As promised, here is part two of three of NBA first-round Playoff series previews. If you read yesterdays’ article I went over the Heat and Bucks series as well as the Trailblazers and Nuggets. Just to recap, Giannis and the Bucks came out hot in the early game with one of the greatest shooting quarters I’ve ever seen. Milwaukee went 10-15 from beyond the arc in the first quarter and put up an insane 46 points. The Heat were competitive in the final three quarters, going only -8 the rest of the way, but when you go down 26 in the first quarter there’s not much you can do to come back.
In the nightcap, Denver was able to handle the Trailblazers relatively easily by playing solid defense and forcing 21 turnovers. Portland actually shot the ball well, they went 48.5% from three but when you give the ball away 21 times and only force 12 takeaways you aren’t going to win many games. Nikola Jokic also dominated down low, going 15-20 from the field for 38 points. Damien Lilliard did all he could with 42 points of his own but he was way less efficient going 11-24 from the field.
Both of these series will resume on Thursday but for now, let’s get to tonight’s games. We’ve got three on the slate with the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets squaring off early and then the LA Lakers vs Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks vs LA Clippers playing out west in the latter slate. Boston and both LA teams will look to avoid going down 0-2.
Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets (Tuesday, May 25th, 7:30 PM EST)
In Game 1 of the Celtics and Nets series, we saw Boston get out to an early lead and it seemed like Brooklyn might be in some trouble. But, in the second half Brooklyn’s big three came to life and by the end would combine for 82 points. Despite the final numbers, neither team shot the ball particularly well, with Brooklyn shooting only 23.5% from three and Boston only going 36.7%, so it will be interesting to see how both teams come out tonight.
For Brooklyn, Kevin Durant was the leading scorer with 32 points and it could have been much more if he didn’t shoot a dismal 1-8 from deep. Kyrie Irving also had a very solid game overall scoring 29 points on 11-20 shooting. He was only 2-8 from three, as was James Harden, so again this game could have been much uglier than an 11 point difference if Brooklyn was making their threes.
On the other side, Jayson Tatum led the way for Boston with 22 points but it came on a very inefficient 6-20 shooting. Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier were also pretty inefficient, going 5-16 and 3-10 from the field respectively. That being said, the Celtics may be able to exploit the defensive weaknesses of Brooklyn going forward if they are able to knock down some shots.
One thing to watch moving forward in the Celtics vs Nets series is going to be how much Blake Griffin plays. The Celtics absolutely went after Blake last night and they had success doing it too pic.twitter.com/jAhTTwDSZs
— Intuition Hoops (@IntuitionHoops) May 23, 2021
As I said, it will be interesting to see how each team comes out in game 2 and the rest of the series. Brooklyn should have the firepower to take care of Boston pretty quickly but when you’ve got snipers like Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker you’ve got a chance to steal a game or two. It’s no secret that Brooklyn’s defense is not very good so I want to believe that the Celtics can make this a series. Realistically though, without Jaylen Brown, they don’t have enough scoring to keep pace with Brooklyn. Maybe Boston steals a game at home but I honestly see Brooklyn taking care of business in four or five games.
Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns (Tuesday, May 25th, 10:00 PM EST)
The second game of the night is the most intriguing series for me as the Lakers look to steal a game from the Suns in game two on the road. The Lakers are still very dangerous but they have a tough road back to the finals and dropping game one to the Suns is not how they wanted to start.
The Suns were led by Devin Booker in game one, who was the high scorer of the game with 34 points. The unsung hero was really Deandre Ayton though, who dominated Anthony Davis down low, scoring 21 points on 10-11 shooting and 16 rebounds. I don’t think Ayton will be able to maintain quite that level of offensive success against AD as the series goes on but he clearly gave Davis trouble on the defensive side as well. AD shot 5-16 from the field in this one for a measly 13 points and 7 rebounds. If Ayton is able to continue to slow AD offensively it will really limit what the Lakers are able to do in half-court sets.
Great defense from Deandre Ayton. Absorbs the contact, isn't pushed off his spot at all, AD has no separation and Ayton contest the jumper very well pic.twitter.com/UsDU9ms1jg
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) May 24, 2021
For the Lakers, Lebron James led the scoring attack with 18 but this was a pretty balanced game overall with six Laker players scoring in double digits. The Lakers aren’t the best 3-point shooting team, going 35.4% on the season, but in Game 1 they really struggled from deep. I think a lot of this goes back to Ayton’s ability to cover AD. Phoenix did need to double him a couple of times but for the most part, Ayton locked him down. Not needing to double Davis constantly limits the Lakers’ ability to move the ball and find the open shooter. One thing to note, Davis did only attempt five free throws in this game. Coming into Game 2 I expect him to be a little more aggressive in trying to get to the basket so we’ll see how Ayton adjusts.
Many people still like the Lakers in this series but I personally believe they have been too beat up this year to hang with the Suns. The Lakers’ defense has been what’s carried them all year but Devin Booker is just a different animal. Chris Paul wasn’t even really needed on the offensive side in game one and we all know what he is capable of as well. I think it will take a heroic effort by Lebron to upset the Suns and with his ankle still a question mark I just don’t think it’s the Lakers’ year in 2021. I like Phoenix in six games.
Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers (Tuesday, May 25th, 10:30 PM EST)
The final game of the night is probably the biggest “coin-flip” series for me of the first-round matchups. I wrote an article earlier in the season and talked about how the Clippers have the talent, but just seem to not be able to get the job done in the playoffs. We saw a glimpse of that already with the underdog Mavericks stealing game one on the road.
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) May 22, 2021
Luka Doncic was unsurprisingly the high scorer in game one, dropping 31 on the Clippers while also recording 10 rebounds and 11 assists. I expect to see this trend of dominance continue as last night was his third playoff triple-double in his young career. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith were also great in this one, scoring 21 points on 8-13 shooting and 18 points on 7-9 shooting respectively. The Mavericks as a team shot very well, going 47.2% from three in this game. While I do expect them to come back down to earth, this Mavericks team has six players averaging more than four three-pointers attempted per game so they have a lot of guys that can knock down shots. This would allow them to feed the hot hands as they did in Game 1.
Kawhi Leonard was the high scorer for the Clippers with 26 points, but he wasn’t very efficient. He ended just 9-22 from the field and 1-6 from three, while Paul George had a similar line, going 8-18 and 2-8 from three. It also didn’t help that Marcus Morris went 0-6 from three in this game. The Clippers did get decent bench production from Nick Batum and Rajon Rondo but in order for the Clippers to even the series tonight, they are going to need more out of their stars.
This Clippers team is very frustrating because they have enough talent to be a legitimate contender for the championship. I do expect Kawhi Leonard to play better as the series goes on but Paul George continues to be a toss-up. For all the talk about “Playoff P,” I have yet to see PG put together a full series of solid basketball in the playoffs. In his last 19 playoff games going back to 2019, Paul George is shooting just 41.2% from the field and 32.5% from three. If he doesn’t turn that around it’s going to be tough sledding for the Clipper the rest of this series.
As I said before this series is really a coin flip for me. On paper, there’s no denying that the Clippers are the better team but time and time again Paul George’s teams have come up short in the playoffs. I still like the Clippers to win the series just because of the pedigree Kawhi and Rondo bring to the table, but it won’t be easy. Dallas can definitely take this to seven games, and possibly upset the Clippers if they continue to shoot the ball well as they did in game one. Enjoy the games tonight and keep an eye out for part three tomorrow!