Twenty-four hours ago questions swirled around the start of the 2009 NBA Playoffs. Injuries, inexperienced players, and high expectations were on everyone's mind as the Bulls and Celtics tipped off in Boston. Now, as we await the start of Sunday's game, we can begin to answer some of those questions.
Chicago, Houston, and Dallas, all underdogs playing in harsh environments, seized control of their respective series by winning game one on the road. To put that in perspective, since the NBA moved to the seven game format for round one, three road teams have never won on the opening day.
In Boston, the defending champion Celtics looked like they had never been to the playoffs before. Ray Allen, the man who has attempted and made the second most three pointers ever went 1-12 and missed a game-tying field goal as time expired in overtime.
Paul Pierce, the face of the Celtics who carried them through the regular season without Kevin Garnett, missed a free throw that would have won the game in regulation. Only Rajon Rondo, Boston's superb young point guard showed up to play. Rondo scored 29 points to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists.
They were all outplayed by a 20-year-old rookie with exactly zero playoff experience. Derrick Rose put on a clinic to the tune of 36 points (including 12 of 12 from the free throw line) and 11 assists. Rose's 36 point outburst tied him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points scored by a rookie in his first playoff game.
By winning 105-103 in overtime, the Bulls seized home court advantage from the defending champs and served notice that Boston would have to do more than merely show up for round one.
Cleveland and Detroit tipped off next and the game was over at halftime as LeBron James banked in a 41 foot buzzer beater to put the Cavaliers up 57-45. Cleveland won every quarter and LeBron finished with 38 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 12 points and 10 rebounds while Mo Williams, Delonte West, and Joe Smith all scored in double figures.
For Detroit, Rodney Stuckey led the way with 20 points, but the Pistons had no answer for James despite Rasheed Wallace's pre-series confidence. Cleveland would finish the day as the only team to hold serve at home.
The evening game began in San Antonio as Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks arrived to face a banged-up Spurs team. Before the series began, analysts wondered if the Spurs could score enough points without Manu Ginobili.
Could Roger Mason, Drew Gooden, and Michael Finley pick up the scoring slack? How would Tim Duncan's aching knees hold up? And could Tony Parker exploit his advantage over Jason Kidd and carry this Spurs team?
After the first quarter, it looked like business as usual for San Antonio. Up 29-18 with Dirk saddled with three quick fouls, the Spurs were in control. And then Mavericks' coach Rick Carlisle made a change. He inserted backup point guard Jose Juan Barea into the lineup alongside Jason Kidd. Barea would help limit Tony Parker to 17 points the rest of the way (down from his 31.3 ppg average during the regular season against Dallas).
From that point on, Dallas outscored San Antonio 87-68 to finish with a 105-97 victory. Josh Howard led a balanced Dallas attack with 25 points. Dallas had six players score in double figures. The usually stingy San Antonio defense allowed the Mavericks to shoot 53 percent from the field while forcing just seven turnovers. Dallas also shot 94 percent from the free throw line.
San Antonio, despite hitting 11 three pointers, had no answers for the Dallas offense. The Spurs' bench could only muster 14 points. The Spurs only shot 12 free throws, down from the 20 they averaged during the season, a direct result of Ginobili's knack for getting to the rim. San Antonio will be forced to find new answers for this Mavericks team before game two on Monday.
In the nightcap, a promising young Portland team took the floor against the Houston Rockets. Yao Ming, who has never won a playoff series, came into the game looking to carry his Rockets without Tracy McGrady. Yao was perfect, literally, shooting 9-of-9 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the free throw line for 24 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes of action.
The Trail Blazers, a favorite to challenge the Lakers for the Western Conference Title, looked lost from the opening tip. Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks, and Luis Scola scored 63 points and Houston ran the young Blazers out of the building, winning 108-81.
Brandon Roy and Greg Oden were the only Blazers to score more than 10 points. LaMarcus Aldridge was just 3-of-12 from the field and Portland hit just one three-pointer after finishing fourth in the league in three point shooting percentage.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan will have to find a way to get his squad ready to play again in 48 hours. He will undoubtedly turn to Roy as well as re-evaluate his strategy for containing the 7'6" Yao.
The Rockets, meanwhile, enter game two brimming with confidence. They will return to Houston with home court advantage in hand with a solid chance to advance out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
As we anxiously await Sunday's tip off between the Lakers and the Jazz, we have answered some of our questions we posed before Saturday's games. Of course, the magic of the NBA Playoffs is that Saturday's surprising results leave new questions unanswered.