1. Pau, right in the kisser!
With so much talk about the “Big Three” from the Eastern Conference’s top seed, it would be easy to forget about the trio of superstars on the West’s No. 1 team, but they won’t let you. Even without their big man Andrew Bynum, the Lakers took a 1-0 lead in their series against the Nuggets on the slender shoulders of Paul Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom. Gasol was stellar in his playoff debut with Los Angeles, scoring 36 points on 14-of-20 shooting to go with 16 rebounds and eight assists, leading his squad to a 128-114 victory. Bryant finished with 32 points, including a span down the stretch when he scored 13 consecutive for his team, while Odom posted a double-double of 17 points and 14 rebounds. The Nuggets day started with a bus breakdown on their way to the arena and ended with an Allen Iverson meltdown that got him ejected with 2:10 remaining in the game. Before being tossed, A.I. scored 30 points to match Carmelo Anthony for team-high honors. Unfortunately, Denver was spelled with no `D’ on Sunday, especially in the third quarter when the Lakers posted 39 points. Guess the pregame slam dance didn’t do the trick for George Karl. As far as Bynum goes, his return continues to be delayed with the only certainty being that he will not play in this series.
2. Detroit’s detour
The road to the Eastern Conference finals got a bit bumpy for the Bad Boys in Game 1 as Philadelphia managed to pull off a shocker, winning 90-86 in Detroit. Philadelphia trailed 62-47 in the third, but then ripped off 10 unanswered points and limited the Pistons to only 35 points in the second half, allowing for the upset. Andre Miller put up a team-high 20 points while Willie Green set a personal playoff-high with 17. Rasheed Wallace led Detroit with 24 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks, but even his eavesdropping on the 76ers huddle late in the game couldn’t help his team’s cause. Everyone expected the Pistons and the Celtics to basically cruise to a showdown in the conference finals, but it is now obvious that Detroit has a ways to go before they are on Boston’s level. The Celtics took no mercy on their lower seeded foes, destroying the Hawks 104-81 in a contest where Atlanta never held a lead greater than two points.
3. Raptors forgot to pack their kryptonite
Dwight Howard dressed up like Superman during the All-Star break then he went out and played a Man of Steel against the Raptors, leading Orlando to its first playoff victory since 2003. Howard was heroic with 25 points, 22 rebounds and five blocks in a 114-100 victory in front of a blue and white clad home crowd. It was just the 12th time in postseason history someone posted at least 25 points, 20 board and five swats. Orlando harpooned the Raptors early, scoring 43 points in the first quarter, including a playoff record-tying nine 3-pointers, to take a 20-point lead after 12 minutes. All five Orlando starters scored in double-digits with Jameer Nelson’s 24 and Hedo Turkoglu’s 21 taking a backseat to Howard’s quarter. Anthony Parker tallied a team-high 24 points in a losing effort while Chris Bosh struggled to connect on 4-of-11 attempts en route to 21 points.
Sunday’s Player of the Day: Pau Gasol vs. Denver 45 min, 36 pts (FG: 14-20, FT: 8-8), 16 reb, 8 ast, 3 blk
Buzzer Beater: Sunday’s action was great, but we all know the Spurs and Suns stole show during the postseason’s opening weekend. It took ten extra minutes for San Antonio to fight its way out of an early deficit, trailing for nearly all of regulation, but after an amazing series of shots from both squads, round one went to the home team by the slimmest of margins. Tim Duncan scored a game-high 40, including a double-overtime-forcing trey, and Manu Ginobili bounced around like a pinball for 24 points with the last two coming on the 117-115 game-winner. Many are calling this the greatest first round series ever and you won’t get any argument from us after watching Game 1. The blood isn’t flowing yet like it was from the nose of Steve Nash during the opening game of last year’s battle, but it’s defiantly boiling as both sides nearly went hoarse from complaining to the refs in a physical matchup tallying 57 total fouls. Expect another bruiser in Game 2 on Tuesday.