Four Game 1s are in the books in the NBA’s conference semifinals.
The Milwaukee Bucks handed the Boston Celtics their first playoff defeat, as Giannis Antetokounmpo proved too much for the league’s No. 1-ranked defense. (If you didn’t catch the game, this is the only highlight you need.)
The Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies, meanwhile, put on a show in Game 1 of their series. Despite Draymond Green getting ejected after a flagrant 2 foul late in the second quarter, the Warriors survived after Ja Morant missed a buzzer-beating layup in the final second.
The Miami Heat turned things up after trailing the Philadelphia 76ers by one point at halftime, led by a team-high 25 points off the bench from Tyler Herro.
The Phoenix Suns overcame 45 points from Luka Doncic to take care of business in Game 1, where Chris Paul finally missed a shot after going 14-for-14 in the Suns’ closeout win in the first round.
What did these Game 1 showdowns reveal about the directions each series could take? Our NBA experts discuss what lies ahead in the second round.
There’s no such thing as a must-win Game 1 in a best-of-seven series, but Sunday’s game felt a lot like it for the host Grizzlies.
Up one when Draymond Green was ejected for a flagrant foul, Memphis was unable to take advantage despite a rare 3-point advantage over the Warriors, who averaged 2.8 more triples during the regular season.
Golden State was able to grind out a win in Grizzlies-like fashion, coming up with 16 offensive rebounds — as many as the Warriors had in any two-game stretch against the Denver Nuggets in the first round — and surviving when Ja Morant missed a game-winning layup at the buzzer.
Ja Morant misses at the buzzer and Draymond Green celebrates with his team in the tunnel.
Now, Memphis must at least earn a home split. The first question ahead of Game 2 is whether to change the starting five. Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins used three different lineups against the Minnesota Timberwolves before settling on Xavier Tillman Sr. at center in place of the more paint-bound Steven Adams, who has been unavailable the past two games due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Golden State was able to target Tillman in pick-and-rolls after rolling out its three-guard lineup to start the second half. At the other end, the Warriors were perfectly comfortable switching their smaller guards on Tillman, who didn’t return after the Grizzlies were outscored 13-5 in the first 3:53 of the third quarter.
Clearly, Memphis’ best option alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. is Brandon Clarke, who hasn’t started a playoff game but has finished every close one. If Jenkins doesn’t want to start Clarke, going back to the smaller Kyle Anderson would give the Grizzlies more playmaking and defensive versatility while matching Tillman’s minutes off the bench against softer Golden State reserve units.
With Green back to start Game 2, Warriors coach Steve Kerr also faces a choice about his line-up. After going small to close out the Nuggets with Green at center and Stephen Curry back in the starting lineup alongside Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson, Kerr decided to stick with Green at center Monday but replace Poole with defensive stalwart Gary Payton II. Poole started the second half in place of Payton, though both were on the floor down the stretch.
In the closing minutes, Memphis did a nice job attacking the Warriors’ small lineups, forcing switches to shake Morant free from Payton. Morant was able to break down Poole and Thompson off the dribble as he scored six points and handed out three assists in the final four minutes.
One lingering question: Can the Grizzlies get Dillon Brooks going? Brooks, who averaged 25.8 PPG in last year’s playoff run, is down to 15.3 this year on 36% shooting. Game 1 was his fourth out of seven playoff games shooting worse than 30% from the field.
Bucks 1, Celtics 0: Why Boston needs to dominate the non-Giannis minutes
The Bucks had their way in Game 1. They were the more aggressive and more physical team, forcing Boston to both rush through offensive sets and settle for a playoff franchise-record 50 3-point attempts.
They weren’t all bad shots. There was a stretch in the fourth quarter during which the Celtics got back-to-back-to-back wide-open looks — and hit two of those three — to cut it to a 12-point game with 3:50 to go.
Boston got the looks it wanted, but coach Ime Udoka said the key to Game 2 will be getting the Celtics’ midrange shots to fall.
The Celtics shot 10-of-34 on 2-point field goals and were 0-of-3 on their 2s outside the paint. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, their previous low for made 2-point field goals in a game, regular season or postseason, had been 14.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in Game 1 but had an off night percentage-wise, going just 9-of-25 from the floor. Still, he was able to make plays to account for 55 points overall; his teammates shot 12-of-18 off his passes with seven 3s.
It was Boston’s plan to send multiple looks and defenders at Antetokounmpo, and that created 14 uncontested looks for his teammates.
Giannis Antetokounmpo dishes it out to Bobby Portis Jr. who nails the 3
On the other end of the floor, Antetokounmpo combined with Brook Lopez to be defensive anchors in the paint, forcing Boston to shoot 3-of-20 when either of them contested a shot, including 1-of-15 from inside the arc, per ESPN Stats & Info.
For Boston to come out ahead in Game 2, it will also need to do better in the minutes Antetokounmpo sits. The Bucks were plus-23 in the two-time MVP’s 37:47 on the court and minus-11 when he sat. But those breaks were few and far between.
