Saturday was our highly anticipated kickoff to the 2018-2019 NBA Playoffs, and it did not disappoint. Eight groups hit the floor, starting with the Philadelphia 76ers hosting the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors hosting the Orlando Magic, Golden State Warriors welcoming in the Los Angeles Clippers, and Denver Nuggets taking on the San Antonio Spurs. These opening playoff matchups did not disappoint.
76ers vs Nets
The postseason immediately opened up with plenty of drama, when the Brooklyn Nets visited the Philadelphia 76ers. Before the game, Joel Embiid was listed as doubtful but suited up regardless. From the tip, Brooklyn came out intense, quickly frustrating and taking advantage of the Sixers. D’Angelo Russell picked up where he left off in the regular season, dropping 26 points in 29 minutes, supported by excellent performances off the bench from LeVert and Dinwiddie, as Brooklyn went on to lead by as much as 17, and took the 111-102 win in the end. The headline, of course, will be more on the embarrassing effort from Philly rather the impressive control from Brooklyn, but do not discredit the team ball and heart the Nets played with tonight, putting their foot on the gas and never looking back. However, the 76ers were abysmal. as Ben Simmons posted just 9 points in 32 minutes, Tobias Harris 4 points shooting 2/7 in 40 minutes, and sharpshooter JJ Redick finishing with just 5 points and fouling out in 22 minutes. Jimmy Butler’s 36 points and 9 rebounds made him one of the only Sixers to show up. To cap it off, drama arose regarding Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson peaking at a phone on the sideline, and the Philadelphia fans begin to boo their Sixers, not sitting well with Ben Simmons. Not what Philadelphia wanted in their opener at all, and for Brooklyn, a statement win in what now appears to have the potential for an upset.
Raptors vs Magic
The second matchup in our Saturday opener was the Toronto Raptors taking on the Orlando Magic. Each team has been electric as of late, as Milwaukee and these 2 are the only 3 teams in the league to hold a +70% win percentage since February 1st. Historically the Toronto Raptors have been known to be underwhelming in the postseason, and that notion is stronger than ever, as the Magic went on to get a 104-101 victory behind veteran DJ Augustin’s 25 points, 6 assists, and the game-winning three ball. A back and forth game the whole way, Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakim each dominated for Toronto, but were not able to lift them past Orlando by themselves, as All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry keeps his playoff reputation strong as ever, scoring 0 points on 0-7 shooting in 34 minutes of action. What is even more impressive about this victory is that Orlando’s main guys, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic each scored just 10 and 11 points. The hope, especially at home, is that the Magic’s frontcourt, with plenty of scoring ability, will get going. Given the Raptors, history to blow it in the postseason, yet having someone the likes of Kawhi Leonard, it’s a toss-up as to how this will go. It seems the key, however, will not be Kawhi, he did his thing, the key for Toronto to survive will be if Lowry, Ibaka, and Gasoline can turn it on. This is a series to keep an eye on for sure.
Warriors vs Clippers
The western conference opener had plenty of talk surrounding it, as DeMarcus Cousins made his postseason debut, and of course, the expectations surrounding the Warriors for the playoffs. They did not disappoint. For the majority of the first half, this game was neck and neck. Then, a late 2nd quarter run from Golden State, that we all knew was coming eventually, put this game to bed. Stephen Curry stuffed the stat sheet with 38 points, 15 boards, and 7 assists, not to mention surpassing Ray Allen in postseason 3’s made. The Warriors also got 23 from Durant and a solid 17, 7 and 7 from Draymond Green. Interestingly enough, Patrick Beverly was assigned to Kevin Durant this game, and the two were getting into it all night, leading to both being ejected after KD got in Beverly’s face following knocking him and the ball out of bounds. The evident skill of the Warriors, and evident youth and lack of star power from the Clippers make it seem this will be a quick series, but with the evident tension and history of these two franchises, it’ll be a series worth watching no matter how long.
Nuggets vs Spurs
The final game of Saturday’s action was the San Antonio Spurs visiting the Denver Nuggets. This is easily one of the most interesting matchups in this year’s playoffs, while the Nuggets had a remarkable postseason, the group headlined by Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton is incredibly young and inexperienced. On the other hand, the Spurs have arguably the most coveted coach of all time, especially in the postseason, Gregg Popovich. This was a close game all the way, and an entertaining one, but in the end, Popovich’s veteran group were able to outlast Mike Malone’s young Nuggets 101-96. It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out, an upset is well in play.
Image via OrlandoMagicDaily.com