FOX Sports writers offer takeaways from games during the NBA playoffs. Here are his thoughts on the first Sunday of the postseason.
Clippers 115, Suns 110: Suns facing early depth issues
The Kevin Durant trade was a no-brainer for the Phoenix Suns. At this point, it’s hard to put into words just how ridiculously good Durant has become. He has basically perfected basketball. We saw that in Game 1 on Sunday night, when he torched the LA Clippers with a 27-point, 11-assist, nine-rebound, two-block performance that also included suffocating defense on Kawhi Leonard and elite rim protection .
But the problem with mid-season star trades is that they destroy your depth. Typically, teams need a couple more transaction cycles to plug margin holes. The Suns haven’t had that chance yet. And in their 115-110 Game 1 loss to the Clippers, we saw how the Durant deal has left them exposed.
The Suns’ starting lineup with Durant is probably the best in the NBA. Their top four of Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton is as good as any, and might be the best we’ve seen since Durant left Golden State. It is not clear that there is anyone else they can trust. This isn’t a hot take from the couch either. Here’s how Suns coach Monty Williams distributed his minutes in Game 1.
Durant played 45 minutes. Booker played 43. Paul played 39. Ayton played 33. Team fifth starter Torrey Craig (27 minutes) and Landry Shamet (24) were the only other Suns to receive more than eight minutes of play Josh Okogie, Bismack Biyombo, Ish Wainright, Jock Londale and Terrence Ross also played between four and seven minutes. Put another way: Even Williams wasn’t sure who he could trust in this kind of tight, playoff environment.
And honestly, who can blame him? The Clippers ran circles around the Suns every time one of those reserves stepped on the floor. Just look at the plus/minus numbers: -12 for Wainright, -10 for Okogie, -11 for Biyombo, -8 for Landale, -14 for Shamet, -1 for Ross.
There are moves Williams can make. Maybe he’s starting to stagger his stars, making sure two of his top four are on the court at all times. But the fact that he already has to lean so heavily on his top men is something that should worry Suns fans. Stars win games in the NBA playoffs. But they also need help.
— The Weitzman boy
Lakers 128, Grizzlies 112: Team effort helps Lakers build on early momentum
Cameras caught Austin Reaves flashing a big smile as he walked down the FedExForum tunnel.
He’s making just $1.56 million this season, the lowest a Los Angeles Laker had going into Sunday’s Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Still, he had one of the biggest impacts in the team’s 128-112 victory.
Reaves finished with 23 points, scoring 14 in the fourth quarter on 5-for-5 shooting. With just under three minutes remaining and the Lakers up 111-109, Reaves scored nine straight points to open the game to the Lakers
The seventh-seeded Lakers, who were underdogs entering this series, now hold a 1-0 lead over the second-seeded Grizzlies with Game 2 scheduled for Wednesday in Memphis.
The Lakers also got a big contribution from Rui Hachimura, who had a game-high 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the bench, including 5-of-6 from beyond the 3-point line. Hachimura tied Mychal Thompson’s 1988 record for most points off the bench by a Laker in a playoff game.
The usual suspects also graced both ends of the court. Davis had a career-high 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting, 12 rebounds, three steals and seven blocks in the playoffs. LeBron James added 21 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are not only dealing with a Game 1 loss, but also potentially the loss of their superstar.
With less than six minutes left in the game, Ja Morant re-injured his right hand while driving to the basket and collided with Anthony Davis. Morant took a tumble from high in the air and tried to break his fall with his right hand, which bent awkwardly as he landed.
Morant writhed on the floor in pain, went to the locker room, then returned to the bench with his right hand tightly bandaged. After the game, Grizzlies coach Tyler Jenkins told reporters that X-rays on the hand were negative.
It goes without saying how important Morant is to the Grizzlies. This season, the two-time All-Star averaged 26.2 points, 8.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds.
Aside from Morant’s injury, it’s safe to guess that Dillon Brooks regrets a comment he made last week. During a Grizzlies practice Tuesday, Brooks told reporters he “wouldn’t mind playing LeBron in a seven-game streak,” adding, “Knock him out right away.”
For the Grizzlies, it looks like this series will be much more difficult than Brooks expected.
Heat 130, Bucks 117: What does Giannis’ injury mean for the series?
To get the obvious out of the way, we obviously don’t have enough information on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury to try to guess when he might return. The MVP finalist suffered what the Milwaukee Bucks have officially called a “lower back contusion” in the first quarter Sunday after landing hard on the court following a drive to the hoop . He went back to the locker room at the end of the first half and didn’t come back.
The Bucks never recovered.
So the team that finished the regular season with the best record in the league is now 1-0 in the first round after a 130-117 loss to the Miami Heat.
All of this leads to an obvious question: How many more games does Giannis have to miss for the Heat to have a legitimate shot?
We’ve seen what happens to the Bucks when Giannis doesn’t play. This is already a team that sometimes struggles to generate points (15th in offense in the regular season), especially in the middle court (13th in the regular season), and that depends on Giannis’ ability to push the pace and crash the cup (the Bucks were 12th in offensive rebounding in the regular season) to make up the difference.
So what happened in Game 1, with Giannis playing just 11 minutes? The Bucks grabbed just eight offensive rebounds and had just six fast-break points. They also shot an ugly 11-for-45 from deep, and while some of those shots looked good, there’s no question Giannis’ absence allowed the Heat’s defense to nail the Bucks’ shooters.
Oh, and let’s not forget the other end of the court, too, where Giannis might be the best in the NBA. Without Giannis lurking on the weakside, the Heat were able to pound Bam Adebayo in the paint with pocket passes and break down the Bucks’ normally stingy D, triggering rotations and freeing up shooters for clean looks from deep. Miami, a team that finished the regular season with the fourth-worst 3-point percentage, drilled 15 of its 25 3-point looks.
Leading the charge for the Heat, as we’ve become accustomed to in the playoffs, was Jimmy Butler. Once again, he was fantastic, putting up 35 points on 55% shooting to go along with 11 assists, five rebounds and three steals. As long as Giannis is out, Butler will be the (clear) best player in the series.
After the loss, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters that Giannis had an X-ray that came back “clear.”
“We will keep an eye on him and see how he wakes up tomorrow,” he added. The Bucks also have schedule help; Game 2 isn’t until Wednesday, while Game 3 is Saturday.
Just knowing how wired Giannis is, it would be surprising if he didn’t come back at some point in this series. All we know now is that the Bucks’ road to another title just got a lot more complicated.
— The Weitzman boy
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the top: the Philadelphia 76ers and the boldest process in the history of professional sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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