8 Takeaways from Saturday Night's Playoff NBA Action
Saturday's opening day of postseason action made us all remember why we love playoff basketball so much.
First, the intensity spiked in Madison Square Garden as Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks forced 20 turnovers against a Boston Celtics squad that ran out of offensive options down the stretch. Jeff Green stepped up, but his big day wasn't enough to steal Game 1.
Then, an unlikely hero emerged in the Mile High City as Andre Miller erupted in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors. The 37-year-old vet dispatched a shaky Dubs team all by himself, icing the game with a last-second winner.
Plus, a gutty performance by Joakim Noah was all for naught as Deron Williams summited the mountain on his climb back to stardom in Brooklyn.
And finally, Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers took control of a gritty, physical affair against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The postseason seal has been broken, and if Saturday's set of heated battles is any indication, these playoffs are going to be something special.
Ball Security Matters
The Celtics revealed a litany of flaws against the Knicks on Saturday, but one of the biggest was their season-long issue with turnovers.
Throughout Game 1, Boston gave away possessions in inexplicable ways. Post-entry passes were slow, outlets were sloppy and rotations around the three-point arc lacked urgency. As a result, the Knicks piled up a whopping 15 steals.
And as the Celtics tired in the fourth quarter, their offense lost whatever small amount of dynamism it had in the first three periods, devolving into predictable isolation sets and a stubborn insistence on running the shot clock down in order to get Paul Pierce a touch at the foul line. With that predictability came even more turnovers.
Celtics had seven made shots in the second half and 11 turnovers. Melo made seven second half shots.— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) April 20, 2013
In the fourth quarter alone, Boston committed eight giveaways, a figure that equaled their point total in the period.
All year, the Celtics have had trouble taking care of the ball. Rajon Rondo's injury explains some of the problem, but on balance, Boston ranked 23rd in the NBA in turnover ratio.
If Boston can't hang on to the rock, it's going to have a hard time putting up a fight against the Knicks.
The Knicks Might Have Dodged a Bullet
It sounds crazy to say that the Knicks' seven-point win had anything to do with luck, but it's hard to imagine things going any worse for the Celtics than they did in Game 1.
As a team, Boston committed 20 turnovers, got zero made field goals from its bench and saw Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce combine to shoot just 10-of-27 from the floor.
Granted, the Knicks' defense had something to do with all three of those things. But it's safe to assume that we've now seen Boston at its very worst.
At the same time, the Celtics did implement a pretty effective game plan against the Knicks. Boston's defenders consistently ran shooters off of the three-point line, did a good job against the pick-and-roll and held the Knicks to just 40.5-percent shooting for the game.
Plus, Anthony made a handful of shots the Celtics would be happy to concede throughout the rest of the series. Jeff Green stayed glued to the league's scoring champ all game long, forcing Anthony to take a number of contested jumpers off the dribble.
If the Celtics had played offense at even an average level, the outcome of this game could have been very different.
Andre Miller: Closer
Andre Miller probably doesn't have the athleticism to jump over his own AARP card, but that didn't stop him from delivering the deathblow to the Golden State Warriors.
The 37-year-old veteran scored a game-high 28 points and really turned things on in the fourth period, pouring in 18 of the Nuggets' final 26 overall.
He was visibly jubilant in postgame interviews, hardly able to contain his smile after taking rookie Draymond Green to the hole for the game-winning layup with just 1.2 seconds left. Of course, that didn't mean Miller would be free from the immediate "cranky old man" jokes on Twitter:
Get the F--- off Andre Miller's lawn, Golden State!!!AK— Kamenetzky Brothers (@KamBrothers) April 21, 2013
Coming into the series, most of the attention was on the matchup between Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson, a pair of much younger point guards. But the aged Miller stole the show.
I HAVE SEEN THE OLD MAN GAME AND I AM NOT WORTHY— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 21, 2013
Denver needed a boost from one of its role players with Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried out, and it got one from Miller.
Going forward, Golden State will have to find a way to account for the crafty vet. Harrison Barnes couldn't contain him in the post despite a massive size advantage, and none of the other Warriors defenders had much luck, either.
Miller might have served as the closer in Game 1, but he's going to play a huge role in every phase of this series.
Klay Thompson Was Ready, Stephen Curry Wasn't
Stephen Curry, fresh off a regular season that saw him make more three-point shots than any player in NBA history, came out hesitant, off his game and ice cold against the Nuggets.
Just one of Curry's first 10 shots found the bottom of the net, and although he recovered to hit 6-of-10 in the second half, his early struggles should be a cause for concern in Golden State.
On the other hand, Klay Thompson appeared confident, aggressive and on the lookout for any scoring opportunities.
