And then there were eight….
The first round of the NBA playoffs is over and fans are left with even more questions than we entered with. Will the Heat continue their dominance? Can the Thunder regain their swagger without Westbrook? Are the Spurs as dominant as they look? All those questions and more answered by a few random, unqualified dudes who happen to watch a ton of basketball.
But before we get to the next round here’s a quick recap of the first round just in case you have a life (mine is pretty much wake up, eat, playoffs, sleep, repeat at this point) and missed it.
Chris Barbee: Even though the Celtics and Rockets both made me believe that comebacks from 3-0 were possible, the Bulls/Nets series was a dogfight. Game 3 was a three point Bulls victory where neither team scored 80 points (or, as the Bulls call it, business as usual). Game 4 was a triple overtime instant classic where Nate Robinson played the best fourth quarter I’ve ever seen in my life. Game 6 the Nets went into Nathan Robinson Memorial Stadium (they changed it after Game 4) and staved off elimination to force the first game 7 of the playoffs. Finally, the Bulls minus Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah’s foot won in Brooklyn to earn a chance to get swept by the Heat next round. Hell of a matchup.
Drew Jurgensen: I know it wasn’t (almost) historic by (almost) going 7 games, but for me the highlight of round one was GS/DEN. Here’s the breakdown of the series, at least within the media:
Before game 1: Denver’s hot, they’ll win it in 5 or 6.
After game 1: Lee’s hurt? Denver in 4.
After game 2: Hmm.
After game 3: Wow, Steph Curry is good and the Nuggets might be in some trouble.
After game 4: Steph Curry is THE greatest shooter to ever play! Not even debatable. Warriors in 5.
After game 5: Don’t forget people, the Warriors are young and Andre Iguodala WAS an Olympian. It’s a toss up now, but will probably go 7.
After game 6: Steph Curry is a god (but has to stop making mistakes late!), George Karl is a terrible playoff coach (it’s that 8th first round loss that qualifies him – not the 7 before) and the super hot, awesome to watch, surprise Warriors team does not stand a chance against the Spurs. NOT A CHANCE I TELL YOU!!
The NBA should revert back to its “We know drama” slogan, at least for all Warriors games the remainder of the post-season.
Chris Barbee: I already talked about how much of a snoozer the Atlanta/Indiana series would be and boy did it deliver. But I’m going with the Heat/Bucks series. Was there a single second of relevant basketball in this entire series? I feel like games 1,2,3 and 4 could have been replaced with regular season games 17, 34, 68, and 76 and no one would have noticed. Each game was decided by over ten points and Dwayne Wade didn’t even play in the last two of them. It was like, through some terrible scheduling mishap, the Heat we’re forced to play four exhibition games between the regular season and postseason.
Drew Jurgensen: I think this goes without saying but the Hawks/Pacers was atrocious basketball (to watch). However, if the Celtics didn’t play so inspired, the Knicks – well JR and Melo – were trying to win this category all by themselves. Honorable mention: the Lakers/Spurs series was supposed to be a toss up right? Am I remembering the lead up to that series wrong? Pau and Dwight were finally playing well together and Manu and Parker maybe too hurt to play and/or play well. What a let down. When the most talked about story in the series is an injured player tweeting, you’ve got problems.
Robert Rouse: A sweep and an average margin of victory at almost 19 points a game makes the Spurs vs. Lakers series the worst of the first round by far. This first round series was better than a bye round for the Spurs, they completely dominated, got their bench involved and gave them confidence going forward. Though to be fair to this series it did provide us with two MVP’s going at it, with 2-Time NBA MVP Tim Duncan against the current D-League MVP Andrew Goudelock.
Chris Barbee: In Game 4, Nathan Cornelius Robinson (yes, that’s his full name) took the equivalent of an open ice hit from Gerald Wallace with 7:30 left in the game. NCR’s response: score 25 points over the rest of the quarter and overtime period in the single greatest performance I’ve ever seen. He couldn’t be stopped. Every shot he took, regardless of difficulty level, went in. Floaters, pull up 2’s, pull up 3’s, drives, etc. as he led the Bulls back in to the game. I haven’t seen him play with that much ferocity since he jumped over Dwight in the Slam Dunk competition a few years back.
Drew Jurgensen: Noah in game 7 was an absolute beast. I was watching the game with a Bulls fan (and Flip Saunders’ nephew believe it or not), and he tried to tell me Noah was the best center in the league. After what I assume was a very slurred but very convincing counter-argument, we agreed to disagree. Although it didn’t help me that as we were talking Noah was having the game of his life (24-14 and a handful of blocks) to lead the trauma ward, I mean the Bulls, and earning my best playoff performance (besides Curry, obvi).
Drew Jurgensen: Blake Griffin. I would say Vinnie Del Negro but it wasn’t really a disappointment to see him fail, as that was expected. Blake on the other hand, after a lofty “lob city” season that saw him butt heads with the best point guard in the league, did not step up as the second best player on one of the most talented (on paper) teams in the playoffs. They say he was injured, and that’s not his fault, but as Z-Bo so eloquently put it, if you can walk in the playoffs, you play (cough cough Derrick Rose).
