NBA First Basket 2023 Playoffs Guide: Tip-Off Insights, Data, Strategy, & Predictions

The NBA playoffs are here, which means teams will become extremely familiar with each other across a seven-game series. It provides a sliver of consistency to a prop that is inconsistent by nature. The following guide breaks down each series by providing tip-off insights, matchup history, regular season First Basket data, crucial stats to know, and overall takeaways. For example, Game First FGA % is the percent of starts that player took the First FGA of the game. On the other hand, Team First FGA % is the percent of starts that player took their respective team’s First FGA of the game.

As a side note, daily First Basket picks can be found here, while live starting lineups can be found here. Without further ado, check out below for a one-of-a-kind First Basket prop playoff guide plus a time-saving odds shopping tool.

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Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Tip-Off: Bam Adebayo is 2-2 versus Brook Lopez in the tip-off this season. Miami took the First FGA in 48.7% of their games this season, while Milwaukee was at 64.6%. Adebayo surprisingly matched Lopez, but the Bucks likely prevail more often than not here.  

Regular Season Matchups: Four matchups occurred this season between these teams. Grayson Allen (2x), Pat Connaughton, and Brook Lopez notched Milwaukee’s First FGA, while Bam Adebayo (2x), Tyler Herro, and Gabe Vincent achieved it for Miami. 

First Basket Data: 

PlayerGame First FGA %Team First FGA %Games Started
Kyle Lowry11.320.444
Gabe Vincent11.720.534
Tyler Herro10.419.467
Max Strus924.233
Jimmy Butler7.812.564
Bam Adebayo13.329.375
Jrue Holiday15.321.565
Grayson Allen11.417.170
Pat Connaughton18.124.233
Khris Middleton15.726.319
Giannis Antetokounmpo7.925.363
Brook Lopez14.116.678

Stats To Know:

  • Heat ranked 26th defending threes in terms of opponent show quality and allowed the second highest 3PA%
  • Heat allowed the most corner 3PA
  • Heat allowed the lowest finishing at the rim frequency
  • Bucks allowed the most midrange FGA
  • Bucks ranked 1st defending catch and shoot threes in terms of opponent shot quality and allowed them at the lowest frequency (per ShotQuality)

Takeaways: Lopez is favored to win the tip-off, but Adebayo isn’t completely overmatched. Giannis Antetokounmpo unsurprisingly led Milwaukee in Team First FGA%, yet he faces a Heat defense that deters rim attempts. Miami’s three-point defense is absolutely awful though, so Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, and Grayson Allen look promising. Allen saw great First Basket usage in previous matchups versus Miami this season, and Jrue ranked highly in Team First FGA%. 

For Miami, Adebayo clearly led in Team First FGA%; however, he faces one of the best rim protection units in the league. Milwaukee also neutralizes catch and shoot threes, but they are vulnerable in the midrange. Jimmy Butler may see a sharp increase in First Basket volume as a result. With Jrue Holiday clamping Tyler Herro, he’s an undesirable option. Milwaukee’s weakest defenders will be their shooting guard/small forward, so Max Strus is appealing. He also ranked 2nd in Team First FGA% behind Adebayo. 

Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics

Tip-Off: Clint Capela is 1-1 versus Al Horford in the tip-off this season. Atlanta took the First FGA in 43.9% of their games this season, while Boston was at 57.3%. Capela against Horford is an even battle. If Robert Williams III starts though, then the Celtics are a heavy favorite.  

Regular Season Matchup Trends: They played twice this season when it was Capela vs. Horford in the tip-off. John Collins took Atlanta’s First FGA both times, while Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum opened the game for Boston. It’s worth noting that Jaylen Brown 3PA was the Celtics’ Second FGA in both matchups. 

