NBA Playoffs First-Round Recap: Winners, Losers, Best Moments
May 2, 2023, 12:44 PM
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY – Round one of the 2023 NBA Playoffs was arguably the best first round in recent memory.
Surprising upsets, all-time performances, and crazy highlights don’t even begin to tell the whole story.
The Conference Semifinals are set 🗣
Warriors advance, Heat win Game 1.
For more, visit the Playoff Hub ⤵
📲 https://t.co/MndHjxCujI pic.twitter.com/BHbW7AawkW
— NBA (@NBA) May 1, 2023
RELATED: What’s On The Line For Each Team In 2023 NBA Playoffs
Nuggets Make Easy Work Of Timberwolves
Denver’s big three came to play against Minnesota as they easily advanced in five games.
Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and Michael Porter Jr. combined to score 62% of Denver’s total points in the series.
The Timberwolves defense focused in on the reigning two-time NBA MVP on defense but Jokic’s supporting cast was able to step up to the plate.
Nikola Jokic is the 5th player in NBA history to record 20+ PTS, 15+ REB, and 5+ AST in three consecutive Playoff games.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3x, high of 3 games)
Wilt Chamberlain (2x, high of 4 games)
Bill Russell (3 Games, 1962)
Tim Duncan (5 Games, 2003)
Nikola Jokic (3… pic.twitter.com/inUgefUeKs
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) May 2, 2023
Rudy Gobert played a decent series with 15 points and 12.2 rebounds a game but he didn’t have anywhere close to the defensive impact you would want when facing the high-powered offense of the Denver Nuggets. Gobert posted just one block a game which was less than star teammate Anthony Edwards.
Many NBA fans had doubted the Nuggets despite their top seed and regular season success. Making quick work of the 8-seed is a good sign if Denver hopes to go all the way.
RELATED: What Did Gobert, Mitchell Say About First-Round Playoff Exits?
Bucks Fall At The Hands Of Playoff Jimmy, Miami Heat
For just the sixth time in NBA history, a 1-seed was defeated by the 8-seed in the first round. The Heat also became the first play-in team to win a playoff series.
Even with Giannis Antetokounmpo missing basically three of the five games, Miami played like the winning team from the jump.
Jimmy Butler put together an all-time playoff performance in game four. He scored 56 (fourth most points in a playoff game all-time) on 68% from the field. Butler scored 21 of his 56 in the fourth quarter to will Miami to a game-four win and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
— NBA (@NBA) April 27, 2023
NBA Insider Shams Charania said that the Bucks organization has been going through feelings of “shock and disappointment” since their season ended. Many believe that head coach Mike Budenholzer may be on the hot seat after he struggled to make adjustments against the No. 8 Heat.
Overall, every NBA fan would have liked to see Antetokounmpo healthy for this series, but who doesn’t love a good upset?
Celtics Take Care Of Business Against Atlanta
Atlanta tried to make the series interesting by taking games 3 and 5, but this felt like Boston’s series to lose from the very first game.
Jayson Tatum stepped up and showed why he was the best player in the series and a borderline MVP candidate. He averaged 27.2 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. His 10 rebounds a game was the most in the series for both Boston and Atlanta. He averaged the second most points in the series, only trailing Atlanta’s star guard Trae Young (29.2).
With their backs against the wall, Young willed Atlanta to a game 5 win with 38 points and 13 assists. He hit a game-winner with less than five seconds on the clock while defended by All-Star Jaylen Brown.
EVERY ANGLE of Trae Young’s Game 5 game-winner 🥶
He dropped 38 PTS and 13 AST. Ice cold. pic.twitter.com/0sGtPHDNd9
— NBA (@NBA) April 26, 2023
The Hawks did a great job of making this an entertaining series. But, it wasn’t nearly as competitive as some of the others in the first round. With Milwaukee eliminated, the Celtics became the overwhelming favorite to win it all.
Grizzlies Not Fine In The West, Sent Home By Lakers
Just days after Miami became the first play-in team to win a series, Los Angeles became the second.
Sadly, this was another series that was plagued by injuries. Memphis went into the series missing their first and second-string centers. Then, Ja Morant fell and injured his hand in game one.
Morant would return in game three with an all-time performance. He posted 45 points, 9 rebounds, and 13 assists while remaining very efficient from the field. His performance ultimately ended up not being enough, as Los Angeles won by ten in Crypto.com Arena.
Although the seeding says that this was an upset by the Lakers, many analysts and fans predicted the outcome. The Lakers went through a massive roster turnaround at the trade deadline and went on to have the second-best record in the West (17-9) with their new-look roster.
LEBRON JAMES TIES THE GAME 😱😱😱 pic.twitter.com/uKLjXQ7pzc
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 25, 2023
LeBron James was able to trust other offensive options like Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Davis. In the series win over Memphis, Los Angeles looked like a cohesive, competitive team for the first time since their 2020 title run.
76ers Beat Nets In Only First-Round Sweep
Philadelphia breezed past a Brooklyn team that desperately needed star power to have any chance of competing.
The 76ers had an average margin of victory of over 11 points. But, this doesn’t tell the full story. Philadelphia averaged more turnovers than Brooklyn, shot inefficiently from almost everywhere inside the arc, and the star duo of James Harden and Joel Embiid didn’t look nearly as dominant as one would hope.
Luckily, the combination of the supporting cast stepping up and the opponent struggling with their own identity led to the 76ers beating the Nets in the only sweep of the first round.
Joel Embiid’s playoff injury history continued into this season when he suffered a knee injury in game three.
Joel Embiid’s injury history in the playoffs 🤕
2023 — Knee sprain
2022 — Orbital fracture & concussion
Torn thumb ligament
2021 — Torn meniscus
2019 — Knee tendinitis
2018 — Orbital fracture & concussion pic.twitter.com/qLH1k8LnT2
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 1, 2023
The 76ers will face off against Boston in the conference semifinals. The winner of that series will become the favorite to beat either Miami or New York and advance to the NBA Finals.
Kings Can’t Get Past Reigning Champion Warriors
The vast majority of NBA fans will agree that the 7-game series between Golden State and Sacramento was the best series of the first round.
It felt like no one knew who would come out on top. Some believed that the youth and energy on the Kings roster would get the job done. Others thought that the experience on the Warriors roster would be too much for Sacramento. The competitiveness met, and probably exceeded, the expectations that were set before the series began.
One of the best parts of the series was the home crowd for both teams. The Chase Center and the Golden 1 Center showed why they are some of the loudest arenas in basketball. The energy was extremely high for all seven games.
The Warriors showed that championship pedigree matters more than some may think. Having a superstar like Steph Curry helps as well. In game seven, Curry posted 50 points en route to a 20-point Golden State win.
Steph was so disgusted with how the Warriors played in Game 6 that he couldn’t sleep and was texting Draymond at 4 a.m.
It led him to give what players called “the greatest speech of his career,” promising he’d deliver and telling teammates to “stay home” if they were “in their… pic.twitter.com/82Ev1StFTX
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 1, 2023
After breaking the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports, the Kings look like they may be a playoff threat for years to come. The Golden State dynasty may have more gas in the tank. But, they’ll have to pass through the Lakers and then the Suns or Nuggets to make it out of the West.
Cavaliers Stunned By Red-Hot Knicks
In one of the biggest surprises of the first round, New York steamrolled past Cleveland in just five games.
This series was mostly defense as both teams had shooting struggles. The Knicks shot 28.2% from three and the Cavaliers shot 32.7%.
Jalen Brunson played like an All-Star against the Cavs. He averaged 24 points, 4.8 assists, and 2.2 steals a game. Brunson had multiple clutch moments throughout the series as well. In game one, he scored 9 of New York’s last 13 points which included a floater that sealed the deal.
COLD IN THE CLUTCH. pic.twitter.com/1i5zU4yxPT
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 16, 2023
Donovan Mitchell’s efforts did not go unnoticed. He put up 23.2 points, 7.2 assists, and 2.0 steals. Mitchell posted 38 points in game one and found other ways to affect the game when his shots weren’t falling.
Julius Randle struggled in the series, averaging just 14.4 points on 33.8% from the field. It was later revealed that he had been playing through an ankle injury.
The Knicks showed that execution can be as important as anything else in the playoffs. Even with the shooting struggles, New York put together runs in the fourth quarter when it mattered most.
RELATED: Mitchell, Gobert, Conley, Ingles, O’Neale Bounced From Playoffs
Suns Take Advantage Of Shorthanded Clippers Team
Phoenix defeated a beaten-up Los Angeles team in five games.
The Clippers were without Paul George for the entire series and Kawhi Leonard played just two games before going down with an injury of his own. When he played, Leonard looked like the top-ten player we all know him to be. He averaged 34.5 points on a staggering 54.5% from the field and 60% from three.
Devin Booker had one of the best playoff series of his career. He averaged 37.2 points and 6.4 assists on 60.2% from the field and 46.7% from three.
DEVIN BOOKER 😱
39 PTS. 23 IN Q3. #PLAYOFFMODE ENGAGED.
📺: TNT | Game 5 | PHX Leads 3-1 pic.twitter.com/Z6jC8uZGqh
— NBA (@NBA) April 26, 2023
With the absence of their two best players, Russell Westbrook stepped up to the plate. He averaged 23.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists.
In game three, Booker and Westbrook had a playoff battle. Westbrook posted 30 points and 12 assists with Leonard out of the lineup. Booker put up 45 points on an impressive 62.1% from the floor.
The duo of Booker and Kevin Durant was lethal in the first round. If Phoenix can keep the momentum going, they could shock the No. 1 seed Nuggets and advance to the conference finals.
Chandler Holt is a Digital Sports Producer for KSLSports.com, specializing in all things basketball and football. Follow Chandler on Twitter at @ChandlerHoltKSL.
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