Golden State's second-best three-point shooter (Thompson made 211 long bombs this past season, good for third-most in the league) had 22 points and hit 10 of his 19 attempts from the field.
Obviously, Thompson had things much easier than Curry did; Denver focused its entire defensive scheme on crowding the sharpshooting point guard and Thompson rarely had to create his own looks. But based on his demeanor alone, Thompson certainly appeared more mentally prepared for the high intensity of playoff action.
That's a big step for the second-year guard, as much of his early career had been marred by some negative body language and a habit of hanging his head when times got tough.
Golden State will go as far as Curry can take it, but Thompson's attitude has clearly come a long way.
Joakim Noah Gets an 'A' for Effort
After missing 12 of the Bulls' final 15 games in the regular season because of a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, Joakim Noah gave it a go in Game 1 against the Nets.
Joakim Noah will try to play tonight. "I can't miss this. We fought too hard to get to this point. ... I just want to be a part of it."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 21, 2013
Clearly in pain and struggling to make his way up and down the floor, the Bulls center played just six ineffective first-half minutes. Brooklyn buried Chicago early behind a ferocious two-man effort from Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, who combined for 34 points in the first two quarters.
The Nets took a 25-point lead into halftime.
With no chance of winning the game, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Noah would remain rooted to the bench after the break.
Yet there he was, starting the second half and powering in a pair of dunks in the third quarter. The exertion on those plays obviously took a toll on Noah, as he winced and moved gingerly for the rest of his abbreviated stint on the court.
In all, Noah gutted out 13 minutes of what appeared to be pure agony. He probably shouldn't have played, definitely shouldn't have started the second half and may now be out of commission for the balance of the series.
But, man, does he deserve some respect.
If only every injured player on Chicago's roster had Noah's heart...
Deron Williams Is All the Way Back
During the season's first couple of months, Deron Williams hardly looked like himself. His numbers were down across the board and he didn't even have the springs to dunk the ball. In fact, the only thing that reminded folks they were watching the same Williams that played in Utah was his ability to get his coach fired.
But since the All-Star break, Williams has been a monster, averaging 22.9 points and 8.0 assists per game on 48.1-percent shooting.
His comeback climb reached its peak against the Bulls on Saturday.
Williams was dominant in the Nets' 106-89 thrashing of the Bulls, piling up 22 points and seven assists on 9-of-15 shooting. The numbers were great, but it was the way Williams looked that really mattered. He penetrated at will, pushed the pace in transition and even elevated for a rim-rattling reverse jam after a steal.
If he's truly back to the elite level he displayed a couple of years ago, Williams has a chance to lead his Nets on a deep postseason run. There are plenty more games to play, but all of the latest signs are indicating that he's ready to do just that.
Apparently, Benches Still Matter in the Playoffs
We've all heard it: "Depth doesn't matter in the playoffs."
Conventional NBA wisdom dictates that the higher stakes and longer layoffs between postseason games tend to favor teams with strong first units and devalue the ones that feature deeper stables of reserves.
Well, tell that to the Clippers, who got a terrific effort from their vaunted bench at a critical juncture of L.A.'s Game 1 win over Memphis.
Chris Paul led his team to a win over the Grizzlies, and his play was largely responsible for building an eight-point lead after the first period and maintaining said advantage into the fourth.
But as the Grizzlies made their final push to cut into that lead in the early stages of the final period, L.A.'s bench slammed the door. Things looked in doubt for a moment as Memphis got as close as a single point behind a couple of late buckets from Jerryd Bayless and a layup by Zach Randolph that trimmed the lead to one.
But Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford immediately pushed the Clippers' lead to seven.
On the night, L.A. got 49 points from its subs, but the biggest contribution from the bench was its game-changing effort when the game very nearly slipped away.
Going forward, the Clippers are going to rely on their bench to continue to provide the spark that it's generated all season. Conventional wisdom be damned.
The Grizzlies Are Big, and Need to Play Like It
Behind a massive front line of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the Memphis Grizzlies ranked second in the NBA with a 52.2 rebound rate during the regular season.
For some reason, Memphis forgot to bring its rebounding dominance into its Game 1 tilt with the Clippers.
The Clips absolutely crushed the Grizzlies on the boards, amassing a 47-23 advantage on the night. DeAndre Jordan led L.A. with just eight pulls, but six Clippers had more than four rebounds in what was a total team effort on the glass.
Perhaps Randolph was preoccupied with his ongoing wrestling match against Blake Griffin. Or maybe Gasol was too tired to hit the boards after having to do absolutely everything on both ends for his team.
Credit the Clips for dominating in an area the Grizzlies usually own, but Memphis needs to find a way to rectify its rebounding problems. If it can't do that, this could be a short series.