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Court Vision: Playoff lessons and future Sat 4/19

By Matt Moore | NBA writer

It's time. (USATSI)
The Hawks were bad news for Larry Bird and the Pacers on Saturday. (USATSI)

More Playoffs: Schedule | Machine | Previews: East | West | Picks

Here's what we learned from the playoffs on Sat., April 19, as well as a look ahead to Sunday's games.

So much for "the best team wins most of the time." Maybe that's true but "best" didn't mean the higher seed Saturday as three of the road teams, all lower seeds, won Game 1 to take home-court advantage in their best of seven series.

Maybe it was just matchups. Maybe it was just rust. Or maybe home-court advantage, more than ever, is irrelevant in an NBA with very few intimidating environments. After all, the only home win of the day was in OKC behind one of the best crowds in the league. With games Sunday in San Antonio, Miami, Houston and Chicago, it presents a mixed slate to test the theory.

Nowhere was the home-court advantage more irrelevant than Indiana where the Hawks, the butt of so many jokes coming into the playoffs, knocked off the Pacers in impressive fashion. The story will be about Indiana's internal implosion, but it takes two to tango, and Atlanta brought a great game plan and terrific execution to the Fieldhouse.

The Pacers' defense is geared around protecting the paint and collapsing as much as possible to deter everything at the rim, forcing jumpers and running off threes. But to do so, they can't extend to the perimeter. And Atlanta effectively went five-out, using Pero Antic, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver to pace the offense. Thirty of the Hawks' 76 field-goal attempts were threes. And when the Pacers tried to adjust, that opened up diving lanes to the rim.

It's only one game, but while everyone hyper-examines what's going on in the heads of the Pacers, it might be good to recognize what coach Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks showed Saturday. Matchups, game plan and execution matter.

• For more on the Pacers' misery, read Zach Harper's take on their expectations.

Saturday was the first time three road teams had won a Game 1 in the same day since April 18, 2009. Before that it was 1996.

The Pacers' offense was bad, but their defense was worse. Their starting unit was plus-11.7 per 100 possessions in 19 minutes, but still gave up a 101.6 rating. They can't live with that.

The Pacers should probably try Chris Copeland next game.

• We learned that sometimes, bizarre things can happen. The Warriors won a game in which Stephen Curry had more shots than points, in which the Clippers took 10 more free throws, in which the Warriors had more turnovers and fewer offensive rebounds. None of that makes sense, but there it is. They were without their best interior defender in Andrew Bogut due to injury and their best perimeter defender in Andre Iguodala due to foul trouble.

• And they won.

• If you want to point to one guy, point to Draymond Green. With Green on the floor, the Warriors' allowed 78.4 points per 100 possessions against arguably the best offense in the league. That's unbelievable. Green was instrumental in the Warriors taking control of the series, as the Clippers shot 33 percent with him on the floor.

• On the flip side, the Clippers were plus-36 per 100 possessions with Chris Paul on the floor. He rested 12 minutes. In those 12 minutes, they were minus-40 per 100 possessions. In short, the Clippers lost the game when Paul sat.

• Though Blake Griffin was plus-nine in just 19 minutes, so there's an argument there as well.

• Darren Collison was bad ovrerall but had some amazing defense in the fourth vs. Curry.

• Jamal Crawford being a disaster was a huge blow for the Clippers. They just couldn't produce the kind of offense they needed to with Crawford cold and J.J. Redick on restricted minutes.

• We learned Sege Ibaka has become an outright beast. Ibaka was vulnerable when the two teams first met in 2011, falling for pump-fakes and getting bulldozed. He was overwhelmed with the responsibility in 2013. But he has developed into a stronger, better player, and his impact on both ends was huge Saturday.

• For more on the Thunder and how having Russell Westbrook changes this series, here's more from Royce Young.

• Memphis made a run in the second half, but they also didn't sub starters for an entire quarter. When asked if it exhausted them and they ran out of gas, Memphis coach Dave Joerger said "No question."

• We learned Tuff Juice can still dunk.

• We learned Masai Ujiri has a potty mouth.

• We learned Paul Piece still has it.

• We learned Jonas Valanciunas is going to be vital for the Raptors. Without him on the floor, the Raptors didn't grab a single offensive rebound. They have to dominate on the offensive glass.

• Also, his defense is hilarious.

• Deron Williams still has the ability to take over a game. He struggled for much of this season and exploded Saturday. If Williams can play like that, it's a game changer for Brooklyn.

Tomorrow's questions, today

Mavericks at Spurs, Game 1, 1 p.m. ET: Can the Mavs stop the Spurs? I don't mean overall I mean for a single possession. Like, will the Spurs literally score on every trip? Because this seems possible. How will the Spurs defend Dirk Nowitzki? Will the Mavericks go small and start DeJuan Blair or go big and suffer in transition? How long will it take Rick Carlisle to put Devin Harris in for Jose Calderon?

Bobcats at Heat, Game 1, 3:30 p.m. ET: Can the Bobcats shoot 35 percent from the field? Which Heat team will show up, and how much will they push themselves? Will the Heat double Al Jefferson? Wouldn't the Heat be best off by playing zone and daring Charlotte to shoot? The Bobcats didn't double LeBron James in the regular season and he scored 61. Will they double now? Will Josh McRoberts try and strangle the "Two minutes, dos minutos!" guy?

Wizards at Bulls, Game 1, 7 p.m. ET: Will the dangerous, fast, effective Wizards show up, or will the lost, confused, maddeningly ineffective Wizards show up? How will Joakim Noah overcome the personal tragedy he suffered recently? Can Jimmy Butler shoot? No, seriously, is this D.J. Augustin thing for real? Can Trevor Booker be a playoff thing? How healthy is Nene?

Trail Blazers at Rockets, Game 1, 9:30 p.m. ET: How many points will be scored, 300? How many threes will be shot, 80? What's the record for a playoff point total? Can Patrick Beverley slow down Damian Lillard? Will the Blazers put Nicolas Batum on James Harden late in the game? Which bench will be less horrible?

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