Biggest Takeaway From Game 1 of Every Playoff Series

May 23, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) against the Phoenix Suns during game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. at Phoenix Suns Arena

The NBA playoffs have delivered in full so far. With only 1 game played in each series, we’ve already had upsets, buzzer-beaters, wild performances, and game-winning shots. The first game of every series is now behind us, so we can start getting an idea of how each series will go. There’s one thing for certain: these series all look good, and there are at least a couple that could go 7 games. With that said, here are the biggest takeaways from game 1 in each series.

Milwaukee Vs. Miami

May 22, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) makes the game winning basket over Miami Heat forward Duncan Robinson (55) with 0.5 seconds to play in overtime of game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Fiserv Forum
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

These aren’t the same teams as last year. Game 1 made that clear, and it will continue to be clear throughout the rest of the series. Last year Miami was perfectly poised to take advantage of Milwaukee, and they did so. They beat the Bucks in 5 games without much trouble. The Heat are still kryptonite of sorts for this Bucks team, but not to the same degree as last year.

A big strength of the Heat last year was their stellar play in the clutch. They had the 2nd best clutch net rating in the playoffs, behind only the Trailblazers, who went out in the first round. This clutch play is what brought them to the Finals.

Milwaukee’s problem last year was just the opposite. Their playoff clutch rating was a negative 23.6. That’s not enough to get it done. This problem has existed as long as this iteration of the Bucks has. Giannis isn’t an offensive option at the end of games. It showed last year, and that’s why they bowed out so easily to the Heat.

This year is different. The acquisition of Jrue Holiday helped immensely in game 1 alone. He gives the Bucks another great option at the end of games offensively and defensively. As a result, the Bucks played well in the 10 “clutch” minutes of this game.

Clutch time didn’t go so well for the Heat. They turned the ball over 3 times and got outscored 19-17. These end-of-game problems have existed throughout this season. Miami was expected to flip the switch in the playoffs and look more like the team from the bubble last year. They didn’t show that in game 1, which is a bad sign.

If these are the teams we see for the rest of the series, Milwaukee should win, and in that case, other teams best watch out. This series allows the Bucks to exorcise their demons in the first round and move on with some serious momentum.

Brooklyn Vs. Boston

May 22, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives to the basket on Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the fourth quarter of game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. at Barclays Center.
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Before I get into the big takeaway, which will be focused on Boston, I want to recognize the Nets quickly. They are going to be a tough, tough team to beat in these playoffs. They showed some solid defense in game 1, and their big three played amazing. But onto Boston.

This Celtics team could’ve been great. For possibly the first time all season, they played like a Brad Stevens team in game 1. Cutting and moving well on offense, good communication on defense, it was all there. Unfortunately, their shooting (36.9% FG, 36.7% 3FG) let them down, but they finally looked like the team they could’ve been.

The biggest takeaway from game 1 doesn’t have vast implications going forward in the playoffs, as this won’t be enough for them to beat the Nets. With Jaylen Brown out, this team is headed to the offseason sooner rather than later. But in just one game, we saw how good this team could’ve been, and maybe a bit of what we’ll see from them next year.

This offseason will be very tricky for the Celtics if they want to be a contender next year. But if Brad Stevens can reach the team, and they play as they did in game 1, the Celtics will be much better off for it.

Utah Vs. Memphis

May 23, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) controls the ball against Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) during the fourth quarter at Vivint Arena. Memphis Grizzlies won 112-109
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Utah needs Donovan Mitchell. They need him now, and the three-point loss to Memphis shows it.

What makes Utah’s offense so good is the combination of Mitchell, Conley, and Gobert. With those three, you have two elite pick and roll ballhandlers and an elite pick and roll center. They run pick and rolls at the third-highest frequency in the league, and you can’t blame them. If I had those three guys, that’s what I would be doing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the same potency when they’re missing Mitchell.

Without Mitchell, the Grizzlies can focus more attention on Conley, which resulted in him shooting 6-18 from the floor and 3-13 from 3. When defenses can focus on one of Mitchell or Conley, it is considerably harder for Utah to score. Luckily, it seems like Mitchell’s return is imminent, which should be enough to get past the Grizzlies.

The biggest takeaway from game 1 is Utah needs a healthy Donovan Mitchell to make a long run this year. Their offense is predicated on having multiple options; teams can never focus on just one player defensively. With Mitchell, they can be unstoppable at times; without him, they’re just the opposite.

Phoenix Vs. Los Angeles Lakers

May 23, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (left) against Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis during game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Phoenix Suns Arena.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The lights shine the brightest in the playoffs, and this young Suns team excelled in the moment. If you told me that a shoulder injury would hamper Chris Paul in the Suns’ first game against the Lakers, I would’ve been sure they would lose. But I would not have expected monster games from both Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton.

Devin Booker had 34 points on 50% from the field, and Ayton had 21 points on 10-11 from the field and 16 rebounds. Often young players struggle their first time in the playoffs, and it’s not their fault. The playoffs are almost a different sport when compared to the regular season. Everything is turned up to 100. Booker and Ayton aren’t bothered. They’re just here to ball.

This has massive implications for a potentially deep playoff run for the Suns. They’re not even favored in their first series despite being a 2 seed! The Lakers are an absolute juggernaut to run into in the first round, but if Booker and Ayton can keep up this pace, they have a good chance of moving on.

