The opening weekend of the NBA playoffs is always one of the most exciting times on the league calendar, and the 2022 postseason got underway Saturday in typical fashion.
The four series openers began with a pair of lower-seeded teams stealing home-court advantage with Game 1 upsets, as the Jazz topped the Mavericks in Dallas and the Timberwolves stunned the Grizzlies in Memphis.
Then a couple championship hopefuls got breakout performances from young guards as Tyrese Maxey scored 38 points to lead the Sixers past the Raptors and Jordan Poole had 30 points to lift the Warriors over the Nuggets.
Sunday promises even more excitement with four more series openers.
The league-leading Suns look to continue their dominance against the Pelicans. The defending-champion Bucks start their road to a repeat against the Bulls. And the Celtics and Nets tip-off in what might be the most interesting series of the first round.
SATURDAY RECAP: Warriors and Sixers roll, Jazz and Wolves steal home-court
FEEL THE HEAT: Nine stars facing the most pressure in the NBA playoffs
Follow along with USA TODAY Sports throughout the day for live updates and analysis from all of Sunday’s action:
Bruce Brown was asked last week about the key to slowing down a Celtics team that earned the No. 2 seed behind the play of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Because center Robert Williams III, who had surgery at the end of March to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, is likely to miss the first-round series, Brown said he thought it would be best to focus on neutralizing Boston’s front court.
“We can’t let Tatum get 50,” Brown said. “We got to be physical with them. Now they don’t have Robert Williams, so they have less of a presence in the paint, and we could attack Al Horford and (Daniel) Theis. So them not having Robert Williams is huge.”
When told of his teammate’s comments just minutes earlier, Kevin Durant was noticeably irked by them.
“We respect our opponents,” Durant said. “We don’t need to talk about what we’re going to do to them. I just don’t like that, but that’s how Bruce is. He comes in and keeps the same energy throughout the whole season. But we don’t need to say (expletive) like that. Let’s just go out there and hoop.”
The Celtics scoreboard operator did their part to stoke the Celtics’ ire, putting Brown’s message on the Jumbotron.
When Duncan Robinson goes 8-for-9 on 3s and P.J. Tucker makes 4-for-4, the Miami Heat are tough to beat. And that was the case in Miami’s 115-91 win against the Atlanta Hawks.
The 3-ball is an important as ever. Miami made 18-for-38 (47.4%), and Atlanta was just 10-for-36 (27.8%) – a 24-point difference just on 3s.
Good news for the Hawks: Trae Young probably won’t struggle like that again from the field. He was 1-for-12, including 0-for-7 on 3s. The last time he made just one field goal in a game was Jan. 15, 2021 against Utah.
Miami’s defense, ranked No. 4 in the regular season, forced 18 turnovers, had 12 steals and limited the Hawks to 38.7% shooting from the field.
In his first game since March 11, John Collins (foot and finger injuries) showed he can contribute. He had 10 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes.
The Heat are deep: Off the bench, Robinson led all scorers with 27 points, and nine Heat players scored at least six points. Jimmy Butler had 21 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Kyle Lowry had 10 points, nine assists, four rebounds and two steals.
When Kyrie Irving is introduced before the Nets face the Celtics in Boston, his cold reception wasn’t much of a mystery.
Irving, who left Boston in free agency after saying he wanted to re-sign, has not been a fan favorite there. In a return to Boston last year, Irving stepped on the Celtics’ logo mid-court. And his most recent comments hasn’t smoothed things over.
Irving hopes everyone has moved on from that, asking fans to remember the good times they had.
“I hope we could move past my Boston era and reflect on some of the highlights I left at TD Garden that they can replay,” he told reporters this weekend. “Move forward. Just a new paradigm, baby.”
Coming off a 131-111 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse said on Sunday that rookie of the year candidate Scottie Barnes (sprained left ankle), Thaddeus Young (sprained left thumb) and Gary Trent Jr. (non-COVID illness) are likely doubtful for Game 2 on Monday. “It doesn’t look good for any of those guys,” Nurse told reporters.
Nine Miami Heat players scored at least four points in the first half with just one in double figures as the Heat opened a 59-40 halftime lead against the Atlanta Hawks in a 1-8 first-round matchup. Duncan Robinson scored 11 points, Jimmy Butler had nine, Kyle Lowry had eight, and Dewayne Dedmon, P.J. Tucker and Max Strus each had five points. Tyler Herro had four points, three rebounds and two assists. Miami also made 10 of its 19 3-point attempts – an area where the Hawks struggled. Atlanta was just 2-for-18 on 3s, and star guard Trae Young (eight points) was 1-for-9 from the field and 0-for-6 on 3s.
The bad news for the Atlanta Hawks: they had their worst shooting first-quarter of the season, going 3-for-17 from the field against Miami. The good news: the Hawks trailed just 23-17 after the opening quarter. As expected, Hawks forward John Collins returned to action for the first time since March 11.
Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins, who hasn’t played since March 11 with foot and finger injuries, is expected to play in against Miami Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference series. Hawks coach Nate McMillan called Collins a game-time decision. Atlanta center Clint Capela, who injured his knee in a play-in game, is out indefinitely but could return later in the series.
The Brooklyn Nets have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, two of the most gifted offensive players in the league. So it’s understandable one would think the Nets have a chance against the Boston Celtics in their Eastern Conference first-round series. But if you’ve been paying attention, you know the Celtics have been the best team in the East for the past three-plus months and the best defensive team in the NBA for the entire season. The Celtics are too good on both sides of the ball with All-NBA players (Jayson Tatum), All-Defensive players (Marcus Smart) and one of the game’s most underappreciated players (Jaylen Brown). The Celtics are just a better all-around team. Pick: Celtics 113, Nets 103.
— Jeff Zillgitt
The Phoenix Suns earned their 63rd win against the Los Angeles Lakers last week, a franchise record that was overshadowed by the Lakers’ elimination from the play-in tournament.
When a media outlet omitted the Suns’ historic feat in favor of the Lakers’ defeat, Devin Booker took it as a slight. “How bout ‘Suns just set franchise record for W’s,’ ” he wrote.
It’s nothing new. The Suns have grown accustomed to snubs.
Despite being the leader of a team that finished with an NBA-best 64-18 record, Booker isn’t getting much MVP love. Mikal Bridges isn’t universally considered the top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. And the Suns certainly aren’t considered overwhelming favorites to win their first NBA title among the NBA punditry.
“We feel like it’s us against the world,” Bridges said. “And we love it.”
— Cydney Henderson
The New Orleans Pelicans are easily the most feel-good team in the NBA playoffs. They got out to a horrendous 1-12 start for first-year coach Willie Green. And would-be franchise savior Zion Williamson hasn’t played a game this season because of a foot injury. Their second-best player, Brandon Ingram, was limited to 55 games because of injuries.
But the Pelicans grabbed the final playoff spot in the Western Conference when they beat the L.A. Clippers 105-101 in the play-in game on Friday. Their reward: a meeting with the Suns, the team with the league’s best record.
For a long while, it looked like Friday would be the end of the road for the Pelicans. They were down 84-74 to start the fourth quarter. But Ingram led them back with some big baskets in the final quarter following an inspirational speech by Green, who told them they had been through too much to let something like a 10-point deficit get in their way.