NBA roundup: Cavaliers open playoffs with tough-minded 97-83 win in Game 1 over Magic

Cleveland Cavaliers' Donovan Mitchell (45) and Caris LeVert (3) steal the ball from Orlando Magic's Joe Ingles during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

CLEVELAND — Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers spent the week insisting they were better prepared for this year’s playoffs.

On Saturday, they looked it.


Mitchell scored 30 points, Jarrett Allen had 18 rebounds and the Cavs looked tougher — mentally and physically — than in last year’s first-round flop, beating the Orlando Magic 97-83 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

“Last year is over with,” Mitchell said. “We flushed that. This is who we are, and this is who we expect to be.”

Evan Mobley added 16 points and Darius Garland had 14 for Cleveland, which got bullied and bounced in just five games by the New York Knicks in the 2023 postseason.

That experience scarred the Cavs, who entered these playoffs more confident, deeper (at least on paper) and relatively healthy after a regular season filled with injuries.

Mitchell has been slowed for two months with a left knee bone bruise, but the All-Star guard moved well and looked much more like himself as Cleveland’s only viable offensive threat for more than two quarters.

In the first half, Mitchell scooped up a loose ball and went in for a soaring dunk that served notice that he was back, and that the Cavs would be much better in his second postseason with Cleveland.

“This is who I am,” he said. “That’s kind of been my message all year. This is why I’m here. I could have had 10 points as long as we got the job done.”

Orlando’s Paolo Banchero scored 24 points in his playoff debut, but had nine turnovers. The Magic shot just 33% from the field — some of it attributed to bad shooting, some because of Cleveland’s defense.

“We didn’t score enough,” Banchero said. “Just shots weren’t falling, but I thought we got good looks. We missed a lot of free throws (19 of 30) and didn’t make 3s (8 of 37). There were a lot of things we could have done a lot better.”

Game 2 is Monday at raucous Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, where fans didn’t have much to cheer last spring as the Knicks ended the Cavaliers’ run shortly after it began.

Mitchell slept only two hours Friday night as his nerves — and the 1 p.m. tip — messed with his pregame routine. But once he got to the arena and heard Phil Collins’ anthemic “In The Air Tonight” blaring, he quickly got into playoff mode.

“He’s ready for the moment and it’s the Game 1s,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickestaff said. “It’s the bigger games during the regular season. He has the ability and the understanding of how important the start is, whatever that may be.”

Like the Cavs a year ago, the Magic lack playoff experience and it showed.

Orlando’s offense was unorganized and Banchero too often tried to force things. He went 9 of 17 from the floor in 41 minutes.

The Cavs have waited all season for a chance at redemption following last season’s first-round flameout.

And while they were in control for most of the game, they had just seven field goals over an 18-minute stretch and only led 60-56 when Banchero converted a three-point play with 4:24 left in the third.

Mitchell settled things down with back-to-back buckets and Cleveland closed the third with a 13-2 run that sent the Cavs into the fourth leading by 15.

The Magic twice cut a 20-point deficit to nine in the fourth, but the Cavs responded and Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 4:44 left ended any thought of an Orlando comeback.

Timberwolves take down Suns 120-95

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Edwards scored 18 of his 33 points in the third quarter and had nine rebounds to carry the Minnesota Timberwolves in a tone-setting 120-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns to start the first round of the playoffs on Saturday.

Karl-Anthony Towns added 19 points, Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting and Rudy Gobert locked down the lane with 14 points, 16 rebounds and constant shot-altering defense to lead the Wolves to their first Game 1 home win in the playoffs in 20 years.

Kevin Durant scored 31 points on 11-for-17 shooting to lead the Suns, whose disadvantages in depth and size were exploited. Devin Booker had 18 points on 5-for-16 shooting and Bradley Beal added 15 points, but the Suns were outrebounded 52-28 and outscored 52-34 in the paint by the Wolves.

Game 2 is in Minneapolis on Tuesday before the best-of-seven series shifts to Phoenix for Game 3.

Edwards led a 19-4 run to close the third quarter, stretching his arms wide to connect with the crowd after a couple of his biggest shots down that stretch. He stared and barked at Durant, who could only grin at the 22-year-old’s bravado. With 3:37 left, Edwards put the bow on this performance by stealing the ball from Durant — after Gobert had poked it loose — and finishing with a slam on the other end.

