ORLANDO - For just the second time in NBA playoff history, both No. 8 seeds won their respective first round Game 1s in the same year.
On Tuesday, the East’s No. 8 seed, the Orlando Magic, defeated the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and the Portland Trail Blazers, the West’s No. 8 team, beat the Los Angeles Lakers.
The only other time this happened was in 2003 when the Magic, then led by Tracy McGrady, beat the Detroit Pistons in the opener of their series and the Stephon Marbury-led Phoenix Suns prevailed in Game 1 in overtime over the San Antonio Spurs, who would ultimately go on to win the championship that season.
Now 14 times since the NBA expanded the playoffs to 16 teams in 1983-84 the No. 8 seed has won a Game 1 in the first round. Before Tuesday’s results, the most recent time it happened was in 2017 when the Chicago Bulls defeated the Boston Celtics, who actually lost the first two games of the series before prevailing in six games.
Only five times in NBA history has a No. 8 seed eliminated a No. 1 seed. Denver knocked off Seattle in a best-of-five in 1994 and New York did the same against Miami in 1999. Then when the first round became a best-of-seven, Golden State pulled off arguably the greatest upset in league history by ousting Dallas in 2007, Memphis, which hadn’t been in the playoffs in any of the prior five years, dismissed perennial power San Antonio from the postseason in 2011 and Philadelphia took out Chicago, which lost Derrick Rose after he tore his left ACL in Game 1, in 2012. In those series, the Knicks, Warriors and Grizzlies won Game 1.
What’s it going to take for the Magic to do the same against the mighty Bucks?
“Got to play better next game. Got to play better,” said a determined Terrence Ross, who scored 18 points in Game 1.
You don’t have to remind the Magic’s players who were part of last year’s series against the Toronto Raptors about what happens when up against an elite opponent in the postseason. Last season, Orlando took a 1-0 series lead over Toronto before losing the next four. The Magic are fully aware that the Bucks, just like the Raptors did a season ago, are going to increase their intensity and energy in Game 2 and in the games that follow.
The key for the Magic – and the Blazers for that matter in their series against the Lakers – is to find a way to play with even more oomph.
“We’re going to have to take it to a whole other level,” Nikola Vucevic said. “They are going to respond after Game 1 for sure. They are going to come out ready. We are going to have to be ready for that…Each game in the playoffs is a whole new game. We have to forget about this one. Put it behind us. Learn from what worked and what didn’t and be prepared for the second one. Obviously, they are a great team. We know that. We expect a great response and we have to prepare for that.”
Aside from the fact that they both won, there were similarities between the Magic and Blazers’ Game 1 performances. Both teams’ top players, Vucevic for Orlando and Damian Lillard for Portland, were outstanding. Vucevic scored a playoff career-high 35 points, while Lillard dropped in 34. Both teams shot it well from 3-point range – the Magic made 39% of their threes, the Blazers 38.2%.
Probably even more important, and impressive, was their defensive efforts. Orlando held Milwaukee to 43.3% shooting from the field, while Portland limited L.A. to 35.1%. The Bucks and Lakers were eighth and 11th in offensive efficiency, respectively, during the regular season.