By Will Brown
Photo courtesy of Joe Glorioso
After nearly six months and 1,230 games of regular season basketball, the NBA playoffs has begun, and nearly every series of games has had an intriguing storyline to follow. The first round has had a reputation for being filled with short, uncompetitive series but that is rarely the case. In the 2007 first round, the 42-40 Golden State Warriors, who didn’t get into the playoffs until the last day of the season, upset the 67-15 Dallas Mavericks, who finished with the best record in the league. In 2011, the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies knocked out the top seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Will a major upset take place this year? Here is a recap of how the first round has gone so far.
Boston Celtics (1) vs Chicago Bulls (8)
This series has been much more competitive than the standard 1 vs 8 matchup. The Bulls finished 41-41, but played very well against the league’s best teams. That was apparent when they won the first two games on the road in Boston. The Celtics finished first in the East with 53 wins, and are looking to win a playoff series for the first time since 2012. They are led by star guard Isaiah Thomas, who tragically lost his younger sister in a car accident the day before the first game. After losing the first two games, the Celtics responded to win the next two to even the series. Game 5 is Wednesday night.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs Indiana Pacers (7)
The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers seem to have gotten back on track in the playoffs after struggling in the second half of the season. They swept the Indiana Pacers 4-0, including coming back from 25 down to win Game 3 on the road. The Pacers had an inconsistent season, but ended the year on a five game winning streak to make the playoffs. However, their inconsistency and inability to win close games led to an early playoff exit. The Cavaliers will face either the Raptors or the Bucks in the second round.
Toronto Raptors (3) vs Milwaukee Bucks (6)
The Raptors return to the playoffs as the three seed after making the Conference Finals a year ago. Their record was slightly worse due to injuries, but they are healthy now and made two big in season acquisitions with Serge Ibaka and P.J Tucker. The Bucks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2015, led by young star Giannis Antetokoumpo. The Raptors got off to a slow start in the series, losing two of the first three game. However, they have won the last two games to take a 3-2 lead. Game 6 is Thursday night.
Washington Wizards (4) vs Atlanta Hawks (5)
At the beginning of the season, things looked bleak for the Wizards. They got off to a 2-8 start, but then had one of the greatest in season turnarounds in NBA history. They finished 49-33 to win the Southeast Division for the first time since 1979 led by young stars John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Hawks had an up and down season, but finished strong to make the playoffs for the tenth year in a row. So far, home court has made the difference in this series. The Wizards won the first two games in Washington D.C, but the Hawks won the next two games in Atlanta. Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Washington.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs Portland Trail Blazers (8)
The Warriors finished with the best record in the league for the third year in a row, led by their four All Stars and a deep bench. Despite a series of injuries to several key players and a health scare that forced head coach Steve Kerr to take a leave of absence, the Warriors swept the Trail Blazers 4-0 to advance to the second round. They will face either the Clippers or the Jazz in the next round.
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs Memphis Grizzlies (7)
So far, this has been a competitive series between two teams that are very familiar with each other. This is the second year in a row and fourth time in the last seven seasons that these two teams have faced off against each other in the playoffs. The Spurs blew out the Grizzlies in the first two games in San Antonio, but the Grizzlies responded by winning the next two games in Memphis, including an overtime thriller in Game 4. This series features a matchup between Grizzlies All-Star Marc Gasol, and Spurs center and former All-Star Pau Gasol, who is his older brother. This is the first time the Gasol brothers have ever faced off in a playoff series. Game 5 is Tuesday night.
Houston Rockets (3) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
This has been one of the most entertaining series so far, but it looks like it will be ending soon. After the Rockets won the first two games at home, the Thunder won a thriller in Game 3 led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. The Rockets responded by winning Game 4 on the road two days later led by their own MVP candidate James Harden. The Rockets took a commanding 3-1 lead, and they will look to win the series at home on Tuesday night.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs Utah Jazz (5)
Injuries have played a major role in what has been a back and forth series so far. The Jazz lost their starting center Rudy Gobert in Game 1, but were still able to win on the road. The Clippers won the next two games, but lost star forward Blake Griffin to a season-ending toe injury in Game 3. Gobert returned in Game 4 to help the Jazz win at home and even the series 2-2. Game 5 is Tuesday night.