Celtics win thriller; Heat, Suns find little trouble – The Athletic

Game 1: Heat 115, Hawks 91 | Heat lead 1-0

Who was the guy? Kyle Lowry. I know Duncan Robinson had nearly as many 3-pointers as the entire Hawks team and Jimmy Butler was fantastic. But Lowry played a perfect game bothering Trae Young and was great just making the right play on offense. Perfect job needling the Hawks all game.

What was the key here? Defense. Young went 1-of-12 from the field and 0-of-7 from deep. The Heat held the Hawks to under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from deep while forcing more turnovers (18) than allowed assists (16). The Heat locked them up all game long.

Key stat: +24. The Heat made eight more 3-pointers than the Hawks for a 24-point advantage beyond the arc. They beat the Hawks by 24 points. I just can’t put my finger on what the difference was.

The moment it was over: When the Hawks showed up to the game Sunday. I don’t blame them either. They played Friday night and roughly 40 hours later, they’re thrust into playoff action against the top seed in the East. The Hawks were never going to win Game 1 with that kind of schedule. They can regroup and play Game 2 with more of their wits about them and legs under them.

The moment of the game: There really wasn’t one. Butler and Young got into a little bit of a chest-bumping, but this was brutal and uninteresting from the start.

Should the Hawks be worried? No more than they should have been going into this series. The Hawks have been to this rodeo before and they know what it takes to beat the No. 1 seed in a series. They need Ben Simmons to pass up an open dunk to take Game 7 against the Heat.

What can the Heat do to win Game 2? A lot of the same. The Heat were very physical in the first game out. The Hawks were not really prepared for it. They’ll work the officials and league behind the scenes. There are media members tweeting out the clips. It’s all there to not allow the Heat to be physical moving forward. If they can play defense and be physical, they’ll be just fine.

What can the Hawks do to win Game 2? Get into the heart of the Heat’s defense and make plays. We didn’t see them do that in Game 1. Young is one of the best at doing exactly that. They need Clint Capela back, but at least we saw John Collins on the court for the first time in a while. Sometimes it’s as simple as making plays and shots.


Game 1: Celtics 115, Nets 114 | Celtics lead 1-0

Who was the guy? Jayson Tatum. Tremendous effort on both ends of the court, as he played defense on Kevin Durant about as well as you can and made the game-winner. Thirty-one points and eight assists later, the Celtics won the game.

What was the key here? Having the ball last. This was a fun back-and-forth, and the Nets had a chance to put that away with their last possession. The Celtics locked up Kyrie Irving on the play, Durant missed the shot and Marcus Smart found Tatum twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom for the win.

Key stat: 20 and 15. That was the game Al Horford had out of nowhere… 20 points and 15 rebounds. Since leaving the Hawks, Horford has put up only three 20-and-15 games. Once in 2019, once earlier this year and once in the playoffs… on Sunday.

The moment it was over: When the ball left Tatum’s hands after he left Durant in his dust and spun away from Irving, all in one motion of catching the pass from Smart. It could not have been more of a bang-bang play, and the Celtics had tremendous presence of mind to cut, space and make the pass before getting the shot off.

The moment of the game: See above. Also, Kyrie Irving flipping off fans multiple times was hilarious. I know we’re supposed to clutch our pearls with that stuff, but it was funny.

Should the Nets be worried? I don’t think so. I’d be a little concerned with how the Celtics defended Durant and slowed him down, but the Nets were in a position to win this game despite Durant having an inefficient scoring day. You have to think you can get him going, keep Irving in top form and get a little more from the role players as the Celtics adjust.

What can the Celtics do to win Game 2? It took them way too long to start blitzing Irving with that extra defender in an aggressive way that forced him to give up the ball. If they can start doing that while not giving up a runway for Durant to get going, they can take Game 2.

What can the Nets do to win Game 2? They had 62 points out of Durant and Irving and barely lost the game. Getting Durant space to operate is huge for them, and they need to see it happen early and often. If they can add in some opportunities for Seth Curry and Patty Mills to make some shots, they should be able to even up the series.


Game 1: Bucks 93, Bulls 86 | Bucks lead 1-0

Who was the guy? Giannis Antetokounmpo. Bold analysis, I know. Despite his foul trouble, he still had 27 points and 16 rebounds. He was playing really good defense and disrupted a lot. It’s a big reason the Bulls were dying for the Bucks star to get that sixth foul.

