10 key observations from first playoff weekend

Originally Published: April 23, 2007
By John Hollinger | ESPN Insider
OK, Golden State beating Dallas I can accept. Lord knows it's not the first time that's happened.

But Golden State beating Dallas with defense? That wasn't supposed to be part of the script. Yet that was the defining element in the Warriors' surprising 97-85 win over Dallas in Game 1 on Sunday.

The Mavericks, who were second in the league in offensive efficiency this season, appeared utterly confused the entire evening. Dallas shot 35.3 percent and likely MVP Dirk Nowitzki was way off his game, making 4-of-16. (He wasn't the worst Mav though -- Jerry Stackhouse was 0-for-6 with five turnovers. Ugh.)

Obviously, Don Nelson's familiarity with the Mavericks is something he used to his advantage. Nellie threw smaller defenders at Nowitzki, forcing him to go right. And Nelson sent double-teams at Nowitzki once he put it in on the floor to take away his spin move for a jumper. Stackhouse's spin-back move also appeared unavailable last night.

But that wasn't the only factor. Golden State's effort level and cohesiveness was several notches better than it appeared for most of the season. The Warriors' D produced the defining play of the game -- Jason Richardson's swat of a Devin Harris lay-up that led to a game-icing 3-pointer by Matt Barnes at the other end. And while they lack size, playing big chunks of the game with four players between 6-foot-6 and 6-9 makes it easy to switch without causing matchup worries -- especially when the opponent is playing small too (more on that in a minute).

Golden State always has been able to put up points, but if it can bring this kind of defense against Dallas the entire series, we could be in for a much better 1-versus-8 matchup than we'd bargained for.

The Warriors' win was part of a larger trend of favorites struggling this weekend. Two of the three Western Conference favorites lost and the other trailed well into the second half. The defending champions lost too, and the East's top seed needed plenty of help from the opponent to avoid a similar fate. As our Marc Stein noted Sunday night, maybe this first round isn't as cut and dried as we thought.

Golden State's defense was the biggest surprise, obviously, but here are 10 other important stories that caught my eye this weekend: