Over the last two days, the top two seeds in the west, and ultimately the two favorites to battle it out for the conference championship, opened the playoffs in round one of the NBA playoffs.
The Lakers, the number one seed in the West, began their quest for a title against the red hot Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers, led by Damian Lillard, the NBA bubble MVP, came into the series with a 6-2 record in the bubble, climbing from 3.5 games behind to catch the Memphis Grizzlies and claim the 8th seed in the West.
The Clippers, the number two seed, faced the Dallas Mavericks and up and coming superstar Luka Doncic. The Mavs are the number 7 seed, emerge from the bubble with the NBA’s highest offensive rating but also sporting a discouraging 3-5 record. Going against one of the NBA’s top defensive teams in the Clippers, that scoring prowess would need to be on full display for the Mavs to have any chance against the Clippers.
The Clippers and Mavericks faced off Monday night, in what was a very entertaining game. The first half a high scoring affair, as both teams shot over 45% from the field the entire game. The Clippers forced Luka into 7 first-half turnovers that kept the Clippers from being down by double digits. The pace slowed down in the second half but the Clippers did not slow down Luka, as he finished with 42 points. Leonard led the Clippers with 29 pts and George added 27 to help the Clippers pull out the win.
Meanwhile, the Lakers fell to the Blazers in a game that saw Dame Dollar continue his impressive play. He led all scorers with 34 pts as the Blazers upset the Lakers Despite LeBron posting the first-ever 20 points 15 assists, 15 rebound triple-double.
Of the two favorites, it seems obvious that the Clippers played better in the first game. However, the Clippers won by 8 points and didn’t take the lead in the game until after the Mavs big man Kristaps Porzingis was ejected early in the third quarter. At the time Porzingis was performing well in his first Playoff appearance, posting 14 points and 6 rebounds up to that point. In order for the Clippers to take command of the series, they need to get to the free-throw line more and have their stars shoot better from the arc. They were outshot from the stripe by 11% and were assisted by the ejection of Porzingis, along with Luka’s 11 turnovers.
The Lakers loss was stunning. Dame was on, no doubt. CJ poured in 21 pts and 5 rebs. However, this game was determined not by what LeBron James did but by what he didn’t do. Even though AD scored 28 pts, he shot 8-24 from the field, 0-5 from 3, and 12 of 17 from the free-throw line. The only other player to score in double figures was Kyle Kuzma with 14 pts. LeBron should have been more aggressive. I know he treats the first game of the series as a feel out game, but this is where the criticism of his killer instinct is justified. Take the game over, get to the line, force the issue, make the opposition collapse on you, put the defense on alert.
The Lakers don’t have the shooters needed in the playoffs that would allow LeBron to coast or play an all-around game. They need his scoring. Also, Caruso played a total of 29 minutes in his first playoff game, scored 2 pts while Waiters sat on the bench with J.R. Waiters is a far better player than Caruso and can provide the scoring punch needed. After seeing that Caruso was offensively ineffective, he should have gone to one of them, either for shooting from Smith, or aggressive offense from Dion. No one expects the Lakers to play this bad again, as their performance was bad, especially from the 3 pt line, but the rotation has to be tweaked, the shooting has to improve, the starting unit should be adjusted and most of all LeBron needs to score more.