First Basket Data:

PlayerGame First FGA %Team First FGA %Games Started
Trae Young8.22673
Dejounte Murray14.824.374
De'Andre Hunter11.923.867
John Collins8.418.371
Clint Capela3.111.163
Marcus Smart6.514.761
Derrick White4.211.470
Jaylen Brown25.334.367
Jayson Tatum14.818.974
Al Horford12.628.563
Robert Williams III0520

Stats To Know: 

  • Hawks allowed the 2nd most FGA in the restricted area
  • Hawks ranked 13th in opponent open and wide open 3PA per 100 possessions 
  • Celtics allowed the 2nd most midrange FGA 
  • Celtics allowed the 3rd fewest restricted area FGA 
  • Celtics ranked 3rd defending catch and shoot threes in terms of opponent shot quality and allowed them at the third lowest frequency (per ShotQuality)

Takeaways: Because the tip-off is even, it makes this series tricky. For Boston, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford are the best options – they lead in Team First FGA% by a wide margin. Capela won’t be comfortable guarding Horford on the perimeter, so the Celtics can always turn to a pick and pop to Horford. Meanwhile, Brown led the NBA in Game First FGA%, and Boston routinely designs plays to get him a 3PA early. It’s encouraging that a Brown 3PA was their Second FGA in both games versus Atlanta this season when Capela and Horford battled at the tip-off. 

For Atlanta, Dejounte Murray will be a staple since he sits 2nd in Team First FGA%, 1st in Game First FGA%, and Boston allows a ton of midrange jumpers. John Collins is worth a look in this series too. He has the First Basket usage against Boston, and their excellent catch and shoot three-point defense will hurt Hunter more than Collins. Plus, Boston’s rim deterrence and adequate rebounding won’t provide Clint Capela easy looks. Trae Young seems like an obvious candidate, but his willingness to pass, tiny Game First FGA%, and Boston’s point of attack defense are a concern. 

Brooklyn Nets vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Tip-Off: Nic Claxton is 1-1 versus Joel Embiid in the tip-off this season. Brooklyn took the First FGA in 48.7% of their games this season, while Philadelphia was at 50%. The tip-off could go either way with Embiid being a slight favorite. 

Regular Season Matchups: Brooklyn and Philadelphia had two games this season with Claxton against Embiid as the tip-off, although only one was after the trade deadline. De’Anthony Melton took the 76ers First FGA in both of them, while Mikal Bridges did in their February 11th matchup. 

First Basket Data:

PlayerGame First FGA %Team First FGA %Games Started
Spencer Dinwiddie3.815.326
Mikal Bridges18.544.427
Cam Johnson121625
Dorian Finney-Smith11.511.526
Nic Claxton5.210.576
James Harden1224.158
Tyrese Maxey12.119.541
De'Anthony Melton5.110.358
Tobias Harris9.422.974
PJ Tucker1.35.375
Joel Embiid21.240.966

Stats To Know:

  • Nets allowed the 6th most restricted area FGA since the trade deadline 
  • Nets allowed the 3rd fewest above the break 3PA since the trade deadline 
  • Nets ranked 28th in opponent offensive rebound percentage since the trade deadline
  • Nets allowed the 6th most PPG to shooting guards
  • 76ers allowed the 7th most midrange FGA 
  • 76ers ranked 28th defending off the dribble threes and 19th defending isolation in terms of opponent shot quality (per ShotQuality)

Takeaways: Embiid is a slight favorite, so the 76ers are a touch more desirable as a team. Embiid absolutely dominates in Team First FGA%, so his First Basket and Free Throws remain high priority. One of De’Anthony Melton or Tyrese Maxey will be the other target since Brooklyn likely has Spencer Dinwiddie marking them. He’s easily the worst defender because the Nets trot out three defensive wings and All-Defensive candidate Nic Claxton. Melton also took Philadelphia’s First FGA in previous matchups against Brooklyn, so the history supports this plan. 

For Brooklyn, Bridges has to be the play considering he nearly attempted 45% of their First FGA since joining the Nets. His perimeter shooting talent also means he can avoid challenging Embiid in the paint. Dinwiddie is also worth monitoring because the 76ers are vulnerable to off the dribble threes, and he’s the only starter who can create his own shot besides Bridges. 

