NBA playoffs dispatches: Kings make statement with win vs. Warriors


FOX Sports writers are providing takeaways off games throughout the NBA playoffs. Here are their thoughts from the opening day of the first round.

Kings 126, Warriors 123: Don’t underestimate Sacramento

Too young. Too inexperienced. Too outmanned.

Those were the rumblings you heard about the Sacramento Kings when they matched up against the Golden State Warriors in a first-round playoff series. So what if the Kings were the second seed while the Warriors were the sixth seed? The Kings were still dismissed considering the defending champion Warriors had won four titles in eight years, while the Kings hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2006. 

But all of those storylines dimmed — at least for now — when you watched the Kings beat the Warriors on Saturday, 126-123.

These Kings aren’t intimidated by the moment. 

De’Aaron Fox had 38 points in 40 minutes and Malik Monk added 32 points. Most impressively, the Kings pulled off the win on a night when Domantas Sabonis struggled, finishing with just 12 points on 5-for-17 shooting, though he did grab a game-high 16 rebounds.


Folks, we have a series. 

Make no mistake: This Kings’ win by no means signifies that they have the advantage in this series. Not when Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Jordan Poole are on the court — and now, Andrew Wiggins too.  Plus, let’s not forget that the Warriors have struggled all season on the road (11-30) while finishing with an impressive record of 33-8 at home — yet this game came down to the wire, with the Warriors almost stealing one at Golden 1 Center.

This leads to my second takeaway: Watch out for Wiggins. 

In his first game back after missing the last 25 games because of a family matter, he looked pretty darn good for a guy who had been sidelined for two months.

Wiggins finished with 17 points and four blocks, though he did show his rust from beyond the arc, where he shot 1-for-8. But Wiggins’ return — and success — is a huge development for the Warriors. He was key to their championship run last season. Him returning to the lineup makes them much, much tougher on both ends of the court. And him looking this good in his debut following an extended absence is an extremely promising sign for the team.

Saturday’s game had 24 lead changes and 12 ties. This is the kind of basketball we’ve been wanting to see. 

Buckle up, friends. 

This is gonna be a fun one.

Melissa Rohlin

Knicks 101, Cavaliers 97: Brunson holds off Cleveland’s run

It looked like it might be the latest case of New York sports heartbreak. The Knicks, leading 92-84 with four minutes left in Cleveland, gave up nine unanswered to the Cavaliers

But on Saturday night, an organization that received criticism for not acquiring Donovan Mitchell last summer, was the one smiling when the clock hit zero. 

It was Josh Hart (17 points, 10 rebounds), the pre-deadline addition by the Knicks, burying a triple in his playoffs debut. It was Jalen Brunson, his college teammate at Villanova, drilling back-to-back shots in the final 1:20 to put the Cavs to bed. 

And on a night where Tom Thibodeau’s team controlled the game for the majority of the way, the Knicks claimed a game 1 postseason series win on the road for the first time since — get this — 1999! New Yorkers know how that season ended.

The Knicks showed poise and defensive toughness in the 101-97 victory over Cleveland despite a furious 38-point effort by Mitchell, the highest scoring output by a Cavalier in a postseason debut.

So, how did New York take it? It begins and ends with Brunson. The July splash addition made by New York last summer, the second round draft pick out of Villanova continued to show that he’s been undervalued. Enough with the narratives that he’s an underdog story. Brunson won national player of the year with the Wildcats and a national championship for Jay Wright. He’s a winner in every sense of that idea and now the NBA world is fully realizing it.

His Knicks postseason debut did not start the strongest, as he sat for the final 9:12 of the first half with three fouls. But Brunson was in full force in the second half, scoring 21 points and giving Cedi Osman nightmares in the fourth quarter. 

It bears noting: After a week of speculation, Julius Randle returned from a sprained ankle and posted 19-and-10. His contributions certainly helped New York, and it’s a welcome sight for them in the grand scheme of things to have him healthy. 

The two games within the game that the Knicks won: offensive rebounding and turnovers. 

The glass was thought to be an advantage for a New York team that’s been one of the league’s best in that column and that held true. The Knicks out-rebounded the Cavs 60-47, tallying 17 offensive rebounds and a 23-12 advantage in second chance points. When Cleveland needed that late rebound, it didn’t happen. Hart and Randle combined for 20 boards. Evan Mobley had 11 rebounds for Cleveland but struggled mightily near the rim on Saturday night, going just 4-for-13 from the floor. 

Thibodeau deserves credit for the way his team defended, as the turnover count was an underlying key to the game. Oddly enough, New York committed 16 giveaways to 14 for Cleveland, but the Knicks outscored the Cavs 26-10 in points off turnovers.

Beyond Mitchell, Cleveland’s offense just didn’t hit a consistent rhythm and point guard Darius Garland committed five turnovers to just one assist.  

In what was thought to be one of, if not the best series of the first round, the Knicks showed it may not be as dramatic as originally thought. New York has the second-best record in the NBA since acquiring Hart and in closing time on Saturday, he and Brunson would not be denied. 

New York didn’t just steal homecourt advantage in the first round series. The Knicks moved to 4-1 on the season against the Cavs, and showed that they are in fact a troublesome matchup for Cleveland.

John Fanta

Sixers 121, Nets 101: Nets catch fire from 3

James Harden hit seven 3-pointers and had 23 points and 13 assists, NBA MVP finalist Joel Embiid scored 26 points and the Philadelphia 76ers pushed back Mikal Bridges and the Brooklyn Nets in a 121-101 Game 1 victory on Saturday.

Tobias Harris added 21 points and the 76ers hit a postseason team-record 21 3s in the opener of this Eastern Conference playoff series. The Sixers are trying to win their first NBA championship since 1983 and advance past the second round for the first time since 2001.

Bridges scored 30 points and helped the Nets at least hang around in the first half.

But Brooklyn’s starless roster was no match for Embiid, Harden and a playoff-tested roster expected to make a deep run in the postseason. The Sixers had a sellout crowd of 20,913 in a frenzy from the opening tip, then blew the game open in the fourth.

The No. 3-seeded 76ers host Game 2 on Monday.

— The Associated Press

Celtics 112, Hawks 99: Brown, Tatum takeover

Jaylen Brown had 29 points and 12 rebounds, and the Boston Celtics capitalized on a woeful shooting performance by the Atlanta Hawks to hold on for 112-99 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round matchup on Saturday.

Jayson Tatum scored 25 points, 21 in the first half. Derrick White finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds for Boston, which hosts Game 2 on Tuesday.

The No. 2-seeded Celtics led by as many as 32 points, pouncing on an Atlanta team that missed its first 10 3-point attempts and shot 5 of 29 from beyond the arc for the game

A big part of Boston’s game plan coming in was neutralizing Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, Atlanta’s top two scorers. The Celtics did that and a lot more in the first three quarters.

Young, who was 10th in the NBA in scoring, missed his first six shots beyond the arc and was 5 of 18 from the field. Murray was 10 of 25 from the floor. With Young struggling, Boston found a rhythm early in the second, starting the quarter on a 25-10 run to increase their lead to 25.

— The Associated Press

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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