Playoffs 2021

NBA Playoffs 2021: What to watch for in Wednesday's trio of Game 2s

The 2021 NBA Playoffs continue with three Game 2s on the slate for Wednesday.

The Washington Wizards will try and steal one off of the Philadelphia 76ers on the road, the New York Knicks look to even the series against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden and the return of Donovan Mitchell sets up a big one as the higher-seeded Utah Jazz look to tie things up with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Here are some things to keep an eye on for each game.

What to watch for: 76ers-Wizards Game 2

Making life more difficult for Tobias Harris

Game 1 was a layup line for Harris, who scored 26 of his playoff career-high 37 points in the paint against the lacking Wizards defence.

With so much attention drawn to stopping Joel Embiid inside, Washington's trio of big men were nowhere to be found in helping its perimeter defenders once Harris got by with a head of steam towards the rim.

For what it's worth, Harris actually didn't shoot the ball all that well outside of the paint, going 2-for-12 from the field, according to NBA stats.

This isn't to take away from Harris' performance in Game 1 - he was aggressive from the get-go and was the best player on a floor that included an MVP candidate and arguably the best scorer in the entire league - it's just to say that with a little more resistance in preventing him from getting into the paint so easily, the Wizards might have been able to prevent his season-best output.

Rui Hachimura drew this matchup in the first contest and he'll have to bring a more physical presence in Game 2.

Russell Westbrook on the attack

The Wizards got 33 points from Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans finally found his shooting touch from the perimeter for 14 points and a trio of Hachimura, Daniel Gafford and Alex Len all chipped in 12 points apiece.

But with Westbrook only scoring 16 points, his team couldn't keep up with the 76ers offensively, with Embiid and Harris each scoring 30-or-more.

Westbrook made life easier for his teammates, dishing out 14 assists. His passing played a major role in a handful of the Wizards' supporting cast reaching double figures scoring, which is essential to success in this series, but they also need him to be more aggressive if they're going to keep up with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Westbrook shot 7-for-17 from the field and 0-for-2 from 3-point range in Game 1, with six of those seven makes coming inside the paint. The star guard was settling for too many midrange jumpers - going 1-for-7 on those - instead of putting more pressure on the rim and, in particular, Embiid.

It's no secret that the former MVP is at his best when getting downhill and attacking the basket. In this series, that could make all the difference, especially if his aggressiveness could put Embiid in foul trouble.

What to watch for: Knicks-Hawks Game 2

Julius Randle bounce back game

In Game 1 in front of a rocking Madison Square Garden crowd, Randle had one of his worst games of the season, going for just 15 points while shooting 6-for-23 from the field and 2-for-6 from 3-point range.

The All-Star forward, who was just named Most Improved Player of the Year, dominated the Hawks during the regular season. Averaging 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists while shooting 58.1 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3 over three meetings (a three-game sweep, at that), Randle was far from the player Atlanta was expecting in the series opener.

But he was calm, cool and collected after the loss, knowing the best is yet to come. "Got a game, got to feel it out a little bit and I'll adjust," he stated simply.

It was the first playoff game of Randle's career, whose debut was very much overshadowed by the stellar debut of his opponent Trae Young. But the rising star has been too great all year long to expect another silent night, so expect Randle to come back with a vengeance in front of his home crowd in Game 2.

Making someone other than Trae Young beat you

32 points, 10 assists and a cold-blooded game-winning floater to silence a packed Madison Square Garden.

A playoff debut doesn't get more iconic than that.

Young was more than ready for the moment in his first-ever playoff appearance, putting pressure on one of the best defences in the NBA by making play after play in the pick-and-roll.

With a usage rate of 38.2 percent, it's clear that Atlanta was running everything through its star point guard and as a result, Young was responsible for 63 of his team's 107 total points (41.0 percent).

Young wasn't settling for deep 3s (in fact, he only attempted three 3s in Game 1), he was getting downhill and looking for teammates when the defence collapsed on him. That made life easier for everyone around him, constantly making the right reads with only two turnovers the entire game.

The Knicks need to get the ball out of Young's hands in Game 2, forcing someone else on the Hawks to beat them. If they continue to let him command the game through the pick-and-roll in Game 2, New York will be heading to Atlanta with a 2-0 deficit.

What to watch for: Jazz-Grizzlies Game 2

The return of Donovan Mitchell

Following a reported dispute between the Jazz training staff and Mitchell ahead of Game 1's loss to the Grizzlies, Mitchell will be available to make his highly anticipated return to the court for Game 2.

Mitchell has been out since April 16, suffering a brutal ankle injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the regular season. It derailed what has been a career year for the 24-year-old All-Star, averaging career-bests of 26.4 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game to lead Utah to the best overall record in the NBA.

The Jazz severely missed Mitchell in Game 1, lacking the scoring punch needed to defend homecourt.

Remember: we're only one year removed from last year's first round series where Mitchell exploded for 50-plus points twice, averaging 36.3 points over the seven-game series (although Utah blew a 3-1 lead to be eliminated from the playoffs).

While it would be unfair to expect the All-Star guard to replicate that performance in his first games back after over a month off, we've seen him rise to the occasion in the past.

Defensive-minded Dillon Brooks

Brooks has been one of the breakout players of the postseason so far, making a name for himself as a passionate competitor and fiesty defender.

In Game 1, it was his offence that catapulted the Grizzlies to an upset victory, going off for 31 points while shooting 13-for-26 from the field. That type of offensive production will always be welcome from his team, but in Game 2, with Mitchell returning, it's key that Brooks brings as much energy as possible on the other side of the ball to prevent the star guard from getting into a rhythm.

We saw what he did to two stars in DeMar DeRozan and Stephen Curry in the Play-In Tournament, and he'll need to keep that same intensity when marking Mitchell.

Brooks' primary defensive matchups in 2021 postseason
Matchup Partial Poss. PTS FGM-FGA FG% TO
Stephen Curry 37.9 13 5-12 41.7 2
DeMar DeRozan 33.6 11 2-10 20.0 1

Out of every playoff game on Wednesday night, Brooks versus Mitchell is the matchup you'll want to key in on.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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