NBA Playoffs: 1st Round Wraps

This post will be updated as each series concludes. We’ll run basic Tale of the Tape numbers, team-wide and individual, for each matchup and offer a brief comment. For the individual stats, unless noted otherwise, you can just assume they shot between 45 percent and 55 percent from the floor.

Minnesota (3) sweeps Phoenix (6) 4-0
2-point shooting: 48% – 47% Minnesota
3-point shooting: 49/134 (37%) – 38/104 (37%)
Rebounding: 46-33 Minnesota
Turnovers: 14-14

Anthony Edwards: 31/6/8
Karl Anthony-Towns: 19/10
Rudy Gobert: 15/11
Jaden McDaniels: 14/5
Nickell Alexander-Walker: 15/4 (shot 41 percent)
Mike Conley: 12/6 assists (shot 36 percent)

Devin Booker: 28/6
Kevin Durant: 27/7
Bradley Beal: 17/5 assists (shot 44 percent)
Jusuf Nurkic: 9 rebounds per game

Comments: In spite of the seeding, this result was a betting upset. Market respect for Kevin Durant made Phoenix a narrow favorite when the series opened. In the preview in this space, I opined that Minnesota just looked like a much better team. In words you will unlikely hear ever again, TheSportsNotebook hit it and the markets missed.

The series-wide rebounding numbers tell the story. What really stands out is that the Timberwolves dominated the glass in Games 3 & 4, a spot where a desperate home team often ups the ante on defense and rebounding. Phoenix didn’t—or Minnesota didn’t allow it, whichever perspective you prefer.

Anthony Edwards was every bit the star the numbers suggest. His throwdown dunk with 2:15 left in Game 4 was the signature moment for his breakout series.

All credit to Durant—he made a statement early in Game 1, and he put up numbers throughout. But he and Booker had little in the way of help. Minnesota was younger, more athletic, and deeper. They were just better, and three of the four games were decisive.


Oklahoma City (1) sweeps New Orleans (8) 4-0
Field goal shooting: 48% – 40% OKC
3-point shooting: 53/137 (39%) – 35/131 (27%) OKC

Rebounds: 46-43 New Orleans
Turnovers: 14-10 OKC

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 27/6/5
Jalen Williams: 21/7/5
Chet Holmgren: 15/8
Josh Giddey: 13/5
Luguentz Dort: 11ppg

CJ McCollum: 18/5/5 (shot 42 percent)
Jonas Valanciunas: 15/11
Brandon Ingram: 15/5/3 (shot 35 percent)
Herb Jones: 13/5 (shot 39 percent)
Trey Murphy III: 12/7 (shot 38 percent)

Comments: Three of these games were close. Who knows how different it might have been had Zion Williamson been able to go for New Orleans. Certainly, it’s reasonable to think the Pelicans could have split the first four with a healthy Zion. That said, Oklahoma City played some good defense throughout the series and that’s reflected in the shooting percentage numbers.

The Thunder are the youngest 1-seed ever and are clearly coming. I also find it hard to see them making it out of the Western Conference. At least for now, I’m just not looking at this team and seeing “Finals” jump out at me.


Denver (2) beats LA Lakers (7) 4-1
Field goal shooting: 49% – 46% LA Lakers
3-point shooting: 53/172 (31%) – 44/147 (30%) Denver
Rebounds: 46-41 Denver
Turnovers: 10-10 Even

Nikola Jokic: 28/6/10 (shot 59 percent)
Jamal Murray: 24/5/7 (shot 40 percent)
Michael Porter Jr: 23/8
Aaron Gordon: 14/10/5

LeBron James: 28/7/9 (shot 57 percent)
Anthony Davis: 28/16/4 (shot 63 percent)
Austin Reaves: 17/4/4
D’Angelo Russell: 14/3/4 (shot 38 percent)

Comments: This was a great battle. It felt like it could have gone seven games, and it certainly felt like something you could see in a conference finals round, as opposed to right off the rip. But Denver just has the ability to close games out. A moment from Game 5 seems to encapsulate the series. Lakers lead 104-103 in the final minute. There’s a missed shot. Aaron Gordon goes up among three other Lakers and somehow comes out with the offensive rebounds. That sets up a three-ball from Murray, who then hits the walkoff moments later in a 108-106 win. Championship teams get that rebound.