New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Tip-Off: Mitchell Robinson is 1-0 versus Jarrett Allen in the tip-off this season. New York took the First FGA in 57.3% of their games this season, while Cleveland was at 59.7%. The tip-off will essentially be a coin toss, although Robinson perhaps has a slight edge. 

Regular Season Matchups: The only time these teams played with Robinson and Allen starting was October 30th. Jalen Brunson opened the game with a missed floater followed by a missed Mitchell Robinson put-back. Cleveland went down the floor and Donovan Mitchell scored via a three-pointer. It’s worth noting that Mitchell took three of Cleveland’s first four FGA. 

First Basket Data:

PlayerGame First FGA %Team First FGA %Games Started
Jalen Brunson2236.768
Quentin Grimes1.5366
RJ Barrett10.91373
Julius Randle16.833.777
Mitchell Robinson6.810.358
Darius Garland20.22669
Donovan Mitchell11.732.368
Isaac Okoro8.6546
Evan Mobley13.91779
Jarrett Allen10.21268

Stats To Know:

  • Knicks allowed the 4th most open and wide open 3PA per 100 possessions 
  • Knicks ranked 24th defending off the dribble threes in terms of opponent shot quality (per ShotQuality)
  • Knicks allowed the 6th most corner 3PA
  • Knicks allowed the 3rd fewest FGA within 8 feet of the basket 
  • Cavaliers allowed the fewest open and wide open 3PA per 100 possessions
  • Cavaliers allowed the 8th most midrange FGA
  • Cavaliers allowed finishes at the rim at the 6th highest frequency (per ShotQuality)
  • Cavaliers ranked 29th defending the roll man

Takeaways: Since the tip-off is pretty even, both teams have an excellent chance to score the first basket. For New York, it was the Jalen Brunson/Julius Randle show all season as they combined for about a 70 Team First FGA%. Brunson’s inside the arc scoring should be a weapon because Cleveland’s three-point defense is excellent. Given Randle won’t be 100% if he’s available for Game 1, Robinson is a solid early series replacement due to the Cavaliers’ tendency to allow finishes at the rim and bad roll man defense. 

For Cleveland, Donovan Mitchell led in Team First FGA% and saw massive early volume in their October 30th matchup. He’s their primary scorer and prefers to open games as a scorer instead of facilitating. Meanwhile, Garland ranked 2nd in Team First FGA% and 1st in Game First FGA%. Mitchell and Garland should thrive from deep against New York’s horrific three-point defense. 

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets

Tip-Off: Rudy Gobert is 0-2 versus Nikola Jokic in the tip-off this season. Minnesota took the First FGA in 58.5% of their games this season, while Denver was at 54.8%. Despite Jokic’s success, Gobert should be a very slight favorite here.  

Regular Season Matchups: Minnesota faced Denver twice this season with Gobert and Jokic starting. Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon had Denver’s First FGA, while Rudy Gobert and D’Angelo Russell secured Minnesota’s. Gordon had the Nuggets’ Second FGA in Murray’s game as well. 

First Basket Data:

PlayerGame First FGA %Team First FGA %Games Started
Mike Conley12.516.624
Anthony Edwards13.927.879
Kyle Anderson10.817.346
Karl-Anthony Towns10.320.629
Rudy Gobert14.222.870
Jamal Murray15.326.165
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope3.910.576
Michael Porter Jr11.217.762
Aaron Gordon10.22268
Nikola Jokic17.328.969

Stats To Know:

  • Timberwolves allowed the 4th most PPG to point guards and the 6th most to power forwards
  • Timberwolves allowed the 2nd fewest open and wide open 3PA per 100 possessions
  • Timberwolves allowed the 8th most restricted area FGA
  • Nuggets allowed the 5th most PPG to point guards
  • Nuggets ranked 24th defending finishes at the rim in terms of opponent shot quality and allow them at the 3rd highest frequency (per ShotQuality)
  • Nuggets allowed the 3rd highest restricted area FG%
  • Nuggets ranked 27th defending the roll man

Takeaways: Minnesota can attack a Nuggets team that struggled mightily defending the rim. Edwards, Gobert, and Towns lead Minnesota in Team First FGA%, and any of them have the potential to score around the basket. Given Aaron Gordon’s excellent defense, Towns may be the odd man out here. The fact that the Nuggets bled points to roll men is a great sign for Gobert. 

