NBA playoffs off to lopsided start, but showdowns loom ahead
Without a doubt, the overarching theme from the first two days of the 2016 NBA playoffs action was “lopsided.” While the Pistons threw a scare into LeBron James’s Cavaliers and the Hawks and Celtics went down to the wire, blowouts and romps ruled Saturday and Sunday’s action. The top–heavy West produced four 20+ point margins of victory while the more “even” East still saw two double–digit victories, including the Heat’s 32–point drubbing of the Hornets in what was expected to be a balanced matchup.
By any measure, the 2016 playoffs are off to the most lopsided start since the postseason format switched to a best-of-7 series for the first round in 2003.
Thanks in part to 30+ point wins by the Spurs, Thunder and Heat, the average margin of victory in the eight Game 1s played over the weekend was 20.5 points, easily eclipsing 2013 (average MOV of 16) as the highest since 2003.
The eye–popping factoids continue from there:
• Oklahoma City’s 38-point thrashing of Dallas was the biggest first–round Game 1 victory since the Magic beat the Celtics by 47 points in 1995.
• Last weekend’s three 30+ point Game 1 wins marked the first time since the 2003 format change that more than one team opened the postseason winning by 30+ points.
• In fact, last weekend’s three 30-point wins were more than the total number of 30+ point wins in first-round Game 1s from 2003 to 2015 combined (two).
• Last weekend’s four 20+ point Game 1 wins marked the most such wins since 2003, surpassing 2004, 2009 and 2013 (three each).
• Last weekend’s six double-digit Game 1 wins tied with 2004 and 2013 for the most such wins.
So what gives? Why so many blowouts? Let's examine the top storylines from the opening weekend of the postseason:
1. The cream rose to the top
With the notable exception of the Cavaliers, the NBA’s top contenders handled their business against weaker foes. The Warriors, Spurs and Thunder ranked 1–2–3 in regular season point differential while their first-round opponents ranked No. 15, No. 20 and No. 16, respectively. In fact, the Rockets, Mavericks and Grizzlies entered the weekend with the three worst point differentials out of the 16 playoff teams, setting the stage perfectly for a triple demolition.
2. Great offenses rolled
Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio also entered the postseason ranking 1–2–3 in offensive efficiency. Their league–leading attacks often looked unstoppable against the relatively weak defenses of Houston (No. 20), Dallas (No. 16) and Memphis (No. 19). In other words, this was a case of “great teams smoking so–so teams” as well as “great offenses smoking so–so defenses.”
3. Health mattered
Dallas and Memphis were fighting with at least one hand tied behind their backs. The Mavericks dropped Game 1 without Chandler Parsons, their best individual match–up for Durant. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, will limp through their series with the Spurs without both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, among others.
Aside from Curry, who tweaked his ankle and sat out most of the second half, and Chris Bosh, who has been sidelined since the All-Star break, the star players for the dominant teams were both available and excellent. The list of stars who have missed time in recent years or been banged up in recent playoffs who performed well this weekend includes: Durant, Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Dwyane Wade.
4. Experience seemed to count
The Heat and Clippers scored convincing Game 1 blowout victories over younger, less tested teams in the Hornets and Blazers. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Heat’s roster is the league’s fifth–oldest while the Clippers are the fourth–oldest. On the flip side, Charlotte’s roster is the 12th youngest while Portland’s is the fifth–youngest. Playoff veterans dominated both games: Luol Deng and Wade led the way for the Heat, while Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan all did whatever they wanted against the upstart Blazers.
5. Extra strong home–courts
Although a rush to judgment after one game can be a dicey proposition, it might take some time for this year’s playoff bracket to truly tighten up. Remember, San Antonio (an NBA record-tying 40-1) and Golden State (39-2) entered the postseason with two of the top nine home records and two of the top 20 home point differentials in league history.
Recent history suggests that the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder will be especially tough to beat at home in the postseason. En route to the 2015 title, Golden State went 9-2 at Oracle Arena. The year before, the Spurs went 11-2 at the AT&T Center on their way to the championship. The last time the Thunder had Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all healthy in the playoffs was 2012; they went 9-1 at home before losing to the Heat in the Finals.
Before losing too much sleep over these one–sided opening games, keep in mind that the destroyers will eventually have to face off against each other. Already, a Spurs/Thunder second-round tilt looks incredibly juicy, while the prospect of a Warriors/Clippers showdown looks more intriguing after Griffin enjoyed a strong outing (19 points, 12 rebounds and six boards) against the Blazers. Today’s boring rout is tomorrow’s title tilt.