clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What did we learn from the first round of the West NBA playoffs?

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson hugs Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks.
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) hugs Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) and Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) after the game as the Utah Jazz defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 5 at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Utah won 126-110, Utah advances to the second round.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The first round of the NBA’s Western Conference playoffs finally concluded on Sunday afternoon, ending after two Eastern Conference second-round series had already begun as the LA Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks in a Game 7.

For all the talk that the first round in the West could be wide open and chaotic, it went chalk, as the four top seeds advanced to the conference semifinals. That said, each series provided some big moments for all eight teams moving forward, whether it be things winning teams can use in the remainder of the playoffs or things losing sides can take into the offseason.

Here’s a brief look back at each series.


(1) Utah Jazz beat (8) Memphis Grizzlies 4-1

If there was one series out West that wasn’t expected to be nearly as exciting as the rest, it was this one, as the Jazz were expected to roll over the Grizzlies.

Yes, Utah ended up winning the series in just five games, but the Jazz had to scratch and claw against the upstart Grizzlies in two of those wins, results that only came as Utah pulled away in the final minutes.

Although Memphis was the least experienced team in the playoff field, it made up for it with incredible heart. In some ways, perhaps it’s a good thing for the Jazz that they won’t face a team like that again. On the flip side, they should have learned that they need to make sure to bring their best every night. If they don’t, more talented teams than the Grizzlies are going to beat them.

As for Memphis, its performance with an incredibly young group has to give a ton of optimism for the future, especially as Ja Morant looks to be one of the NBA’s next big stars.

The big question for the Grizzlies is how quickly they want to speed up their timeline. They should probably be content with letting internal development happen rather than trying to sign free agents who will make them better faster but potentially hinder development.


(2) Phoenix Suns beat (7) Los Angeles Lakers 4-2

Even as the Lakers were at a big seed disadvantage in this series, many predicted that they’d win it. There were makings of a perfect storm with a rather inexperienced Suns team going up against the defending champion Lakers, who dealt with injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis throughout the regular season.

But Davis was unable to give much during the series, and the Suns took care of business even as Chris Paul dealt with a pretty significant injury of his own, as Devin Booker was great.

For Phoenix moving forward against Denver, it will be going up against a team that has more collective playoff experience than it does. Can the Suns keep riding the good waves?

Los Angeles’ offseason could be interesting. The series exposed a great lack of shooting on the roster, but how much will management consider that the team had injury issues when deciding how much to try to overhaul the roster?


(3) Denver Nuggets beat (6) Portland Trail Blazers 4-2

This was expected to be one of the best series in the West, and it delivered, even if it didn’t go to seven games like the Clippers-Mavericks series.

The Nuggets are really, really good. They were of course led by presumptive MVP winner Nikola Jokic, but Michael Porter Jr. averaged 18.8 points during the series, Monte Morris and Austin Rivers came up big in the backcourt and Aaron Gordon provided exactly what they thought he would when they dealt for him at the trade deadline.

In some ways, it’s impressive to see what the team did even without star guard Jamal Murray and backcourt mate Will Barton. On another level, it’s disappointing we won’t get to see the team with Murray this postseason.

For the Trail Blazers, the series loss ended the head coach Terry Stotts era after nine seasons, and the franchise now faces serious questions about its future. Getting eliminated was a potentially gigantic turning point for the team.


(4) LA Clippers beat (5) Dallas Mavericks 4-3

A lot of people predicted that the Clippers would take care of the Mavericks quite easily, but Dallas jumped out to a 2-0 series lead and was up by 19 in the first quarter of Game 3 before LA charged back to not only win that game but the series.

Kawhi Leonard was tremendous for the Clippers, as he averaged 32.1 points per game during the series. Paul George also did his thing, and Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris had big moments. LA can be really hard to beat when it wants to be. Will they have enough heart to grind through a series against an offensively talented Jazz team?

For the Mavericks, the series loss raised the question of where the team goes from here in terms of building around young star Luka Doncic. It was clear during the series that he didn’t have a good enough supporting cast.