SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on how the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics pulled off big Game 1 wins.
USA TODAY Sports
We knew this year’s NBA playoffs could be different.
Several series in the first round could go either way, and we’re seeing that develop after the first weekend of games, with two higher seeds losing the series opener, another high seed requiring overtime and a No. 1 seed having trouble with a No. 8 seed.
The West is deep. Minnesota was the final team in but finished the regular season just one game out of fourth place. The Timberwolves are not a normal eight seed, as James Harden pointed out. They’re similar to an NCAA tournament team that was underseeded and has a chance to beat the higher seed.
The playoffs were unusual before they even started – the top three seeds in the East weren’t the oddsmakers’ favorites to win the conference title. That was Cleveland, the fourth seed, which lost Game 1 to fifth-seeded Indiana.
Injuries could play a role, too. Even though Boston beat Milwaukee in Game 1, the Celtics are without Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and of course, Gordon Hayward.
A look at three upset possibilities in the first round:
Indiana (5) vs. Cleveland (4)
It’s way early, and LeBron James pointed out he’s been down 3-1 in the NBA Finals and won the series, so he’s not going to freak out about losing Game 1 of the first round. And James’ track record in the first round is spotless. He’s never lost a first-round series.
While not in danger yet, the Cavs need to win Game 2. They were horrible offensively in Game 1, and for starters, they need to make more shots. They’re one of the best offensive teams in the league and scored just 80 points because of poor shooting from the field, including 23.5% on three-pointers.
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The Pacers know they can beat the Cavs, too, and not just because of Game 1. Indiana beat Cleveland three of four times during the regular season. Even if the Pacers don’t win the series, they can make it difficult.
New Orleans (6) vs. Portland (3)
This is not your normal No. 6 vs. No. 3 matchup either, with the Pelicans finishing the regular season just one game behind the Blazers. The Pelicans took Game 1 on the road against a team that, led by All-Star Damian Lillard, was one of the hottest in the West in the second half of the season.
New Orleans star Anthony Davis gives the Pelicans a great chance. He’s an MVP candidate, one of the most talented players in the league, and he had 35 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in Game 1. The Pelicans also have an experienced guard in Rajon Rondo who can run the offense. He had 17 assists.
But the X-factor is guard Jrue Holiday, who is tremendously underrated. He might be the one who can swing the series. He can guard Lillard on one end and score on the other. Lillard was just 6-for-23 in Game 1, and Holiday had 21 points, seven rebounds and two blocks — including one in the final seconds.
Milwaukee (7) vs. Boston (2)
Second-seeded Boston won Game 1 but needed overtime against the Bucks, who have one of the game’s best in Giannis Antetokounmpo (35 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists in the series opener). The Bucks made defensive adjustments in the second half, but they need to limit what main scorers Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris can do (they combined for 107 of Boston’s 113 points in Game 1).
The Bucks also need more offensive production from Jabari Parker and Eric Bledsoe, who scored a total of 11 points on 17 shots in the opener.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt