The first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs is now officially over.
With the Nuggets defeat of the Spurs in Game 7, 8 remaining teams now move on to the second round. The playoffs have been great so far, giving us a plethora of incredible games and some unexpected surprises. As the second round of the playoffs begin, I will be counting down the best surprises of the first round, in my opinion.
5. Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics
Amidst the rumored drama during the regular season, the Celtics finished their sweep of the Indiana Pacers as the C’s were led by Kyrie Irving. Despite Oladipo’s injury, the Pacers were still a competitive team in the East as they were able to maintain their spot in the playoff race. One key factor to the Celtics win has to be Gordon Hayward, who did not start of the season particularly well. He picked it up later on in the year, helping the Celtics clinch the 4th seed. The 29-year-old only started in 1/4 of the total games he played in during the regular season, serving as one of the Celtics’ primary ball handlers off the bench, while averaging 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
During the first round, Hayward averaged 12.3 points per game on an efficient shooting splits of 49/44/100, to go along with 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals per game. His most impressive game comes in Game 4, where he finished with 20 points (7-9 FG, 3-3 3PT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block in a Celtics win. In his first game against the Bucks in the second round, he put up 13 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists off the bench, as he looks to maintain his level of play.
With that being said, the Celtics in general have been impressive as of late. They just finished their Game 1 victory over the Bucks, as everyone seems to be doing their part. 6 of the Celtics’ 9-man rotation is scoring in double digits, with everyone on the team doing their part. They are definitely the underdogs in this second round matchup, but don’t be surprised if they win a few more games.
4. Orlando Magic Game 1 Win
The Orlando Magic found themselves matched up against the Toronto Raptors in the first round, and were expected to be eliminated in a sweep by most people. They surprised a lot of fans when they ended up winning Game 1 of the series, 104-101. The Magic were led by D.J. Augustin, who scored 25 points (9-13 FG, 4-5 3PT), including a clutch three pointer to give them the lead.
While they were unable to get another win, the Magic proved that they were no longer one of the worst teams in the East. After years of being in the lottery, the Magic were able to make the playoffs for the first time since Dwight Howard was traded, and were able to take a game on the road against one of the best teams in the league after being considered one of the worst teams in the NBA. That’s a pretty big success to me.
3. Spicy P’s Breakout Campaign
A recent episode of The Starters on NBA TV featured a segment called “Crossfire”, where two of the four members debate on a variety of topics for 30 seconds each. When the conversation of who the playoff breakout player is arose, two candidates stood out, namely Derrick White and Pascal Siakam. White was incredible in the Spurs-Nuggets series, especially in Game 3 where he scored 36 points (15-21 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in a Spurs win.
But ultimately, I have to say that MIP Favorite Pascal Siakam deserves the title of Playoff Breakout Player. Against the Magic, Spicy P averaged 22.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3 assists per game, and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down anytime soon. He improved his regular season scoring average by nearly 7 ppg, he recently put up a 29-point, 7-rebound performance against the 76ers, and he should help the Raptors advance pretty deep in the playoffs.
2. Clippers’ 31-point comeback
Unfortunately for the Clippers, their first round matchup had to be the defending champions themselves, the Warriors. No one expected the series to be particularly competitive, but the Clips proved us wrong. After what seemed to be another incoming blowout loss, the Clippers rallied back from a 31-point deficit against the Warriors, led by the dynamic bench duo of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell.
However, this isn’t the only time the Clippers shocked us during this first round. The series went to 6 games, which means the Clippers stole 2 games from the Warriors at the Oracle. Together with Gallinari, Gilgeous-Alexander, Shamet and the rest of the Clippers squad, the Clippers won a close Game 5 and proved that their previous win wasn’t a fluke.
1. Dame D.O.L.L.A.
Damian Lillard entered this playoff series with a chip on his shoulder. Fans and analysts alike favored the Thunder in this matchup, despite the lower seeding. Moreover, the Blazers backcourt didn’t perform so well last year when they were swept by the New Orleans Pelicans. Lillard seems to have flipped the switch, averaging 33.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists in a 5-game series victory over the Thunder.
And who could forget? Lillard sealed the series with an incredible 40-foot, series-winning, buzzer-beater, step-back three pointer, proving once and for all that he is one of the most elite NBA players we have today.
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