By Griffin Finch
Opening Night of this years NBA playoffs presented a four-game slate that did not disappoint. We saw the Warriors take on the Spurs, the Raptors battle the Wizards, the 76ers host the Miami Heat and to cap the night the Pelicans went on the road to take on the Trailblazers at the Moda Center. Whether you’re a fan of blowouts, massive comebacks or close games throughout opening night of these playoffs had something to your taste.
At 3 pm eastern time the Warriors kicked off the evening playing host to the San Antonio Spurs. From the jump, it was clear that even without the services of two time MVP Stephen Curry the Spurs simply did not have the firepower to keep up with KD, Klay Thompson and the rest of Golden State. This game really exemplified what Kawhi Leonard means to the Spurs. It was obvious that LaMarcus Aldridge needed someone to take the pressure off of him offensively because the dubs keyed in on him defensively and dared the other Spurs to beat them. They also missed Kawhi defensively. It’s true that you cannot guard Durant, but without Kawhi San Antonio couldn’t even begin to contain him. KD got what he wanted when he wanted it all night. The champs stumbled into the postseason to be sure but after game one it would appear that was because they were uninterested due to the meaninglessness of the games they were playing. As soon as they had something to play for the showed up and took care of business destroying the Spurs 113-92.
Subsequently following the Warriors game one home win the Washington Wizards ventured north to Toronto to take on their first-round matchup with the Raptors. This game was close throughout the first three quarters primarily because Lowry and DeRozan combined to take only seven shots in the first half. They had put a lot of pressure on themselves going into the game saying “Game one is like our game seven”. The Raptors stars said this in reference to the fact that Toronto had never won a playoff opener and were 0-10 in their last ten game ones. John Wall took advantage of the Raptors being tight, putting his talents on display and leading the Wizards to a four-point lead at halftime. It was clear that if the Raptors were going to win this game their leaders were going to need to take more than seven shots in the second half. Lowry and DeRozan came out of the locker room and decided to take over scoring the first several buckets themselves in the third quarter. Washington kept it close but by halfway through the fourth the Raptors cohesive team play was too much for the Wizards and Toronto broke open the game leading by twelve at one point and finishing the game 114-106.
The penultimate game of the night had the Miami Heat visit The City of Brotherly Love to face the 76ers. The story of this game was the perimeter shooting by the home team. They combined to shoot 18 of 28 or 64% from three-point range. Ersan İlyasova benefited greatly from Joel Embiid’s absence. He played significant minutes at center scoring 17 points and grabbing 14 boards. But more importantly, he made it impossible for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to play Hassan Whiteside more than twelve minutes. Whiteside had provided 14 points and 11 rebounds per game during the regular season, but what the Heat missed most was his interior defense averaging nearly two blocks per game. The Heat could simply not keep up with the pace Philly played with leading to a final score of 130-103.
The final game of opening night featured MVP candidate Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans going on the road to play the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and the Portland Trailblazers. Anthony Davis displayed why he is the best player in the series dropping 35 points and 14 rebounds on 53% shooting from the field. Portland came with a more balanced scoring attack with 19 from McCollum, 18 from Lillard, 13 from Evan Turner and 11 from Jusuf Nurkic with a myriad of bench players contributing. This was a poor strategy for Portland as at one point they were down 19 during the third quarter and down 12 going into the fourth. To their credit the fought all the way back to cut it to 5 with a handful of seconds left and despite C.J. McCollum nailing a long three as the buzzer sounded it wasn’t enough and the Pelicans escaped with a 97-95 road win in game one.
After such an exciting first night of the playoffs, I encourage everyone who claims to love the game of basketball to watch as much as you can while they are here. Every time you miss a game you are potentially missing something special. Opening night has me very excited for the rest of the postseason. The variety of play styles ensure that there is something for everybody every night so enjoy as much as you can until June when the season sadly concludes.