Paul propels Suns, Tatum hits game-winner

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Four different series kicked off on this Sunday, and while you shouldn't overreact to a Game 1, today really showed that we're in store for some good games in the first round. While the first game wasn't much of a contest, the rest of the day was filled with clutch plays and star performances. The NBA also released their finalists for their season awards, so I made my picks. Let me know how wrong I am!

Heat 115, Hawks 91

Miami’s main guys were limited because of how quickly the game got out of hand. Jimmy Butler was the only player for the Heat that played more than 30 minutes in this game. Duncan Robinson set the Heat record for triples in a playoff game with eight as he hit nine of his 10 shot attempts. Robinson only missed one 3-pointer in this game. He’s hit 20 triples over his last four games. He didn’t take many open shots, so it’s not like there’s much the Hawks could’ve done differently. If he’s shooting this well, the Heat will be very difficult to beat.

P.J. Tucker’s impact isn’t usually seen in the stat sheet, but it was in this game. He missed the final two games of the regular season with a calf injury, but it didn’t seem to bother him. His four triples were the most he’s hit in a game since January, and he did that without missing any. His defensive impact didn’t lead to any defensive stats, but that should change over the course of the series.

Jimmy Butler may not have had the prettiest line, especially shooting 2-for-7 from the free throw line. But he made a lot of winning plays and helped the Heat to a huge win in Game 1. He had his way on both ends of the floor, and his first quarter spat with Trae was the last moment that this game was competitive.

With the way Trae Young played in this game, we might need to start calling him Miami Vice Trae, because of how much he helped out the Heat. He shot 1-for-12 from the floor for eight points and turned it over six times. While they did play less than 40 hours after their win over the Cavs, it was more than fatigue that caused this poor performance. The Heat defense was stifling, and the Hawks will need to adjust if they want to compete the rest of the series.

John Collins played 21 minutes in his first game since March 11th. JC’s return to action was a welcomed sight for the Hawks with Clint Capela out, and he looked good considering he’s still not 100%. The broadcast said that Collins would see 10-15 minutes, but Nate McMillan rolled with him a bit longer than that. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him back in the starting lineup as he gets closer to full strength. If that happens, we may see his best numbers since Capela joined the Hawks, even if it is against the stout Heat defense.

Onyeka Okongwu started in place of Capela on Sunday and finished with three points, seven rebounds, one assist, and one block in 21 minutes. He’d been much better as a starter during the regular season, averaging 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks in 31.9 minutes in six starts. Hopefully he’ll be better over the rest of the series, since Capela will be out for at least the next week. Bogdan Bogdanovic has been excellent off the bench lately, but he couldn’t buy a bucket in this game. Before Sunday, he had hit at least three triples in four straight games and multiple 3-pointers in 12 of his last 13 games. He should be better moving forward, but this was not the performance they needed from him considering how poorly Trae played.

Celtics 115, Nets 114

Jayson Tatum did it all for the Celtics in this game. He dominated with both his stats (31/4/8/1/2 line) and with his clutch layup at the end of the game. He led the team with eight assists and played a game-high 45 minutes. It seems unlikely that Ime Udoka would play him that much in every game, but it led to a very solid stat line for him in this game.

Al Horford seemed to take Bruce Brown’s comments very personally. He scored 20 points for just the fourth time this season and tied his season-high with 15 rebounds. He didn’t block any shots, but he made sure the Nets knew that he could still provide in Robert Williams’ continued absence.

Jaylen Brown posted a full line of 23/5/3/4/2, which tied his season-high for both steals and blocks. It was also the most defensive stats he’s had in one game this season.

Marcus Smart also had a nice line of 20/7/6 with two steals and four triples. However, there wasn’t a play more important than his game-winning assist. He passed up a decent look to set up Tatum with the layup. It showed his continued growth as a player and a leader and paid dividends for Boston with a huge win in Game 1.

Kyrie Irving vs. Boston is the matchup we’re all here to see. Irving put on a show by dropping a game-high 39 points with five rebounds, six assists, four steals, a block, and six triples. However, it was his antics with the crowd that ended up stealing the show. Let’s hope for seven games of this matchup so we can see Kyrie vs. the Boston crowd three more times.

Kevin Durant was not the co-star that Irving needed in this game. He shot 9-for-24 to score 23 points and turned it over six times. It wasn’t the worst performance, but we certainly expect a lot more out of a player as good as KD. He shouldn’t have a problem bouncing back. He averaged 29/5/8 in two games in Boston during the regular season.

Goran Dragic was huge for the Nets off the bench. He was one of two Nets not named KD or Kyrie to score in double figures. He finished with 14 points and five rebounds on 6-for-11 shooting.

The other Net to score over 10 was Nicolas Claxton. The UGA product mirrored Andre Drummond’s minutes. Brooklyn was outscored by 13 with Drummond on, but they outscored Boston by 10 with Claxton out there. He finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks.

Bucks 93, Bulls 86

The line for this game was 231 per PointsBet. In their four regular season matchups, the total points were only over that mark one time. They finished 52 points under that mark in this matchup. The Bulls three stars shot 21-for-71, but Chicago won the turnover battle 21-11.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in Game 1 with 27 points, 16 rebounds, and two blocks. Chicago doesn’t have a great answer for him, but most teams don’t. Expect big lines for him throughout the series.

Khris Middleton struggled in this game, shooting 4-for-13 from the field and turning it over seven times. He helped out in other ways with five rebounds and six assists, but he’ll have to be much better moving forward for Milwaukee to keep winning games in this series.

