The regular season is officially behind us, and the 2021 Postseason is now underway. After an exciting few days of the Play-In tournament, the brackets are set and the Road to the 2021 NBA Finals begins.
This weekend kicked off the 2021 Playoffs as all eight series commenced with Game 1 being the tone setter for the opening round of the postseason. There were plenty of stellar performances and a lot to learn from the first eight games of the first round.
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In this article we will reflect on Game 1 from all eight series, analyze some of the biggest takeaways from all 16 teams’ performances and project how their Game 1 performances could influence the rest of the series.
With that being said, here are my top takeaways from Opening Weekend of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
Miami Heat @ Milwaukee Bucks; Bucks Win 109-107 in Overtime
Biggest Takeaway: Playing Physical Suits Milwaukee
Of course, everybody is going to focus on how close this game was and how clutch Khris Middleton was in the end, but that does not tell the whole story.
Looking at team stats, one could argue that Milwaukee actually dominated this game in spite of what the score says. The Milwaukee Bucks were the more physical team and it showed in a majority of the most significant counting stats.
Milwaukee outscored Miami 12-2 in Fastbreak points. They had 33 free throw attempts in comparison to the Heat’s 19. They outrebounded Miami 64 to 51. And the most telling statistic is that Milwaukee outscored the Heat 56-24 in terms of points in the paint.
Coming into this series, the Miami Heat were viewed as the more physical team with aggressive guys like Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and others headlining the roster. But the Bucks set the tone early in this series showing that they will not get out hustled and outworked the way they did in this same matchup last year in the Bubble.
Biggest Takeaway: Duncan Robinson Knows He Is Playing for a Payday
Duncan Robinson was easily the Miami Heat’s most productive player in Game 1 outside of Goran Dragic who led the team with 25 points off the bench.
Robinson scored 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting, all of which came from three. He showed some significant range on a number of occasions in this one and a handful of his threes were needed to help keep Miami in the game.
Considering this team is headlined by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo I would not be surprised if people forgot this, but Duncan Robinson is a pending free agent due for a payday. And a big one at that.
Earlier this month renowned ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski discussed Robinson’s contract situation on NBA Countdown with Rachel Nichols. Wojnarowski reported that teams may offer him around $20 million in free agency in an effort to get Robinson away from Miami. If you do not think Robinson heard that and took that to heart then you are sadly mistaken.
Robinson is already a high commodity as one of the league’s top three-point marksmen as a career 42.3% shooter from deep.
Regardless of whether Miami wins or loses this series, the play of Robinson is worth keeping an eye on as it could help improve his stock even more and maybe make him the most sought-after free agent in the 2021 class.
Dallas Mavericks @ LA Clippers; Mavericks Win 113-103
Biggest Takeaway: Mavericks Are Better When It’s Not the Luka Doncic Show
Although Luka Doncic had a triple-double with 31 points, 11 assists and ten rebounds, the Mavericks supporting cast was the real story in this one.
21 points from Tim Hardaway Jr. with five threes. Dorian Finney-Smith with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor including four threes. 14 points from Doncic’s co-star in Kristaps Porzingis. Even second year guard Jalen Brunson contributed 15 points off the bench.
These guys playing up to the competition is what will be the difference in whether or not Dallas will win this series.
Everybody knows who Luka is and what he is capable of. It is up to these other guys to be viable secondary and tertiary scoring threats next to him in order to give the Mavericks a chance at winning 4-out-of-7.
The Mavericks took homecourt in Game 1, time to see how the Clippers respond.
Biggest Takeaway: Clippers Continue to Struggle Closing Playoff Games
The tale for the Clippers last postseason was their inability to close games and that is what led to three historical comebacks by the Nuggets to win it in Game 7. One season later and despite having some new faces and new head coach in Tye Lue at the helm, still the same old Clippers.
The dynamic duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 49 points on the night, but they both were practically no-shows when the game came down to crunch time.
The Clippers were up 98-96 with 6:08 left in the 4th quarter. From there, they would proceed to be outscored by the Mavericks 18-5. And the worst part is that Luka Doncic did not score a single point during that six-minute stretch.
Now LA had a little bit of trouble with Dallas last postseason and still ended up winning the series in six games. So, there is no need to panic just yet.
Game 2 is a pivotal tone setter for this series because if the Clippers drop both games at home, they will be down 0-2 heading to Dallas where Mark Cuban will have a full capacity crowd waiting for them.
Boston Celtics @ Brooklyn Nets; Nets Win 104-93
Biggest Takeaway: Brooklyn Big 3’s Chemistry Looks Fine to Me
Coming into the Playoffs, the big worry for the Brooklyn Trio was whether or not their lack of time on the floor together would hurt them. Well, it seems to say that chemistry does not seem to be an issue for these three considering they combined for 81 of Brooklyn’s 104 points in this game.
