn’t execute in any sense. Defensively, the team was picked apart by Butler, and offensively, they never generated anything significant. Giannis Antetokounmpo missed two entire games and the majority of a third in the series with a back injury, and when he played he wasn’t his normal superstar self. The Bucks just got outplayed. They can’t blame this loss on anything else. The Heat deserved to win.


(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Atlanta Hawks (Boston wins 4-2)

While Atlanta fought hard against the powerhouse Celtics, they were overwhelmed by the Celtics’ incessant offense and stifling defense. Jayson Tatum averaged great numbers in the series despite some lackluster games, and Jaylen Brown nearly matched his production. Malcolm Brogdon, the winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award, averaged good numbers in a supporting role. Overall, this was a solid series for the Celtics, one that was never really in doubt. 

Atlanta’s Trae Young nearly averaged 30 points a game to go along with his ten assists a game in the series. He did his best to keep Atlanta in the series, but, in the end, he couldn’t do it himself. Even the Hawks themselves didn’t seem to believe in the team this series, as they booked a Janet Jackson concert in the Hawks’ arena the same night and time as Game 6 was scheduled to be. I guess they didn’t think the series had a chance to go that far. Trae Young is a proven playoff performer, and Atlanta just has to build the team around him.


(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets (Philadelphia wins 4-0)

The 76ers easily won this series, sweeping the Nets. No one in this series had a particularly remarkable performance, but the 76ers just methodically played as a team and consistently outplayed the Nets. MVP candidate Joel Embiid didn’t play up to the level he was at in the regular season, but he still played solidly and was staunch on defense as per usual. James Harden, the former Net, put up good numbers in the supporting role as well.

The Nets, who, in the last year or so, have lost James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving, are a far cry from their former selves. Mikal Bridges, acquired in the trade of Kevin Durant to the Suns, averaged 23.5/5.3/4.0 on nearly 54% true shooting percentage. Fellow trade package member Cam Johnson averaged 18.5/5.8/2.8 on 63.7% TSG. Both Johnson and Bridges show a lot of promise and upside. This Nets team now has some good young players and has offloaded a lot of big contracts for older players. They may be good in the future, but in the present, they aren’t good enough to advance.


(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) New York Knicks (New York wins 4-1)

The Knicks are a deep and versatile team. Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson boast the bulk of the star power, but RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Josh Hart, and Mitchell Robinson all round out a list of high-quality players. The Cavaliers are also a deep, versatile team with a bonafide superstar in Donovan Mitchell, but they just didn’t execute. 

The Knicks’ defense, credit to them, shut the Cavs down. The Cavs averaged 94.2 points per game in this series, compared to their 112.3 in the regular season and the league average of 114.7. The Knicks’ opposing ppg average this season is 112, but they played significantly better in the series, so the defense is stepping up at the right time. The Knicks normally have nothing but losses to think about, but they are seeming more and more like a legit playoff team. And the Cavs must figure out how the Knicks managed to shut them down before next season starts to avoid a repeat of disaster. 


Western Conference

(1) Denver Nuggets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves (Denver wins 4-1) 

The Nuggets easily handled the Timberwolves in this series. Two-time MVP winner Nikola Jokić played his usual smooth, dominant game, averaging 26.2/12.4/9.0 with a 57.5% true shooting percentage. Jamal Murray, the right hand man to Joker, averaged 27.2/6.4/5.6 on 59.8% TSG, also having a phenomenal series. The Nuggets had some close games in this series, but they also dominated some of them, and in the end, they never even really broke a sweat.

The Timberwolves, who spent a ton of capital and money on Rudy Gobert in the offseason in an effort to push to being a Finals contender, got bounced in five games in the first round. This team is a mishmash of parts that doesn’t mesh well together at all. Karl-Anthony Towns was underwhelming, and Gobert didn’t play very well. Anthony Edwards was the lone bright spot, having an unbelievable series, averaging 31.6/5.2/5.0 on a 60.2% true shooting percentage. The T-Wolves, however, have a lot to figure out if they want to compete in the future. Meanwhile, the Nuggets look very good.


(2) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers (Los Angeles wins 4-2)

The Lakers won in six in a great series against the Memphis Grizzlies. LeBron James and Anthony Davis played well enough for the Lakers to advance, but the real highlight of the series for the Lakeshow was the team play, not just the stars. DeAngelo Russell and Austin Reaves both showed up in the sidekick role when needed, and the team executed well. It’s debatable whether or not the Lakers were true underdogs, but they beat a two-seed as a seven-seed, so that’s always notable.

The Grizzlies, specifically Dillon Brooks, were unable to back up their talk all season and during the series. After their Game 2 win, Brooks was quoted speaking about LeBron after guarding him in the game. He said, “He’s old… I poke the bears. I don’t respect someone until he gives me 40.” It is worth noting that Brooks averaged 10.5/3.0/1.8 on 39.3% true shooting percentage, significantly below average numbers, compared with LeBron’s normal dominance. And now, after the series, it is being reported by NBA insider Shams Charania that the Grizzlies are not interested in bringing back Brooks next season (who will be a free agent this offseason) under any circumstances. Hopefully, Brooks has learned his lesson.


(3) Sacramento Kings vs. (6) Golden State Warriors (Golden State wins 4-3)

In probably the most intriguing first-round matchup, the Warriors battled out the win over the Kings in seven. In this series, you had the defending NBA champions and perennial title threat Warriors against the Sacramento Kings, who hadn’t been to the playoffs in a whopping 17 years, the longest dry spell of any major North American sports franchise this century. Steph Curry played extremely well, which is standard for him at this point, and the Warriors executed well, but in the end, they barely beat the Kings.

The Kings are a young and exciting team, so expect to see them back in the playoffs again. This was just a tough matchup for them in the first round. Guard De’Aaron Fox averaged All-Star numbers in the series, and forward Domantas Sabonis averaged solid figures. The Kings have a dedicated fanbase, a young and excellent team, and phenomenal coaching, including this year’s NBA Coach of the Year, Mike Brown, as their Head Coach. Their future is bright, and maybe their playoff drought will turn into a hot streak.


(4) Phoenix Suns vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers (Phoenix wins 4-1)

The superteam Suns handily won this series 4-1 thanks to serious injury issues for the Clippers. Paul George, the star guard//forward for the Clippers, missed the whole series, and Kawhi Leonard, the centerpiece of the team and one of the most impactful players in the league only played two of the five games of the series. Russell Westbrook tried to get the team to the next round, but he couldn’t get it done.

The Suns, headlined by superstar tandem Devin Booker and Kevin Durant and led by Chris Paul, are a deadly superteam. While they may have struggled against a fully healthy Clippers, they certainly didn’t against the injured version. They cruised through this series with Devin Booker averaging over 37(!!!) points a game and Kevin Durant averaging 28/6/5, while CP3 averaged 13.6/8.2/6.0. The series might have been entirely different if Kawhi and PG13 weren’t injured, but that’s all hypothetical. All that matters is the Suns are good, stacked, and moving on.


Final Thoughts

That’s all for my recap of the First Round of this year’s NBA playoffs. Make sure to stay tuned for the Semi-finals recap coming soon!