Short of perhaps Game 1 of the NBA Finals (and every NBA Finals game thereafter), there might not be any time over the course of a season where fans are more jacked up than they are for Game 1 of the first round. With 16 teams still in the mix and nothing but optimism for fans of all of them, social media is ablaze on the first weekend of postseason games, and with good cause.
The first eight games played this past weekend included three that were decided by just 4 points of fewer, and two of those were decided by last-second shots. All of this says nothing of the two massive upsets in the Eastern Conference and the battle of potential MVPs out West. That first batch of games was fun for just about everybody (well, almost everybody), which brings us to the concept for the following one-day awards.
Over the weekend, Moke Hamilton wrote an opinion piece stating that postseason awards should be doled out with the playoffs taken into consideration. While that won’t happen any time soon, these are the Game 1 postseason awards, featuring the MVP, the top head coach, the best defensive player, the most improved player compared to the regular season, and the top rookie from the opening weekend of the playoffs.
It’s just one game, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to debate. Here they are, the top dogs from the opening weekend of the postseason:
Most Improved Player – Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls – After the Taj Gibson trade, Portis saw a predictable uptick in minutes for Chicago, but his 19 points and nine rebounds in Game 1 was easily one of the better games of his season. While he’s certainly proven capable of hauling in double-digit rebounds in his expanded role, he only has scored more than 19 points twice all season. His three 3-pointers tied a season high, too, and it’s worth noting that he didn’t miss a shot after halftime. Along with Jimmy Butler, he was a huge reason for Chicago’s big Game 1 upset, and while Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg does not plan to thrust him into the starting lineup for Game 2, it seems clear he’s earned himself a big role in future games, especially if he can keep this up.
Rookie of the Game 1 – Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks – Rookies don’t often get opportunities to make a difference in the postseason, mostly because the best of them typically play for the league’s worst teams. This year is especially barren of young talent considering how weak the rookie crop was anyway. In fact, only three rookies played more than 22 minutes in Game 1: Wayne Selden, Taurean Prince and actual Rookie of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon.
Brogdon played more minutes than any of them, though, and his 16 points helped fuel the Bucks to a surprising Game 1 victory over the heavily-favored Toronto Raptors. He led all rookies in minutes, points, rebounds and assists in Game 1, which makes this a particularly easy call to make. Quite easily, he was the best rookie in the playoffs this past weekend, and only Prince came anywhere close to matching him.
Defensive Player of the Game 1 – Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – After the Warriors wiped out the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr asked media what player in the league could do what Green has just done in Game 1, blocking away five shots and swiping away three steals, to go along with his other standard traditional numbers. It wasn’t just the numbers, though, as much as it was the way he acquired those statistics. The Noah Vonleh block was ridiculous and came at a pivotal time in the third quarter, with the Warriors up only by a single point. The lead was a little bigger in the fourth quarter when he completely embarrassed Damian Lillard at the rim, but his presence at the rim in that instance was no less impressive. The guy is active, aggressive, and capable of defending pretty much anybody on the floor at any time.
He may finally, mercifully get the regular season Defensive Player of the Year this season, but even if he doesn’t he sure as hell earned it in Game 1 of the playoffs. He’s everything we miss about basketball in the 1980s, and his aggression and drive are only going to help keep the playoffs interesting for the next couple of months.
Coach of the Game 1 – Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz – Synder could win this award just by virtue of winning Game 1 on the road after losing his best defensive player on the first play of the game. Having Rudy Gobert is (practically) essential for dealing with elite bigs like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and to lose an All-Defensive First Teamer and likely All-NBA center within 15 seconds of the tipoff and still keeping his team’s head in the game en route to a win is deeply, sincerely commendable.
Snyder doesn’t win this award simply for engineering an unexpected upset, though. By that criteria Hoiberg would be in this conversation, too, but he’s not.
The difference is in how Snyder handled the end of the game. It was brilliant to abstain from calling a timeout after the Clippers scored to tie the game with right around five seconds left in regulation. A lot of coaches would have called timeout in that situation to draw up a play and try to concoct the highest-percentage shot possible. Instead, Snyder refrained from calling that timeout, leaving L.A.’s offensively-gifted-yet-defensively-challenged lineup on the court to defend that Joe Johnson game winner. Those guys couldn’t handle Iso Joe, clearly, which is why he earned that last shot so effortlessly, and Snyder deserves a lot of the credit there for his headiness in managing the game’s final moments so artfully.
Most Valuable Player – James Harden, Houston Rockets – If the Boston Celtics had won, Isaiah Thomas would have won this award. To come out and drop in 33 points, dish out six assists and grab five rebounds after going through what he had gone through in the 36 hours leading up to the game was amazing by any measure. C.J. McCollum’s 41-point outing against the Warriors also may have been the most impressive offensive showing of any Game 1, but again, he and the Blazers fell apart in the fourth quarter.
That leaves Harden, who easily took Round 1 of the MVP title bout between himself and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
Things started off pretty slowly for Harden in that game, actually, as he clanged (or even airballed) a lot of his early shot attempts, but by the time the game was over and Houston had asserted themselves in a 31-point victory over the Thunder, Harden had found his groove. Offensively, he looked so measured and composed while defenders flipped and flopped all over the court thanks to his start-stops, hops and drop-backs. It was a ballet out there, and Harden was the star of the show in an incredibly easy win. If the real awards were chosen after the postseason, as Moke Hamilton would prefer, it would have been a gigantic tick in the “Harden” column.
Of course, there is a whole lot of basketball left to play, and with so many legendary postseason athletes left off this list, it’s fairly certain that there will be shakeups, except perhaps when it comes to Rookie of the Year.
Whatever happens, it’s been an incredibly entertaining playoffs so far, and it’s only going to get better from here.
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