Nobody, as far as I know, charts how well the NBA products of different college programs fare in the opening weekend of the playoffs.
If someone cared to do that, the numbers, I’m sure, would back up what I’m feelin’ based solely on cold-hard intuition and state pride: the Hogs won the opening round of the NBA playoffs’ opening round.
This season, there were three Hogs in the NBA. All three played huge roles in their teams’ weekend wins, two of which were road upsets. To kick it off, Joe Johnson, at 35 years old, notched his best playoff performance in three years, punctuated by the weekend’s signature moment. Patrick Beverley straight up had his best playoff game ever as he played Pippen to James Harden’s Jordan. And, finally, playoff piglet Bobby Portis made his postseason debut with the best game of his season, compelling a national broadcast announcer to at one point squeal: “Woo pig soiee from deep!”
Let’s break down each player’s triumph in full:
Joe Johnson (Utah Jazz): 21 points (9-14 FG, 3-4 3Pt), three rebounds, three assists, three steals, one block, 31 minutes and this:
Utah 97 @ Los Angeles 95
Johnson’s game winning floater over the outstretched hands of DeAndre Jordan triggered the latest round of “Joe Jesus” chants for his penchant for late-game heroics. In the last decade, he’s hit eight buzzer beaters, twice as many as the next highest total (four, by LeBron James). I have long mourned the fact that Johnson, my LR Central High classmate, has never appeared in an NBA Finals—or even played throughout an entire conference finals series for that matter.
That drought could soon come to an end with these Jazz. This squad is the best defensive team Johnson has ever played on. Under head coach Quin Snyder its players seem to have total belief in each other on that side of the ball, and they rotate to cover each other extremely well—to the point where they were able to upset the Clippers after losing the likely defensive player of the year in Rudy Gobert to an opening-minute injury. In recent years, Johnson often got filleted in one-on-one defensive battles with quicker players, but with the Jazz he seems to have gotten a second life on that side of the ball.
Did anybody else find it amazing that in the same game he both stole the ball from Chris Paul and blocked a Blake Griffin shot?
Some of this uptick in D-juice, no doubt, comes down to simply having more energy. Coming off the bench, Johnson has played about dozen fewer minutes per game than his 35.2 mpg career average. As an official old dude, he’s had no problem settling into a supplementary role, which allows guys like Gordon Hayward, Joe Ingles and George Hill to take the bulk of the playmaking duties he had to assume for previous teams.
Even if the Jazz upset the Clippers this round, their next opponent is 99.99% assured to be the Golden State Warriors. Without pulling a couple of in-playoff trades for Kahwi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, I’m not so optimist about their chances making it past that juggernaut.
Bobby Portis (Chicago Bulls): 19 points (8-10 FG, 3-4 3Pt), nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks, 29 minutes.
Chicago 106 @ Boston 102
The nadir of Portis’ young professional career so far came a little more than three months ago. Bulls head coach Fred Holberg had been phasing his struggling second-year power forward out of the rotation and capped things off by demoting the Little Rock native to Chicago’s NBDL affiliate.
That low point didn’t last long.
Portis rocked a 32 point, 9 rebound, 3 assist and 3 block line in his only game with the Windy City Bulls, and was recalled to the League a day later. He entered Saturday’s game against the Celtics back in the good graces of Hoiberg, and after starring in the Game 1 upset of the Celtics his spot in the rotation looks more firm than ever.
Portis shot hyper-efficiently, which was especially vital on a night in which teammate Dwyane Wade struggled, and key bench players like Nikolo Mitotic, Jerian Grant and Paul Zipser missed 18 of 22 shots. “He was hitting his shots tonight [and] that was huge, we need every one of them. He stepped up big for us and hit clutch shots in the fourth quarter as well,” Hoiberg said afterward. “He was one of our new, young guys that hasn’t had any playoff experience that I wasn’t worried about. Because he’s going to go out there and play with unbelievable swagger.”
Oh, yes. Yes he is. Look at the 2:52 mark on this video:
The highlights don’t show it, but Portis kept showing off those guns all the way down the court, and then proceeded to keep flexing as he set up in his stretch 4 corner on offense. It takes 99th-percentile swagger to do something like that.
Portis’ boffo performance has given the Bulls a higher chance of pulling off one of the few 8 vs. 1 upsets in NBA history. The Bulls are still a long shot to make the 2017 NBA Finals, but simply helping them beat the No. 1 seeded Celtics would be a huge boost to Portis’ fledgling career.
Patrick Beverley (Houston Rockets): 21 points (8-13 FG, 4-6 3Pt), 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals, 25 minutes.
Houston 118, Oklahoma City 87
Beverley’s another cat who tends to play with a lot of confidence. Only his swagger isn’t so much born from the assuredness of a superstar as it is from a feral, snarling need to secure food. In the nearly nine years since the Beverley left the UA after his sophomore year, he has clawed and scratched his way across Eurasia, Miami and into his current steady backcourt gig with the Houston Rockets.
Nothing better shows Beverley’s dedication to his craft than the way he reacted to this rocket shot delivered by human oak tree Steven Adams early in the third quarter of Sunday night’s game:
Beverley laid still a few beats, then popped up like nothing happened. Color commentator Reggie Miller gushed at the glorious violence of the hit he’d just sustained. And, somewhat amazingly, the Rockets medical staff didn’t feel obligated to send Beverley through any kind of concussion testing the announcers thought was inevitable. Instead, the Chicago native stayed in the game to make his next three shots including back-to-back three-pointers. By the end of the night, as the obvious rout was on, he was reaching into the front row to high-five human mack truck/NFL star J.J. Watt. (NB: For recruiting purposes the U of A athletics department should exploit the hell out of the ensuing photo of that fiver—at least as long as Bielema [Watts’ head coach at Wisconsin] still roams The Hill.])
While Beverley was unusually prolific on offense, his most valuable contribution came on the defensive end. There he harassed Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook into three-of-nine shooting and two of the nine turnovers Westbrook suffered throughout the night. Beverley “brings it every game. Whether or not his shot is falling or not, he brings that intensity,” James Harden said afterward. “That’s the reason why we’re in the position that we’re in.”