Robert Rouse: Every home team in the playoffs wants to do the same thing, go up 2-0 in the series and protect home court. The L.A. Clippers did that but then laid an egg and lost the next 4 games. In fact, the Clippers didn’t just lose the next 4 games they lost them all by double digits and only two Clippers starters avg. double digits in points. The Clippers mistake was thinking they were the Spurs and going 10 deep on a bench being managed by Vinny Del Negro, the same guy who started Willie Green 60 games this season.
Biggest “WTF were you thinking?!” Moment
Drew Jurgensen: Besides the yearly honorary mention of Craig Sager’s suits, WTF was Scott Brooks thinking? Not only with hack-a-sik, but with Durant at PG!? Why would you think the best wing scorer in the league would be better off – and your team better off – walking the ball up the court and running iso plays 40 times/game. It screams stupidity and stubbornness and makes the Thunder’s prospects this year look pretty grim.
Robert Rouse: While the Knicks dressed for the Celtics funeral, KG and the Celtics dressed to play. The cocky Knicks thought it would be funny to dress in all black for game 5 to honor the ending of the series. When in reality it was more of a funeral for J.R. and Melo’s shooting percentage which was under 30% while they shot a combined 11-38. The Knicks are cute with their antics, but they better ready to play with the contenders, with the Pacers and Heat looming.
Biggest “Who are you?” Moment
Chris Barbee: I know who he is, Spartan Nation knows who he is, I just don’t think the rest of America knows who he is…yet. Draymond Green has emerged as Golden State’s defensive stopper, getting serious crunch time minutes against Denver in the first round. The second round pick hit six three pointers in the series (after 14 in the regular season) while shooting almost 60% from the floor and guarding the top player on Denver in multiple fourth quarters. He also scored a career high 16 points and grabbed 10 boards for his first career double double in the series clincher. The future is bright for this hard-working, blue collar ex-Spartan.
Robert Rouse: Patrick Beverly biggest impact in the Thunder vs. Rockets series didn’t show up on the stat sheet, his collision with Russell Westbrook that injured the star guard for the remainder of the playoffs. Though this moment changed the series, Beverly’s play gave the Rockets something to think about at point guard going forward. Beverly showed off his athleticism, rebounding, and scoring, the Rockets usual starter Jeremy Lin had a horrendous game 1 and was hurt the rest of the series. Bottom line Beverly proved himself to be a difference maker in this series.
SECOND ROUND PREVIEW
1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 5 Memphis Grizzlies
Chris Barbee- When Russell Westbrook went down he took the Thunder’s title hopes with him. They immediately regressed to a “Save us Kevin!” offense and bottomed out defensively. For them to have any hope of winning, Serge Ibaka needs to prove why picking him over James Harden wasn’t the biggest mistake in Sam Presti’s career. Post-Westbrook has shown no increase in Ibaka’s numbers and, more worrisome, his assertiveness on that end of the floor. I guess it’s hard to succeed against one of the best post defenders in the league in Omer Asik but Marc Gasol just won Defensive Player of the Year and won’t be any easier. I see the Thunder’s stagnant offense just getting smothered by the Grizzlies throughout the series. Grizzlies in 5 as Z-Bo continues playing great and Conley eats Derek Fisher alive.
Drew Jurgensen- This is kind of by default the best series of the second round (which is pretty sad). As someone who watches the sport with a broader view, I’ll be interested to see how far Durant can carry this team without his sidekick, and when he fails, I’ll be the first one shouting about how Lebron is vindicated for his struggles in Cleveland. I’m going Grizz in 7 just because Durant is still the best player in the series and should be able to do some spectacular things, especially at home. But the Grizzlies are as close to a Spurs clone as we’re going to get and that kind of basketball wins in the playoffs. Conley, Z-Bo and Gasol over Durant and some other guys.
Robert Rouse- With Russell Westbrook healthy and playing for the Thunder the Grizzlies steal one game and lose the series in 5. Unfortunately for the Thunder Westbrook is out for the remainder of the playoffs and his team struggled to close out the Rockets in his absence. Kevin Durant isn’t enough to beat the Grizzlies and with no consistent 2nd scoring option now for the Thunder, Grizzlies have a great opportunity to steal a series from the #1 seed. While the Thunder are missing a piece from their top 3, the Grizzlies top 3 are playing their best, Conley, Gseed in the Western Conferenceasol, and Randolph all avg. over 17 ppg in the first round. X-factor will be Conley he put up good numbers against Chris Paul and with no Westbrook to guard him his ceiling goes up. GRIZZLIES in 6
2 San Antonio Spurs vs 6 Golden State Warriors
Chris Barbee- Can the young guys in Oakland pull off the upset against the old guys from The Alamo? Rational Me says the Spurs just destroyed the Lakers, have more experience, are going to be better coached and Tim Duncan looks the best he’s looked in years. Anything-Is-Possible Me says Stephen Curry is playing better than anyone in the league, is a threat to score 40 on any given night, and if they can steal a game in San Antonio and David Lee comes back at the right time….who knows. But since Golden State is putting way too much trust in young guys with zero playoff experience (Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green) I just can’t pick them. Spurs in 5 after the Warriors win game 3 at home in front of a ravenous home crowd where Curry scores 30+. Write it down.
