Posted on May 3, 2023
And with the Nuggets, Suns, Warriors, and Lakers progressing, Round Two promises to be no less exciting, if not more so.
Here’s my review of the First-Round action along with my pick for the best team and MVP.
The Road to Ring No. 5
No. 2 Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Lakers (Lakers won 4-2)Half of the West’s first-round playoff teams were from California, and this will continue going into the second round, as the Lakers and Warriors managed to progress.
We’ll talk about Golden State later, but first, let’s get to the Lakers.
In my opinion, they’re the favorites to win it all. Yes, I and most other NBA fans and writers made fun of them a lot during the season, mostly before the trade deadline.
But they have made a fool out of us.
I called the Grizzlies the best team in the West, but they were embarrassed by LeBron and Anthony Davis. They were outrebounded by a massive margin.
LA averaged 50 boards a night, with most of them coming from AD and LBJ, while Memphis averaged four fewer rebounds, and let guys like Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, and D’Angelo Russell get into a rhythm.
Davis rejected 26 shots in the series, which is tied for the second most in a playoff series by a Lakers player.
Shaq got 26 blocks against the 2004 Spurs in six games, en route to facing the KG-led Timberwolves and eventually losing in the Finals to the Pistons.
Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum got 28 blocks in seven games against the 2012 Nuggets, which included an NBA record 10 blocks in game one.
After that series, Bynum would just play 31 more games in the NBA, which shows the devastating effects that injuries can have on a player.
Davis has been no stranger to injuries, but thankfully, AD seems to be healthy for now, and that’s way more than what we can say for the other LA team.
The Grizz will now go home once again, and while they fought well, this season has to be considered a disappointment.
Without Steven Adams’ tenacious rebounding and presence down low, the team looked hopeless at times. The same goes for Brandon Clarke, who tore his Achilles on March 3, 2023.
The Grizzlies are still young, and they will be back, but you just can’t help but think that this year was a massive missed opportunity.
Welcome to Injury Hell
No. 4 Suns vs. No. 5 Clippers (Suns won 4-1)Welcome to injury hell, everybody! The LA Clippers will be your hosts!
I have said on many occasions that a healthy Kawhi Leonard is the best player in basketball, and everything I’ve said about Kawhi wasn’t disproven in the playoffs.
It was reinforced. Kawhi casually walked into game one (without Paul George) and proceeded to drop 38 points on 54/60/90 splits to steal game one in Phoenix.
After Phoenix won game two following a stellar effort from Devin Booker, it looked like we were going to witness an instant classic, especially with the potential of PG returning to the lineup at some point in the series.
Kawhi/PG/Russ versus KD/Book/CP3. But then, it was shockingly announced that Kawhi would be out for game three. And game four. And game five.
Russell Westbrook and Norman Powell tried to salvage what was left of their season, and while they fought valiantly, it wasn’t enough.
Then it was announced that Kawhi had torn his meniscus, which ended his and the Clippers’ season.
As for the Suns, it’s pretty disappointing to see this “superteam” lose game one, then proceed to barely beat a team led by Russell Westbrook in 2023.
Once Kawhi went down, their wins were by five, twelve, and six points respectively, which isn’t a good look for them. Their terrible bench unit was on full display in this series.
The Suns’ bench averaged 14 PPG, which is by far the worst margin in the entire playoffs. They also shot 37% from the field, 22% from three, and 70% from the line.
The Nuggets don’t have the best second unit in the league, but Bruce Brown looks like Michael Jordan when compared to Josh Okogie. This must be painful for Clippers fans, as they could have easily won this series.
But for now, it’s time for a new mindset. No more load management.
“We have to get back to honoring and respecting the regular season.” Said Clippers president Lawrence Frank.
I said it before, load management makes players more likely to sustain injuries, and if the Clippers can “honor” the regular season, maybe they can finally stay healthy and win something for once.
The Shattered Dreams of the Beam Team
No. 3 Kings vs. No. 6 Warriors (Warriors won 4-3)What a series! Steve Kerr still has not lost a Western Conference playoff series as a coach, which is insane if you think about it.
The Kings were always a threat to the Warriors, ever since 2018-19, when the two teams had four incredible regular-season meetings.
Golden State won all four games, but it was close as they won by a combined 12 points.
Many predicted that a round-one matchup between them would have been interesting, but the Kings choked away their chance of getting the 8th seed, and the Clippers faced the Warriors in the first round instead.
After many years, we finally got the series that we were waiting for, and boy, was it entertaining.
Throughout the first six games, the series was very close. De’Aaron Fox thankfully didn’t miss any time with his injury and kept flying high to help his team, averaging 29 points, six rebounds, and eight assists.