The most impressive thing about this performance was the Big 3’s ability to flip on the switch in the second half. In the beginning, Boston got out to a hot 13-4 start and by the end of the first half, the Celtics were actually ahead 53-47. Coming out of halftime, Brooklyn won the 3rd quarter 31-20 on the back of the Big 3 who scored all but three of the team’s 3rd quarter points to go up 78-73. From there, the Nets never looked back and closed out the game to go up 1-0 in the series.
This was the kind of performance every NBA fan and analyst anticipated when the trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden were first united. Now that we have seen it in a Playoff setting, it feels like they truly are poised to make a run at the NBA title.
Biggest Takeaway: Breakout Party for Center Robert Williams
Boston did not win the game, but they may have found a wildcard in this series in the form of Center Robert Williams.
I mentioned in my preview article for this series that an X-factor for the Celtics was their ability to attack Brooklyn’s weak interior defense and lack of an inside presence.
Well, they did not do very much as they were outrebounded by the Nets 40 to 50 and outscored 38 to 34 in points in the paint. But there was one Celtics player who did a great job of making his presence felt inside: Robert Williams.
Williams had 11 points, grabbed nine rebounds (five on the offensive glass) and he blocked nine shot which is an insane feat in a regular season game let alone a Playoff game. He was also arguably Boston’s most productive player as he was a +5 for the Celtics, second behind only Jabari Parker who was a +7.
It may be a bit soon to make this call, but it may be worth experimenting with starting Williams over Tristan Thompson.
Williams straight up outplayed Thompson who only had four points along with ten rebounds, two steals and one block. Thompson also had the second worst plus-minus on the team at -16 only behind Kemba Walker who was -21.
Williams was more aggressive, more active and was simply the more effective big on the floor for the Celtics. Again, it may be too soon for coach Brad Stevens to pull the trigger but starting Williams does at least schematically seem like something worth at least contemplating.
Portland Trailblazers @ Denver Nuggets; Trailblazers Win 123-109
Biggest Takeaway: Dame Time in the Playoffs is Infectious
34 points and 13 assists in a game-high 40 minutes on the floor for All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and his hot shooting night was infectious throughout the team.
Lillard was 10-of-25 from the floor but more impressively he was 5-of-12 from beyond the arc. But he was not the only one who was feeling it from three.
Carmelo Anthony shot 4-of-8 from three. Anfernee Simons shot 4-of-5 from three. CJ McCollum got in on the party with three threes of his own. Portland as a team shot 19-of-40 from three (47.5%) to Denver’s 11-of-36 (30.6%) shooting night. That means the Trailblazers outscored the Nuggets by 24 points just from beyond the arc.
This is a recipe that is duplicable for Portland as they have a handful of guys that love to get up threes and do so in a hurry. This team goes as Damian Lillard goes and when he is feeling it, the rest of the team tends to follow suit.
Solid win to take away home court advantage from Denver. If the Trailblazers can take Game 2, I believe that they have the talent to win this series back home in four games. Even in spite of Denver having the probable league MVP in Nikola Jokic.
Biggest Takeaway: Denver Desperately Missing Their Guard Production
Key statistic for you: Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray averaged 26.5 points throughout the 2020 NBA Playoffs. The four guards available to play for Denver in Game 1 only combined for 31 as a group.
Facundo Campazzo with eight points and five assists. Austin Rivers only had six points. Monta Morris and Marcus Howard combined for 17 off the bench, but in the grand scheme of things, it was a quiet 17.
Nikola Jokic can only do so much. The guy had 34 points and 16 rebounds along with Michael Porter Jr. who backed him up with 25 points. Even newcomer Aaron Gordon gave them 16 points and eight rebounds.
But in a series against a Trailblazers team littered with talented guard play, Denver needs someone in the backcourt to come up big for them.
Guards PJ Dozier and Will Barton both also missed Game 1 and their health does not seem to be improving. At least for now Dozier is listed to miss the entire series with a groin injury and Barton will also be missing Game 2 with a hamstring injury.
Denver is some serious trouble as the Injury Gods do not seem to be on their side.
From this vantage point only one game into the series, it seems like the only way Denver comes out of this series is if Jokic plays even better than his regular season MVP-level stats suggest. And even then, it may not be enough.
Washington Wizards @ Philadelphia 76ers; 76ers Win 125-118
Biggest Takeaway: Philly Has a Big 3 of Their Own
When it comes to the Philadelphia 76ers, everybody’s always talking about the play of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. For good reason I might add.
They are the two franchise cornerstones that have put the 76ers back on the map after years of “The Process.” And they both played great in this game.
Embiid scored 30 points along with six rebounds and three assists. He did so while shooting 9-of-16 from the floor and was a beast down low as he shot 12-of-13 from the free throw line.
