NBA Playoffs 2019: Biggest postseason surprises so far, from Damian Lillard's video-game numbers to Clippers' comeback
The best parts of the playoffs so far have been the ones we haven't expected
If you've watched enough basketball, there are certain things you probably expected heading into the 2019 NBA playoffs. Pretty much everyone penciled in the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference -- the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics -- to advance into the second round without much resistance.
You also probably figured Kevin Durant, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry would be among the first-round scoring leaders. But there have been plenty of jaw-dropping, head-scratching moments during the playoffs thus far that have been completely unpredictable -- and that's what makes postseason basketball so exciting.
Here is a look at the biggest playoff surprises so far.
Damian Lillard becomes a basketball alien
There will be a large contingent of NBA fans clamoring that Lillard's first-round performance against the Thunder shouldn't have come as a shock, but when you compare it to last postseason, the difference is staggering. In an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans last year, Lillard averaged 18.5 points on 35 percent shooting and 30 percent 3-pointers. Against the Thunder, a significantly better defense than last year's Pelicans by all metrics, Lillard averaged 33 points on 46 percent shooting and 48 percent 3-pointers -- not to mention hitting perhaps the .
|Lillard series averages||PTS||AST||FG%||3P%|
2018 loss to Pelicans
2019 win over Thunder
We already knew Lillard was great, but even the most avid Dame supporter couldn't have seen this type of show coming. Add in the fact that plenty of people (including Jusuf Nurkic injury, and you have one of the biggest surprises of the playoffs.) picked the Blazers to lose in the first round after the
Clippers' 31-point comeback
Because of the all-too-enticing "3-1" narrative, most looked at the biggest comeback in NBA playoff history as a Warriors choke job. While that was certainly a factor (Steve Kerr said his team simply "stopped playing" in the third quarter of the Game 2 collapse), the Clippers deserve all the credit for going out and taking it. Lou Williams was the best player on the court in the second half, and Montrezl Harrell was ferocious as a roll man. Almost as big of a surprise was the Clippers' Game 5 win at Oracle Arena . These are wins that Doc Rivers and this organization can hang their hat on as they attempt to move into the upper echelon of Western Conference teams next season.
Caris LeVert's resurgence
LeVert was well on his way to becoming the Brooklyn Nets' best player when he suffered a devastating injury in November. Most feared he'd be out for the entire season -- possibly longer -- but LeVert returned after less than three months. He was expectedly rusty after his return, struggling to gain consistency, and it wasn't clear what role he would play for Brooklyn come playoff time.
Against the 76ers, however, LeVert quickly turned into the Nets' most reliable offensive weapon, averaging a team-leading 21 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range while forcing himself into Kenny Atkinson's starting lineup for the final two games of the series. It's an incredible step for LeVert -- playing in his first-ever NBA postseason, mind you -- and a great sign for a Brooklyn Nets franchise on the rise.
Rockets dismantle Jazz
Wait, wasn't this supposed to be the most difficult draw for Houston? A six- or seven-game series between the Rockets and Jazz seemed almost inevitable ... until the teams started playing. Utah's rugged defense had no answer for James Harden's wizardry, and even with Harden's historically bad shooting night in Game 3, Houston still came away with the win. The Jazz saved some face by getting a win in Game 4 in front of their home fans, but losing to the Rockets in five, with a couple of blowout losses in the mix, definitely falls into the realm of the unexpected.
Raptors slow things down
Toronto didn't exactly play at a break-neck pace during the regular season (15th in the NBA at 100.55 possessions per game according to NBA.com), but their pace in their five-game series win over the Magic was like watching paint dry. At 95.7 possessions per game, the Toronto-Orlando series was the slowest of the first round other than the Spurs and Nuggets, who were 22nd and 26th in pace, respectively, during the regular season.
The reason for Toronto's slow-down can be attributed to their opponent -- the Magic were 24th in the NBA in pace during the regular season -- but usually the better team dictates the pace if there's a significant disparity. That wasn't the case for the Raptors, who were more deliberate but still managed to dominate after a stunning Game 1 home loss.
Yet another Spurs success story, White has been a crucial player for San Antonio this season, mostly due to his tenacious defense and ability to facilitate offensively. So you probably had to rub your eyes when you saw he scored 36 points in a Game 3 win over the Nuggets. The second-year guard's career-high for any NBA game was 26 points -- and he equaled that in the first half of Game 3. Making it even more surprising, White hasn't come anywhere close to that output during the rest of the series, scoring just 20 total points in the two games following his offensive explosion.
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