From what we saw in the first weekend of the 2018 playoffs, we have some gripping, highly competitive series ahead (a far cry from last year’s postseason). There was a lot to take in from the eight games. We got two road wins and a few tense moments among the home victories (the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics, in particular, might have found themselves in hotter water with better execution from their opponets). Here are some of the takeaways from the weekend’s action.
The Toronto Raptors’ depth is still key (and they banished another playoff demon)
A few seasons ago, it was all about winning a playoff series for the Raptors. They got the job done. In 2018, the focus was on Toronto’s repeated failure to prevail in a Game 1. Against the Washington Wizards on Saturday, they silenced that talk too, with their much-feted bench mob the biggest difference-maker.
Behind John Wall’s impressive first half, the Wizards were looking ominous. But big contributions from Delon Wright (18 points) and CJ Miles (12 points), plus some quality minutes from Lucas Nogueira, turned the game. If the All-Star backcourts cancel each other out, this series may swing on the outputs from Serge Ibaka and Otto Porter. Ibaka stood tall on Saturday with 23 points and 12 rebounds, while Porter was limited to nine points.
Playoff Rondo is back – and Jrue Holiday is stepping up
Rondo is a mesmerizing presence in the postseason and controlled large portions of the New Orleans Pelicans’ road win in Portland, racking up 17 assists. In particular, he looked for Anthony Davis early and often.
Davis was dominant, as expected, but Jrue Holiday made the biggest plays, including the game-clinching block. His stellar defense and underrated shot-making (10-of-20 for 21 points) ensured New Orleans won the backcourt battle against Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. If that trend continues, the Blazers will have a huge mountain to climb. Look for Portland to bounce back in Game 2.
Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers made a big statement
Was that road win in Cleveland enough for the Pacers to finally get people believing in them? Behind a terrific Oladipo performance (32 points, six rebounds, four steals), Indiana ambushed the Cavaliers from the start and never surrendered that advantage. Cleveland will no doubt shoot much better in Game 2 but the Pacers’ active hands on defense clearly unsettled what is usually a potent offense. This now looks like a fun series.
The rookies barely missed a beat
So much for rookies having a hard time adjusting to the postseason! Ben Simmons was one rebound short of a triple-double as the Philadelphia 76ers steamrollered the Miami Heat in the second half on Saturday. (And the 76ers still have Joel Embiid to return.)
Jayson Tatum had 19 points and 10 rebounds in Boston’s overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks while Donovan Mitchell had an eye-catching game (27 points, 10 rebounds) despite the Utah Jazz losing Game 1 in Oklahoma City. Speaking of the Jazz, Ricky Rubio’s shooting is going to be put to the test in that series – and Paul George seems to have busted out of his slump (36 points, 8-of-11 from behind the arc).
And we are still just scratching the surface. This week, the next few games in each series will tell us much more about which teams are true contenders.