The play of Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton is the biggest takeaway from game 1 of this series. These guys aren’t going to crack in the playoffs, and now it’s up to LeBron and AD to match the play of the two young stars.

Philadelphia Vs. Washington

May 23, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) dribbles against Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura (8) during the fourth quarter of game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Tobias Harris is going to be the key to a 76ers run this year. In game 1, he showed what he can do at his best with 37 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists.

The 76ers shouldn’t have too much trouble with this series. They match up well with the Wizards, especially at the center spot. Of course, they match up well with every team at the center spot; that’s what Joel Embiid can do for you. But game 1 presented a challenge that will no doubt show itself throughout the playoffs.

Embiid got into foul trouble early and only played 29 minutes as a result. This can and will happen in games in the future and will be a bigger issue against teams like the Nets or Bucks. Without Embiid, the 76ers’ only go-to scorer is Tobias Harris. Simmons is a great player, but he is less than great in a halfcourt scenario on offense.

Luckily for Philadelphia, Tobias stepped up. He had a huge game and helped them secure an important win. From now on, they’ll need him to do the same. Even if Embiid isn’t in foul trouble, there are teams on the horizon that will be very tough to beat without Harris carrying a large scoring load. The biggest takeaway from game 1 of this series is the play of Tobias Harris.

Hawks Vs. Knicks

May 23, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) looks to pass while defended by Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) and forward John Collins (20) during the first half in game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Madison Square Garden.
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

This was a fun game in a series that seems destined for 7 games. Trae Young was phenomenal in his first playoff game and hit the game-winning floater. But the biggest takeaway from game 1 doesn’t have to do with what happened on the floor. It’s about what surrounded the court.

Saying that Knicks fans are happy to be back in the playoffs would be the understatement of the decade. The crowd at the garden was simply electric. It was the epitome of a playoff atmosphere in New York, something that has been dearly missed.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen crowds like this one at NBA games. The bubble had the games played in empty gyms. For most of this season, the games were played in empty arenas, or with drastically reduced capacities. But as the playoffs begin, arenas are opening up. For better or worse we’re getting massive crowds again, and with that comes a great atmosphere.

These kinds of games with these kinds of crowds are crucial for the NBA. The ratings have been plummeting in the last couple of years. Getting fans back in arenas will help with that. The TV product is immensely improved by the addition of real crowd noise, especially at the end of games. Knicks playoff games are electric, and you can feel it even when watching on TV. It’s a small step, but it’s still a step towards improving TV ratings.

Most importantly, how can you not be happy that Spike Lee is back in MSG for a playoff game?

Los Angeles Clippers Vs. Dallas

May 22, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) tries to move thew bad past Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the second quarter of game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers intentionally lost their last few games of the season. They did it in an attempt at an “easier” path to the NBA finals. In other words, they didn’t want to face the Lakers until later on. Well, the biggest takeaway from game 1 of this series is that this path isn’t easy.

The Suns ended up with the Lakers in the first round and surprise, surprise, they won. The day before that, the Clippers lost to the Mavericks. So despite their plan, this won’t be a cakewalk for the Clippers. It’s going to take a lot more from this Clippers team to win this series, and that starts with stopping Luka.

He had 31 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds in this game. That can’t happen if you’re the Clippers. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are two of the best perimeter defenders in the league, they should be able to shut him down. That will be the first step to get them back on track.

On the season, the Clippers shot 41.1% from 3, the best in the league. In game 1, they shot 27.5%, considerably below their league-leading mark. To win this series, they’ll have to shoot the ball much better as well. If they can do that and slow down Luka, they can turn things around.

The good news is, a lot went wrong for them in the first game, and it was still close. That suggests that if they can play as well as they did all season, this series is still very winnable for them.

Denver Vs. Portland

May 22, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots the ball past Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) in the second quarter during game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. at Ball Arena.
 Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets have the likely MVP in Nikola Jokic, and they have a solid team around him. That’s how they weathered the storm of Jamal Murray’s injury. They closed out the regular season strong despite losing their best perimeter scorer. Unfortunately for them, that loss is already showing itself in the playoffs.

The biggest takeaway from game 1 between Denver and Portland is just how much Denver will be affected by Jamal Murray’s injury in the playoffs. Losing your best perimeter scorer is a horrible fate for any NBA team. But because of the way the Nuggets are built, it didn’t affect them seriously during the regular season. Now though, as is true with most issues, the loss is rearing its head in the playoffs.

Portland’s strategy in game 1 was to let Jokic score in single coverage but keep everybody else contained. This game plan worked to a tee. Jokic scored 34 points but only had 1 assist. Because Portland focused on containing the other Denver players, he couldn’t find players with as much ease, and when he did, those players were left with tough shots. The Nuggets shot 30.6% from the three, a result of the Portland defense.

If Murray was available for the Nuggets, this would all change. Between him and Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets would have two incredible perimeter scorers. The spacing Murray provides opens up the floor, and his two-man game with Jokic adds a whole other dimension to this Nuggets offense. As a result, Portland wouldn’t be able to enact the same coverages they did.

This isn’t to say the Nuggets can’t win this series. But without Murray, they are no longer contenders.

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