The 2020 NBA Playoffs finally got underway on Monday, with four games on the schedule down in Orlando. The opener between the Jazz and Nuggets turned out to be the high point, with two of the game’s emerging young talents putting on a show during the fourth quarter and overtime. Game 1 of the Toronto/Brooklyn series went the way many expected, even with the Nets rallying to within nine points of the champs in the third quarter. The final two games of the day were far more competitive, with Boston outlasting Philadelphia and the Clippers doing the same to Dallas.
Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (Denver leads, 1-0)
The first game of the day did not disappoint, as Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray engaged in an incredible duel in the fourth quarter and overtime. Mitchell set a Jazz playoff record with 57 points (19-of-33 FGs, 13-of-13 FTs) while also tallying nine rebounds, seven assists, one steal and six 3-pointers in 43 minutes. He was also part of the answer to the question of how Utah would account for the absence of Mike Conley, who left the bubble to be present for the birth of his son. Quin Snyder shifted Mitchell to the point, with Juwan Morgan moving into the starting lineup while Royce O’Neale was shifted to the three in order to defend Michael Porter Jr.
Neither Morgan nor O’Neale had much of an impact offensively, as they scored three points apiece, but they each accounted for seven rebounds and one steal. As for O’Neale (and Utah’s) defending of Porter, they were able to keep him in check in his playoff debut. Porter shot 5-of-13 from the field, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds, one assist, one block and three 3-pointers in 31 minutes. Down the stretch he was on the bench, with Torrey Craig (who’s a starter, so no surprise there) and even P.J. Dozier getting minutes on the wings. We’ll see if Porter is better with a playoff game under his belt in Wednesday’s Game 2, and I’m not losing faith in him given how well he played in the seeding games.
As one would expect Murray (36/5/9/1 with six 3-pointers in 40 minutes) and Nikola Jokic (29/10/3/2/1 with four 3-pointers in 42 minutes) led the way offensively for Denver, and Jerami Grant tallied 19 points, three assists, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers in 40 minutes off the bench. Only three Nuggets played at least 40 minutes on the day, and when adding Porter to the equation only four played 30 or more. With Millsap (8/3/3 steals/1 and one 3-pointer in 29 minutes) having a relatively quiet afternoon, Grant stepped forward and this could be a series in which he has an even bigger role than usual.
Mitchell was the lone Utah player to score at least 20 points on the day, with Joe Ingles (19/5/6/1 with five 3-pointers), Jordan Clarkson (18/4/3 with two 3-pointers) and Rudy Gobert (17/7/1/2/4) being next in line. The other Jazz players to see action combined to score a total of 14 points, with Georges Niang (seven points, three rebounds and one 3-pointer in 20 minutes) responsible for half of them. Tony Bradley was effective as a rebounder in his 11 minutes on the court, grabbing nine, but he doesn’t bring anything to the table and really isn’t worth calling upon in any fantasy format. The same can be said for Emmanuel Mudiay, who had just one point and one rebound in 10 minutes off the bench. If you’re looking for a low- to moderate-cost option to use with Conley out, go with Clarkson. Utah needs his scoring off the bench, and he won’t lack shot opportunities (whether open or not) in the sixth-man role.
Raptors 134, Nets 110 (Toronto leads, 1-0)
Brooklyn made a run in the third quarter, getting as close as nine points, but crawling completely out of a 33-point hole is incredibly difficult to do. Fred VanVleet (30/2/11/2/1 with eight 3-pointers) and Pascal Siakam (18/11/1 with one 3-pointer) posted double-doubles, and in total seven of the nine Raptors that scored reached double figures. In the case of Siakam he shot just 4-of-13 from the field, and he’s now shot less than 40 percent from the field in five of the eight games he’s played down in the bubble. But his teammates aren’t worried, most especially VanVleet, who said after the game that he was tired of answering the “what’s wrong with Pascal” question. Siakam isn’t a one-trick pony, so even if the shot isn’t falling he’ll contribute in other areas. I’d keep going with him in DFS for that reason.
Serge Ibaka (22/7/3/1 block and two 3-pointers in 26 minutes) surpassed the 20-point mark for the first time in the bubble, and this could be a series in which he feasts. Brooklyn has used Rodions Kurucs (6/6/2 in 16 minutes) in the backup center role for extended stretches in Orlando, and the effect has been positive in most instances. But that wasn’t the case Monday as he ultimately fouled out, and that Ibaka matchup appears to be one that the Nets have no answer for. Donta Hall played just eight minutes, and given the lack of scoring punch it’s difficult to see him getting enough playing time to be any kind of factor in this series.
