The first round of the NBA Playoffs has been everything we expected. There have been upsets, individual heroics and some late drama that the NBA delivers on such a frequent basis.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the NBA without a little bit of a pettiness, too. Lance Stephenson and LeBron James showed plenty of that on Sunday night, just as the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers have throughout their series.
We picked five of the best moments from the first round so far…
The Return of Embiid
Joel Embiid’s orbital fracture saw him miss the final few games of the regular season. While an exact return date was never given, there were suggestions that the towering centre could return for Game Two. He did not – and was not happy about being ‘babied’ as he posted on his Instagram – but he was back on the court for Game Three.
The two games played in Philadelphia were split. Embiid’s return to action was timely. Just like he’d never been away, the Sixers won the two games in Miami. Unsurprisingly, the former third overall pick was in the middle of a few spicy moments.
Despite attempts to break his mask from the Heat, Embiid dominated the paint in Games Two and Three, sinking two vital buckets in the fourth quarter of Game Two. The Sixers are still outsiders for the title at 12/1, mind.
Blazers’ Magic Duo Quietened
Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum drew plaudits for Portland’s remarkable run in the second half of the regular season. The Trail Blazers defied predictions to make the third seed thanks to a string of MVP-type performances from the duo, particularly Lillard.
They believe they’re the best backcourt in the league and were determined to make a run this postseason. The matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans looked favourable, too, with DeMarcus Cousins sidelined. It all went so very wrong, though, as Portland were swept with Lillard and McCollum completely outplayed by Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday.
No one backed the Pelicans to win this in four. While Lillard and McCollum largely disappointed, the credit must go to Anthony Davis and his superb supporting cast, who have set up a second round matchup with none other than the championship favourites, the Golden State Warriors.
LeBron Drops 46 In Game Two
LeBron James isn’t meant to lose playoff games, let alone in Game One. Indiana, inspired by the brilliant Victor Oladipo, took the first of the series against LeBron’s Cavaliers. Cleveland’s coach, Ty Lue, demanded greater aggression from LeBron, and he delivered that in Game Two.
The Cavs had a 15-point lead after the first quarter. Indiana fought back to make it a three-point game by the end, but the game was all about the four-time MVP. LeBron finished with 46 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
The series sits at 2-2 after a pair of close fought games over the weekend. While Cleveland are still at risk of being eliminated, had LeBron not delivered in Game Two it would be so much bleaker.
Toronto FINALLY End Game One Curse
The Toronto Raptors won their first ever opening game of the NBA Playoffs. Their record in Game Ones has been appalling, having not one a Game One in any round of the Playoffs since 2001.
Beating the Washington Wizards to open the series was key to stop those questions but getting the upper hand in the series at home was equally significant. Although the Wizards guarded the All-Star pair of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan well, Serge Ibaka and Delon Wright stepped up, combining for 41 points.
A pair of Washington home wins has this series beautifully balanced at 2-2. That Game One win looks all the more important now, as do the contributions from guys other than Lowry and DeRozan. Toronto will need more of that if they are to make a deep run into the Playoffs. They are now the 27/20 favourites to win the Eastern Conference.
Jazz Put Thunder In Trouble Once Again
Donovan Mitchell has been doing the remarkable all season. The beginning of the playoffs didn’t change that, as the Rookie of the Year candidate dropped 27 points in his first postseason game. The Jazz star followed that with 28 in Game Two and 22 in Game Three as Utah took a 2-1 lead over Russell Westbrook’s Thunder.
No rookie since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has scored more points in their first two playoff games than Mitchell, including Michael Jordan. His performances carried Utah to the playoffs, now he’s got them to 1/4 favourites to progress to the second round, despite facing an Oklahoma City team including three of the sport’s biggest names.
This series is delivering on its potential to be an epic. The 11/5 price on over 6.5 games is one of the best in all of the NBA markets at the moment.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*