The individual numbers also tell you the Nuggets just have more depth. Los Angeles struggled to find contributions from anyone outside LeBron/AD all series. D’Angelo Russell had a nice Game 2. Austin Reaves came through in Game 4, the one L.A. win. Rai Hachimura hit a lot of big shots in Game 5. But it just wasn’t consistent enough. Denver matches Los Angeles in star power, they have more depth, and the Nuggets have become that team in the NBA that just seems to make plays down the stretch. Denver is more potent in the clutch than the top-line numbers will show.


Boston (1) beats Miami (8) 4-1
Field goal shooting: 47% – 44% Boston  
3-point shooting: 75/195 (39%) – 56/170 (33%) Boston
Rebounds:  46-36 Boston
Turnovers: 10-10 Even

Jaylen Brown: 23/7
Derrick White: 22 ppg (shot 58%)
Jayson Tatum: 22/10/5 (shot 42%)
Kristaps Porzingis: 12/5 (played 4 games)
Al Horford: 7 rebounds per game

Bam Adebayo: 23/9/4Tyler Herro: 17/4/5 (shot 39%)
Caleb Martin: 12/4
Jaime Jacquez: 13ppg
Nikola Jovic: 7 rebounds per game

Comments: When Miami stole Game 2 in the Garden, questions abounded. Was this the case of the Heat getting uber-hot from behind the arc (23-for-43)? Was the problem that the Celtics failed to exhibit appropriate defensive intensity after a blowout win in Game 1—and, if so, did that point to a team still not yet mentally ready to win a championship?

Whether Boston wins Banner 18 remains to be seen, but for this series, they certainly answered the questions in a resounding way. The Celtics tightened the screws on defense, and the next three games were more than Boston wins. They were more than blowouts. They were all blowouts right from the start. It wasn’t even a case of the Heat hanging around into the third quarter before the game got away.

The team-wide defensive effort is the key story, but it also has to be said that Derrick White really stepped up. He dropped 38 points in the Game 4 win that all but sealed the series and 25 more in the formal clincher of Game 5. White’s explosion came right after Kristaps Porzingis left Game 4 early with a calf injury and has yet to return. And the best news for the Celtics? As evidenced by his shooting numbers, Jayson Tatum didn’t even heat up.


New York (2) beats Philadelphia (7) 4-2
Field goal shooting: 44% – 44% Philly
3-point shooting: 81/124 (38%) – 71/192 (37%) Philly
Rebounds:  46-41 New York
Turnovers: 11-10 New York

Jalen Brunson: 36/5/9 (shot 43%)
Josh Hart: 17/12/5 (shot 41%)
OG Anunoby: 15/7
Donte DiVincenzo: 12ppg (shot 36%)
Deus McBride: 11ppg
Isiah Hartenstein: 10/7 (shot 60%)

Joel Embiid: 33/11/6 (shot 44%)
Tyrese Maxey: 30/5/7
Kelly Oubre: 13ppg
Tobias Harris: 7 rebounds per game

Comments: This is going down as one of my all-time favorite first-round battles, up there with the Celtics-Bulls run of OT games in 2009 and the Clippers-Spurs seven-game duel in 2015. To say this Sixers-Knicks edition was a six-game series that felt like seven understates the case. All the games were close. Four of them had epic finishes. The 76ers completely blew the last thirty seconds of a Game 2 win they had in hand. The Knicks returned the favor in Game 5, coughing up a six-point lead in the final minute, and then nearly doing the same in Game 6—Philly rallied from 109-101 down with less than two minutes to play to pull even, before New York finally put it away.

The individual performances are ones worth talking about years from now. Jalen Brunson’s shooting percentages might have been rough, but that doesn’t tell how he put the Knicks on his back at several key points in the series—including the fourth quarter of Game 6 when he scored ten straight points. Tyrese Maxey’s efforts in Game 5, including an impossible four-point play that helped Philly live to fight another day. Or Joel Embiid dropping 50 in the must-win Game 3. This series had everything.


