The NBA playoffs are now underway and so far they have not disappointed. On Saturday we had 6-seed Miami Heat give 3-seed Milwaukee Bucks all they could handle, taking them to overtime in Game 1 on their home court. We also had higher seeds Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers go on the road and steal games from the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets. Then on Sunday, we had two more road underdogs in the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies upset the favorites in the NY Knicks and Utah Jazz. Not to mention, the betting favorite Los Angeles Lakers look like they may be in for a war with the Phoenix Suns just to get to the Conference Semifinals. So with Game 2s starting tonight, I wanted to give my initial impressions and prediction for each series as they progress. For now, I just have tonight’s games, keep an eye out tomorrow morning for the Tuesday night previews.
Miami Heat at Milwaukee Bucks (Game 2 Monday, May 24th, 7:30 PM EST)
The Heat versus the Bucks might be the most intriguing matchup coming out of the Eastern Conference. The Bucks come in as the pick of many to win the conference but after an overtime finish in Game 1, it is very clear the defending Eastern Conference champions are not going to go quietly. While I do think the Bucks will ultimately pull out a win for the series, Game 1 showed that these two teams are much more evenly matched than we originally thought.
The Heat made 15 more 3-pt FG than the Bucks, but still lost.
That's the largest differential (+15) in 3-pt FG made in a playoff loss in NBA history.
It's the 2nd-largest differential in any game, regular season or playoffs (Knicks +16 at Heat on Jan. 27, 2012) pic.twitter.com/6tqIBlXlMc
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 22, 2021
My initial reaction after this game was “OK, the Bucks went 5-31 from 3 and still won, they are fine.” BUT, after looking a little closer there’s definitely some room for concern. While the Bucks only shot 16.1% from deep, the Heat only shot 36.4% from the field, including a 4-22 performance from Jimmy Butler. If there’s one thing I know about Butler it’s that he’s an absolute warrior. This might be the worst playoff performance in his career, I can’t imagine him shooting this poorly the rest of the series.
I was also impressed with how Bam Adebayo was able to slow down Giannis Antetokoumpo. Giannis’ 26 points to Bam’s 9 points would indicate that the Greek Freak dominated, but 26 points isn’t that impressive when it takes 27 shots to get there. Bam had a poor game shooting as well but Miami relies way less on him for offense than the Bucks do Giannis. In head-to-head matchups throughout their career, Adebayo actually holds a ten-win to eight-loss advantage over Giannis so it will be interesting to see if Bam is able to continue that trend as the series progresses.
I also have concerns with how the Milwaukee Bucks, and specifically Giannis, shot from the foul line. It’s no secret that Giannis is not a great shooter overall, but 0-3 from deep and 6-13 from the line is pretty brutal, even by his standards. Obviously, this is just one game, but if you look back to last years’ playoffs you will see that he shot 60% or worse in six of nine playoff games, including 53.7% in four games against this same Heat team. The pressure of playoffs changes things and if Giannis can’t turn things around at the foul line they are to have a tough time keeping up with Miami who shot 15-19 from the stripe in Game 1.
Miami seems to match up well with the Bucks and if they can spread the fouls around and keep Giannis out of the paint they might have the recipe to pull off another upset in 2021. Again, I do believe the Bucks will win this series but I think the Heat will take it to six or seven games and would not be surprised at all if they are able to win the series.
Portland Trailblazers at Denver Nuggets (Game 2 Monday, May 24th, 10:00 PM EST)
Moving to the Western Conference we have Game 2 of the Trailblazers vs the Nuggets. The big story coming out of Game 1 for me was the resurgent shooting of Carmelo Anthony, scoring 18 points off the bench, as well as Anfernee Simons scoring an efficient 14 points on 5-6 shooting. We all know what guys like Damian Lilliard and CJ McCollum are capable of, but if the Trailblazers continue to get this type of production from their bench it’s going to be a quick exit for the Denver Nuggets.
The talk all year for the Nuggets has been the stellar play of Nikola Jokic and he did not disappoint in Game 1, scoring 34 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Unfortunately, the rest of the team, and specifically Michael Porter Jr, struggled from deep, where they were outshot by the Blazers 47.5% to 30.6%. I do expect MPJ to shoot better as the series progresses but without Jamal Murray to draw some attention defensively, Porter Jr. is really the only threat the Nuggets have from beyond the arc.
Looking at the other side, the Trailblazers have four shooters in Lilliard, McCollum, Anthony, and Simons that are all right around 40% from three. Surprisingly enough, Lilliard was actually the worst of that group, shooting 39.1% from three in the regular season. We’ve all seen what Dame is capable of in the clutch. If he’s the fourth-best option from three for the Blazers the Nuggets are in trouble.
DAME IS FEELING IT ♨️
He's got 29 and the Blazers take a lead against the Nuggets into the 4th. pic.twitter.com/7FrMCyVNgA
— ESPN (@espn) May 23, 2021
I do think the Nuggets will win a game or two in this series but based on what I saw in Game 1 I don’t think the Nuggets have enough shooting to keep up with the Trailblazers. If they had Jamal Murray it might be a different story, but without him, this Nuggets team looks very different than the one that won 47 games and earned the 3-seed. With the midseason acquisition of Norman Powell, I think the Blazers are better now than their record shows and should be able to handle the Nuggets in five games. Keep an eye out tomorrow for my analysis of the three Tuesday night games.