Simmons was not particularly dominant on the offensive end, only having six points in the game but he was impactful in a few other ways. He led the team with 15 rebounds (eight on the offensive glass), and he also had 15 assists.
But the story of the game for Philadelphia was the play of Tobias Harris. Harris led the team with a career Playoff-high 37 points as every point was crucial in holding off the high-powered offense of the Washington Wizards.
Philadelphia is good when Joel Embiid plays well. They are great when Joel and Embiid and Ben Simmons play well. But they are true championship contenders when they get solid contributions from Embiid, Simmons and Tobias Harris.
Do not expect this be the only time Harris leads this team in scoring throughout the Playoffs. The play of Harris as a third scoring option is what takes this team from just being dangerous to being a team worth favoring to win the whole thing.
Biggest Takeaway: Washington Has the Firepower to Hang with the 76ers
First off, I have to start off by saying that Russell Westbrook did not step out of bounds. It is understandable that from the referee’s perspective it was close in real time, but the replay made it look blatantly obvious that his foot did not touch the out of bounds line. Tough call robbed Washington of an opportunity to fight back only down by five with 17.8 seconds left in regulation.
Nonetheless, the Wizards were in this game the whole night and showed that they belonged in the postseason.
33 points and ten rebounds from Bradley Beal. 16 points and 14 rebounds from Russell Westbrook. The starting front court of Rui Hachimura and Alex Len had 12 points apiece. Davis Bertans hit four threes on his way to 14 points and five rebounds for the night. Even Daniel Gafford chipped in going a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor with 12 points and six rebounds.
Washington got solid contributions from just about everyone on the roster and that is a great sign. Plus, it isn’t like Tobias Harris will not be red hot every night.
If the Wizards can get a similar effort from their role players along with great performances from their star backcourt, they have a real chance to flip this series around.
Los Angeles Lakers @ Phoenix Suns; Suns Win 99-90
Biggest Takeaway: Suns’ Young Guys More Ready for the Big Stage Than People Thought
Coming into these Playoffs, the narrative around the Phoenix Suns was that they lacked Playoff experience and that that fact could be a detriment to their success against Los Angeles.
Well, it seems like experience does not matter because the talent outweighed the lack of postseason experience.
The two guys with the most Playoff experience for the Phoenix Suns are Jae Crowder, Dario Saric and Chris Paul.
Crowder shot 3-of-10 from the field and missed all seven of his three-point attempts. Saric only got on the floor for 11 minutes off the bench and had four points. Then Chris Paul rounded out the group by not cracking double digits either with only seven points along with eight assists.
Now Phoenix’s young guys on the other hand, came to play.
Devin Booker led the charge with 34 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Big man Deandre Ayton had a double-double with 21 points and 16 rebounds on 10-of-11 shooting from the field. Even Forwards Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson both scored ten points apiece.
Everybody was so worried about whether or not the young guys would crack under the pressure of never being in a Playoff environment.
The real question we might need to start asking is whether or not the lack of success by the “Playoff Veterans” is going to hinder the Suns’ ability to win this series? Only time will tell but so far Phoenix has the upper hand and made quite the impression in Game 1.
Los Angeles Lakers
Biggest Takeaway: Lakers Don’t Look Like the Defending Champs
The Los Angeles Lakers simply do not look primed for a repeat.
They came into this series just barely beating the Golden State Warriors in a Play-In game. Then in a series tone setting Game 1, Anthony Davis only has 13 points and seven rebounds.
LeBron was still the Lakers’ best player on the floor with 18 points, seven rebounds and ten assists, but he is not built to carry a championship team on his back like years past.
Kyle Kuzma did not score a single point in 19 minutes played. And despite what the box score tells you, Alex Caruso was the best guard on the floor for Los Angeles, not Dennis Schroder.
This team just does not look right and honestly has not looked ready to defend their championship all season.
Most of us, including myself, favored the Lakers strictly because of the past dominance of LeBron James and the presence of Anthony Davis. But we may not have sat down and really questioned whether or not these two guys still have it in them to rekindle that flame from last year and dominate all over again.
If James and Davis are not elite, the Lakers will be going home really soon.
Atlanta Hawks @ New York Knicks; Hawks Win 107-105
Biggest Takeaway: Trae Young Clutch Enough Under the Bright Lights
A near triple-double for Trae Young with 32 points, ten assists and seven rebounds in his first Playoff game.
Cap that off with a runner with 0.9 second to steal Game 1 and silence the New York crowd that was rocking Madison Square Garden all game long.
Young came out the gate and proved against an elite Knicks defense that he is capable of carrying this Atlanta team under the bright lights of the NBA Playoffs. And when I say carry, I mean carry. The next highest scorer for the Hawks was Bogdan Bogdanovic who had 18 (barely over half of what Young had).