Multiple times, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer sat Antetokounmpo for less than a minute. He got a brief 2:39 break to start the second quarter and was forced to sit the final 3:37 of the third because he picked up his fourth foul.
The other key was capitalizing on Boston’s miscues and limiting the Celtics from doing damage off Milwaukee’s. The Bucks scored 27 points off of 18 Boston turnovers, while the Celtics scored only six points off 14 Bucks turnovers.
« You gotta be the smarter team. Tonight we weren’t, » Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said after Game 1. « We look at it, we learn from it and we come back better for the next game. »
Heat 1, 76ers 0: Adebayo is making short-handed Philly pays
The 76ers were going to be in trouble without Joel Embiid against just about any opponent. There’s a reason Embiid is an MVP finalist for a second straight season.
But there arguably wasn’t a worse opponent to draw without Embiid, who will miss at least the first two games of this series, than the Heat and their own All-Star center in Bam Adebayo.
On a night when Miami couldn’t get out of its own way and gave the 76ers every chance to steal the opening game of these Eastern Conference semifinals, it was Adebayo who made sure the Heat would escape.
His final stat line — 24 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in 34 minutes — doesn’t begin to tell the story of his dominance. His plus-26, however, does.
So, too, did the reaction from the 76ers after Game 1.
« I thought their physicality affected us tonight, » 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. « I thought they got into us, and that had an impact. »
PJ Tucker dishes to Bam Adebayo near the basket, who finishes with a two-handed jam.
It was a performance reminiscent of the way Adebayo helped lift the Heat to the NBA Finals inside the Orlando, Florida, bubble in 2020.
Against the Bucks in the East semifinals and especially against the Celtics in the East finals, it was Adebayo just as much as Jimmy Butler who allowed Miami to control the game by controlling the paint at both ends.
It’s also a reminder of what those Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers could have been had Adebayo not gotten hurt in Game 1.
Against Philadelphia on Monday night, Adebayo left Sixers center DeAndre Jordan hopelessly overmatched and posting a minus-22 in 17 minutes. Paul Reed played well in short minutes, putting up 4 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists, but had five fouls in 13 minutes.
Some of that is because Reed routinely gets into foul trouble, but a large part was because Adebayo simply created fouls by taking control of the interior.
Adebayo also helped anchor a defense that, in addition to limiting the 76ers to 6-for-34 from 3-point range, saw them have little success inside.
As long as Embiid is sidelined, that won’t change. And if he does return, Adebayo is one of the few centers in the NBA who can contest him in single coverage — which helps allow Miami’s other defenders, such as PJ Tucker and Butler, stay plastered on James Harden and Tobias Harris.
The 76ers left FTX Arena believing they can get back in this series with a Game 2 win Wednesday night. But if Adebayo keeps dominating the paint like he did in the opener, this series could be a short one.
— Tim Bontemps
Suns 1, Mavericks 0: Is small-ball the key to slowing down Deandre Ayton?
Suns center Deandre Ayton presents a big problem for the Dallas Mavericks that they didn’t face in the first round. He’s a center capable of being a dominant scorer, as Ayton displayed in the first three quarters of Monday’s Game 1.
Ayton scored 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting through three quarters, a significant factor in the Suns’ 121-114 win.
Dallas held Ayton scoreless in the fourth quarter, when he missed all four of his shots. Too little, too late, but Dallas might have discovered a small-ball solution.
The Mavs played almost the entire fourth quarter with a small lineup featuring 6-foot-8 Dorian Finney-Smith at center. Starting center Dwight Powell didn’t play at all in the fourth, and backup big man Maxi Kleber played only 108 seconds. Dallas outscored the Suns by a dozen points in the 10 minutes and 12 seconds with Finney-Smith at center.
Ayton grumbled about the Suns taking their foot off the gas pedal with a comfortable lead — and that certainly could have been a factor — but the Mavs are optimistic that their small lineups can be an asset in this series.
The Suns are able to overcome 45 points from Luka Doncic and take Game 1 121-114.
« I thought [Finney-Smith] was great at the 5, » Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. « He’s showing that he’s not only a wing player, but he can also be a big. I thought he was good for us playing the 5, and we’re going to continue to put that lineup out there. »
It’s not a look that the Mavs used frequently this season, but Finney-Smith has had some success playing center. Notably, he held Sacramento Kings big man Domantas Sabonis scoreless in the fourth quarter of a comeback win. He’s up for the challenge against Ayton — who is 6-foot-11, 250 pounds and has a soft touch — as long as the Mavs provide the appropriate help.
« I wouldn’t say it was just me, » Finney-Smith said. « We played with a lot more tenacity and fight in that fourth quarter. It was everybody moving and talking, so we’ve just got to be that way the whole game.
« I think we can play that lineup, but we’re just going to have to rebound. Rebound and play fast. »
Of course, the other issue with playing Finney-Smith at center is that it takes him off All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker. When you’re facing the team with the NBA’s best record, part of the challenge is figuring out which problems are the priorities.