Bobby Portis finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and two triples off the bench. Despite his role changing when Brook Lopez returned, he’s shown that his improvement this season wasn’t just because of the opportunity to start.

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Chicago’s stars will have to shoot much better moving forward, but they still posted some decent counting stats.

Nikola Vucevic finished with 24 points, 17 rebounds, and two blocks. He shot 9-for-27 and 2-for-10 from deep. DeMar DeRozan had 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and three steals. He shot 6-for-25. Zach LaVine scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He shot 6-for-19 and 2-for-10 on triples. This type of production from these three just won’t get it done, but it’s encouraging that they only lost by seven.

Coby White was solid off the bench with 12 points, four rebounds, and two triples. He was one of two Bulls to hit at least half of their shot attempts, with the other being Tristan Thompson. Thompson shot 1-for-2 in seven minutes.

Suns 110, Pelicans 99

When the 4th quarter started, the point god took over. Chris Paul scored 19 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter and added in 10 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, one block, and four triples. He shot 12-for-16 and only turned it over twice. It was a pretty flawless Game 1 performance for one of the best point guards ever.

Devin Booker finished with 25 points, eight assists, and four triples. It wasn’t a spectacular performance for him, which speaks to just how dominant he’s been this season. It was the most assists he had in a game since March 24th, when he dropped 10 dimes against the Nuggets.

Deandre Ayton was huge in this game, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks while shooting 10-for-15 from the floor. The Suns shot 75.8% in the paint. The Pelicans shot 33.9% inside. Ayton was a huge reason for that discrepancy.

Mikal Bridges finished with 11 points, five rebounds, adn two blocks as a starter, while Cameron Johnson added 13 points off the bench.

Landry Shamet (foot) was active for this game but didn’t play. Monty Williams said it’s because he shortened the rotation, so we shouldn’t expect to see Shamet moving forward barring injury.

The Pelicans three leading scorers from the regular season all struggled from the floor in this game. C.J. McCollum led the team with 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists but shot 9-for-25 from the floor. Brandon Ingram had 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists but turned it over five times and shot 6-for-17. Jonas Valanciunas dominated the glass with 25 rebounds including 13 offensive boards. He had 18 points on 7-for-21 shooting, including 6-for-18 in the paint. JV can’t shoot that poorly down low this series.

Larry Nance Jr. has been solid for New Orleans lately, but he scored 14 points in this one, which was the most he’s scored since joining the Pelicans.

Devonte' Graham is a vital part of the Pels’ bench, so him going scoreless in 10 minutes off the bench wasn’t good for their success. His numbers haven’t been eye popping since he was sent to a bench role, but he hasn’t gone scoreless since McCollum’s second game with the team.

NBA Awards Finalists:

The NBA announced the finalists for each of the major awards on Sunday. Without making a huge case presenting why, I’m going to give my picks for each one with a little evidence.

Coach of the Year:

For this award, there were probably nine coaches that deserved consideration. Ime Udoka, Nick Nurse, J.B. Bickerstaff, Chris Finch, Willie Green, and Tyronn Lue all were a huge part of huge turnarounds or were a clear factor in their team’s success. However, I think that the winner of this award this year has been brewing since the bubble. Monty Williams has led the Suns to the best record in the league after losing in the NBA Finals last year and going 8-0 in the bubble before that. He’s basically due for it, which is unfortunate for the other coaches that were awesome this year. However, Monty is very deserving.

My pick: Monty Williams, PHX

Sixth Man of the Year:

This one isn’t very controversial. While a number of teams have impactful sixth men, Tyler Herro is a borderline All-Star that comes off the bench. He’s been the betting favorite by a mile for a majority of the season. Easy choice.

My pick: Tyler Herro, MIA

Most Improved Player:

I agree with Draymond Green on this. All three nominees showed major improvements, but they left out the most deserving player. Among these three, I’d roll with Darius Garland, but Jordan Poole’s improvement deserves recognition.

My pick: Jordan Poole, GSW

Rookie of the Year:

This rookie class is special. So many players showed quickly how good they are, and even more got hot at the end of the season (e.g. Jalen Green). While I feel Cade Cunningham will end up being the best player from this class and an eventual MVP winner, he started off too slow to win it this year because of how good Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley were this season. It felt like Mobley’s award to lose for the majority of the season, but to me, he may have. I don’t think you can go wrong either way, but Barnes had some big games down the stretch and almost had a triple-double in his first playoff game.

My pick: Scottie Barnes, TOR

Defensive Player of the Year:

It felt like this was the most wide open award before they narrowed it down to just three. I think Bam Adebayo deserved to be a finalist. Rudy Gobert is arguably the most impactful defensive player in the league, but I agree with Doris Burke. A perimeter player deserves some recognition, and both Marcus Smart and Mikal Bridges are the anchors for their defense. They do more than just lockdown their matchup. They lead the whole defensive unit. I’ll give the edge to Bridges because he doesn’t have Al Horford and Robert Williams behind him to block shots.

My pick: Mikal Bridges, PHX

Most Valuable Player:

What a race this is. Can we make an MVP and an offensive player of the year? All three finalists have been so good that they’ve made the seasons that Luka Doncic and Devin Booker had seem average. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the three. They’re all having the best seasons of their careers, which is wild considering two have already won MVP. Unfortunately, the race has resulted in fans only critiquing these superstars for every mistake instead of appreciating the greatness we’re getting to witness. I don’t remember the last time the MVP race was this much of a toss-up. I’ve gone back and forth a ton, but let’s give it to someone new. Again, all three are very deserving.

My pick: Joel Embiid, PHI