Saturday’s games featured a bunch of road upsets, three of them to be exact, and that got the attention of the home teams in Sunday’s games, who came out seeking to avoid the fate that happened the day before.
With the reminder to pay attention firmly in hand, not only did the home teams all hold serve, but two of them won the kinds of blowouts that you usually expect from playoff teams playing their starters against the likes of the Suns and Knicks. But first…
Ugly with a Capital UGG-LEE.
The Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers played a playoff game in 2019 that ended 84-74 in favor of the home side.
How bad was that? Two NBA playoff teams scored fewer points in 48 minutes than Virginia and Texas Tech scored in 45 in a college game for the national championship, an overtime matchup that ended 85-77.
Between Tiger Woods winning the Masters and this game, for a couple of hours on an April Sunday afternoon, it was 2003 in the world of sports again.
It wasn’t even that the game was played slowly—the pace was 94.8—it’s that the offenses were that bad.
And no, it’s not “the defenses were that good.” Nobody could make a shot.
The Pacers were 28-of-84 from the field (33.3 percent) and 6-of-27 from three (22.2 percent.) And adding the poop icing to the trash cake, the team was 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) from the line.
Boston shot 36.4 percent from the field, 35.7 percent from long range, and 81.8 percent from the line. Bad, but not as bad as the other guys.
The Celtics did decisively win the rebounding battle 55-42, and between that and the free throws (plus a typical Pacers meltdown on national TV in the third quarter, which has been a hallmark all season), that was your ballgame.
Speaking of national TV, you have Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner, Pacers fans. See the light!
If you have access to @FSIndiana but you’re watching the game on TNT, you’re a fake fan and I hate you.
— Ethan Krieger NBA (@KriegerSports) April 14, 2019
Kyrie Irving is your man of the match:
Kyrie was in control all afternoon as he powered the @celtics to a Game 1 win! ☘️
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 14, 2019
I Got Your Underdog Right Here
The Portland Trail Blazers came into the playoffs as 8:5 betting underdogs despite being the higher seed.
After Paul George shot 8-of-24, Russell Westbrook missed all four of his three-point tries despite a 24-10-10 triple-double, and the Thunder went down in defeat 104-99, you can apparently take your underdog talk and shove it.
It was another ugly shooting game, with the Thunder posting a 39.8/15.2/87 stat line and the Blazers following it with 41.9/44/77.8 on FG/3P/FT. Make your threes and you’ll make the difference.
Sure, Lillard and McCollum were a combined 18-of-45 shooting the ball, but high-volume, low-efficiency shooting is kind of their calling card.
A little backcourt magic:
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 14, 2019
“Hey, what’s the scOH DEAR GODS.”
That was my reaction as I stepped away from my desk to go to McDonald’s for a Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen special (two triple cheese, side order of fries!) and came back to check up on the Pistons-Bucks game in the third quarter.
And I will say two things.
One, there is a certain fundamentalist joy in the McDonald’s ‘regular’ hamburger bun that tastes like my childhood, and you can get around the problem of a sandwich that tastes like vaguely meat-flavored bread by putting three patties and two pieces of cheese on it. I think I actually like it better than the quarter-pounders.
And two, Detroit is everything wrong with the Eastern Conference and the first round of the NBA playoffs more generally.
A league with 30 teams shouldn’t have more than half of them in the playoffs. Either they should go with an NFL-style first round playoff bye system and eliminate two playoff teams in each conference or else just go directly to the quarterfinals and only let four teams in from each side of the Mississippi (in theory; I know that whole East/West thing isn’t perfect geographically. Move the Grizzlies to an arena in Arkansas on the other side of the river if you want geography.)
Detroit—see a pattern developing yet for road teams on Sunday?—shot 38 percent from the field and 29.6 from long range, making just 8-of-13 free throws.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, got 24 points and 17 boards from Giannis Antetokounmpo, had all five starters post at least a plus-25 in 25 minutes or less, and might’ve won this game by 70 if the starters had played the whole game.
As it stood, the Bucks won by 35, 121-86.
Are you kidding me?
GIANNIS TOOK OFF NEAR THE FREE-THROW LINE 😱
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 15, 2019
Full highlights for the man of the match:
The MVP went OFF in the WIN!!
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 15, 2019
Rocket To Sleep
Houston clobbered Utah 122-90, the Jazz crashing against the rocks of James Harden (29 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds on 11-of-26 shooting), watching starter and bench player alike light them up (Clint Capela, Austin Rivers, and Danuel House Jr. were the top three plus-minus guys, at plus 24, 23, and 21 respectively), and getting outshot.
Because of course, and you saw this coming, Utah shot 39 percent from the field and 25.9 percent from long range.
This was the chalk we were promised in the previews.
The NBA is going to start staggering first-round games to drag them out for all eternity on Monday, but for the most glorious of April weekends, we got NBA playoffs, the Masters, hockey, even Game of Thrones if you’re into that sort of thing (I want to mute Bran on my Twitter timeline but two scoops of breakfast news don’t allow it.)
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 15, 2019
Coming Wednesday to Pace and Space: A little project I’ve codenamed Project Goliath. You’ll see why when it launches.
Coming later today: A recap of my regular-season predictions. How badly did I embarrass myself? You’ll find out!
So stay tuned, and thanks for reading!