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Every NBA playoff series has now had a Game 1 and things have mostly gone as planned — five of the eight were decided by double digits, with only two wins by lower seeds.
However, the manner in which those victories were delivered was frequently fascinating, and this weekend’s heroes could be revealing a lot about how the next few rounds will unfold. Here’s what I noticed most in the Game 1s.
Is there anyone who can stop the Phoenix Suns’ pick-and-roll?
Mat Issa did a deep dive on the Phoenix Suns’ pick-and-roll attack a few weeks before the season ended. The emphasis was not only on its insane efficiency, but also on its adaptability in the face of nearly any defensive counter.
Adaptation wasn’t necessarily required in Game 1 against the Pelicans, but the Suns completely annihilated New Orleans with precision and relentless efficiency.
The Suns won Game 1 thanks to Chris Paul’s 30 points and 10 assists. The Suns did a lot of damage in the pick-and-roll, scoring 42 points on 33 possessions (127.3 points per 100 possessions) that were finished by either the screener or the ball-handler.
This does not include plays where a pick-and-roll resulted in a kickout or passes that set up another offensive endpoint, so it may be understating how effective it was as an offensive engine.
Paul was clearly the orchestrator, and it’s difficult to think of a game that more perfectly encapsulates what he’s capable of doing at his best.
He made 7 of 10 pull-up jumpers, including 4 of 6 from beyond the arc. He was astute at the rim as usual, shooting 6-of-8 on shots off 16 drives. And, of course, he was a master at pulling the defense to create gaps in the defense for his teammates.
April 18, 2022 — Phoenix Suns (@Suns)
Deandre Ayton finished as the pick-and-roll screener and scored 13 points on nine possessions. Twelve of his 15 shot attempts in the game were rim shots or open jumpers with no defender within four feet of him.
Although Paul and the Suns’ pick-and-roll may not work as well in every game, I’m not sure any team in the postseason has a more consistent mechanism for creating high-value scoring opportunities.
Tyrese Maxey could be the ideal third wheel
Maxey was another Game 1 standout, scoring 38 points on just 21 shots as the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Toronto Raptors 131-111.
Maxey has been relieved of a lot of primary initiator responsibilities since James Harden arrived, and having him attack against a defense that has already been moved by the gravity of Harden and Joel Embiid puts him in a perfect position to succeed.
In Game 1, he was relentless in driving against off-balance defenders attempting to rotate back to him, finishing with 15 points and an assist on 10 drives.
April 17, 2022 — Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers)
Maxey also hit 5-of-6 catch-and-shoot 3s, and he currently appears to be the ideal (and perfectly balanced) triple-threat complement for the 76ers to throw the ball to when the defense closes in on Embiid and Harden. However, focusing solely on Maxey’s offense overlooks how much he contributed on defense as well.
When paired with Harden, Maxey is frequently tasked with defending the opponent’s point guard or quickest creator. In Game 1, he spent 39.9 possessions (approximately 55% of his defensive total) as the primary defender on Fred VanVleet, who only attempted three shots while being guarded by Maxey.
Only a few players covered more ground on defense than him in all postseason Game 1s, and no defender who traveled at least one mile on defense had a faster average defense speed.
He didn’t finish with a steal or a block, but his aggressive shadowing of VanVleet limited one of the Raptors’ offensive engines and was an extremely important variable, even if it wasn’t as noticeable as his scoring.
What became of the Utah Jazz’s demise?
The Utah Jazz won Game 1 by a score of six points over the Dallas Mavericks, but they only managed 99 points and their offense looked completely out of sync. After averaging 266.0 passes per game during the regular season, they finished the game with only 247. That was already one of the league’s lowest totals, but the bottom seemed to fall out against the Mavericks.
Utah had only 21 potential assists in Game 1, which is somewhat remarkable given that the Knicks had the lowest regular-season average of any team at 41.2.
During the regular season, the Jazz were one of the slower-paced teams, with an average offensive possession length of 14.8 seconds, ranking them 23rd in the league. In Game 1, their average offensive possession was nearly a full second longer (15.7 seconds), and their average touch time and dribbles per touch were significantly higher.
Donovan Mitchell appeared to be one of the main culprits, with 11 shots in Game 1 coming after seven or more dribbles. During the regular season, he only attempted 6.5 of these shots per game.
This could be due to a tough Mavericks defense disrupting their normal rhythms, but if they want to truly take control of the series, they’ll need to get back to dictating with their own offense, especially with the return of Luka Doncic looming.