First Round Winners and Losers
The playoffs are where legends are cemented, iconic moments are made, and historic collapses are concocted. The first round of the NBA Playoffs has been as competitive and entertaining as ever. We’ve had breakout performances, fierce rivalries, huge comebacks, and tight series. Here are some of the Winners and Losers from the First Round of the NBA Playoffs.
Winner: Kawhi Leonard
I know what you’re thinking, how is Kawhi a winner when he was some peoples MVP and a known star? I agree with that thought process but Kawhi showed the world an entirely new side of him that we have rarely seen. Kawhi went from being the best player on a really good team to a full-fledged superstar carrying his team through the playoffs. The Spurs are known for having a great team in a great system with a great coach. These great teams have contained great players like Tim Duncan and David Robinson and (a younger) Tony Parker but these great players never truly did what Kawhi has shown in this first round. Kawhi took over this series through isolation, getting to the free-throw line, and lock down defense. He started the series posting a career high in playoff points with 32. He then followed that up with a new career high of 37. Then in Game 4 he continued his domination with another high of 43. We’ve always known Kawhi for his lock down defense and good overall game, but now he will be recognized as a star on both ends of the court.
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
If you’ve read any of my previous pieces you know that I love Giannis and the unlimited potential he possesses. Now the rest of the world feels the same way because he was finally able to show out on a national stage. The Bucks rarely were awarded national TV games so Giannis was only truly seen by local broadcasts and League Pass junkies. Going up against the Raptors, the Bucks were barely given a chance to come out of this series. Once Giannis stepped on the court and dominated Game 1, those mindsets rapidly changed and the panic button was pressed in Toronto. Giannis averaged 24.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.7 blocks. He showed the world what all the hype is about and why he is a future MVP. Oh and he also did this. Yes, he did indeed block that with his elbow.
Loser: Thunder’s Role Players
The Thunder came into this season with no real expectations after losing one of the best players in the league in Kevin Durant. Many expected Russel Westbrook to go alpha-male on the NBA and takeover the team on his own. This was a very accurate assumption as the likely MVP winner posted the second highest usage rate ever at 38.37%. This trend not only continued into the playoffs but was escalated to unexplored heights. Westbrook posted a usage rate of 46% in the first round which is higher than Michael Jordan’s usage in Space Jam (44%). I know the argument here is that Westbrook doesn’t have any help and the team was outscored 51.3 points per 100 possessions while he was on the bench. While Westbrook is a great player, this is on him. I agree he doesn’t have the best teammates in the world but it is his job, as the leader of that team, to get them involved and increase their confidence. The Thunder saw basically zero development in any of their players this year because they weren’t allowed to be involved. They were never able to get into a rhythm or develop because Westbrook had to have the ball all the time. Unless Westbrook has gotten this out of his system, the Thunder will be looking at a similar year in 2018 with an early playoff exit, little player growth, and no cap room to build the roster.
Winner: Joe Johnson and Joe Ingles
Like you, I was also surprised writing that header. Some may be thinking, Joe Johnson is still in the league? A lot more are likely thinking, who the hell is Joe Ingles? Well Joe Johnson is still in the league making $11 million and hitting game-winners in the playoffs. Johnson has been the most clutch (clutchest?) player in these playoffs. According to NBA Stats, Johnson is shooting 85.7% (6–7) with 13 points in the final 5 minutes of a game that is within 5 points. Coming into the playoffs Ingles was known for (by those who actually knew who he was) his high 3-point percentage. Against the Clippers he has been able to show his ability to score, set teammates up to score, and play suffocating defense. This series he has been able to practically make J.J. Redick a complete non-factor. Ingles is going to be a free agent after this season and is going to get paid.
Loser: Clippers Fans
I could be writing this section in almost any year and it would seem appropriate for arguably the most cursed franchise in the NBA. This is the sixth straight year that the Clippers core of Paul, Griffin, and Jordan will have had an early playoff exit and the fifth straight year that they blew a series lead. Like many seasons before, injuries played a huge role. At the end of the regular season the Clippers were finally healthy and were entering the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league. Their playoff fortune appeared that it could improve as they took a 2–1 series lead on the Jazz. Unfortunately for the Clippers, their destiny remained steadfast as Blake Griffin sustained a season ending toe injury. This matched with the limited playing time of Austin Rivers due to injury, the complete lack of depth, and the disappearance of J.J. Redick led to another early exit from the playoffs. Both Griffin and Paul have player options after this year which they will both likely exercise while Redick will be an unrestricted free agent. The Clippers will need to make a franchise changing decision on what they do with these players. Will they spend over $200 million to bring their two stars back and try this again for the seventh straight year or will they finally make some drastic changes? Get ready for a summer full of “should they blow it up” talk.
Loser: Chicago Bulls
Yes the Bulls lost in the first round as an eight seed but that is not why they are landing on this list. The Bulls are losers of the first round because they now will likely believe that they did a good job of assembling a roster this year. The Rondo injury creates an easy excuse for the front office as they were unable to win another game after taking a 2–0 series lead. The Bulls constructed a roster that can’t shoot, that is dependent on two aging guards past their prime, that can’t play defense, and that hates each other. Going up 2–0 may prove to the Bulls front office that they had the right approach to building this roster all along. For the sake of watching good basketball and Jimmy Butler, I hope that this isn’t the case. Given the track record of the Bulls front office, Chicago fans may want to be ready to watch a lot more of this next year.
The playoffs often give us great moments from the post-game press conferences whether it is a dejected player rejecting a reporters question or coach going on a rant. David Fizdale, coach of the Grizzlies, has always been known as one of the best assistants in the league during his time with the Miami Heat. This year he earned his first head coaching gig taking the Grizzlies to the playoffs. After a loss to the Spurs, Fizdale went on an impassioned rant about the refs and the lack of fouls awarded to the Grizzlies. He dropped great lines like “they not gonna rook us” and “take that for data”. While this was entertaining, it put not just this series but himself on everyone’s radar. He was able to show how good of a coach he is by pushing the Spurs deeper into the series than many thought they would go.
Finally, Gregg Popovich confirmed that he is the best. I dare you to not smile at this: