After two weeks and several extended series, the first round of the NBA playoffs is behind us. The field has been whittled down to eight and, in the process, we learned quite a bit about each of the teams left standing. Two games from the second round have already been played, but before we get any further, let’s take a quick look at the biggest lessons we learned from Round 1.
Rockets, Warriors Clash Is Inevitable
We all knew this before the playoffs started, but the Steph Curry injury made some folks waver a bit on the Warriors, understandably. Then Golden State went out in the first round and just blitzed the Spurs, with an average margin of victory of 14 points in the five-game gentleman’s sweep. The Rockets were even more convincing. After a close Game 1 against Minnesota (104-101), the next three wins were by at least 18 points or more with one road loss thrown in.
The advanced stats tell even further just how far above the other teams in their conference both teams are. The teams are 1-2 in Net Rating, with the Warriors first at 12.6 and the Rockets second at 8.8. The order is flipped in offensive rating, with the Rockets posting a 112.8 mark and the Warriors posting a 112.1. Both teams are two points ahead of New Orleans, the next closest team in that metric, and they’re 4-8 points clear in Net Rating, with the Pelicans again being the next closest Western Conference team at 4.0. Since the beginning of the season we knew these teams were likely on a collision course. The first round only confirmed what we’ve suspected.
Sixers Are A Legitimate Threat In The East
Full disclosure: I’m from Philadelphia originally and grew up a Sixers fan. That said, the Sixers’ gentleman’s sweep of the Miami Heat was just a step below the dominance shown by the Rockets and Warriors. We mentioned Net Rating for those two teams, well, the Sixers are third in that category, checking in a 8.0, just 0.8 behind Houston. Their defense ranks second, behind only the Warriors in defensive rating at 101.6, and the offensive numbers aren’t far behind, ranking fifth in the playoffs (109.6) and second to only Toronto (110.2) in the East.
It hasn’t just been the starters either. Philly’s bench has posted the highest Net Rating of the playoffs at 9.7, nearly a full four points ahead of the Warriors group. The Sixers are led by young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but J.J. Redick (20 PPG, 35% 3PT), Marco Bellinelli (16.6 PPG, 36.7% 3PT) and Ersan Ilyasova (10.8 PPG) have all been key contributors. Those guys are 33, 31, and 30 respectively with a combined 174 games of playoff experience among them. This isn’t to say the Sixers are the favorite in a conference that still goes through LeBron, but Philly is certainly a threat.
LeBron Needs Help Or Cavs Are In Trouble
In Cleveland’s seven-game war with Indiana, James averaged 41.1 minutes per game, while putting up 34.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists per outing. The man is 33 years old, in his 15th NBA season, and has been to seven straight NBA Finals. He’s already got a lot of miles on him, and expecting him to continue to produce at that kind of clip is insane.
We knew the Cavaliers would need time to figure things out after trading nearly half the team at the deadline in February. But the supporting cast didn’t give much, well, support in this series. Kevin Love was second in points per game at 11.4. Nobody else averaged double-digit points. Go ahead and read that last sentence again.
An even more alarming picture, the Cavs bench is dead last, 16th, out of 16 playoff teams in Net Rating at minus-13.4. George Hill struggling with back spasms and missing three games didn’t help, but none of the supporting guys shone in this series.
Brad Stevens Continues To Be A Magician
The Celtics could not have been more banged up for their series against the Bucks. Okay, I guess technically that’s not true, they could have had a few more guys get hurt but still. Kyrie and Hayward were already out heading into the series. In addition, Marcus Smart was also out for most of the series, playing in just three of the seven contests.
Then you look at the Net Rating, where the Celtics check in at minus-1.6, while the Bucks, the team Boston just played, was plus-1.6. Yet the Celtics won in seven games. Having home court helped, as the Celtics won every home game, but the fact that Stevens was able to coach the C’s past Giannis and the Bucks with a bunch of (good, not great yet) young guys and Al Horford/Marcus Morris is crazy. The series with the Sixers is fascinating, because of the adjustments and game plans I’m waiting to see Stevens put to work against Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Jrue Holiday’s Introduction To The National Consciousness
Holiday is in his 9th year in the league, and he has been a solid-to-above-average point guard for both the Sixers and Pelicans. He was an All-Star in 2013, but most folks outside of his local market wouldn’t necessarily consider him a star. In his previous playoff appearances with Philly (2011-2012), he was solid, but in his only other playoff experience with the Pelicans (2014-15), he played just three games, struggling with injuries.
In the first round series against the Trail Blazers, Holiday lit it up, averaging 24 points, six assists and just under four rebounds per game. He’s played a different role this year in New Orleans, playing more off-ball with Rajon Rondo in the fold, and he’s flourished. The first round was just a continuation of that trend. While he struggled against the Warriors in Game 1 with just 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting, it’s clear that Holiday is ready for the national audience to know his name. The Pelicans tend to just be talked about as Anthony Davis and a bunch of guys, Holiday is changing that.