NBA Playoffs Round 1 Summary

Josiah Mayberry, Staff Writer

The first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs has been the leagues most-viewed over the last decade, with multiple matchups having interesting storylines, and teams underestimated throughout the seeding process making waves.

Eastern Conference

The Milwaukee Bucks (1) were rewarded with the first seed and an opening round matchup against the Miami Heat (8). What is usually a relatively easy series for the first seed of each conference has not been the case this time around, with the Heat up 3-1.

Jimmy Butler has continued showing his knack for improving his production in the postseason, looking like the best player on the floor even when Bucks’ superstar forward Giannis Antetekoumpo is able to suit up. Following Butler’s 56 point outing in game four, Miami seems poised to knock off the Eastern conference’s top seed. 

While the Heat have benefited from Giannis being injured, they have also been dealing with their own injuries and a lack of production from Butler’s co-star Bam Adebayo. The winner of this series will face either the New York Knicks or Cleveland Cavaliers.

Jimmy Butler EPIC 56 POINTS in Game 4 🔥 Full Highlights vs Bucks

The Boston Celtics (2) have been faring better than the Bucks in their first round matchup against the seventh seed Atlanta Hawks (7), up 3-2 and favored to close out the series in the sixth game. 

Trae Young started cold for the Hawks, but has found his footing since game 3, including a 38-point performance with a game winner in game 5, which was still barely enough to hold off the Celtics. The suspension of Dejounte Murray has made a comeback even more unlikely for Atlanta. The Celtics seem to be firing on all cylinders, motivated by recent shortcomings in the NBA and Eastern Conference finals.

Boston has been averaging more assists and rebounds than Atlanta, with the duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown being potent, but the Celts are still plagued by trouble closing out their contests, similar to last year and the year before. The winner between Boston and Atlanta will face the 76ers next round.

Trae Young Hits WILD GAME-WINNER vs. Celtics

The Philadelphia 76ers (3) swept the Brooklyn Nets (6), winning all but one game by double digits despite star center Joel Embiid missing time with injury. The Sixers’ efforts in their opening series show why they are favored by several NBA analysts to make the finals this year.

While Philly survived without a monster series from Embiid, they had much less convincing wins in his absence, any deep run will require him contributing a bit more.

As for Brooklyn, the Nets are clearly entering a rebuild, having to trade away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, while necessary, left them without a clear superstar. While Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie offer a couple bright spots, it is impossible for teams to contend in the NBA’s current atmosphere without one or two superstars. 

Joel Embiid Kicks Nic Claxton, Gets A FLAGRANT 1 Foul

The Cleveland Cavaliers (4) are currently down 3-1 to the New York Knicks (5). This is despite Knicks forward Julius Randle, the teams’ regular season ppg leader,  averaging nearly 11 less points per game in the series.

Knicks guards Jalen Brunson and R.J. Barret have picked up the slack, outpacing the Cavaliers’ guards, including Donovan Mitchell, who has experienced a drop in scoring this postseason. While Darius Garland has been contributing solid outings, the Cavaliers still need another piece to take the scoring pressure off of Mitchell come playoff time.

Cedi Osman has been a particularly weak spot in the Cavs defense, with the Knicks going at him frequently. The winner of the series will face the Miami Heat or Milwaukee Bucks.

Jalen Brunson (29 PTS) & RJ Barrett (26 PTS) Combine for 55 Points In Knicks Game 4 W!

Western Conference

The Denver Nuggets (1) defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves (8) 4-1. Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokic has been dominant, showing why he has been in the MVP conversation the third season in a row after winning the last two.

Denver guard Jamal Murray has also been a big factor, notching his fifth 40-point postseason game in their game five closeout win. Wolves’ stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert have not been contributing offensively, leaving young talent Anthony Edwards to serve as their sole scoring option. 

While having the length Towns and Gobert contribute is useful, they must contribute more to the Timberwolves’ offense if they want to truly contend. The Nuggets will take on the Phoenix Suns in the next series.

Anthony Edwards misses tying shot at buzzer and Nuggets eliminate Timberwolves

The most drama-filled series has been the Los Angeles Lakers (7) matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies (2).The Lakers currently hold a 3-1 lead over the Grizzlies, showing that their late season roster reconstruction was definitively for the better.

Lebron James, at 38 years old, notched his first career 20-point, 20-rebound outing in game four, Anthony Davis has been making his presence known and pickup Rui Hachimura, along with Austin Reaves, have been showing their value.

The size of LA has been hard for Memphis to contend with as they are missing center Steven Adams and forward Brandon Clarke. Superstar guard Ja Morant has also been battling the injury bug, missing the Grizzlies’ game two win before dropping 45 the next game. 

Memphis guard Dillon Brooks has continued building his reputation as a villain, calling James “old” and expressing his wish to play him in a series before the playoffs began. Brooks has been a nonfactor though, hurting his team with inefficient shooting and general offensive incompetence. The winner between the two will take on either the Kings or Warriors.

Dillon Brooks on LeBron Trash Talk: “I Don’t Care, He’s Old” 😳

The Sacramento Kings (3) and Golden State Warriors (6) are even at 2-2 with the Warriors being slight favorites to come out on top. The Warriors’ being favorites is largely due to postseason experience and Kings guard De’Aaron Fox, fighting a fractured finger.

The Kings have shown throughout the regular season and their first round matchup that they are here to stay. Fox and forward Domantas Sabonis are some of the brightest young stars in the NBA, and their breakneck pace and the offensive firepower brought to the table by the still young team have been very impressive.

The Warriors have looked slightly underwhelming. An aging Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have not been what they were, and young guard Jordan Poole has not been making his presence known. This has been one of the most even matchups, either franchise could close the other out. Whoever wins will go on to play the Lakers or Grizzlies.

Draymond Green ejected for stomping on Domantas Sabonis | NBA on ESPN

The Phoenix Suns (4) came out on top of the Los Angeles Clippers (5) by a score of 4-1. Their win has a bit of an asterisk by it as Paul George was not able to play, and Kawhi Leonard could only suit up twice. 

The big surprise coming out of the battle between the teams was Clippers guard Russell Westbrook. After playing over half the season on the Lakers with very spotty production and shooting splits Westbrook was traded, but he seems to have found his footing with his new team.

The Suns still looked good, and the addition of Kevin Durant has improved their floor spacing while taking some scoring pressure off of an aging Chris Paul, who can focus more on distributing the rock now. Few teams want to face the juggernaut that is Phoenix’s offense. We will see if Denver is up to the challenge as the two are meeting in the second round.