The opening slate of NBA playoff action didn’t hold a lot of surprising outcomes, but there were certainly a lot of surprising performances.
The New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets established tremendous positioning in their hunt for a championship in earning Game 1 victories on Saturday. In those contests, several players stood out as game-changers to watch going forward.
Carmelo Anthony continued to dominate at the offensive end in the Knicks’ 85-78 win over the Boston Celtics Saturday afternoon. The league’s scoring champion pinned 36 points on Boston with a 4-of-6 shooting performance from behind the arc, though he’ll have to shoot better than 13-of-29 from the field if New York hopes to swipe Game 2 as well.
In Western Conference action, it was another superstar who led the Clippers past the Memphis Grizzlies in impressive fashion. Chris Paul shot 7-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from long range in boosting the Clippers to a decisive 112-91 victory at Staples Center.
Day 1 of playoff action wasn’t all impressive performances and big scoring, though. The Celtics, Bulls and Grizzlies all came up at the short end of Round 1 games, and the following players were a big reason for the losses.
We’ll take a look at those players and break down what they must do to redeem their poor Game 1 performances.
Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
Game 1 Line: 37 minutes, eight points, 4-of-12 from field, zero free-throw attempts, three turnovers
Losing a key contributor as Boston did early this season is often hard to overcome. If the Celtics are to make a playoff run without Rajon Rondo, experienced veterans like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have to step up.
Pierce tallied 21 points in Boston’s opening game against the Knicks, but Garnett practically disappeared in a contest that saw just eight Boston players on the court throughout the game. If the 36-year-old center is to be seeing 35-plus minutes per game in the playoffs, he has to get more out of those minutes.
Garnett did pull down nine rebounds in the loss, but he shot just 4-of-12 from the field and—like the rest of the Celtics squad in the fourth quarter—shut it down with the game on the line. Boston can’t expect to make it very far scoring just eight points in a given quarter, as they did in the fourth frame Saturday.
The Celtics match up well with a banged-up Knicks frontcourt, but if New York continues to get healthier going forward, Garnett is going to find himself swimming upstream with the rest of his team. He has to make a statement in Game 2 with a big performance in a Celtics win.
Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
Game 1 Line: 38 minutes, six points, 3-of-11 from field, three rebounds, two assists
Chicago’s most effective scorer was anything but effective in Game 1 against the Nets. With Derrick Rose unlikely to return for postseason play, the Bulls must get more from Luol Deng in the final games of the opening round.
Given the inconsistent scoring from Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich throughout the season, Chicago has relied on Deng and Marco Belinelli to provide much of the team’s perimeter scoring. Belinelli scored 13 points on just 3-of-8 shooting and Deng followed suit with a far-from-spectacular performance.
Deng can’t be blamed for the loss, though. Chicago looked overmatched and complacent from the start, and things were well out of hand just minutes into the second half of play. That kind of dull performance is a result of poor leadership and general fatigue from a long regular season.
Still, the 28-year-old forward has assumed more of a leadership role with Rose on the sidelines, and he has to take it upon himself to provide a spark for his team in the playoffs. If Chicago’s leading scorer can’t turn it around on Tuesday, the Bulls won’t have much of a chance to overtake the Nets in the first round.
Tayshaun Prince, Memphis Grizzlies
Game 1 Line: 29 minutes, two points, 1-of-5 from field, four rebounds, three assists
Tayshaun Prince isn’t the 14-points-per-game scorer he once was, but he still needs to be a much bigger factor if he is to play close to 30 minutes in a given contest.
The 33-year-old veteran forward played 29 minutes against the Clippers and scored just two points on 1-of-5 shooting from the floor. Los Angeles was in control for almost the entire game, and Prince didn’t do much to slow them down.
Memphis is a team with a lot of young talent. Prince is one of just four players over the age of 30, and the Grizzlies won’t make it very far without solid contributions from its veteran leaders. The forward shouldn’t be expected to score 20 points per game, but he’ll have to score more than two points in 29 minutes if the Grizzlies hope to rebound with a Game 2 victory on Monday.