We’re ten days into the NBA Playoffs and here are some key things to consider as Round 1 wraps up. If you want to see how my original predictions, here you go.
1 – I was right about the Cavs/Pistons series being similar to last year’s Warriors/Pelicans series. Most of the games were competitive. However, I was wrong about the Cavs ability to close in the clutch and, despite the games being closer than expected, the Pistons were swept unceremoniously out of the playoffs. They are an exciting young team but as long as Drummond can be hacked off the floor, I’m not sure they’ve got a very high ceiling.
2 – How good is it to see Paul George playing so well? The series is tied two games apiece for the Pacers and Raptors respectively and he is showing why he was considered a top-five players before his horrendous leg injury. Defensively he is making life hell for DeRozan and he is usually the best player on the floor. The Raptors should win – they are deeper and have more talent. But they are also carrying a lot of baggage against a team that is comfortable in the way they play and is not scared of the moment. Fun stuff.
3 – Man, those first two games had me eating some serious crow regarding the Hornets and Heat. But the offense was not sustainable and they weren’t able to keep the Hornets from scoring. As their shooting comes down to Earth, the Hornets are looking feisty. Unfortunately for the Hornets (and my prediction), it really may come down to who has home court. Both teams just have more rhythm at home. However, I still think Buzz City can scrape through to the second round. I think Miami has an identity crisis that is centered around Wade’s record-scratching possessions with his iso-ball. He’ll make some tough shots but will also hurt them because he’s just not what he used to be. Added thought: Amare Stoudamire on D vs Al Jefferson offense… hilarious.
4 – Kudos to the Celtics. With one of their only outside threats going down in a heartbraking Game 1 loss, they could have easily folded. Instead they’ve rallied behind their Beantown crowd and amazing performances from two pieces of their “One Superstar” lineup. I think Atlanta looks rattled after that Game 4 loss and if they lose Game 5 in Atlanta, I don’t think they can recover. I imagine Boston to try to come out quickly in the next game to see if they can build on the momentum from Game 4.
5 – Memphis. Memphis, Memphis, Memphis. Not once did I think they would take a game from the Spurs. But considering that the ghost of Jordan Farmar is their starting point guard, it amazes me how much they pushed the Spurs. Whether or not you liked how they played, they embraced their identity and worked their butts off in a way that helped them overachieve compared to their talent. I imagine this is the nail in the coffin for the Grit N Grind era but my hat is off to the organization for being a model for other small market franchises.
6 – The Thunder continue to prove that they potentially have the highest ceiling of all the teams in the playoffs while continuing to show their maddening inconsistencies. They got lucky that Dallas was reeling from injuries but the fact that they stole one (all due respect to the immortal Dirk) shows the gaps in the Thunder’s armor. Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters will not look nearly as good against the Spurs’ D in Round 2 and it’s going to be on Serge Ibaka to step up and provide a consistent third banana effort to help KD and Russ to the WCF.
7 – For as much as I don’t like the Clippers, I really respect the hell out of Chris Paul. He continues to be one of the most underrated superstars in the league and is probably the best point guard we’ve seen since Magic Johnson. Seeing him go down to a fluke broken hand sucks. As a Dubs fan, this is good for the Warriors. As a basketball fan, this is terrible for the playoffs. Coupled with the potential Griffin injury and this fated second round match-up is not only looking a bit neutered, it’s looking unlikely. But I love Dame and McCollum – they’ve got Rip City competing at a high level and Stotts has unlocked Draymond-lite with Plumlee serving as the release valve for those high PnR traps. These last games will be interesting.
8 – God how I hate Houston. They are a chore to watch. They have the world’s most unlikable superstar with an unlikable style of play. They have the world’s whiniest former superstar. Their fans are classless (as proven by their cheering when Curry was too injured to finish Game 4). And they have the world’s most annoying player – Patrick Beverly. How is it they continue to derail teams making championship runs? First Beverly takes out Russell Westbrook’s knee in 2013. Then DMo’s sweat takes out Stephen Curry in one of the flukiest injury plays of all time. Can they be banned from the playoffs until they can at least pretend to care about the success of their team?
9 – Injuries. Speaking of the 2013 Westbrook injury, people forget how good that Thunder team was. They lost to the Heat in a remarkably close five-game series (people forget that until Game 5, each game was decided in the final two minutes). And for all the stink they got for the Harden trade, they played better that year with Kevin Martin coming off the bench. They looked like they had finally solved the Spurs and it seemed like their year. Then Beverly happened. Then Ibaka goes down. Then Durant goes down. And that’s just the Thunder. What happens if in 2012 Rose doesn’t go down and the Thunder play the Bulls instead of the Heat? If Steph is done for the playoffs, you can kiss the Warriors repeat goodbye. But that’s a part of the game. This is why people need to stop hating on their title run last year – you need the luck. You also need good karma. Way-to-freakin’ go you rich moron.
10 – If Steph comes back by the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors will win the title. Even without him they have proven they are a very good team and if he really is ready to work himself back in to the lineup in two weeks, they can weather this storm. Portland is sitting there seething that everyone is talking about how this is an opportunity for the Clippers and no one is talking about them. That series is not over and that gives Steph extra time to recover. However, I’m predicting that the injury is worse than they are letting on and hope that they hold him out as opposed to risking his long term career. If they don’t win it this year, I guarantee you they’re coming back with a vengeance next year. This might help them keep their core together longer because they’ll all realize the fragility of NBA success. But that image is forever burned into my memory as the moment this whole thing went up in smoke.