The NBA playoffs have been underway for only four days, but all manner of interesting developments are already emerging. Some teams have entered complete panic mode while others have looked more dominant than anyone expected. The path to the Finals out of each conference appears to be open for the taking, but if current trends continue, it may not stay that way for long.
Here are five way-too-early overreactions from the 2021 NBA playoffs.
Clippers pulling all fire alarms
Words can not overstate the catastrophe that occurred Tuesday night.
The Clippers traded every single one of their future assets to acquire Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the 2019 offseason. They proclaimed very publicly they were taking L.A. from the Lakers, who went on to win the 2020 NBA Finals. The Clips even scapegoated Doc Rivers for their traumatizing second-round collapse to the Nuggets in the bubble.
Fast forward to the 2021 playoffs, and L.A. has fallen down 0–2 to the Mavericks, which is the very team it tanked to face in the first round. To win the series, the Clippers will now need to win four out of their next five games, three of which will be held in a packed arena in Dallas. Whatever emergency measures head coach Tyronn Lue has up his sleeve need to be deployed immediately for his team.
If Los Angeles loses in the first round, which now appears to be likely, it will be yet another embarrassing playoff performance for a franchise that has a long history full of them. Leonard’s free agency, which is hovering in the background, could happen as early as this upcoming offseason. The Klaw is notoriously hard to read, but one has to wonder whether he could get frustrated with the team’s playoff struggles and jump ship, leaving the Clippers high and dry.
Phoenix facing trouble
Splitting their first two games with the Lakers is not terrible on paper for a young Suns team facing the defending champions. However, after suffering a right shoulder contusion in Game 1, Chris Paul does not look healthy enough to contribute. The star point guard played only six minutes in the second half of Game 2 and had trouble even removing his warmup shirt in the pregame broadcast.
With each passing game, Phoenix is also allowing Los Angeles to find a better rhythm against them. Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 57 points in Game 2, which is significantly better than their putrid Game 1 performance. L.A. even held up better defending Devin Booker, who torched it on Sunday but was held to only seven made baskets in Game 2.
The Suns have coughed up home-court advantage to the Lakers and will need to fight to reclaim it. L.A. will want to win both of its upcoming home games to put itself in the driver’s seat and avoid a Game 7 in Phoenix. Without Paul healthy, stealing a game on the road against the Lakers may be too tall of a task for the Suns.
Milwaukee excising past demons
There is a chance, albeit small, that the Bucks’ Game 1 victory over the Heat ends up being the most consequential moment of the playoffs. Milwaukee seems to have shaken off whatever lingering doubts it had about itself by outlasting Miami in a neck-and-neck game and also avoided the brutal media onslaught that would have come its way in the event of a loss.
The biggest sign of the Bucks’ turning the corner is their Game 2 demolition of the Heat. They enforced their will from the tip, moving the ball to rack up 14 assists and grabbing five offensive rebounds out of only seven missed shots in the first quarter. Milwaukee never trailed in the game, and its lead swelled to nearly 30 points by halftime.
Facing and beating handily the team that dominated them in the bubble last year could be exactly the confidence boost the Bucks need going into latter rounds of the playoffs. If it can keep the right psyche, especially in late-game situations, Milwaukee looks like the safest bet out of both conferences to make the Finals as of this moment.
Memphis looking feisty
The Grizzlies are riding an incredible wave right now. They secured the eighth seed by eliminating both the Spurs and Warriors in the play-in tournament before stealing Game 1 from a Donovan Mitchell–less Jazz team.
Memphis, although less experienced, is not a cakewalk for Utah in the first round. The Grizzlies know who they are, which is a deep, gritty team that can eke out close wins on the back of their star point guard. Even when Mitchell does return for the Jazz, Memphis knows Dillon Brooks, though he may not stop him, will be the perfect matchup for the Utah guard on defense.
Based on their recent success, the Grizzlies are making a strong case for having the best young core in the NBA. Ja Morant might not get the same hype as some other young superstars, but if he knocks off the Jazz in Round 1, he will vault himself into the conversation around the best point guards in the league.
Trae Young owning MSG
The Knicks need to find an answer for Young if they want to beat the Hawks. Their two best guards, Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley, have virtually no chance of slowing him down on defense. Even Frank Ntilikina, who seems like their best option on paper, got smoked on Atlanta’s final possession, where the 6′ 1″ guard drained a game-winning floater.
The quick answer seems to be New York getting more physical with him, but Young is so adept at drawing fouls that it would risk sending him to the free throw line every time down the floor. Double teams are a hard pill to swallow as well, because the Hawks usually have deadly shooting surrounding their point guard.
Guarding the 22-year-old All-Star seems like a near-impossible puzzle to solve for the Knicks, especially without their best rim protector, Mitchell Robinson. If Young puts on another stellar performance Wednesday night, Knicks owner James Dolan may have to officially hand over the keys to Madison Square Garden to him.