Malik Monk also came in with 20 points a night off the bench.
Steph Curry was good for the first five games, even getting a rare road win, which means that the Dubs have won a road playoff game in 28 consecutive series, an unprecedented streak in NBA history.
But in Game Six, Curry just didn’t show up. Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins looked rusty, and Jordan Poole was abysmal, just like Kevin Huerter.
And Harrison Barnes played like he was a double agent for the team that drafted him.
The stage was set for a legacy-defining game seven, and all of Sacramento’s hopes and dreams were shattered by the reigning NBA Finals MVP.
Steph poured in an NBA record 50 points in game seven, while Fox, Sabonis, and the rest of the Kings didn’t show up.
The team that won just 27% of their road games went 2/4 on the road against one of the best offenses in NBA history (Not a fan of the stat, but the 2023 Kings had the highest offensive rating of all time).
The Kings should be proud of their season though, and will light the beam on a consistent basis as long as they have Fox and Sabonis.
Also, don’t forget about Kevon Looney, who averaged a ridiculous 18 rebounds in the last five games of the series.
Not Worth the Price
No. 1 Nuggets vs. No. 8 Timberwolves (Nuggets won 4-1)The Jazz must be loving this right now. The Wolves traded away their future, and what did they get in return?
They got the worst year of Rudy Gobert’s career since 2016, a year which included his infamous fight with Kyle Andreson, four fewer wins than last season, and an embarrassing exit in a series where Gobert fouled out twice in five games.
I like Karl-Anthony Towns, but you just can’t deny that he’s soft, and can’t show up when it matters most. There are a lot of rumors about a potential KAT trade swirling around, and maybe it’s the best thing for all parties involved.
Anthony Edwards is a legitimate star, but there will be serious doubts about whether he will win anything important in Minny. Maybe he will be like Kevin Garnett, as their situations have a lot of parallels.
KG was a top-five pick, just like Edwards (though Edwards was picked number one overall), they were both 19 years old in their first year, and they both made an All-Star team by season three.
KG was elite in Minny, but the organization just kept letting him down, before he finally won a ring after leaving for Boston.
Mike Conley can still play and had he stayed with the Jazz, they might have made the playoffs and they probably would have done better than this Timberwolves team.
The Nuggets are looking dominant, as they are up 2-0 against the Suns (as of the time of writing).
Best Team of Round One
The Denver Nuggets (4-1)Speaking of Denver’s dominance, their squad is finally ready to take the leap to the next level and make it out of the West. I predicted that Jokic wouldn’t care about winning the MVP a few weeks ago, and I was proven right.
Jokic just wants to win a ring. “I don’t really think about [the NBA MVP announcement],” Jokic said. “Like zero interest. Hopefully, it’s going to be a sunny day, so I can be in the swimming pool.”
Jokic barely played in game one because it was such a blowout, but in games two through five, the Joker averaged a 29-point triple-double.
And his partner in crime Jamal Murray put up 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists a night while shooting 47% from the floor, 43% from deep, and going 20-22 from the charity stripe.
He had a massive 40-point performance in game two, which broke Minnesota’s back. He closed out the series in style with 35 points on amazing efficiency.
This was Murray’s first playoff series since September 2020, and it looked like he had never even left. We all remember Bubble Murray’s insane performances, right?
He averaged 47 points a night from game 4 to game 6 against the Jazz and dropped 40 on the Clippers to eliminate them. And now, it looks like that version of Murray is back. The rest of the league should be scared.
MVP of Round One
Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)Could it be anyone else? The only player ever to score 50 points in a game seven.
Curry became the 31st player in NBA history to drop 50 or more in a postseason game, but no one ever put up 50 in a game seven, until now. Apart from a slightly disappointing game six, Steph played a near-perfect series.
The Chef averaged 34 points while shooting 49% from the field.
Detractors will be quick to point out his three-point shooting percentage (38% is good, but nowhere near Steph’s high standards) and his high turnover totals.
But when your teammates are poor, you have to put the team on your back and will them to win, and obviously your efficiency takes a hit, just like James Harden’s prime in Houston.
Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Jordan Poole combined to shoot 5-21 from deep in game seven, and 3-14 in game six. Now, Steph will have to face his biggest rival, LeBron James.
If Steph wants to have a chance of emerging victorious one more time against LeBron, then his teammates have to shake off their poor performances in round one.
—More from Aidin Ebrahimi—
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Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Finals InsightsNikola Jokic and Jamal Murray dominated the Lakers, now Jimmy Butler and the Heat await - June 1, 2023
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Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA West. Conf. Round 1 Playoff SummaryA review of the First-Round action along with his picks for MVP and Best Team - May 3, 2023