Ibaka played 26 minutes and starting center Marc Gasol (13/5/1 with one 3-pointer) 21, with each of the Raptors’ other four starters getting at least 31 minutes on the day. Kyle Lowry (16/7/6/1 block and three 3-pointers in 38 minutes) didn’t shoot the ball well, going 3-of-14 from the field, but he made up for it with the rebounds and assists. Nine Raptors played double-digit minutes, which has been commonplace for Nick Nurse’s team. By comparison only seven Nets did so, with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (26/7/2 with six 3-pointers) and Tyler Johnson (seven points, three assists and one 3-pointer) playing 33 and 17 minutes, respectively, off the bench.
Luwawu has played well since being moved to the bench during the seeding games, and the combination of his play and Kurucs’ foul trouble resulted in TLC starting the second half. Caris LeVert shot just 5-of-14 from the field but made franchise history, joining Jason Kidd as the only Nets to dish out 15 or more assists in a playoff game. The final line for LeVert: 15 points, seven rebounds, 15 assists and one steal in 35 minutes. VanVleet began the game guarding LeVert, but that’s an assignment that Toronto will rotate among multiple players. The approach worked on Monday.
Joe Harris (19/6/2 with three 3-pointers) is an attractive play, not only because of the 3-point shooting but also his getting more chances to make plays off the dribble. Same for Jarrett Allen, who posted a line of 15/12/1/1/1 in 34 minutes and is Brooklyn’s only quality option in the center spot. I’d go to him in every lineup; even though he isn’t a prolific scorer the rebounding/defensive numbers are there.
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Celtics 109, 76ers 101 (Boston leads, 1-0)
This series stands to be an interesting chess match: will it be Boston’s wings that win out, or the interior tandem of Joel Embiid and Al Horford? There were questions as to whether or not Philadelphia should make a change to its starting lineup in order to better matchup up with Boston, but Brett Brown stuck with the same five that he’s used since Ben Simmons went down with a season-ending knee injury. Embiid put up a good stat line, finishing with 26 points (8-of-15 FGs, 9-of-12 FTs), 16 rebounds, one assist, two steals, one block and one 3-pointer in 37 minutes. But over the last 16 minutes (some of which he sat for rest reasons) the big man had just one made field goal.
Philadelphia may have been able to withstand this if not for Horford’s bad game, as he posted a line of six points, seven rebounds, six assists and one block in 31 minutes. Al shot 3-of-7 from the field against his former team and did not attempt a single free throw; while it was Embiid’s words of “I have to do more” that received the postgame attention, Philadelphia is going to need a lot more from Horford if they’re to have any shot of exploiting the Boston bigs and ultimately winning the series. Depending upon the price tag I wouldn’t completely rule out Horford in DFS, but that being said moving him to the bench may be better for his value than keeping him in the starting lineup.
Josh Richardson (18/6/2 with three 3-pointers) and Alec Burks (18/6/2 with one 3-pointer) gave Philadelphia much-needed offense, while Tobias Harris (15/8/8/1) established a career-high for assists in a game but shot 6-of-15 from the field. Philadelphia went seven deep essentially, with Burks playing 28 minutes and Matisse Thybulle (5/4/1/2/1 with one 3-pointer) 33 off the bench. The attempt to exploit the size advantage resulted in Furkan Korkmaz and Mike Scott playing a total of nine minutes, and neither one is worth the gamble in any format. Burks should have already been on the radar, and he’s a good value option in all formats given his current production.
Boston took the win but they also have a couple injuries to deal with. Jaylen Brown injured his right quad during the third quarter but was still able to take on his usual workload, playing 39 minutes and finishing with 29 points (9-of-16 FGs, 6-of-6 FTs), six rebounds, four assists, three steals and five 3-pointers. Gordon Hayward played 34 minutes but left late in the fourth after spraining his right ankle, finishing with 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, four steals and two 3-pointers on 5-of-13 shooting.
The injury looked quite nasty, with his ankle coming close to touching the court, and with games being played every other day it would not come as a surprise if Hayward were to miss Game 2. If that happens Marcus Smart is the obvious play, although he was 0-of-5 Monday and finished with two points, one rebound, one assist and two steals in 32 minutes.
To deal with the challenge that Embiid and Horford presented in the post Boston used four players at the center position. Daniel Theis (9/3/3/1/1 with one 3-pointer) started and played 25 minutes, with Robert Williams (2/6/1 in 13 minutes), Kanter and even Grant Williams (two rebounds in two minutes) having their names called. Theis is the only one that I’d consider using in any format, as Kanter’s offensive rebounding prowess doesn’t really matter when he’s playing limited minutes. And Williams can be a factor there as well, as he grabbed four of Boston’s 16 offensive boards on the night (Kanter had three).
