The opening weekend of the NBA playoffs is always one of the most exciting times on the league calendar, and the 2022 postseason got underway Saturday in typical fashion.
The four series openers began with a pair of lower-seeded teams stealing home-court advantage with Game 1 upsets, as the Jazz topped the Mavericks in Dallas and the Timberwolves stunned the Grizzlies in Memphis.
Then a couple championship hopefuls got breakout performances from young guards as Tyrese Maxey scored 38 points to lead the Sixers past the Raptors and Jordan Poole had 30 points to lift the Warriors over the Nuggets.
Sunday promises even more excitement with four more series openers.
The league-leading Suns look to continue their dominance against the Pelicans. The defending-champion Bucks start their road to a repeat against the Bulls. And the Celtics and Nets tip-off in what might be the most interesting series of the first round.
SATURDAY RECAP: Warriors and Sixers roll, Jazz and Wolves steal home-court
FEEL THE HEAT: Nine stars facing the most pressure in the NBA playoffs
Follow along with USA TODAY Sports throughout the day for live updates and analysis from all of Sunday’s action:
The bad news for the Atlanta Hawks: they had their worst shooting first-quarter of the season, going 3-for-17 from the field against Miami. The good news: the Hawks trailed just 23-17 after the opening quarter. As expected, Hawks forward John Collins returned to action for the first time since March 11.
Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins, who hasn’t played since March 11 with foot and finger injuries, is expected to play in against Miami Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference series. Hawks coach Nate McMillan called Collins a game-time decision. Atlanta center Clint Capela, who injured his knee in a play-in game, is out indefinitely but could return later in the series.
The Brooklyn Nets have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, two of the most gifted offensive players in the league. So it’s understandable one would think the Nets have a chance against the Boston Celtics in their Eastern Conference first-round series. But if you’ve been paying attention, you know the Celtics have been the best team in the East for the past three-plus months and the best defensive team in the NBA for the entire season. The Celtics are too good on both sides of the ball with All-NBA players (Jayson Tatum), All-Defensive players (Marcus Smart) and one of the game’s most underappreciated players (Jaylen Brown). The Celtics are just a better all-around team. Pick: Celtics 113, Nets 103.
— Jeff Zillgitt
The Phoenix Suns earned their 63rd win against the Los Angeles Lakers last week, a franchise record that was overshadowed by the Lakers’ elimination from the play-in tournament.
When a media outlet omitted the Suns’ historic feat in favor of the Lakers’ defeat, Devin Booker took it as a slight. “How bout ‘Suns just set franchise record for W’s,’ ” he wrote.
It’s nothing new. The Suns have grown accustomed to snubs.
Despite being the leader of a team that finished with an NBA-best 64-18 record, Booker isn’t getting much MVP love. Mikal Bridges isn’t universally considered the top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. And the Suns certainly aren’t considered overwhelming favorites to win their first NBA title among the NBA punditry.
“We feel like it’s us against the world,” Bridges said. “And we love it.”
— Cydney Henderson
The New Orleans Pelicans are easily the most feel-good team in the NBA playoffs. They got out to a horrendous 1-12 start for first-year coach Willie Green. And would-be franchise savior Zion Williamson hasn’t played a game this season because of a foot injury. Their second-best player, Brandon Ingram, was limited to 55 games because of injuries.
But the Pelicans grabbed the final playoff spot in the Western Conference when they beat the L.A. Clippers 105-101 in the play-in game on Friday. Their reward: a meeting with the Suns, the team with the league’s best record.
For a long while, it looked like Friday would be the end of the road for the Pelicans. They were down 84-74 to start the fourth quarter. But Ingram led them back with some big baskets in the final quarter following an inspirational speech by Green, who told them they had been through too much to let something like a 10-point deficit get in their way.