What a weekend this was for NBA basketball. Initial reports on the ratings indicate that this was one of the best and biggest viewing experiences the league has ever seen. Anyone that took the time to watch these games would have to agree. These matchups provided fans with lots to think and talk about on this Monday afternoon. Here are five things I took away from this weekend and what they mean going forward.
1. We’re Sorry Golden State
First and foremost, some apologizes are in order. Many fans and analysts across the NBA (including myself) saw the way that the Golden State Warriors have played in 2018 and thought that they may face major problems as they go for their second title in two years. Well, it is safe to say the Warriors are gonna be just fine. They took it to the Spurs in their Game 1 matchup and showed what they are capable of. Now, they did beat up on a squad that has not played anywhere near their expectations, but seeing the fire and intensity that Golden State possessed in that game showed that they are back to business. Barring yet another injury, they should be once again considered the favorite to win it all.
2. PG = Playoff G?
One of the biggest individual performances of the weekend was that of Paul George. In 38 minutes of the Thunder’s Game 1 matchup versus the Utah Jazz, George posted 36 points with a team leading 8 three pointers made. He was on fire from deep and was the offensive catalyst for Oklahoma City going down the stretch. Surely he will not be able maintain this exact level of play in its entirety, but George has shown what he can do for this team in the postseason. The Jazz don’t have another wing player on their team that would be able to match his production and will be in big trouble if they can’t contain him in some way. Look for George to continue to be an x-factor for the Thunder as they look to make a deep Western Conference run.
3. The Pacers Are For Real
Despite finishing as a top five team in their conference and having one of the best players in 2018 on their squad, the Indiana Pacers have Rodney Dangerfield-ed their way through this season. What little respect they have gotten has been the attention that Victor Oladipo has brought with his resurgence. But on the whole no one has backed this team and what they have accomplished this season, especially in this playoff matchup against the Cavaliers. Many were expecting a quick bounce as Cleveland “warmed up” for a fourth consecutive Finals appearance. This was not the case in Game 1 as the Indiana thumped Cleveland and handed LeBron James his first Round 1 loss in over 20 games. The Pacers did not just squeak the game out either, they beat them soundly for most of the game; even posting a 20 point lead in the first quarter. Oladipo and company should feel good about this performance and have the momentum/home court advantage to make this series extremely interesting.
4. The Cavs Are Far From Reality
If I had told you before the playoffs that LeBron James would need more than a triple double to beat the Indiana Pacers, what would you have said? Sounds crazy right? James is the best player on the planet and has more than what it takes to make a Finals run, as he has gone seven straight times there. But, like SpongeBob in the Rock Bottom: this isn’t your everyday bad Cavs cast, this is an advanced bad Cavs cast. James is going to have to more than he has ever been asked to do if he wants to get this Cleveland team to the Finals, or even out of the first round. He will have to carry the load on offense (unless he can somehow get better performances out of this team) and guard the Pacers best player in Oladipo. The Cavaliers have no other wing defenders that could slow him down on Sunday and he will need to be contained if Cleveland is to have any chance at all. The Cavs have three days to brainstorm another way to defend Oladipo and the rest of the Pacers but my guess is that it will unfortunately have a lot to do with James. This dynamic will be interesting to watch going forward as I am very skeptical about how an exhausted James will hold up for the rest of this series and beyond (if they get there).
5. An Angry Giannis Will Keep The Bucks Close
In a series that many people thought would be a one-sided affair, one factor made itself known that could be a determent to the Celtics breezing past the Bucks. It is common knowledge that Giannis Antetokounmpo is a top talent in the NBA but the passion and rage that he played with on Sunday was a bit of a surprise. Antetokounmpo was over the top in Game 1, so much so that he fouled out of the game in overtime. He has fouled out 16 times in his regular season career but this was his first in the postseason. This intensity, while needing to be dialed back (because he does this team no good on the bench), could be a key for the Bucks to get back into this series. Milwaukee is overmatched in talent depth and coaching acumen, but what Boston lacks is a true star who can take over a game with his individual abilities. There were some sets that worked for the Bucks (like Antetokounmpo at the center position) that could be very beneficial for them, but they will mostly need to rely on their star to get them back. Antetokounmpo’s play will obviously be crucial for Milwaukee, but his ability to be fierce on the court (and not on the bench or in the locker room) will be the most important.