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Playoffs 2019

NBA Playoffs 2019: Recapping the biggest storylines from the 1st Round

The 1st Round of the 2019 Playoffs has lived up to the hype.

There were dominant sweeps by teams with championship aspirations, mesmerizing individual performances by the biggest superstars and dramatic tension between teams tangled in hotly contested series.

And we're not finished yet as the two-time defending champs have been pushed to a Game 6 by the Clippers while the Nuggets-Spurs is headed for a Game 7.

With so many angles at play, our Global NBA.com editorial staff broke down the biggest lessons learned so far.

Kawhi Leonard is back

Not that there was much doubt to begin with based on how he played during the regular season, but it was encouraging to see Kawhi Leonard take his game to another level against the Orlando Magic.

Following Toronto's surprising Game 1 loss, Leonard exploded for 37 points in Game 2 to even the series. While he struggled in Game 3 - likely due to the flu-like symptoms that kept him out of practice in the lead-up to the game - he bounced back in a big way to end the series, scoring 34 points in Game 4 and 27 points in Game 5 on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting from the perimeter.

That brought Leonard's scoring average to 27.8 points for the series on 55.6 percent shooting from the field and 53.8 percent from deep.

MORE: Kawhi is among the most consistent performers in NBA playoff history

Equally as impressive were the plays Leonard made on the other end of the court. He wasn't always locked in defensively during the regular season - not, at least, to the insane standards he set for himself in San Antonio - but he had a couple of blocks and steals in the final three games that served as a reminder of how unique of a defensive player he is.

If that's a sign of what's to come from Leonard in these playoffs, it's going to be tough to pick against the Raptors as they look to make the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

- Scott Rafferty, NBA Canada (@crabdribbles)

Dame has arrived

Damian Lillard's dagger against the Thunder will go down as one of the most iconic shots in NBA history.

I don't care that it happened in the 1st Round. I don't care that it happened in a tie game. I don't care that if he missed, his team could have still won in overtime.

That shot, in the context of that game in that series against that opposing point guard, simply matters in the greater grand scheme of today's hierarchy.

The NBA, moreso than any other league in the world, is driven by the superstars. Lillard didn't need that shot to earn respect as one of the best players in the league. He's a perennial All-Star, 1st-team All-NBA selection last season and is likely on his way to a 2nd-team All-NBA selection this season.

But there's a certain class of stars that lives on another plane, one reserved for the truly elite. Think LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and James Harden.

That's a class that now includes Lillard. He's a bonafied, certified face of the league.

- Micah Adams, Global NBA (@micahadams13)

Utah figured out how to slow down James Harden

The Utah Jazz may have lost in five games to the Houston Rockets, but they may have also found a way to slow down James Harden.

Their defensive strategy - having the primary defender, mostly Ricky Rubio, sit on Harden's left and backside to take away his step-back 3-pointers seemed to work. Harden shot just 37.4 percent for the series and over the final three games of the series, shot just 5-17 on his patented step-back 3s.

Outside of Game 3 when Harden shot 14-16 from the foul line, Utah did a great job of staying upright and not fouling. The reigning MVP averaged 5.3 FT attempts per game, less than half of what he averaged during the regular season.

The Jazz may not have won the series, but they may have provided a blueprint for other teams to follow later in these playoffs.

- Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan (@oitaku)

The Warriors are not invincible

It has been a very tough series for Golden State, as most predicted a quick and relatively easy series against the Clippers. Honestly, I was one of them. I did not believe this Clippers team, seemingly with an eye towards next season after trading away arguably their best player in Tobias Harris, were going to compete like this.

But this same team, without a superstar, has surprised to win two consecutive games at Oracle Arena, proving that the Warriors are not invincible and that their road to a third straight championship won't be a walk in the park.

While the loss of DeMarcus Cousins ​​is very hard, if we're being honest the experienced sharp-shooting trio of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson should have been more than enough to advance without too much trouble.

The feisty Clippers are still alive.

- Carlos Luyando, NBA Mexico (@carhluy43)

Russell Westbrook needs to evolve

If we have learned something in this first round of the NBA Playoffs, it's that Russell Westbrook needs to change his playing style AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Maybe it would take someone with the power of Paul George to step up and implore his All-Star teammate to adapt, that maintaining the status quo isn't going to lead them anywhere.

Westbrook displayed in front of the entire world that his shot selection, in an analytics-driven era where shot selection has become increasingly more scrutinized, is one of the worst among high-volume players.

Over half of his attempts in the series came from outside of 10 feet, of which he made just 28.6 percent (shot chart below).

He needs to shift and start playing more off-ball, cutting to the rim and running off screens. He definitely still has the athleticism to excel, and shifting to a style that leverages his explosiveness off the ball would unlock cleaner looks for his teammates and provide space to take better shots in ways that his current awkward array of pull-up mid-range jumpers does not.

This is something Westbrook must work on this summer. I don't care as much about being outwardly vocal and passionate, because that's the way he plays and the way he feels the game. But if he truly wants to win in OKC, then he needs to address this issue.

- Pablo Schatzky, NBA Argentina (@pchaski)

Philly's hopes depend on health

Prior to the start of the 1st Round, news of soreness in Joel Embiid's knee caused serious concern for the hopes of Philly fans expecting an extended postseason run.

Though he ultimately played in the series opener, "The Process" ended up missing Game 3 which the 76ers managed to win without their All-Star big man. Across the four games he did play, Embiid came up huge with averages of 24.8 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, even if he at times didn't look fully healthy.

That approach of labouring through pain might work against Brooklyn, but make no mistake, the Sixers need a healthy Embiid to beat the titans they'll see from this point onwards.

The good news is that the rest of the starting line played well in the opening round with a resurgence of Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons. In the 79 total minutes that the five starters shared the court against Brooklyn, they outscored the Nets by 71 points.

Philly needs its full contingent of starters, especially Embiid if they're going to make some serious noise.

- Sergio Rabinal, NBA Spain (@S_Rabinal)

OKC needs to find more help

Courtesy of Damian Lillard's 37-foot buzzer-beating series-clinching game-winner, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated in the first round of the postseason for the third straight year.

The biggest takeaway from that series is that OKC's roster isn't deep and isn't necessarily a great fit around the All-Star duo of Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

According to Spotrac, the Thunder had the league's second-highest payroll this season and apart from the soon-to-be free agent duo of Raymond Felton and Markieff Morris, everybody else on their current roster is on the books for next year.

MORE - Offseason Outlook: What's next for the Thunder?

With Steven Adams manning the paint, the team would need every other player on the roster to be a competent 3-and-D wing in order to be a real threat.

As things stand, given the state of their contracts, general manager Sam Presti might have a lot of work on his hands even to make minor stylistic tweaks to this roster.

- Yash Matange, NBA India (@yashmatange2694)

Giannis and the Bucks are on a mission

Although sweeping the Detroit Pistons isn't too far off what most expected for the Milwaukee Bucks, their methodical nature of victory in the first round should be evidence enough that they are ready to make the leap.

Winning each game by an average margin of 23.8 points, the Bucks never took their foot off the gas, despite no player averaging more than 30 minutes per game.

Leading the charge, Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 26.3 points, 12 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.5 blocks on 51% shooting in only 28 minutes per game, closing the door on the series in Game 4 with a dominant career-playoff-high 41 points on 12-for-23 shooting.

Last season, they lost to the Celtics in Game 7 of the first round, but this is not the same Bucks team from 2017/18.

- Benyam Kidane, NBA Australia (@BenyamKidane)

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