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Top Storylines from the 1st Weekend of the NBA Playoffs

The 2015 NBA Playoffs are underway and the opening weekend wasn’t disappointing. There were some tight games and some star performances. And in each series, there was the beginning of a storyline. Here’s the start of each series in 100 words or less:

Eastern Conference

No. 8 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 1 Atlanta Hawks: Team Wins

It’s not how much money you spend; it’s how well you spend it. I’m surprised more hasn’t been made of this in this series. The Hawks built a championship contender by investing in the right players. Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll all made key plays down the stretch to secure the game.

Think about this, though: The Hawks’ entire roster makes $58.3 million per Spotrac.com. Brooklyn’s three max contracts combine for $58.7 million. It’s team power over star power and it’s appropriately No. 1 vs. No. 8.

Team will win out as it did in Game 1.

No. 7 Boston Celtics vs. No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving Is Prime Time

Much was made of whether Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were ready for the playoffs. While Love had a solid game, Irving was prime time in the daytime. On Sunday afternoon he was lighting it up, hitting five three-pointers, and notching 30 points on 21 shots.

Whether he’ll be able to keep that up during the entire postseason is going to be worth monitoring, but the first impression he left is that he’s ready to make a playoff impact. He has always shown swag and he’s not buckling to the pressure now.

No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 3 Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose is Back

Derrick Rose played his first postseason game since he tore his ACL in Game 1 of the 2012 series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Three knee surgeries and 2.5 years of Windy City heartbreak later, there was a palpable sense of everything from anxiety to hope surrounding his return to the playoffs.

And it couldn’t have gone better. He was electric, charging the rim, playing efficiently, setting up his three-point shooters, making things easy for Jimmy Butler and just being his overall MVP-type self that he was before getting hurt. If he plays like this, Chicago can win it all.

No. 5. Washington Wizards vs. No. 4 Toronto Raptors: Wizards Come Up Big

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQZsAsPRTaQ

They say the playoffs don’t start until the road team wins a game. If that’s the case, only one series got started. Paul Pierce grabbed the headlines, but he wasn’t the main reason the Wizards won. They were just too big for the Raptors in their opening game, and it might not be something the Dinosaurs can adjust to.

Nene and Marcin Gortat dominated the inside. Even Drew Gooden got in on the action with 10 boards. The Wizards beat the Raps in second chance points 20-14 and were 52-44 in the paint. They won the battle of the boards 61-48.  The Wiz came up big—literally.

Western Conference

No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans vs. No. 1 Golden State Warriors: The Present vs. the Future

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPYOpDEtYx0

This was a marvelous game to watch. From a basketball perspective, it might have been the most purely entertaining game. The Golden State Warriors looked unbeatable behind the blistering theatrics of the presumptive MVP, Stephen Curry, who scored 34 points on 25 attempts. The outcome was never in doubt.

But Anthony Davis, with 35 points of his own kept willing the Pelicans back into it and kept it close. His playoff debut was tied for the sixth-best in playoff history:

That makes this one of the few times a No. 1 vs. No. 8 series is must-watch TV.

No. 7 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 2 Houston Rockets: Beware of What You Ask For

There was some serious smack talk from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban about the Houston Rockets in a Grantland interview with Kirk Goldsberry:

“There’s no more predictable team than the Rockets. You know exactly what they’re gonna do, but James Harden is so good … and James Harden, I think, is the MVP. Because that’s not a very good team over there.”

Harden and Dwight Howard combined for 35 points. The “not very good team” boasted seven double-digit scorers—four of them with 15—and the Rockets dominated the Mavericks for most of the game. Beware of what you ask for, Mr. Cuban, you might get it.

No. 6. Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 3 San Antonio Spurs: Blake Griffin Is Ready to Be a Superstar

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMIadEvl_R8

The question that a number of people have asked, and the way the Clippers’ postseason has been portrayed, is whether Chris Paul can win and take them past the second round. That’s a bit of a red herring. The real question is whether Blake Griffin can step up and play the role of a second superstar in the playoffs.

And in Game 1, that was answered resoundingly in the affirmative. Griffin had 25 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and three steals. Per Basketball-Reference.com, since at least 1985, the only player to match those stats was his counterpart in Game 1: Tim Duncan.

No. 5. Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers: Death on the Oregon Trail

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgL7wOKVZKQ

Remember the “Oregon Trail” game? It seems appropriate after Game 1 of the series to add, “You were mauled to death by a grizzly bear” to the ways you can die playing it.

LaMarcus Aldridge was the heroic last man of the party, shooting at bears and anything else. His 21 missed shots were the most in nine years in the playoffs. But he was still more efficient than the rest of his team. Portland needs someone else to step up. Paging Damian Lillard.

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