Now it does not seem possible that Young can win four games on his own to advance, so the supporting cast around him does need to step up. Cannot only get seven points from Danilo Gallinari or only 14 points combined between Deandre Hunter and Clint Capela.
But this game did show that even in the Playoffs, Young is still capable of overcoming the lack of offensive production from his supporting cast to win ball games. That is the sign of a true superstar in the making.
New York Knicks
Biggest Takeaway: Knicks Bench Could Actually Be the Key to the Series
We will not talk about the disappearing act that was Julius Randle who may have had 15 points and 12 rebounds but did so while shooting a horrific 6-of-23 from the floor. That may have hurt the Knicks chances down the stretch, but it was not the biggest story in this game for New York.
The big story was the production from the Knicks’ guards.
A double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds from RJ Barrett in his first Playoff game. Ten points from rookie guard Immanuel Quickley in 21 minutes off the bench.
Veteran guard Derrick Rose led the team playing a game-high 38 minutes off the bench and was solid with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists.
But most impressively, Alec Burks led New York in scoring with 27 points in 26 minutes off the bench. That is 64 points just off the bench from the guards and 78 points total between the four.
Surely coach Tom Thibodeau would prefer to ride his work horse Julius Randle to the promised land, but it is hard to argue against this kind of production from the Knicks backcourt. Randle will need to play up to his All-Star title if New York wants any chance of coming out of this series.
But keep your eye on the Knicks’s guards. Their battle with Trae Young could also be a telling factor in who comes out on top in this series.
Memphis Grizzlies @ Utah Jazz; Grizzlies Win 112-109
Biggest Takeaway: Grizzlies Are Here to Stay
Seems like the Memphis Grizzlies have just constantly been doubted all season long.
In the preseason, ESPN predicted that the Grizzlies would finish 10th in the West with a 36% chance of making the Playoffs.
Last week just about everyone penciled them in to lose to the Golden State Warriors and just barely miss the Playoffs.
Now they actually beat the odds twice to make the Playoffs and most of us came into this series against the Utah Jazz doubting that they could win the series.
Well one game in a lot of us are already slowly starting to look wrong.
31 points and seven rebounds from Dillon Brooks. 26 points, four rebounds and four assists from Ja Morant. Jonas Valanciunas with the double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
The Grizzlies just continue to show no fear and it continues to carry them above the odds.
They will need to maintain this competitive spirit and get these kinds of contributions from their key guys to hold off the Jazz.
The series is not over by any means, but Memphis has set the tone early by stealing home court advantage. If Utah lets the young guys for the Grizzlies get too confident, the Jazz could be in real trouble.
Biggest Takeaway: Utah Needs Donovan Mitchell
It is not necessarily Donovan Mitchell’s scoring that the Jazz miss because they have plenty of that to go around.
In this game they got 29 points from Bojan Bogdanovic, 22 from Mike Conley and Derrick Favors and Jordan Clarkson combined for 26 off the bench. So, like I said, they are fine in terms of scoring.
The thing Mitchell provides that Utah is desperately missing is a shot creator capable of getting his own shot down the stretch of ball games. In this game, they turned to Bogdanovic in the closing moments to take the shot to potentially send the game to overtime.
Typically, this would be the kind of the kind of situation that Mitchell would thrive in as the go-to option with the game on the line. Mitchell also draws so much offensively that it creates more space for guys to operate and get their shot off.
Bogdanovic and Conley alone shot a combined 7-of-22 from three. The team as a whole only hit 12 threes on 47 attempts. A lot of this is due to the shots being tougher and guys not being nearly as freed up the way they would be if they had Mitchell to help gravitate defenders away.
The Grizzlies as a team are no slouches on defense as they had the 6th best defensive rating during the regular season.
If Utah thought they were going to just coast past the overachieving Grizzlies, Game 1 proved that they are sadly mistaken. Before being ruled out in Game 1, Donovan Mitchell claimed to be “ready to go.” Well after losing home court advantage, hopefully for Utah’s sake Mitchell will be available in Game 2 with intentions of evening up this series at 1-1.
Hi there! My name is Jalon Dixon, but most people just call me Jay. As an aspiring, young sports writer and podcaster, I enjoy discussing sports (mainly basketball and football) and sharing my knowledge with others. Growing up right in the middle of Towson University, Morgan State, Goucher College and others, I have gotten the chance to learn so much about a handful of the different athletic teams that thrive here in Baltimore. I want to be the voice of local fans and teams that may not get the same spotlight as others, but still play a big part in our everyday lives. My motto is “Always Embrace Conversation,” so if you ever want to give me feedback on a piece or even just have a friendly sports debate, feel free to email me! Hope you enjoy my work and maybe even learn something along the way.