Jokic and Murray pace Denver in Team First FGA%, although Aaron Gordon is right behind them. Minnesota’s three-point defense is stingy, but they allow plenty of shots around the basket. Therefore, Gordon will be an excellent play here, especially since the Wolves allow the 6th most PPG to power forwards. Jokic holds a lead over Murray for the second option because of his absurd efficiency and blistering usage rate. 

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Tip-Off: Anthony Davis is 0-2 versus Jaren Jackson Jr in the tip-off this season. Los Angeles took the First FGA in 54.8% of their games this season, while Memphis led the league at 65.8%. Davis was a formidable tip-off player, but Jackson Jr reigned supreme and should be a favorite here. 

Regular Season Matchups: When Davis and Jackson Jr battled for the tip-off, this matchup occurred twice in the regular season. In the February 28th game, Jackson Jr and Xavier Tillman attempted the First and Second FGA respectively for Memphis, while Malik Beasley took both for Los Angeles. In the March 7th matchup, Tillman had the Grizzlies First FGA, and Troy Brown Jr accomplished this for the Lakers.  

First Basket Data:

PlayerGame First FGA %Team First FGA %Games Started
D'Angelo Russell11.717.617
Austin Reaves922.722
LeBron James18.533.354
Jarred Vanderbilt08.324
Anthony Davis14.827.754
Ja Morant8.418.659
Desmond Bane15.518.958
Dillon Brooks1530.173
Jaren Jackson Jr23.830.163
Xavier Tillman17.220.629

Stats To Know:

  • Lakers allowed the 11th most restricted area FGA and 5th most paint (non-RA) FGA since the trade deadline
  • Lakers ranked 22nd defending both off the dribble and catch and shoot threes in terms of opponent shot quality (per ShotQuality)
  • Grizzlies allowed the 6th most open and wide open 3PA per 100 possessions 
  • Grizzlies allowed the 7th most restricted area FGA but the lowest FG%
  • Grizzlies ranked 1st defending finishes at the rim in terms of opponent shot quality 

Takeaways: Due to the tip-off, it’s more probable that Memphis secures the first possession. Firstly, Dillon Brooks hasn’t ever been a desirable target to me because of his extremely inefficient shooting; even if he does get the first shot, he usually misses. Jackson Jr leads Memphis in Team First FGA% (tied with Brooks), and Los Angeles allows plenty of attempts near the basket. That’s great for Jackson Jr and Xavier Tillman, who actually has a higher Team First FGA% than Ja Morant and Desmond Bane. Tillman also displayed superb First Basket usage against the Lakers this season. 

For Los Angeles, LeBron James and Anthony Davis predictably pace them in Team First FGA%. However, their scoring diet revolves around attacking the basket, which won’t be easy against Memphis. They are still attractive options, but a three-point shooter such as Reaves or Russell may be the superior play because Memphis’ three-point defense is less effective than their interior defense. The fact that Beasley and Troy Brown Jr hoarded the First Basket volume in their previous matchups supports this notion. 

Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings

Tip-Off: Kevon Looney is 3-0 versus Domantas Sabonis in the tip-off this season. Golden State took the First FGA in 43.9% of their games this season, while Sacramento was at 39%. Looney remains favored here as Sabonis was one of the wost tip-off centers all year. 

Regular Season Matchups: The Warriors and Kings have played three times with Looney and Sabonis tipping off. Keegan Murray took Sacrmanto’s First FGA two times. Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green both had one First FGA; in addition, Draymond also had a Second FGA while Wiggins had two Second FGA. 