Indiana (6) beats Milwaukee (3) 4-2
Field goal shooting: 48% – 47% Indiana
3-point shooting: 67/189 (35%) – 84/244 (34%) Milwaukee
Rebounds: 44-43 Indiana
Turnovers: 12-11 Indiana

Pascal Siakam: 22/9/4
Myles Turner: 19/7
Tyrese Haliburton: 16/6/9 (shot 44%)
Andrew Nembhard: 14/3/5 (shot 60%)
Aaron Nesmith: 11ppg (shot 35%)

Khris Middleton: 25/9/5
Damian Lilliard: 31ppg (shot 42 percent, played 4 games)
Brook Lopez: 18/4 (shot 59%)
Bobby Portis: 17/11

Comments: If the New York-Philly series was “6 that felt like 7” then Indiana-Milwaukee was “6 that felt like 5—or less.” Only one game, a terrific overtime battle in Game 3, was close. In fairness to the Bucks, their two wins were also blowouts. In even bigger fairness to the Bucks, Giannis didn’t play at all, and Lilliard missed two games.

That said, this was still a disappointing effort from Milwaukee. If this was really a championship team, they should have been able to be more competitive against a 6-seed, even missing their stars. Lilliard game then a “hop on my back and I’ll carry you” moment in Game 1. Middleton tried to do the same in Game 3. But there was no rebounding from Lopez, Portis got himself ejected in Game 4 and while Malik Beasley had some good individual games, there was no consistently sustained production from the role players.

As for Indiana, Siakam’s monster Game 2—37/11 on 16-for-23 shooting was what turned the momentum of the series. Turner had a huge Game 4. My question regarding Tyrese Haliburton is going to follow into the second round—why does he keep shooting so much? He’s a terrific passer, but Pacer fans have to get nervous if he hits some early shots—because that’s just going to encourage him to keep pulling the trigger.


Dallas (5) beats LA Clippers (4) 4-2
Field goal shooting: 47% – 43% Dallas
3-point shooting: 71/190 (37%) – 70/209 (34%) LA Clippers
Rebounds: 42-42 Dallas
Turnovers: 12-10 Dallas

Luka Doncic: 30/9/10 (shot 41%)
Kyrie Irving: 27/6/5
PJ Washington: 11/5
Dereck Lively: 6 rebounds per game

James Harden: 21/5/8
Paul George: 20/7/5 (shot 41%)
Ivica Zubac: 16/9
Norman Powell: 13ppg
Kawhi Leonard only plays in 2 games

Comments: When you look at this series in totality, the second half of Game 4 will be easy to overlook. On the surface, it was the Clippers getting a road win, tying the series, and reclaiming homecourt advantage. But in reality, they blew a 31-point lead and barely survived. Dallas used that momentum to springboard to a pair of easy wins. Basically, the Mavericks completely dominated the last 2 ½ games of this series.

The numbers of the stars tell the story. Harden and George were awful. While Doncic was erratic, he still filled up the stat sheet and he hit some big shots in Game 2, and dropped a 35/7/10 line in Game 5, the two key road wins that defined the series for Dallas. And Kyrie was the best of the stars. That was underscored when he got insanely hot late in the third quarter of Game 6, rode it to a 30-point night and the Mavs blew open the clincher.


Cleveland (4) beats Orlando (5) 4-3
Field goal shooting: 44% – 42% Cleveland
3-point shooting: 72/233 (31%) – 60/209 (28/7%) Orlando
Rebounds: 45-41 Orlando
Turnovers: 14-14 Orlando

Donovan Mitchell 29/5/4
Darius Garland: 15/4/5
Evan Mobley: 12/9
Jarrett Allen: 17/14 (4 games)
Max Strus: 5 rebounds

Paolo Banchero 27/9/4
Franz Wagner 19/7/4 (shot 41%)
Jalen Suggs: 15/5
Wendell Carter: 6 rebounds

Comment: Befitting a series with two young teams, the home team won each game. Wagner’s spotting shooting percentage is underscored by his non-performance in Games 5 & 7. The Cavs’ survival in what was an outstanding Game 5 was ultimately the difference. In a game that was tense throughout, Cleveland led 102-100. At which point, Mobley stuffed Wagner on a drive to the basket that looked about to tie the game. The Cavs scored on the other end, and had the breathing room they needed to close it out. The Game 7 atmosphere in Cleveland seemed oddly flat, and the Cavs played like it for a quarter and a half. In the end, Cleveland pulled away, with Mitchell being the only player who really distinguished himself on a nightly basis. Both of these teams have bright futures. Neither looks ready to go much further at this stage in their development.