His enthusiasm was contagious throughout the afternoon. After picking up his third foul late in the second quarter, Edwards was twirling a towel on the bench in tribute to the effort to take the lead into double digits for the first time in the game.

Durant, the 14-time All-Star with two championship rings who arrived in the desert a little over a year ago in the first move in the major overhaul of the roster, was in prime playoff form. Be it a fadeaway, a turnaround or a spot-up, the Wolves and their NBA -best defense had no answer when the 6-foot-10 Durant climbed into the air with his smooth jump shot.

But Booker, the anchor of the big three with Durant and Beal who’s the only player left from the 2021 team that reached the NBA Finals, had nothing to match. He couldn’t get layups to fall, let alone jumpers. Grayson Allen, the league’s leading 3-point shooter, missed all three of his shots and had just four points.

Jokic leads Nuggets past Lakers 114-103 in opener

DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 32 points and 12 rebounds, and the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets powered past LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 114-103 in their Western Conference playoff opener Saturday night.

Two other Nuggets players posted double-double — Jamal Murray (22 points, 10 assists) and Anthony Gordon (12 points, 11 rebounds) — and Michael Porter Jr. came close with 19 points and eight boards.

James had 27 points for L.A. and Anthony Davis had 32 points and 14 rebounds, but the Lakers lost to the Nuggets for the ninth consecutive time and Denver handed James just his fourth loss in 17 first-round openers.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored all 12 of his points after halftime, made a trio of 3-pointers in a 13-0 run the Nuggets used to seize control in the third quarter.

Porter excelled on the court, as coach Michael Malone predicted he would, after a trying week for his family that saw one younger brother, Coban Porter, sentenced to six years in jail for a fatal drunken driving crash on Friday and another, former Toronto Raptors guard Jontay Porter, banned from the NBA for betting on basketball and disclosing confidential information to other bettors.

“There’s so much going on off the court for Michal Porter Jr. and his family,” Malone said. “This allows him to get back to doing something not only that he loves but also that he does very, very well.”

The Nuggets entered these playoffs with bull’s-eyes on their backs but supremely confident of their chances to repeat after tying a franchise record with 57 regular season wins, four more than last year.

One sign of their looseness: Jokic, who’s starring in a teaser for “Despicable Me 4” where he seeks therapy because the Minions think he’s their boss, arrived at Ball Arena decked out in a black-and-gray striped scarf and gray pants, looking like Felonius Gru — the lead character from the movie franchise.

James should have shown up dressed like Vector because he played the perfect villain for the sold-out crowd that drowned out the Lakers’ pregame introductions.

James ended a terrific first half in which he scored 19 points with a 32-foot 3-pointer to break a 57-all tie after the Lakers had blown a 12-point lead.

Knicks beat 76ers 111-104 in Game 1 of playoffs

NEW YORK (AP) — The familiar chants of “MVP! MVP!” for Jalen Brunson were replaced by a much different sound inside a raucous Madison Square Garden.


Deuce McBride, Brunson’s backup, led a huge effort by New York’s reserves in a 111-104 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.

Brunson and Josh Hart each scored 22 points, but Brunson pointed the credit elsewhere when asked in his interview on the court what it took for the Knicks to pull out the victory.

“Deuce McBride,” he said.

McBride finished with 21 points and outscored the 76ers by himself with 13 in the second quarter, when Joel Embiid had to leave after appearing to reinjure his surgically repaired left knee on a dunk. Embiid returned and rallied the 76ers into the lead in the second half, but Hart hit a couple big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help the Knicks pull it out.

Hart also had 13 rebounds for the No. 2-seeded Knicks, who had lost Game 1 the last three times they opened a series at home. They host Game 2 on Monday. Embiid finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Tyrese Maxey led the 76ers with 33 points.

“They protected home court,” 76ers guard Kyle Lowry said. “We have to go, watch the film, understand what we need to do, what we need to get better at and go from there.”

Bojan Bogdanovic came off the bench for 13 points and Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks’ former starter at center who has been a reserve since returning from ankle surgery, had eight points and 12 rebounds while playing 30 minutes and leading the effort against Embiid.

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