Jake Ruderman ’26
With the Golden State Warriors finally beating the Sacramento Kings in Game 7 last weekend, the first round of the playoffs is done, and what a tumultuous round it was. For the first time in NBA history, the second round of the playoffs consists of one of each seed 1-8. Let’s go through each seed that advanced, recap their first round series, and look ahead to their second round opponent.
The West’s #1 seed Denver Nuggets, led by likely MVP-runner up Nikola Jokic, advanced nonchalantly after beating the Minnesota Timberwolves in 5 games. Even at full strength, the T-Wolves’ roster and caliber of players was simply no match for Denver’s big three of Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. Although Anthony Edwards had promising moments, he was only able to steal one game, and the Nuggets moved on without breaking a sweat.
The East’s #2 seed Boston Celtics, championed by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, advanced past the Atlanta Hawks in 6 games. The Hawks certainly put up a fight, with Trae Young’s up and down play lulling Boston into a false sense of security numerous times. In what everyone expected to be Boston’s closeout game in Game 5, Trae caught fire late, hitting five free-throws and three 25+ foot 3-point bombs, including a game winning 30 footer over Jaylen Brown’s outstretched hands. Despite their sloppy play at times, Boston did their job and got past Atlanta, avoiding what would be the second catastrophic upset in Boston sports this year. The Celtics should have a very interesting matchup with the 76ers in the second round, especially depending on Joel Embiid’s health.
The East’s #3 seed Philadelphia 76ers had an absolutely dominant first round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets, taking care of them in only four games – the only sweep in the entire first round. The Nets simply didn’t have the roster to handle Philly’s dominant play. But despite their easy win, Philly ended the series with more questions than it started with. The biggest looming question is, as always, the health status of likely MVP Joel Embiid, who tweaked his leg in Game 3. Embiid is the heart and soul of this 76ers team, and without him, the Sixers will likely struggle to win more than a game against this deep Boston squad. Despite these concerns, Philly was able to pull off a miracle upset in Game 1, winning in dramatic fashion behind a vintage Harden performance of 45 points and 6 assists, with 7 threes, including a game winning bomb over Al Horford from deep. The Celtics will look to bounce back after a tough loss at home, while the Sixers hold all the cards now.
The West’s #4 seed Phoenix Suns took care of the LA Clippers in 5 games, advancing to face the Nuggets in the second round. Although these games were close, the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard for games 3-5, and without Paul George for the entire series. It’s another season of disappointment for Clippers fans, as even intense load management couldn’t keep their stars healthy when it mattered the most. On the other side of things, the Kevin Durant era in Phoenix is off to an amazing start. Their real test will come against Denver in the second round, as Phoenix’s offense will have to rise to the occasion and outduel Denver’s ridiculous efficiency. After two tough losses to start the series in Denver, Phoenix is hoping to bounce back at home and figure out a way to contain the 2-time reigning MVP.
The East’s #5 seed New York Knicks advanced past the Cleveland Cavaliers in gritty fashion, taking care of them in only 5 games. The Knicks simply outdueled the Cavs in every facet of the way throughout this series, proving their identity as the tougher, deeper, and ultimately better team, despite dealing with injuries to one of their stars. For Cleveland, this series went about as poorly as it could’ve gone, as their top-heavy roster failed them when it mattered most. The Knicks played crisp on both sides of the ball, and will have another gritty series ahead of them against the Miami Heat, who also play a gritty, defense and shooting oriented style of ball.
The West’s #6 seed Golden State Warriors finally bested the Sacramento Kings in 7 games in far and away the best first round series. The Kings took a commanding 2-0 lead to start the series, but the Warriors won the next 3 games to retake the lead. The Kings won a close Game 6 in Golden State, and forced Steph Curry to have his best playoff performance of all time, dropping a cool 50 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, with 7 threes, which was enough to put away the most fun Kings team in the last 15 years. The Warriors’ second round opponent will be the Los Angeles Lakers, in a long-awaited rematch of Curry and Lebron, which should leave NBA fans salivating and longing for more, as two of the best to ever do it face off yet again.
The West’s #7 seed Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Memphis Grizzlies in 6 games, upsetting the Grizzlies after their incredibly tumultuous season. Everyone knew this was a good spot for the Lakers to land in, as they simply match up well against the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies were outplayed this series, and put an end to a wildly up and down season, culminating in their announcement that Dillon Brooks, known ‘bear-poker’, will not be returning to the team “under any circumstances.” That really tells you all you need to know about the season they’ve had.
Finally, the East’s #8 seed Miami Heat pulled off one of the most shocking, unpredictable upsets in NBA history, beating the #1 seed and championship favorite Milwaukee Bucks in 5 games. The Bucks simply didn’t come to play this series, and after superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo went down in Game 1, doom was in the air for Milwaukee. After being trounced in Game 2, the Heat went back to Miami tied 1-1, and wouldn’t lose another game, being carried on the back of Jimmy Butler throughout one of the greatest individual playoff series performances of all time. This was one of the wildest upsets in NBA history, and the Heat will move on to play the Knicks in the second round, in what should be a very interesting battle, especially as the Heat took Game 1 in New York. Julius Randle is still hurt and didn’t play in Game 1, and now Jimmy Butler and Jalen Brunson are both hurt as well. This might be one of those series where the winning team is simply the one that can stay healthy the longest.
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