- Mamadou Tall
NBA Playoffs First Round Recap
The first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs has come to an end. Playoff basketball is always entertaining and this year is no exception; so far. The first round was nothing short of surprising. Aside from the heightened level of competition, the first round taught us many things and showed us glimpses of what was to come.
Celtics Sweep the Nets (4-0)
It's only right that I start with this series. It was the fastest one, surprisingly. Except for Boston Celtics fans it is safe to say that everybody and their mother had the Brooklyn Nets winning this series in six or seven games. I definitely did. The young Celtics squad had other plans as they finished off the Nets in four.
The biggest difference makers in this series were simply defense and chemistry. All things the Nets didn't have. Jayson Tatum, Jalyn Brown, and Marcus Smart have played together for a total of five years and have developed chemistry through the ups and downs the Celtics have faced in the past years. Add the stellar team defense and Ime Udoka's coaching to that and you have a legit championship contender who handled business early.
The Nets, on the other hand have been the most discombobulated playoff teams in recent memory. The exceptional scoring abilities of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving did nothing to save them. Kevin Durant struggled battling double teams whenever he put the ball on the ground. Kyrie Irving's absence for a majority of the season hurt the team's flow and continuity in the playoffs. The plague of the Ben Simmons saga spread to Brooklyn and that uncertainty loomed over the team throughout the series. Steve Nash's poor coaching was on full display and the lack of size and defense gave the front office a lot to think over in their off season.
Jayson Tatum is an elite two-way player
The Ben Simmons trade was a big mistake, the guy doesn't want to hoop
Ime Udoka is one of the league's best defensive coaches
Steve Nash has to go, and Brooklyn needs more pieces around KD and Kyrie
Miami Takes Care of Business; Gentleman's Sweep (4-1)
This series was a forgone conclusion from the beginning. For much of the season the Miami Heat have been one of the most complete teams in the league. Their defense is elite and their offense isn't too shabby either. This series highlighted how stacked and deep the Miami Heat are. With the likes of Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Victor Oladipo, Tyler Herro, and Bam Adebayo to name a few; it's no surprise the Heat are considered championship contenders. This 4-1 series win has elevated these claims.
The Atlanta Hawks' offense has been powered by Trae Young all season. So what do you expect to happen when he is eliminated as a factor? The Hawks struggle. Trae Young ended his post-season averaging 15.4 points, 6 assists and an abysmal 6 turnovers. The Heat swarming Trae Young night in and night out proved to be the perfect game plan, and Trae's struggles made it clear that there is only so much one man can do. Despite the struggles of the Hawks, Deandre Hunter showcased his skill and what he can do when he is called upon. Having averaged 21 points, shot 55% from the field, and 46% from three. Hunter gives Hawks fans something to be happy about if he gets a heightened role next season.
This series was no real test for the Heat, but it allowed for players such as Oladipo and Butler to get in rhythm and get ready for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Jimmy Butler is a top 10 player in this league
Oladipo will be the x-factor for the Heat throughout the post-season
Deandre Hunter can prove to be very good when called upon
The Warriors Are Getting Their Swagger Back (4-1)
The Warriors are starting to look the Warriors of old. That is scary for the rest of the league. With a blend of veterans from the previous championship run and new young players, the Warriors have found synergy combining the two. In this series the Warriors have found new gems.
Jordan Poole has emerged as rising star for Golden State. He averaged 21 points, 5 assists on 54-48-84 shooting splits. With many calling him the third splash brother, Poole is carving out a role as a the third wheel to what Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have going on. Add the excellent defense of Draymon Green, Gary Payton III, and Andrew Wiggings. You have a scary blend of an explosive offense and strong defense. Stephen Curry came off the bench for much of this series. It will be interesting to see the line-ups Steve Kerr throws out against the Memphis Grizzlies next round.
The Denver Nuggets struggled all throughout this series. The absence of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr made things difficult for Nikola Jokic. Although he put up an impressive stat-line of 31 points, 13 rebounds, and 5.8 assist; it was obvious that he alone could not pull this off. Will Barton and Aaron Gordon struggled throughout the series and provided no help for Jokic. There were moments when rookie Bones Hyland showed potential and this playoff experience will only help his game grow. With the return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter next season, Denver will return to contending prominence.
Nikola Jokic is definitely MVP now, if it wasn't already obvious
Stephen Curry is still that guy
Jordan Poole fits in perfectly alongside Steph and Klay
Bucks Pack the Bulls (4-1)
The Milwaukee Bucks easily won this series but at what cost? Giannis Antetokounmpo's play continues as he is a generational talent, but the Bucks left this series with a loss. Khris Middleton went down with a sprained MCL and missed most of this series and will miss all of the second round. Despite this, the Bucks handled business winning 4-1.
The absence of Khris Middleton was hanging over the Bucks, but they have proven to be one of the more deeper teams in the league. Without Khris Middleton, players such as Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, and Bobby Portis stepped to fill that void. Giannis was Giannis; you know how that goes. The thing that stuck out to me was the defense that Bucks played throughout the series. Forcing Chicago to hit threes and not allowing any shots in the paint. In addition, the Bucks made sure to force anyone other than Demar Derozan to score and exposed the lack of shooting on the bulls. It will be interesting to see how they defend against the Celtics and how their offense will flow against Boston's defense.
Chicago was dealing with injuries throughout this series. This absence of Lonzo Ball hurt them severely. Add the struggles of Zach Lavine and Demar Derozan; it was clear that this wasn't their year. The lack of three point shooting was visible and the Bulls have a lot to answer this off-season, with Lavine entering free agency.
