With the NBA playoffs having kicked off this past weekend, we were served a stark reminder: it’s not how you perform, it’s when you perform.
Legends are made during the playoffs and heroes are often exposed as zeroes. After two full days of dramatic action, Basketball Insiders presents the Studs and Duds of Week 1.
At the end of the day, winning matters more than anything else, so do not expect homage to be paid to a player whose team came up on the short end of the stick.
#5. MASAI UJIRI (TORONTO RAPTORS)
At one point or another, most general managers across the league would like to pick up the phone, give a call to a rival and drop a few four-letter bombs. But wanting to do it is different from actually doing it.
Although Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri did not direct any profane language toward the Brooklyn Nets organization, he did make it known to the world that he wasn’t entirely in a New York State of Mind when the two teams began their playoff series on Saturday. For those who missed it, Ujiri screamed “F**K BROOKLYN” while addressing fans prior to Saturday’s game between the Nets and Raptors.
Ujiri may not be fond of Brooklyn or of the Nets, but adding fuel to the already capable fire burning inside of Paul Pierce and the rest of the Nets is not a wise thing for the general manager of a team to do, especially when his team is depending on quite a few players who have no prior playoff experience.
It may be funny, but it certainly was not smart.
Come on, Masai!
#4. DEMAR DEROZAN (TORONTO RAPTORS)
Fresh off of his first NBA All-Star appearance, DeMar DeRozan led the upstart Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors into their Game 1 battle against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday.
Fortunately for DeRozan, he has at least three more opportunities to make his Game 1 performance a distant memory.
Jonas Valanciunas—also playing in his first career playoff game—tallied an impressive 17-point, 18-rebound double-double while Kyle Lowry turned in a solid 22-point, seven-rebound, eight-assist performance.
DeRozan seemed to force the action and press a bit, looking out of sorts fairly consistently over the course of his 37 minutes. In the end, he managed to shoot just 3-for-13 and score 14 points. As his team’s top gun, he will have to find a way to remain effective and overcome the solid perimeter defense from the likes of Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson.
If not, the Raptors may very soon become extinct.
#3. JAMAL CRAWFORD (LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS)
In theory, the Los Angeles Clippers scored enough points to win their Game 1 matchup against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, but their 109-105 loss ceded home court advantage to a team that has one of the most passionate and raucous fan bases in the entire league.
The Clippers needed five more points to escape Game 1 with a victory, and with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot just 13-for-36, it was a victory that the Clippers should have gotten.
Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan committed six and seven turnovers, respectively, and Blake Griffin fouled out in just 19 minutes of action.
The Clippers needed Crawford to come through for them more than ever. Instead, he shot just 2-for-11, scored nine points and spent some of the game’s most important minutes on the bench.
As the series progresses, Paul will turn the ball over less and Griffin will probably manage to stay out of foul trouble, but if Crawford cannot give the Clippers closer to the 18.6 points he averaged per game during the regular season, the Warriors may be the ones sailing into the second round.
#2. THE DALLAS MAVERICKS’ OFFENSE
Somehow, the Dallas Mavericks seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on Sunday afternoon. With 7:45 remaining in the contest, Brandan Wright’s “and-1” gave the Mavericks an 81-71 lead over the San Antonio Spurs and it seemed as though Dirk Nowitzki’s team would pull off the upset and snatch home court advantage from their longtime rivals.
And then, they didn’t.
Tony Parker came alive, the Spurs’ effort intensified and the Mavericks would go 0-for-12 over the final eight minutes of the game. Devin Harris’ layup with 0.9 seconds remaining in the game broke the drought, but did little to affect the outcome of the game, as the Mavericks were outscored 19-4 over the game’s final eight minutes and lost, 90-85.
#1. THE INDIANA PACERS
Granted, the Indiana Pacers have been struggling over the past few weeks of the regular season, but after having gone 35-6 over the course of the regular season and working tirelessly to secure home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Pacers would take care of business against the listless Atlanta Hawks, right?
Just like the Hawks did back on April 6, they waltzed into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and dominated the Pacers, exploiting uncharacteristically porous defense en route to a somewhat shocking 101-93 Game 1 victory.
