The 2022-23 NBA Playoffs kicked off with four games. The two early contests – (3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets and (2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Atlanta Hawks – saw the higher seeds steamroll their way into a win, while the two later games on the schedule – (4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) New York Knicks and (3) Sacramento Kings vs. (6) Golden State Warriors – ended up as thrillers.
The visiting Knicks gutted out a 101-97 victory to steal home court advantage (for now, at least).
Then, the Kings capped off their first playoff game in 17 years by going toe-to-toe with the defending champs, 126-123. It was a solid pair of hard-fought battles to end Day 1 of the 2023 postseason.
Here’s a quick little trivia on the two winners: The last time the Knicks and Kings both won a playoff game on the same day was almost 22 years ago – April 29, 2001.
A good win…
Considering both are seen to be underdogs in their respective match-ups, it’s a good win, one that can certainly drive confidence.
For the Knicks, they are facing the best defensive team in the league who also happens to have one of the NBA’s top scorers in Donovan Mitchell. Meanwhile, their own All-Star, Julius Randle, isn’t 100% due to an ankle injury he suffered two weeks ago.
The Kings, on the other hand, are the unusual underdogs as a third-seed as they are postseason neophytes clashing with the reigning NBA champions, whose core is intact and boasting four titles since 2015.
Fortunately, the Knicks got a serviceable performance from Randle with 19 points (16 in the first hald) and 10 rebounds, as well as Jalen Brunson, who scored a team-high 27 and made clutch baskets, and Josh Hart, who chipped in 17 points off-the-bench. The Kings got theirs through All-Star De’Aaron Fox’s 38 big points and their ‘microwave guard,’ Malik Monk, going for 32 points on a perfect 14-for-14 from the line in only 29 minutes of action.
…with a hint of concern
It’s great and all, but it’s tough to look past the off-nights from the other key guys. New York and Sacramento each had that.
RJ Barrett – 7 points, 2/12 shooting, -13
Domantas Sabonis – 5/17 shooting, -9 (a dent on his 12 pts, 16 rebs, and 4 stls)
Though Barrett had four steals, his bricks and -13 plus-minus across 31 minutes helped prevent the Knicks from having a better cushion they should’ve had to end the game.
Sabonis also picked the oppositions’ pockets four times, and even got his good share of boards. However, it’s brutal for a big man to miss 12 of 17 shots. Such is an inefficiency that puts teams in a ditch.
While it won’t exactly be an alarming issue for now since it’s still a long battle, it makes one think about what it means for the series. Is it good that they won despite a starter’s terrible shooting, or is it more concerning because it can very well happen again and the game’s outcome would be different?
Can they turn it around?
It’s easy to see Sabonis being more efficient next game. The Kings have the highest-scoring and top-rated offense in the NBA for a reason, and besides, he has shooters everywhere to alleviate the defense.
Barrett’s case is different. Aside from the Cavaliers being a very fine defensive squad, the Knicks have him as the third option, and as we’ve seen, they are quick to look elsewhere if he’s ice cold. I’d be happy to see him shoot the lights out and redeem himself, though.