Drew Jurgensen- Spurs in 6. I do think the Warriors can pull out two wins (bold prediction alert: with one being on the road!!) just behind Curry’s jump shot. But if we’re being real, the Spurs are a well oiled machine to the Warriors well oiled oil can. I don’t know what that analogy means, but suffice it to say the Spurs play a completely different, and far superior, brand of basketball. Although, the best-player-winning-a-series-theory might be leaning towards Curry right now, so it’ll be interesting. Second best second round series, easily.
Robert Rouse- Even with a healthy David Lee I wouldn’t have given the Warriors much of a chance in this series. Spurs are healthy and too good and experienced too lose a 7 game series to the young and inexperienced Warriors. However after seeing Stephen Curry’s first round performance and Bogut’s game 6, I could see this series going 6 games if those two continue to perform at that level. Spurs are too deep and have Coach Popovich calling the shots. Spurs will be well rested after a first round sweep of the L.A. Lakers and almost a week off to rest their core veterans Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. Spurs aren’t going to run around, take bad shots, or commit silly turnovers like the Nuggets. Instead they will grind you out on offensive and defensive possessions and rotate through a 10-man rotation. SPURS in 5
1 Miami Heat vs 5 Chicago Bulls
Chris Barbee- This is going to be a series for the ages. Six All Stars in their prime. Bad blood from last year’s playoffs that boiled over in their last meeting. The past two league MVP’s battling for league supremacy. I can’t wait! The Heat’s precision and utter dominance to square off against the bullyball Bulls in a certain bloodbath. No doubt this series goes seven. What? What do you mean Derrick Rose isn’t playing? I thought he was medically cleared weeks ago? And Deng is questionable for the start of the series?! And Noah and Hinrich are playing hurt too?! Oh. Well this is awkward. Heat in 4.
Drew Jurgensen– Miami in 5. I think the Bulls scrape out a win at home one game (most likely with Wade sitting). Even a Derrick Rose comeback wont save the hobbled Bulls from certain and quick elimination. There’s not much else to say here except that Lebron is playing basketball like no one has since MJ’s peak, and that pretty much means doom for everybody else.
Robert Rouse- Does it really matter who the Heat play at this point. The Nets have no one that can guard Wade or LeBron and the Bulls are so beat down and the player that played the best against the Heat to end the streak, Luol Deng is currently in a hospital bed. There is the lingering idea out there that Derrick Rose could come back for this series, and if that does happen then Heat in 5, Bulls will rally behind a great crowd at home and steal a game. Otherwise, if Bulls remain without their two best scorers HEAT in 4.
2 New York Knicks vs 3 Indiana Pacers
Chris Barbee- Honestly I think this is the most evenly matched series this round. Both teams could win it but I’m going with the Pacers in 7. The Knicks just don’t have the same swagger they did at the end of the regular season. Melo isn’t hitting like he was, Tyson Chandler is banged up (I think this is the main reason Boston clawed back in to that series, just sayin’) and they aren’t quite getting the contributions from Jason Kidd and Chris Copeland that helped them win 13 games in a row at one point. When those things aren’t happening, a.k.a the entire first three quarters of the regular season and the last few playoff games, the Knicks just aren’t that special of a team. In the end, Hibbert and West are going to grind and bang too much for a thinned out Knicks front court to handle.
Drew Jurgensen- I’m going bold here and saying Knicks in 5. So many shots weren’t falling in the second half of the first round, that the law of averages says they will in droves against the Pacers, right? Maybe? The Pacers were a hot team during the early stages of the season, but have fizzled out down the stretch – the Danny Granger re-injury seemingly a gut punch for them – and didn’t handle the worst playoff team this side of Milwaukee in the first round very well. It’ll be interesting, and probably pretty messy at points, but I think the Knicks get hot and out shoot a Pacers team that doesn’t shoot very well.
Robert Rouse- Knicks and Pacers both won their first round series in 6 games and closed out their opponents on the road. Pacers have more consistent scorers than the Knicks, with 4 players avg. more than 14 ppg in the first round. While outside of Melo who led the Knicks in scoring in each game of the first round, their offense was inconsistent. These two teams split the season series 2-2 and both protected their home court. This should be a exciting, physical and hard fought series. Key matchup to watch will be Tyson Chandler against Roy Hibbert, Hibbert played awful against the Knicks in the Regular season while Tyson dominated. Pacers need Hibbert to close that gap to win. PACERS in 7
- No more stars will get injured!! (Knock on Bill Walton’s teeth)
- Thunder won’t break 100 points in a single game vs the Grizzlies
Heat lose less than 3 games.
Steph Curry goes for 50 in a game
Magic calls out Bill Simmons live on air for calling him out in his book about being a terrible broadcaster. But for real, how is that not awkward?!?!
- Grizzlies win the Western Conference.
- Pacers beat the Knicks in 6. (Reggie Miller hits one 3 in the series)
- Heat don’t play a game 6 in the playoffs, sweep or win every series from here on out in 5.