The 2022 NBA Playoffs are finally here! After an unprecedented regular season with some of the final races in recent memory, Saturday marks the start of what each of these 16 teams hopes will be a two-month march to the NBA Championship.
In the Western Conference, Donovan Mitchell and the No. 5 Utah Jazz take on the No. 4 Dallas Mavericks, who are without franchise superstar Luka Doncic, who was ruled out of Game 1 on Saturday morning with a strained left calf. There are significant concerns about Doncic’s availability for Game 2, sources told ESPN.
The No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves, who beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the No. 7 No. 8 play-in game, are in Memphis to take on Ja Morant and the No. 2 Grizzlies, who finished the season with the second-best record in the league – 56-26. In the late game, Nikola Jokic and the No. 6 Denver Nuggets are in San Francisco to take on a No. 3 Golden State Warriors team in hopes of reclaiming its dynastic past.
Over to the east, the 5th-seeded Toronto Raptors face Joel Embiid, James Harden and the 4th-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, who may be without star defender Matisse Thybulle for all three games in Toronto.
Our NBA experts are watching everything. Here are the key takeaways from each of the four games on day one of playoff action.
More: Everything you need to know about the 16 teams that are still standing
Game 1: Jazz 99, Mavericks 93: “We just didn’t have enough offensive power on the track.”
It should come as no surprise that the Mavericks’ offense faltered while injured Superstar Luka Doncic wore a hoodie and watched from the bench.
The Mavs’ chances of progressing past the first round for the first time since their 2011 title run will be severely impacted when Doncic chews popcorn during games. Dallas’ hopes of making the playoffs depend primarily on his perpetual MVP contender putting on a show, which is unlikely to happen Monday night for Game 2 as Doncic and the Mavs medical staff try to heal his left calf to accelerate load. Dallas coach Jason Kidd is calling Doncic “on a day-to-day basis,” but the Mavs would be thrilled if he were willing to return when the series moves to Salt Lake City.
The Mavs proved they can make the Jazz play in the mud in their 99-93 loss in Game 1 on Saturday, nearly pulling off a double-digit comeback against a team particularly prone to giving them up. Utah’s offense was ugly. Dallas prevented the NBA’s best offense from getting clean 3-point looks and lobs for All-Star Big Man Rudy Gobert — quite a feat to contest both weapons and Made All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell (32 points on 10-of-29 shooting) work that hard to score.
The Mavs’ problem was, predictably, their offense was even uglier. Doncic led the NBA in usage rate for the second year in a row, and with good reason. He’s as good as anyone in the league at solving defenses, scoring threat at all three levels, and being an elite at setting up his teammates for dunks and 3s. And he’s surrounded by role-players who are excellent at playing against him – but aren’t suited to consistently causing offense, especially when Gobert shuts down the paint.
“They didn’t score 100 points,” Kidd said. “Most of the time, if you do that in basketball today, you have a chance to win. We just didn’t have enough offensive power on the court.”
It’s hard enough winning the NBA playoffs with a lone star when he’s healthy. – Tim MacMahon
No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves vs. No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies
Game 1: Wolves 130, Grizzlies 117: Memphis won’t be able to bring Minnesota’s top offense into submission
The Minnesota Timberwolves lit it up in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies – and we shouldn’t have expected less. The Wolves were the NBA’s most efficient offensive line after the New Year. In Game 1, it was an attack that even the Grizzlies — the league’s third-ranked defense since the New Year — couldn’t contain.
Minnesota’s 130-117 win was a showcase for the creativity of that offense. Anthony Edwards’ first move propelled him into the heart of the Memphis defense, but he finished with ease. He’s a slasher that will keep the Grizzlies up nights for the next few weeks. In Game 1 he also claimed a lot of damage from the outside – four 3-pointers. This is a player who fills his game on a big stage.
Whatever plagued Karl-Anthony Towns as he battled for Wolves’ play-in win on Tuesday was erased early on Saturday. He was unloading shots from deep, attacking from the touchline, beating down the Grizzlies’ auxiliary defense and operating around the basket with his feathery touch. Hitting Body on the nail, he lashed the ball back at the shooters for a good view from across the arc.
Wolves shared the ball, got good sights for reversals and skip passes, and shattered the offensive glass. They kept their cool, picked their spots and hit big shots late.
The Grizzlies can take consolation in that they missed more than a dozen shots near the basket in Game 1, which is unlikely to happen again. But to win the series, they must figure out how to slow the Wolves’ locomotive, because any notion that the Grizzlies can use their physicality and rim protection to bring Minnesota into submission seems overly optimistic. -Kevin Arnovitz