FOX Sports writers provide takeaways throughout the NBA playoffs. Here are his opening day thoughts on the first round.
Kings 126, Warriors 123: Don’t underestimate Sacramento
too young Too inexperienced. Too overpowered.
These were the rumors you heard about the Sacramento Kings when they faced the Golden State Warriors in a first-round playoff series. So what if the Kings were the second seed while the Warriors were the sixth seed? The Kings were still dismissed considering the defending champion Warriors had won four titles in eight years, while the Kings hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2006.
But all of those stories were overshadowed, at least for now, when you watched the Kings beat the Warriors on Saturday, 126-123.
These Kings are not intimidated by the moment.
De’Aaron Fox scored 38 points in 40 minutes and Malik Monk added 32 points. Most impressively, the Kings got the win on a night where Domantas Sabonis struggled, finishing with just 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting, despite grabbing a game-high 16 rebounds.
Folks, we have a streak.
Make no mistake: The Kings’ win in no way means they have the edge in this series. Not when Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Jordan Poole are on the court, and now so is Andrew Wiggins. Also, let’s not forget that the Warriors have struggled all season on the road (11-30) while finishing with an impressive 33-8 record at home, but this game came down to the wire, with the Warriors nearly stealing it one in Golden. 1 Centre.
This brings me to my second takeaway: Watch out for Wiggins.
In his first game after missing the last 25 games due to a family matter, he looked very good for a guy who had been out for two months.
Wiggins finished with 17 points and four blocks, though he showed rust from beyond the arc, where he shot 1-of-8. But Wiggins’ return, and success, is a big development for to the Warriors. He was key in their championship last season. Having him back in the lineup makes them much, much tougher on both ends of the court. And for him to look so good on his debut after an extended absence is a very promising sign for the team.
Saturday’s game had 24 lead changes and 12 ties. This is the kind of basketball we wanted to see.
Sign up, friends.
This will be fun.
— Melissa Rohlin
Knicks 101, Cavaliers 97: Brunson holds up Cleveland’s run
It looked like it might be New York’s latest case of sports heartbreak. The Knicks, who led 92-84 with four minutes left in Cleveland, gave up nine unanswered to the Cavaliers.
But on Saturday night, an organization that drew criticism for not acquiring Donovan Mitchell last summer was the one smiling as the clock struck zero.
It was Josh Hart (17 points, 10 rebounds), the addition of the Knicks before the deadline, burying a three-pointer in his debut in the playoffs. It was Jalen Brunson, his college teammate at Villanova, making back-to-back shots in the final 1:20 to put the Cavs to bed.
And on a night where Tom Thibodeau’s team controlled the game most of the way, the Knicks claimed a road opener postseason series win for the first time since, get this. in 1999! New Yorkers know how that season ended.
The Knicks showed poise and defensive toughness in a 101-97 win over Cleveland despite a furious 38-point effort by Mitchell, the highest score by a Cavalier in a postseason debut.
So how did New York take it? It starts and ends with Brunson. New York’s July addition last summer, Villanova’s second-round pick, continued to show he’s been underrated. Enough with the narratives that it’s an underdog story. Brunson won national player of the year with the Wildcats and a national championship for Jay Wright. He’s a winner in every sense of that idea and now the NBA world is fully realizing it.
His postseason debut with the Knicks didn’t get off to the strongest start, as he sat the final 9:12 of the first half with three fouls. But Brunson was in full force in the second half, scoring 21 points and giving Cedi Osman nightmares in the fourth quarter.
Worth noting: After a week of speculation, Julius Randle returned from a sprained ankle and went 19 and 10. His contributions certainly helped New York, and it’s a welcome sight for them in the grand scheme of things to keep him healthy.
The two plays within the play that the Knicks won: offensive rebounds and turnovers.
The cup was thought to be an advantage for a New York team that has been one of the best in the league in this column and that was true. The Knicks outrebounded the Cavs 60-47, adding 17 offensive rebounds and a 23-12 advantage in second-chance points. When Cleveland needed that late bounce, it didn’t happen. Hart and Randle combined for 20 boards. Evan Mobley had 11 rebounds for Cleveland, but he really struggled near the rim Saturday night, going just 4-for-13 from the floor.
Thibodeau deserves credit for the way his team defended, as the turnover count was an underlying key to the game. Interestingly, New York committed 16 turnovers to Cleveland’s 14, but the Knicks outrebounded the Cavs 26-10 in turnovers.
Beyond Mitchell, Cleveland’s offense failed to find a consistent rhythm, and point guard Darius Garland committed five turnovers with just one assist.
In what was thought to be one of, if not the best series of the first round, the Knicks proved that it might not be as dramatic as originally thought. New York has the second-best record in the NBA since acquiring Hart, and by closing time Saturday, he and Brunson would not be denied.
New York didn’t just steal home-court advantage in the first-round series. The Knicks went 4-1 on the season against the Cavs, showing that they are indeed a troublesome matchup for Cleveland.
– John Fanta
Sixers 121, Nets 101: Networks turn on from 3
James Harden made seven triples and had 23 points and 13 assists, NBA MVP finalist Joel Embiid scored 26 points and the Philadelphia 76ers held off Mikal Bridges and the Brooklyn Nets in a first-round win game by 121-101 on Saturday.
Tobias Harris had 21 points and the 76ers hit a postseason team record 21 3s in the opener of this Eastern Conference playoff series. The Sixers are trying to win their first NBA championship since 1983 and advance to the second round for the first time since 2001.
Bridges scored 30 points and helped the Nets at least hang on in the first half.
But Brooklyn’s star-less roster was no match for Embiid, Harden and a playoff-proven roster expected to make a deep postseason run. The Sixers had a sellout crowd of 20,913 in a frenzy from the opening tip, then blew the game open in the fourth.
The No. 3-seeded 76ers host Game 2 on Monday.
— The Associated Press
Celtics 112, Hawks 99: Brown, Tatum takeover
Jaylen Brown had 29 points and 12 rebounds, and the Boston Celtics took advantage of a woeful shooting performance by the Atlanta Hawks to hold on for a 112-99 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round on Saturday.
Jayson Tatum scored 25 points, 21 in the first half. Derrick White finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds for Boston, which hosts Game 2 on Tuesday.
The No. 2-seeded Celtics led by as many as 32 points, running into an Atlanta team that missed its first 10 3-point attempts and shot 5-of-29 from beyond the arc of the party
A big part of Boston’s game plan was to neutralize Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, Atlanta’s top two scorers. The Celtics did that and more in the first three quarters.
Young, who was 10th in the NBA in scoring, missed his first six shots from beyond the arc and was 5-for-18 from the field. Murray was 10 of 25 from the floor. With Young struggling, Boston found a rhythm early in the second, starting the fourth with a 25-10 run to extend its lead to 25.
— The Associated Press
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.
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.
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