By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and while the NBA regular season ended without much drama, there was more than enough to go around during the first day of the postseason. Tuesday night was home to a pair of thrilling play-in games, setting the stage for a pair of elimination games tonight.
Opening the NBA postseason was a play-in matchup between the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers. To state it was an ugly start for the Cavaliers would be an understatement, as Cleveland allowed a whopping 40 points during the first quarter, trailing by 20 after only a dozen minutes of play. Somehow, the Cavaliers figured things out and made it a competitive game, clawing away at the lead until getting it into single digits during the fourth quarter. However, it proved to be too little too late as the Nets withstood Cleveland’s effort behind a staggeringly dominant showing from Kyrie Irving, who scored 34 points with 12 assists. Brooklyn moves on to face the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Cleveland will now face the winner of tonight’s showdown between the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks. Charlotte and Atlanta meet as a pair of high-powered offenses, and tonight’s game will likely be a high-scoring shootout. Trae Young and the Hawks are looking to avoid a disappointing end to a disappointing season following last year’s trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Charlotte is making a second consecutive appearance in the play-in tournament. Last year, the Hornets were dismantled by the Pacers, falling by 27 points in an ugly loss. Charlotte is at least hoping for a better showing this season. It is also worth noting that the Hornets will be without Gordon Hayward, who is again sidelined after a brief return from the ankle injury that cost him the bulk of the second half.
Out West, the Minnesota Timberwolves managed to overcome a trio of seemingly impossible hurdles to notch a win over the Los Angeles Clippers. First, superstar big man Karl-Anthony Towns had a comically awful performance, missing all seven of his shot attempts from the field in the first half and finishing the game with a mere 11 points and five rebounds. Then, in addition to struggling to score, Towns also struggled to stay on the court, battling foul trouble before fouling out with over seven minutes remaining in the game. Finally, in addition to KAT’s dud and early dismissal, the Wolves trailed by 10 points during the fourth quarter.
However, the Wolves managed to win behind dazzling performances from second-year guard Anthony Edwards and veteran playmaker D’Angelo Russell despite all of this. Edwards scored 30 points to lead Minnesota, while Russell finished with 29 points, five boards, and six dimes. The Clippers received excellent offensive games from Paul George (34 points), Reggie Jackson (17), and Norman Powell (16) while executing a defensive game plan that rendered Towns a complete non-factor. On paper, that is a recipe for a victory and a trip to the playoffs. But, thanks to Russell and Edwards, it was not meant to be for L.A. on Tuesday night. Instead, Minnesota moves on to face the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.
Tonight, the New Orleans Pelicans host the San Antonio Spurs, with the loser heading into the offseason and the winner traveling to face the Clippers in a single-elimination showdown for the final playoff spot. New Orleans boasts a massive talent advantage and enters the game as heavy favorites. However, the Pelicans may not have star wing Brandon Ingram at full strength, and it is difficult to bet against a Spurs team led by Gregg Popovich. San Antonio has blossomed during the second half of the season behind the growth of Dejounte Murray into an All-Star, Keldon Johnson’s continued evolution into an exceptional talent, and Jakob Poeltl’s overlooked mastery operating as a traditional big man.
As is often the case during the NBA playoffs, it is another night, another pair of must-watch games for basketball fans.