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NBA Playoffs first round, game one top performers: Kawhi Leonard shines as Bucks slip up

The NBA Playoffs are underway, with the opening game of all eight first-round series taking place over the weekend.

The first two days of the 2023 Playoffs brought plenty of surprises, along with some unfortunate injuries which could impact the destination of the title.

Here’s a look back at what we learned from the opening game of each series.

Kawhi makes a statement in Clippers win

The LA Clippers had been largely written off ahead of their clash with Western Conference favourites the Phoenix Suns, until Kawhi Leonard’s dominant display. The two-time Finals MVP finished with 38 points in a 115-110 win over the Suns, taking game 1 in Arizona.

The Clippers are set to miss Paul George for the entire series, robbing us of what would have been a heavyweight showdown with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

However, Russell Westbrook stepped up following a much-maligned season to come up trumps on the defensive end. He capped off a strong display - in spite of his nine points on 15% shooting - with a crucial block on Booker in the final seconds.

The Suns are 9/5 to win the west, but the Clippers are three home wins from the second round, where George will rejoin them. As the 14/1 seventh favourites in the west, the Clippers represent huge value considering their brilliant depth.

Bucks toppled as bench issues return

Not only did the Milwaukee Bucks lose Game 1 at home to the Miami Heat, they also lost Giannis Antetokounmpo to injury and slipped in the outright betting. The Bucks had been title favourites heading into the weekend, but they slipped to 3/1 second favourites after the Heat won 130-117.

The Bucks are still 5/12 to win the series, which seems fair. The Heat may have made the east finals last season, but the downgrade from PJ Tucker to Caleb Martin is far too steep to see them contend again. Losing Tyler Herro to a broken hand is also a blow moving forward.

However, there has to be concern about Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, who has had his critics despite bringing a title to Milwaukee. Without Giannis, the Bucks looked lost offensively and they cost themselves the win with a series of bad looks.

On the defensive end, the Bucks shipped 130 points to a Heat side that ranked 30th for points-per-game in the regular season. That was partly due to Miami’s unsustainable 60% three-point shooting, but the Bucks looked lacklustre on both ends and their coach failed to do anything to shake them out of it.

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Lakers take charge in Memphis

The LA Lakers showed themselves to be a postseason contender with an impressive 128-112 win in Memphis against the Grizzlies.

The Lakers had four players hit 20+ points in the game, the first time that’s happened for them since the Showtime days of Magic Johnson.

Both Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura stepped up in the victory, as the Lakers continued their brilliant post-deadline form.

An injury to Ja Morant looks set to rule him out of at least Game 2, but there are fears it is more serious. A mix of that injury update and the Lakers’ stellar display have moved LA to 5/12 favourites to upset the bracket in the 2/7 matchup.

Fox crowns Kings' postseason return

De’Aaron Fox led Sacramento to a victory in their first Playoff game in 17 years, with the point guard racking up 38 points in a 126-123 win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

Golden State made the short trip north as favourites despite being the lower seeds in the 3/6 matchup, with the Kings’ impressive overachievement this season being used against them going into this series.

However, Fox showed he’s a postseason problem for anyone with a high-scoring display. The Kings showed up with a 71-point second half to take Game 1, setting us up for a thrilling series which should go all the way.

Comfortable wins for contenders

The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics both recorded comfortable opening wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks respectively. Both sides feature within the top four in the championship betting and they made the most of landing straightforward first-round opposition.

The Denver Nuggets - the 1-seed in the west - also claimed a routine win in a 109-80 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Denver are 9/1 fifth favourites for the title and they outclassed a Minnesota side that once again showed their over-aggressive side.

Finally, Julius Randle’s surprise return from injury helped the New York Knicks to a 101-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the east’s 4/5 clash.

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