David West and Paul George combined for just 32 points on 10-for-28 shooting and were severely outperformed by the duo of Jeff Teague (28 points, five assists) and Paul Millsap (25 points, eight rebounds).
With the loss, including the regular season, the Pacers are 11-14 over their last 25 games.
For a team that came into the season with championship aspirations, the Pacers are unraveling and should no longer be looking ahead to a conference finals showdown with Miami, because there is a lot of basketball to be played before then.
#5. JEFF TEAGUE (ATLANTA HAWKS)
Leading his Atlanta Hawks to a Game 1 victory in Indiana merits accolades from us. The Hawks have been as inconsistent a team as we can remember, but they have entered the playoffs on a relatively high note and have suddenly stolen home court advantage from the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
Teague did his part, slicing and dicing the Pacers’ perimeter defense en route to scoring a playoff career-high 28 points. He led the Hawks to their first road playoff win in three years and suddenly has everyone who penned a Pacers-Miami HEAT battle for the Eastern Conference Finals thinking twice.
#4. DWYANE WADE (MIAMI HEAT)
Say what you want about Dwyane Wade, but if he can play nearly as effectively as he did on Sunday when the Miami HEAT tamed the Charlotte Bobcats by a final score of 99-88, it will be difficult for any team in the Eastern Conference to stop the HEAT from making their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
Despite missing 28 total games and playing in just four of their final 15, Wade was phenomenal on Sunday, shooting an efficient 10-for-16 from the field. With his 23 points and five assists, Wade made strong dives to the rim, finished in the paint and nailed a few step back jumpers.
Physically, it is obvious that he is not 100 percent, but if he can string together these types of performances, it is difficult to imagine the HEAT losing.
#3. JOE JOHNSON (BROOKLYN NETS)
Though a few notches below the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, Joe Johnson has spent the better part of the last decade being overlooked as one of the game’s best scorers. Since January 1, the Nets have turned their season around and Johnson has been amazingly efficient.
Over the final 18 games of the regular season, Johnson shot 50 percent from the field, including 43 percent from three-point territory.
In Saturday’s 94-87 Game 1 win at the Toronto Raptors, he shot 8-for-13 from the field en route to a team-high 24 points. With eight rebounds and four assists, Johnson also led the team with 44 minutes played and put on an all-around scoring display that helped the Nets escape Toronto with Game 1 in tow.
#2. TIM DUNCAN (SAN ANTONIO SPURS)
We are utterly convinced that Tim Duncan will be playing at a high-level until he is fossil fuel. Another playoff game, another amazing performance. Offensively, Duncan’s 12-for-20 shooting and 27-point, seven-rebound effort was instrumental in the San Antonio Spurs stealing Game 1 from the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday afternoon, but it was also Duncan’s defensive rotations, lane clogging and boxing out that contributed to the Mavericks scoring just four points over the game’s final eight minutes.
Although he took a nasty spill during the course of the game, Duncan turned in a very efficient 37 minutes. If he can play anywhere near that level over the course of the next 15-20 games for his Spurs, they will almost certainly have an opportunity to avenge the bitter defeat they experienced in last season’s NBA Finals.
#1. LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE AND DAMIAN LILLARD (PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS)
The top two performances of the weekend came in the best game of the weekend. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard refused to lose Game 1 of their series against the Houston Rockets.
Aldridge scored 19 of his 46 points in the game’s fourth quarter, including an overtime-forcing tip-in with just 2.9 seconds remaining in the game. He added 18 rebounds. Aldridge fouled out with just over a minute remaining in the overtime period, and it is there that Lillard—playing in his first career playoff game—took over.
Lillard scored five points inside of the game’s final minute and ended up with 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
For this colossal connection, it was an epic performance. That it came in a win was inspiring. That it came in a road win is amazing.
After what Lillard has shown over his first two years in the NBA, and with such an auspicious and inspiring playoff debut, we pose a very serious question… Which NBA point guard of this generation entered the league more ready?
Have feedback? Want to nominate a Stud or Dud for next week? Drop a question in Moke Hamilton’s Weekly NBA Chat, held each Friday, or send him a Tweet, @MokeHamilton. We value your feedback!
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