NBA Playoffs: Round One Analysis and Recap

Playoff opponents and former teammates, Nets’ guard Kyrie Irving and Celtics’ forward Jayson Tatum.
Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

Playoff opponents and former teammates, Nets’ guard Kyrie Irving and Celtics’ forward Jayson Tatum. Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

As the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs has come to a close, here’s a quick recap of everything that’s happened so far (and what we can expect moving forward).

Celtics vs. Nets
The series between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets was easily the most complex of the first round, of course, besides the competitiveness and intensity of the games themselves. Most people point to Nets guard Kyrie Irving leaving the Celtics a couple of years earlier as a subject for debate. There was also an ongoing issue with Nets guard/forward Ben Simmons and whether or not he would be able to return from a back injury in time to participate in the series.

In the end, the Celtics caught a hot streak and swept the Nets in four games. Celtics star Jayson Tatum averaged 29.5 points per game during the series, while Nets star Kevin Durant averaged 26.3 points. “No regrets,” Durant told interviewers regarding his first time being swept in the playoffs. “No [point] crying over spilled milk. It’s about how we can progress and get better from here.”

Heat vs. Hawks
The Miami Heat took down the Atlanta Hawks in a decisive five-game series, despite facing some injuries. The Heat’s starting forward, Jimmy Butler, averaged 30.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game throughout the series, although he sat out for the final game due to a right knee injury. Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young averaged 15.4 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game.

One of the crucial factors to the Heat’s win in this series was their impeccable defense. Despite facing the dangerous offense of Young, they managed to hold him to single-digit points in two games. After losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2019-2020 Finals, the Heat are hoping to make a major comeback this season.

Bucks vs. Bulls
The reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks beat the Chicago Bulls in five hard-fought games. The Bucks’ star forward, Giannis Antetokounmpo, averaged 28.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game in this series. Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan averaged 20.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game.

The Bulls made a statement this season, starting off hot before settling into the sixth seed in the East. Despite this playoff push, it wasn’t nearly enough to beat the Bucks. Giannis is a candidate for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, looking to score his third MVP and back-to-back Finals wins. With multiple new challengers to face on the way, only time will tell whether or not the Bucks can secure a repeat victory.

Sixers vs. Raptors
The Philadelphia 76ers, led by star center and MVP candidate, Joel Embiid, defeated the Toronto Raptors in a six-game series. Embiid averaged 26.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, while Raptors forward Pascal Siakam averaged 22.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game.

The last time the Sixers faced the Raptors in a playoff series was in 2019 when the Raptors won with a legendary buzzer-beater, and they would go on to take home the championship title. Embiid was able to symbolically get his revenge in this series, where he got his own buzzer-beater win in Game three.

Suns vs. Pelicans
The former Conference Champion Phoenix Suns beat the New Orleans Pelicans in six games. After Suns guard Devin Booker was forced to the sidelines due to an injury, veteran point guard Chris Paul stepped up to finish the series. Paul averaged 22.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 11.3 assists per game in the series. Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram averaged 27 points, six rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game.

The Suns are looking for a second chance at the title after a tough loss to the Bucks in last year’s Finals. They were able to finish the season with the number one seed in the West with 64 wins and 18 losses. Clearly, the Suns hope to prove that their previous Finals appearance was not just for show.

Grizzlies vs. Timberwolves
The Memphis Grizzlies/Minnesota Timberwolves series was one of tight wins and trash talk galore. The two young teams, led by guard Ja Morant and center Karl-Anthony Towns, respectively, had a lot to prove going into the playoffs. The Grizzlies finished the regular season with the second seed in the Western Conference after a standout season from Morant. The Timberwolves hold the much lower seventh seed, but they’ve made a name for themselves through multiple high-scoring games (from Towns and others) and smart plays.

The Grizzlies managed to get the upper hand, however, after multiple blown leads by the Timberwolves, taking the win in six games. Morant averaged 21.5 points, while Towns averaged 21.8. When asked about how the team would prepare for a second-round game against the Warriors in a little over a day, Morant said, “Go to sleep, wake up in the morning, travel, and then lock in for the game.”

Warriors vs. Nuggets
The Golden State Warriors, who are certainly no strangers to the playoffs in the 2010s, sent the Denver Nuggets home in five games. Star point guard for the Warriors, Stephen Curry averaged 28 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game during the series. Nuggets center and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic averaged 31 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. Jokic is also coming off of an MVP season from last year.

Interestingly enough, Curry came off the bench for most of these games. Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr made the decision to ease him back into play after recovering from an injury just before the series. In his place, 22-year-old Jordan Poole started in his postseason debut. Poole averaged 21 points throughout the series with 30 points in Game one and near-30-point games in Games two and three.

Mavericks vs. Jazz
The Dallas Mavericks, with star guard/forward Luka Doncic, eliminated the Utah Jazz from playoff contention in six games. Doncic was injured at the beginning of the series, leading to the Mavs’ Jalen Brunson stepping up with 41 points in Game two. Doncic averaged 29 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in the series. Donovan Mitchell, starting guard for the Jazz, averaged 25.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists.

Much drama has surrounded the Jazz in this series, with fans questioning the chemistry between Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert. With both teams having had disappointing playoff runs last season, the Mavs look ready to prove themselves against the league’s best.

Season Awards
Currently, the winners of the NBA Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY), Rookie of the Year (ROTY), Most Improved Player (MIP), and Sixth Man of the Year (SMOY) awards have been revealed.

Marcus Smart, the starting point guard for the Celtics, won the DPOY award, beating out the runners-up Mikal Bridges and Rudy Gobert. Smart averaged 12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game during the regular season. He also averaged 1.7 steals and had a +/- of 6.2. Smart is only the second guard to win the DPOY award in the history of the awards existence and the first guard to win it since Gary Payton in 1996. In honor of this achievement, Smart was presented the award by Payton.

The winner of the ROTY award was Raptors forward Scottie Barnes. He was nominated for contention next to fellow rookies Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Barnes averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game with an average field goal percentage of 49.2%. Hall of Famer Vince Carter first declared Barnes the winner, with him being the last Raptors player to win ROTY during the 1998-1999 season.

The Grizzlies’ All-Star guard, Ja Morant, won the MIP award. Morant averaged 19.1 points, four rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game during the 2020-2021 season on a field goal percentage of 44.9%. This season, he averaged 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game on a 49.3% field goal percentage. Morant was drafted with the second pick by the Grizzlies in 2019 and won the Rookie of the Year award, but he wouldn’t get his first All-Star appearance until this season.

Tyler Herro, a 22 year-old guard for the Heat, was declared the SMOY. Herro averaged 20.7 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game. He seems to be considered a starting-caliber talent by many fans. Nonetheless, Herro has settled comfortably into his role coming off the bench, and the results certainly speak for themselves.

Second Round and Beyond
In the Eastern Conference, the Sixers face off against the Heat, and the Celtics take on the Bucks. Over in the Western Conference, the Warriors are against the Grizzlies, and the Mavericks battle the Suns.

With much more playoff action left to be seen, will the Bucks go for a repeat win, can the Suns come back for a second chance, or will we see an entirely new Finals series?