Khris Middleton's absence will hurt the Bucks in the next round
Bulls might have messed up their chance to convince Zach Lavine to stay
Giannis is only getting better with time
The Suns Win the Series, the Pelicans Gain a Moral Victory (4-2)
This was one of the most entertaining series of the first round. The defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns faced off against a young and gritty New Orleans Pelicans. Although the Suns won the series in six games, the Pelicans leave this series with a lot to be happy about for their future.
Chris Paul has continuously proven that he is an all-time great at the point guard position. His 14-14 33 point performance to close out the Pelicans made NBA history. Aside from that Chris Paul did a great job leading his team as he always does. An injury to Devin Booker early in the series allowed Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Deandre Ayton to step -up and remind us that they can step up when asked to. Bridges flexed his offensive skills in game 5, scoring a career high 31 points. Ayton averaged 20 and 10 and is finding his groove right on time.
The Pelicans might have lost the series, but this season is nothing short of a success. Not many people pictured them making the playoffs, let alone taking the number one team in the league to six games. Rookies Jose Alvarado, and Herb Jones showed their talent on the defensive end. Brandon Ingram is blossoming into an elite scorer right before our eyes and he showcased that in this series. Young coach Willie Green showcased his leadership and ability to rally his players to play hard despite their young age. Pelicans fans have a lot to look forward to and with the potential return of Zion Williamson next season, the sky is the limit.
Brandon Ingram is one of the league's best young scorers
Herb Jones is a top 5 defender in the league a rookie
Devin Booker might not be 100% for next series
Philly Won, But Did They Really? (4-2)
The Philadelphia 76ers have been entrenched in drama all throughout this season. The drama surrounding the Ben Simmons saga and the trade for James Harden has been the topic of many headlines. This playoff series did nothing to quell those concerns and drama looming over the 76ers. Although they won this series in six games, they might have lost the engine of their success, Joel Embiid.
This series started off as a cake walk for the 76ers as they took a 3-0 lead. Through those first three games, James Harden struggled at times but Tyrese Maxey's play often overshadowed those struggles. Embiid did what he does and dominated in the paint. He even hit a game winner to gain the 3-0 lead. The concerns started to arise once that 3-0 lead turned into a 3-2 lead. Questions about Doc Rivers as coach and his past failings became public discourse. Questions about Harden's play and his decline became the topic of conversations. Despite all this they closed out Toronto in six games but at what cost? Embiid suffered an orbital fracture and concussion in the close out game while up double digits with four minutes remaining in the game.
Philly is gearing up to face off against the Miami Heat. Embiid is out indefenitley so let's just say that he won't play that series until we know otherwise. It's safe to say that Philly is in a tough spot. No Embiid against the Heat will be a big problem, unless Harden, Maxey, and Tobias Harris all step up their game.
Why was Embiid in the game at the time he got hurt?
James Harden has to step up in the absence of Embiid
Tyrese Maxey is the best shooter on the 76ers
The Mavs Might Have Forced the Jazz to Blow Things Up (4-2)
The Dallas Mavericks entered this series without their best player, Luka Doncic, for the first three games. In those three games the Mavericks managed to gain a 2-1 lead over the Utah Jazz. From the moment Luka returned to the series, it was pretty much over for the Jazz.
The Mavericks' Jalen Brunson, and Spencer Dinwiddie came up big in the absence of Luka. They continuously made big plays in big moments and held down the fort until the man came back. Once Luka came back, he picked up right where he left off. His continued high level of play in the post season continued. His ability to control the game and takeover was on full display. The coaching decision by Jason Kidd to go small against the Jazz proved to be beneficial as they exposed Rudy Gobert and the Jazz's defense as a whole. Luka won his first NBA playoff series of his career and is gearing up to go against the Suns next round.
The Jazz struggled this series defensively. With championship contention as the early expectations, things began to unravel for the Jazz late in the season. This followed them into the post season. Gobert's lack of ability to guard on the perimeter was their achilles heel. Add Donovan Mitchell's struggles defensively and you have a recipe for disaster. It has become evident that this duo of Gobert and Mitchell will not work, and Utah's front office are realizing this. So who's leaving?
Jalen Brunson is the truth
Gobert has to get traded, it's not working
Luka is a generational talent
Grizzlies Win the Fight Against the Wolves
This was a battle of the youth. Two young, energetic teams with modern day swag faced off. The Memphis Grizzlies won this one in six games and proved to be the deeper team in the series. The Minnesota Timberwolves put their best foot forward but blew double digit leads in every game of the series, showing their inexperience.
The Grizzlies may have one this series, but they have to do a lot of soul searching as they play against the Golden State Warriors in the next round. They became the first team in NBA history trial by double digits in every game and win. That accolade isn't something to be too happy about. Going down constantly isn't a good idea in the post season. Especially not against Golden State. Ja Morant's struggles throughout the series helped shine a light on how deep this Grizzlies team really is. Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, and Tyus Jones all came up big when Morant struggled. The team showed great resilience to continuously dig themselves out of holes and win a tough series.
The Minnesota Timberwolves weren't predicted to be in the playoffs, so them getting there is a something to celebrate. The celebration stops when you realize they might have produced the biggest choke jobs in NBA history. The highlight of these blown leads occurred in game 3 when Minnesota collapsed and blew a 26 point lead while playing at home. This game pretty much foreshadowed everything that was to come in this series. The bright spot for the Timberwolves was Anthony Edwards. As a 20-year-old in his first post-season, Edwards averaged 25 points, 4 boards, and 3 assists. If there was any doubt about it, it's now clear that Ant Man is the best player on the Timberwolves. He is going to be a super star.
Ja Morant is struggling in the slowed down pace of the playoffs
Desmond Bane is the second best player on the Grizzlies
Anthony Edwards is a star