Saturday Surprise: Lower seeds win three of four games to kick-off playoffs


Apr 19, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Brooklyn Nets forward

Kevin Garnett

(2) celebrates a basket with guard

Shaun Livingston

(14) against the Toronto Raptors in game one during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. The Nets beat the Raptors 94-87. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA playoffs are pretty well known for not producing a ton of early round upsets, save for the historical 8-over-1 seed surprises, which are very few and very far between. But it was easy to go through all 8 first round match-ups in this year’s bracket and pick exactly zero “upsets”.

But on Saturday, the 2013-14 playoffs began with a trio of unexpected results. Some were more surprising than others; a number of people have picked the veteran-laden, sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets to defeat the upstart, third-seeded Toronto Raptors. In a closely-contested Game 1, the Nets surged ahead at the end of the contest and stole home court advantage away from Dwayne Casey’s squad.

The second game of the day was the much-anticipated Golden State Warriors-Los Angeles Clippers battle royale. The Warriors were unable to sink a field goal attempt until the 7:37 mark (!) of the first quarter, and found themselves behind 12-1 before the offense started clicking like we’ve come to expect from Stephen Curry and Co. This game was defined by whistles early on, with Blake Griffin ultimately only playing 19 minutes in the entire game due to early foul trouble and eventually, his disqualification after a sixth foul.

Andre Iguodala also fouled out, and Chris Paul was whistled for five personal fouls. There was a brief stretch late in the first half in which the Warriors’ front court was manned by Hilton Armstrong and Marreese Speights. Not exactly a playoff-worthy duo. When it was all said and done, however, and Warriors used a 35-point third quarter to propel themselves to a 109-105 victory in the hostile environment of Staples Center.

In the most shocking turn of events of the day, the previously 38-44 Atlanta Hawks, the only sub-.500 team to squeak into the postseason, went into the raucous environment of Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and jumped out to a 14-point lead on the Pacers through three quarters. They withstood an expected fourth quarter surge from Indiana, ultimately completing a 101-93 victory, falling in line with the common theme of the day while snatching home court advantage away from the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The still-Al Horford-less Hawks enjoyed a 25-point, 8-rebound performance by the fantastic Paul Millsap, and a 28-point, 5-assist game from point guard Jeff Teague. One of the more impressive facets of the win from Atlanta’s perspective had to have been that Kyle Korver shot just 2 of 7 from long range, Louis Williams only added 6 points in 18 minutes off the bench, and Elton Brand scored exactly zero points in 20 minutes and the Hawks still had a good offensive showing.

The Pacers were simply uneven for the entire tilt. Paul George‘s line is nice (24 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks, and just 2 turnovers in 41 minutes), but he shot just 6 of 18 from the field. Roy Hibbert added just 8 points and 8 rebounds while turning the ball over 4 times in 30 minutes of playing time.

In an interesting twist, Evan Turner was the top performer off the bench scoring 9 points on 4 of 6 shooting and adding 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Turner has been generally awful in a Pacers uniform, of course, but played essentially the role that Indiana’s brain trust expected out of him when he was acquired just prior to the trade deadline.

The Pacers continued their precipitous slide, from “maybe better than Miami!” to “they could easily lose to a sub-.500 eight-seed!”. I tend to think that they’ll pull it together, and although it may take six or even seven games, they should be able to push past the Hawks. But make no mistake, Atlanta just made things a whole lot more interesting.

And finally, the Oklahoma City Thunder capped off the day of hoops by jumping out to a 29-16 lead after one quarter and a 56-34 halftime lead over the Memphis Grizzlies. They withstood a 31-13 third quarter surge by the visitors by outscoring them by ten points in the final frame en route to a 100-86 victory.

Kevin Durant was spectacular, scoring 33 points while adding 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Russell Westbrook was also incredible, putting up 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. Mike Conley did a solid job overall for Memphis, but ended up having to play too large of a second half role with both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol struggling from the floor, ultimately combining to shoot just 14 of 40 on the evening.

Looking back on Saturday’s slate of games, the Pacers loss to the Hawks is easily the biggest shock, followed closely by the Warriors going into L.A. and outlasting Doc Rivers‘ crew. But clearly, one game isn’t enough to really tell us much of anything about the rest of the first round. Anything could still happen, and I’d still roll with the Clippers and Pacers winning their respective series.

At this point, you’d have to give a slight edge to the Nets in their match-up against Toronto, but it’s still pretty close to a tossup. And the Thunder should be able to dispatch of Memphis in five games at most.

Today, we look forward to another full day of Game Ones. Dallas will visit San Antonio at 12:00 CT on TNT to kick off the day, followed by Charlotte at Miami at 2:30 CT in the only ABC-televised game of the day. The day finishes with another pair of TNT games, with Washington at Chicago at 6:00 CT and Portland at Houston in the nightcap at 8:30 CT.

The most captivating games are the first and last of the bunch. There still is something unexciting about seeing Charlotte and Washington in the playoffs, but maybe that’s the Wolves fan in me being a bit Grinchy.

We’ll have another recap back here tomorrow, discussing Sunday’s games as well as previewing all of the Game Twos that will be on tap. Have a Happy Easter, and enjoy the day!