First Basket Data:

PlayerGame First FGA %Team First FGA %Games Started
Stephen Curry7.114.256
Donte DiVincenzo8.311.136
Andrew Wiggins16.229.737
Draymond Green5.417.873
Kevon Looney5.712.870
De'Aaron Fox1524.673
Kevin Huerter5.318.675
Harrison Barnes7.314.682
Keegan Murray6.414.178
Domantas Sabonis7.530.379

Stats To Know: 

  • Kings allowed opponents to finish at the rim at the second highest frequency
  • Kings allowed the 6th highest opponent FG% in the restricted area 
  • Kings allowed the 7th fewest open and wide open 3PA per 100 possessions 
  • Warriors allowed the 9th most open and wide open 3PA per 100 possessions
  • Warriors ranked 27th defending post ups in terms of opponent shot quality (per ShotQuality)
  • Warriors were 29th in turnover percentage 

Takeaways: Golden State is definitely favored to control first basket usage this series. Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins pace the Warriors in Team and Game First FGA%, while Stephen Curry rarely seizes First Basket volume. Given Sacramento’s excellent three-point defense, Thompson and Curry may see a decline in Game First FGA% this series. That leaves the door open for Kevon Looney, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins, who can attack the basket against this porous interior defense. 

Looney isn’t exactly a dominant tip-off force, so Sacramento can still achieve a few First Baskets. Plus, Golden State is 29th in turnover percentage. Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox lead the charge for Sacramento. Golden State’s ineffective post up defense bodes well for Sabonis, and their porous three-point defense indicates Murray, Huerter, and Barnes. Factoring in previous matchups would point towards Murray though. 

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns

Tip-Off: Ivica Zubac is 0-2 versus Deandre Ayton in the tip-off this season. Los Angeles took the First FGA in 51.2% of their games this season, while Phoenix was at 64.6%. Although Zubac achieved solid tip-off success, Ayton proved to be dominant and should be a considerable favorite. 

Regular Season Matchups: There were no traces of a trend in their previous two matchups. Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul took the First FGA for Phoenix, while Ivica Zubac and Marcus Morris accomplished it for Los Angeles. The only player who had a Second FGA was Zubac, who managed to do it in one of the two matchups. 

First Basket Data:

PlayerGame First FGA %Team First FGA %Games Started
Russell Westbrook4.714.221
Eric Gordon0911
Terance Mann2.78.336
Kawhi Leonard183050
Nicolas Batum0019
Ivica Zubac14.427.676
Chris Paul6.711.859
Devin Booker9.41553
Josh Okogie7.67.626
Torrey Craig101560
Kevin Durant12.5258
Deandre Ayton22.334.367

Stats To Know:

  • Clippers allowed the 8th fewest midrange FGA
  • Clippers allowed the 8th most PPG to centers and the 5th most PPG to point guards
  • Clippers ranked 28th defending post ups in terms of opponent shot quality (per ShotQuality)
  • Suns allowed the 12th most midrange FGA
  • Suns allowed the 5th fewest open and wide open 3PA per 100 possessions 
  • Suns ranked 6th defending finishes at the rim in terms of opponent shot quality (Per ShotQuality)

Takeaways: Ayton should win the majority of tip-offs; he also easily leads the Suns in Team First FGA% and faces a Clippers defense that struggles against post ups. Look for Ayton to be a First Basket force in this series. Chris Paul and Josh Okogie seldom secure the First FGA, so the second option rightfully boils down to Devin Booker or Kevin Durant. Los Angeles’ three-point defense is weak, and Kawhi Leonard likely awaits Durant. Therefore, Booker may emerge as the main option behind Ayton. 

For the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard and Ivica Zubac are the Team First FGA% leaders. I expect that trend to hold because Phoenix’s interior defense remains less effective than their perimeter defense. Russell Westbrook also provides a massive playmaking boost without hoarding shots, which greatly benefits Zubac. However, the Suns will likely be the play as long as Ayton’s starting.

Braxton has been covering the NBA for Lineups since the 2021-22 season. He's worked with multiple collegiate coaching staffs about analytics and scouting, which has allowed him to understand the game on a deeper level. Braxton is also a contributor at Thunderous Intentions and NBA Analysis Network.

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