Jayson Tatum was the star of stars, as he posted a line of 32 points (10-of-21 FGs, 10-of-11 FTs), 13 rebounds, one assist, three blocks and two 3-pointers in 41 minutes. And he is now the youngest Celtics player to post a 30/10 line in a playoff game in franchise history. Kemba Walker (19/1/5/1) wasn’t great, shooting 7-of-16 from the field, but he was good enough to help Boston draw first blood in the series.
Clippers 118, Mavericks 110 (Los Angeles leads, 1-0)
The first half of this matchup featured two large runs, but the game’s biggest shift occurred during the third quarter. Kristaps Porzingis was whistled for his second technical foul with 9:10 remaining in the third, and he finished the night with a pedestrian line of 14 points (3-of-9 FGs, 7-of-8 FTs), six rebounds, one assist and one 3-pointer in 20 minutes of action. He wasn’t great while in the game, but Porzingis’ exit left Dallas with just one big mobile enough to deal with the Clippers frontcourt (Maxi Kleber). And to be fair Kleber wasn’t all that good either, as in 34 minutes he tallied three points, six rebounds, one assist and one 3-pointer on 1-of-5 shooting from the field. Both remain worth utilizing in DFS, but the fact of the matter is that those who picked up either Porzingis or Kleber (or both) were burned badly Monday night.
Luka Doncic shouldered much of the scoring load for the Mavericks, scoring 42 points (13-of-21 FGs, 14-of-15 FTs) with seven rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two 3-pointers in 38 minutes. He became just the fourth player in NBA history age 21 or younger to score 40 points or more in a postseason game (Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Tracy McGrady), and the 42 points are the most ever scored by a player in his playoff debut. The negatives for Doncic: the fact that Dallas lost, and he turned the ball over 11 times. After the game Clippers coach Doc Rivers said that he didn’t have an issue with Doncic scoring 42; his problem was that he was able to do so while also setting up his teammates. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how Los Angeles approaches the difficult task of defending Luka in Game 2.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (18/6/1/1 with four 3-pointers) and Seth Curry (14/3/2 steals and four 3-pointers) also scored in double figures, but Dallas’ supporting cast will need to be better if the Mavericks are to have any shot of knocking off the Clippers. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shot 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, making multiple 3-pointers in the same game for just the fourth time in his career, so it goes without saying that one should not expect more of this from him moving forward. Plus, MKG played only eight minutes Monday night so it isn’t as if he’s locked into the rotation.
On the L.A. side of things the rotation was whole for just the 12th time this season, with the Clippers moving to 11-1 in those games. Montrezl Harrell completed quarantine after having left the bubble due to the passing of his grandmother, and he played 15 minutes (six points, two rebounds) off the bench. Harrell’s minutes will only increase as he shakes off the rust, as he did not play in any of the team’s seeding games due to the family emergency. The person most impacted by his return in the rotation was Patrick Patterson, who received the dreaded DNP-CD Monday night. Ivica Zubac will continue to be in the low-20’s as far as minutes are concerned, and in 22 minutes he tallied 10 points, 10 rebounds, one assist and two blocked shots. His work as a rebounder and shot blocker make Zubac an intriguing possibility for the right price, but it will likely be more of a gamble as Harrell’s minutes increase.
The usual suspects led the way offensively for the Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard (29/12/6/3 with one 3-pointer in 38 minutes) and Paul George (27/2/3/2 with four 3-pointers in 37 minutes) doing most of the damage. George’s right arm was under his shirt during his postgame press conference, but the All-Star wing noted that this is done for shoulder maintenance rather than any kind of injury. That being said, it would be wise to keep an eye on this moving forward. Also playing well was Marcus Morris, who in 32 minutes shot 8-of-13 from the field and tallied 19 points, six rebounds, one assist, four steals and three 3-pointers. Having been limited to seven points in a win over Denver last Wednesday, Morris is back on track offensively. Morris scored at least 15 points in each of the four games prior to that 3-of-10 effort against the Nuggets.
Los Angeles went nine deep Monday night, with Lou Williams (14/3/5/1 with two 3-pointers in 31 minutes) joining Leonard, George and Morris as the team’s 30-minute men. That leaves Landry Shamet and Terance Mann out of the rotation, and they weren’t worth the gamble in any fantasy format to begin with.