What was the key here? It might have been that sixth foul not getting called on Giannis. But really, it was the Bucks just absolutely shutting down whatever Chicago wanted to do. The Bulls fought back in the second and third quarters, but they shot 32.3 percent from the field and were 7-of-37 from deep. You have to put pressure on Milwaukee by making the 3-pointers it willingly gives up.

Key stat: 60 points on 71 shots. That’s what DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic gave Chicago in its seven-point loss in Game 1. That’s pretty brutal production.

The moment it was over: With less than a minute to play and down three points, Vucevic missed two easy shots inside. Then after the Bucks turned it over, LaVine missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the score with less than 30 seconds left. The Bucks made a couple of free throws and sent themselves to Sizzler.

The moment of the game: Not to keep harping on it, but that box-out by Patrick Williams that didn’t lead to an over-the-back foul call on Giannis is something that will sit with Chicago. It wasn’t the only missed call of the game, and the Bulls benefited from some stuff too. But that was a big call that has some real sliding-doors potential if we see that foul called on Giannis instead.

Should the Bulls be worried? Of course they should. It’s good they didn’t get blown out in Game 1, but this is a team that couldn’t beat good teams during the season, and they might be facing the best team in the East.

What can the Bucks do to win Game 2? They need to tighten up some of the offense they played in Game 1. They missed a ton of outside looks, and they had 21 turnovers. If they take care of the ball and shoot a little better, they should cruise to a 2-0 series lead. Also, don’t let Giannis get into foul trouble again.

What can the Bulls do to win Game 2? They have to find a way to score. Only 32 points in the paint, and only five fast-break points despite 21 turnovers from Milwaukee. They only scored 15 points off those turnovers. The Bulls have to find opportunities for easy buckets and try putting the pressure on the Bucks to make shots down the stretch.


Game 1: Suns 110, Pelicans 99 | Suns lead 1-0

Who was the guy? Chris Paul. I can’t even say it was a surgical performance by the Suns point guard because it more looked like an alien just dissecting something with nothing but mind control. CP3 was brilliant.

What was the key here? The dominant first half gave the Suns plenty of cushion to weather the storm that was the Pelicans trying to close the gap. Most people probably turned that thing off at halftime unless they are a fan of the Suns or Pelicans. Phoenix was so overwhelming early that by the time the Pelicans pulled themselves together, the hurdle was too high to clear.

Key stat: 30 points, 10 assists and 75 percent from the field. That’s what Paul did to the Pelicans. It was the fourth game in playoff history with at least 30 points, 10 assists and 75 percent of shots made. Michael Jordan did it in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals, Paul did it in 2014 in a second-round series against the Clippers and LeBron James did it in the first round in 2020 against Portland.

The moment it was over: Much like what we talked about with the Hawks and their schedule above, the Pelicans went through something very similar. They went from a game Friday night to roughly 40 hours later playing Game 1 on the road against the best team in the NBA. They were never going to win this game with that kind of turnaround, but they managed to make it more competitive than Atlanta could do. That’s something!

The moment of the game: There was this weird collision between Herb Jones and Deandre Ayton in which their paths crossed and Jones’ shoulder hit Ayton directly in the cheek. Then there was great debate about how intentional it could have been. The Suns broadcast and fans seemed certain Jones was headhunting on what could’ve been a Ray Lewis highlight back in 2001. It looked more incidental to me as Jones was trying to get in position to stalk the Suns’ backcourt bringing the ball up. Regardless, CP3 seemed pretty mad about all of it, and I’m guessing he won’t let it go.

Should the Pelicans be worried? Absolutely. Remember this is a team 10 games below .500 on the season. Granted, they had a great finish to the year and ended up 33-30 in their final 63 games. But they’re going against the team that ran away with the best overall record. They should be worried about getting a game, let alone four of them.

What can the Suns do to win Game 2? Show up and don’t take the Pelicans as some type of scrimmage opponent. They have to worry a lot about CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram. If they can slow them down for much of the game, we’ll have another result like Game 1. But they can’t take their foot off the pedal.

What can the Pelicans do to win Game 2? They need a young priest and an old priest, and a whole lot of things to distract the Suns from doing their job. Maybe they can hack into the Suns’ internet and convince them the game is on another night? I’m not sure, but any game they might win will likely come from a game in New Orleans.

Monday’s schedule

  • Game 2: Toronto at Philadelphia, 7:30 pm ET, TNT
  • Game 2: Utah at Dallas, 8:30 pm ET, NBA TV
  • Game 2: Denver at Golden State, 10 pm ET, TNT

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(Photo: Joe Camporeale / USA Today)

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