All 16 NBA playoff teams are on an even playing field now. That’s not to say the Celtics are suddenly going to get a game off LeBron James’ Cavaliers, but they were never going to win that Game 1.
While you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were finally experiencing the postseason under much maligned first-time head coach David Blatt, it went virtually unnoticed that Boston’s Brad Stevens, Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Isaiah Thomas and young guys like Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger were all getting their first taste of the playoffs, too.
On the road.
That’s the game-changer, because a hostile environment fueled by fans thrilled to get free t-shirts and soak in an atmosphere that simply can’t be replicated on any other night during the season usually proves to be insurmountable.
Last year was the anomaly, since five of the eight road teams won after every single one of them had lost the previous season. This past weekend, every home team except Toronto, seven of eight, won their first-round game.
Every team has their agenda early in a postseason, be it as simple as settling in and making sure everyone touches it on the first few possessions. Cleveland’s mission was far more contrived, which we’ll get into in these Game 1 observations:
1 Atlanta vs. 8 Brooklyn: Hawks fans definitely answered the call that they would be able to supply a suitable home court advantage given their history of poor attendance. Former fan favorite Joe Johnson was booed every time he touched the ball and didn’t handle it well early, contributing to Atlanta building a substantial cushion.
2 Cleveland vs. 7 Boston: LeBron James went out of his way to play facilitator, striving to get Irving, Love, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov off before himself. That he led the team in assists should come as no surprise, but getting 20 points when barely trying to assert himself in that phase of the game has to give those who backed a sweep great hope.
3 Chicago vs. 6 Milwaukee: Derrick Rose’s Game 1 was liberating. Both he and Jimmy Butler came in with injury-related concerns and took over the game in spite of them. The Bucks are putting a lot on Khris Middleton’s plate and will need to hit 3-pointers to hang around in the series.
Unless Jason Kidd can free up Michael Carter-Williams to be more of a threat driving into the paint, the Bucks don’t figure to get much around the rim, which means this might be a far shorter series than some (me) imagined.
4 Toronto vs. 5 Washington: Pierce isn’t like most. This Game 2 will be his 150th career playoff outing, so he’s heard his share of boos. Making himself Public Enemy No. 1 in Toronto last year wound up working out for the Brooklyn Nets, so it became a priority this season.
Saying the Wizards didn’t have “it,” he took all the pressure off young guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, then came through with big shot after big shot to quiet naysayers. He’s made this whole series about him. It’s on Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry to change that or his team will be in a major hole.
1 Golden St. vs. 8 New Orleans: New Orleans doesn’t have guards capable of making enough perimeter shots to hang with Golden State, at least at Oracle Arena. Not only do elite shooters know every spot on that floor, they excel in feeding off the NBA’s top home court advantage, one that has produced a 40-2 mark and counting.
Anthony Davis is going to win a game by himself because he’s that blessed, but it won’t be happening in Oakland and won’t happen more than once. This series goes a maximum of five games.
2 Houston vs. 7 Dallas: The Mavericks got stuck playing catch-up and lost a game where Dirk Nowitzki shot 10-for-14, something that isn’t likely to happen again this postseason. Amar’e Stoudemire, 2-for-12 off the bench, was outplayed by Swiss rookie Clint Capela, who helped make up for Dwight Howard playing just 17 minutes.
Rajon Rondo shot the ball well (7-for-16), yet was a -25 when on the court. It was a disconcerting opener for Dallas, who lost by double-digits despite James Harden shooting just 4-for-11.
3 L.A. Clippers vs. 6 San Antonio: Tiago Splitter could only give the Spurs nine minutes, which means they’re in deep trouble if that doesn’t change. Being forced to use Boris Diaw and Aron Baynes against an athletically superior frontcourt led by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is something the defending champs may not be able to overcome.
Chris Paul was brilliant in scoring 32 points on 13-for-20 shooting, overwhelming Tony Parker. Gregg Popovich can no longer afford to play anyone but Kawhi Leonard on him. A lineup without Splitter won’t win four games here.
4 Portland vs. 5 Memphis: Beno Udrih isn’t going to scorer a game-high 20 points again, but his emergence only made the result more pronounced. The Grizzlies might sweep this series if the Trail Blazers can’t establish better balance on offense.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Contact Tony at [email protected].