Welcome to round two of the NBA Playoffs. As we move into the second round, here are some takeaways from the first round.
FIVE KEY TAKEAWAYS:
#1: There will be a new champion
With the elimination of the Lakers in the first round, one thing is for sure – there will be a new NBA champion this year. Though the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead in Game 3, it was all Suns from there.
Let me quickly say that you will never hear any LeBron James slander from me. The man is incredible. However, it is obvious he did not play his best basketball in the Suns series. The 36-year-old has battled injuries all season, most notably a lingering ankle issue. James averaged just 23.3 points per game during the series, but it just wasn’t enough.
That wasn’t the only problem for the Lakers. Former Wildcat Anthony Davis struggled with injuries for a large part of the season as well, and it was apparent in this series. Davis hyperextended his left knee in Game 3, but returned to play in the second half. In Game 4, he injured his left groin right before halftime. He did not return in Game 4 and missed all of Game 5, as well. Though started Game 6, it did not last long. He played five minutes before his groin injury sent him to the bench once again.
#2 – Booker was built for this
Devin Booker has been waiting for this moment. Since arriving in Phoenix in 2015, Booker has not made it to the postseason until now. In fact, the Suns haven’t made it since 2010 – when they lost in the first round. This year, the No. 2 seed Suns are on a mission.
Booker started the series with a 31-point performance at home, but his next two games in Los Angeles proved difficult. In Games 2 and 3, he scored only 17 and 19 points, respectively. Rather than fall into a slump, he bounced back in Game 5, scoring 30 points. Think that’s good? Game 6 was even better. Booker racked up 47 points and 11 rebounds as the Suns sent the Lakers home early – the first time LeBron has ever been eliminated in the first round. He talked a little smack while doing it too.
— Devin Booker pic.twitter.com/Sbd3nVlPsl
— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) June 4, 2021
Booker and the Suns will now face the Denver Nuggets, who have struggled with injuries this season. Denver won the regular-season series between the two teams 2-1, but all three games were close.
#3 – The Utah Jazz are seriously good
The NBA world was shocked when the top-seeded Jazz fell to the No. 8 seed Grizzlies in Game 1. The Grizzlies, one of the youngest teams in the NBA, narrowly beat the Jazz who were without star guard Donovan Mitchell. It was all Utah from that point on, though.
The Jazz won the next four games in convincing fashion, silencing the doubters. They scored 126.4 points per 100 possessions, the most behind the Brooklyn Nets in the post-season. When Mitchell returned in Game 2, he was ready to go. He averaged 28.5 points and 5.8 assists in the series.
The Jazz will now face the winner of the Clippers vs. Mavericks series, where they will hope for Mike Conley’s return. The All-Star guard exited Game 5 early with right hamstring soreness and was later diagnosed with a “mild” hamstring strain. The Jazz are planning to re-evaluate Conley before Game 1 of their second-round series.
As of now, I think it will be very difficult for any team in the West to beat the Jazz four times. Only time will tell.
#4 – Damian Lillard is a cheat code
Though Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers have now been eliminated from the 2021 NBA Playoffs, it is worth noting that he is insanely good. He and the Blazers battled back and forth with the Denver Nuggets in the first round, eventually falling 126-115 in Game 6 to be eliminated.
It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort from Lillard, though. Lillard averaged 34.3 points in the series, which included a jaw-dropping 55-point performance in Game 5 from the Weber State alumni. Though the Nuggets took the double-overtime win, Lillard cemented his name in NBA history books (if it wasn’t there already). He missed just seven shots all game and hit an NBA playoff record 12 three-pointers. That’s pretty darn good.
Lillard has been in Portland for nine years, in which he has become one of the NBA’s biggest stars. Though they have consistently made the post-season since the 2013-14 season, they struggle to convert once there. In the last five seasons, they have lost in the first round – with the exception of the 2018-19 season, where they lost the Conference Finals series 4-0 to the Warriors.
Damian Lillard had an all-time great playoff series
34.3 pts – leads NBA, career high
10.2 asts – leads NBA, career high
35 made 3s, leads NBA, new NBA record, career high
47 made FTs – leads NBA, career high
46.3% from the field – career high
44.9% from three – career high pic.twitter.com/5TVpzxbGdq
— Stevie Cozens (@StevieCozens) June 5, 2021
#5 – The future of the NBA is very bright
NBA fans everywhere can sleep peacefully at night after watching round one. The young guys are legit. Some of the biggest stars of the playoffs thus far could still be in college, after all.
Twenty-one-year-old Ja Morant scored 73 points in his first two career playoff games – 47 of them coming in Game 2. Trae Young, 22, had 32 points and 10 assists in Game 1, putting him on an exclusive list with Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, and LeBron James for the only players in NBA history to record at least 30 points and 10 assists in a playoff debut. Jayson Tatum is only 23 but scored 50 points on Brooklyn’s ‘Big Three’ in Game 3 and 40 points in Game 4.
That’s a lot of ages and numbers, but the point is simple: the future of the NBA is very bright. The new generation of NBA greats is here, and they are talented. Some of them are even perfecting their villain role (looking at you, Trae Young).
Last night Trae Young joined Michael Jordan as the only visiting players in NBA History to score 3 straight 30 Point games at the Garden in the playoffs.pic.twitter.com/AksyNTfxNT
— Everything Georgia (@GAFollowers) June 3, 2021
Here is the most recently updated bracket after Brooklyn’s Game 1 win over Milwaukee last night:
— NBA (@NBA) June 6, 2021