You get a game 7! And you get a game 7! Everyone gets a game 7. (And apparently 4-point plays are a common thing now.)
I’ve never enjoyed the first round of the playoffs before. They say any team can beat any other team on any given night. And in the NBA Playoffs, that was true. The only series that ended quickly was the World Champion Miami Heat knocking out the Charlotte Bobcats in a 4-game sweep. But even 3 of those 4 games could have gone either way.
Let’s start in the West, where all season the competition was at a high level, and man-oh-man, was every series fun and hotly contested! You’re going to really earn representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals this year.
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Dallas Mavericks
- Vince Carter’s game winning 3 gave them a 2-1 series lead, but San Antonio answered to make it 3-2. The Mavs would not go quietly, forcing a decisive game 7. But the Spurs said enough was enough, and easily eliminated Dallas at home. Manu Ginobili resurfaced in the clincher, while Tony Park continues to do what he does best, help his team win. The troubling part of the Spurs showing in this series was their defense, though that turned itself back on in game 7 as well.
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies
- Memphis was maybe the best number 7 seed in the history of basketball. After digging themselves in a hole early when Marc Gasol went down, they got hot in the second half, and earned the last spot in the playoffs. The Thunder had to compete with a top defense and they had their issues. It was an even series throughout, with the Grizzlies unable to close some games out late, leading to a rare 4-straight overtime games. But they were able to close out enough to put OKC on the brink of elimination in big part because of the defense played on MVP-favorite Kevin Durant. But in game 6, Durant woke up big time, and stayed awake to lead them to into the 2nd round. And don’t forget his sidekick Russell Westbrook, who finished with two triple-doubles in the series.
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs (6) Golden State Warriors
- Both teams blew the other out at home. But after LA owner Donald Sterling said some things (you know what things), and was subsequently banned for life, the Clippers played with renewed vigor and took care of GSW on the road. They were pushed to a game 7 (who wasn’t?) and in a thoroughly enjoyable, they pulled it out, thanks in big part to the play of DeAndre Jordan and clutch free-throw shooting. Doc Rivers after said he’d remember this game 7 because of everything that happened and how his team responded. The Warriors played well, despite losing their best post presence before the series started, but it wasn’t enough as the Clips nearly doubled them up in the paint.
(4) Houston Rockets vs (5) Portland Trailblazers
- So much offense! Not a lot of defense. I picked the Rockets to win this one because they were playing better heading in and have a better bench. But the Blazers reverted back to the team they were early in the year, and stole two on the road to open up, and won the series 4-2. A big reason for the advancement? The outstanding play of LaMarcus Aldridge the entire series, as well as the cold-blooded clutchness (that’s a word right) of one Damian Lillard.
Now let’s break down the Eastern Conference.
(1) Indiana Pacers vs (8) Atlanta Hawks
- The Pacers were so focused on getting the number 1 overall seed all season, in case they faced the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals again, that they forgot they need to make it that far in the playoffs first. They won’t. Atlanta grabbed home court in game 1, and again in game 5. Roy Hibbert, who many thought coming into this season was the best big man in the NBA, didn’t play like it. Rebounding and offense was an issue for the All-Star. But don’t worry, we found Roy, at least kind of, in game 7. But the reason they won the game, and the series, Paul George stepped up big time. And they’ll need more of that on both ends of court going forward.
(2) Miami Heat vs (7) Charlotte Bobcats
- No one really saw Charlotte getting into the playoffs, but in what was a weak Eastern Conference for much of the year, they did. Their defense carried them, while Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker did the rest on offense. They played well, with the exception of a blowout in game 3. But the reigning champs were just too much for them. Charlotte goes back to being the Hornets, so the Bobcats finish their tenure with this lone playoff appearance, and no wins on their resume. But look for this team to be back and even better next year. They head into the next round the most rested, and most experience team left.
(3) Toronto Raptors vs (6) Brooklyn Nets
- Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were brought in for the playoffs. Yet they sat the entire 4th quarter of game 5 as the Nets made a furious comeback from down 26 to tie late. Brooklyn lost. I said before the series that the play of the back-court would be the difference, and it sure was. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan outplayed Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston in every facet of the game. Fast-forward to the waning seconds of game 7. A reoccurring issue between these two teams was the Nets inability to get a ball in late. The Ratpors were all over their in-bounds plays, and stole one with 6.2 to go. So the season came down to defense, and who made the final play? Paul Pierce blocked a Lowry drive, after KG and Williams swarmed. But it was Joe Johnson, the Nets best player all season, that put this team on his back and played the most consistent ball of them all in black and white. So now, the lowest seed left, and only team to win on the road during game 7, the Nets move on to face the reigning world champs, and a team they beat 4 times in the regular season.
(4) Chicago Bulls vs (5) Washington Wizards
- Losing Derrick Rose for the entire season, again, and trading away such a big piece in Luol Deng could have left the Bulls with a good excuse to fall in the East. But did this team fights for 48 minutes, and were lifted by Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah to home-court. And it took awhile for the Wizards to find themselves this season, but when they did… boy oh boy they find a good team. John Wall and Bradley Beal have quickly established themselves as one of the best back-courts in the league. Washington enters well-rested, which could be important for a young squad.
Here are the second round match-ups and what I see happening:
(1) Indiana Pacers vs (5) Washington Wizards
- Can the Pacers build off their game 7 performance? Or can the Wizards continue their run? It’s going to come down to the play of the front-court. NeNe outplayed the Defensive Player of the Year in Noah, while former DOY Roy Hibbert looked terrible on both sides of the ball. Not to mention the Wizards biggest advantage is Wall over George Hill at point guard. It’s going to be a tougher series than Washington had in round 1, but honestly, give me the Wizards in 6. (Had Bulls beating them in 7)
(2) Miami Heat vs (6) Brooklyn Nets
- I’m sticking with my original pick of Heat in 6 of Brooklyn in round 2. I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d had an easier time with the inexperienced Raptors, maybe I’d give them more of a chance. Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t in the regular season down the stretch, especially with a healthy and rested Wade on the floor. The best chance Brooklyn has lies on the glass, in the hands of Joe Johnson, and whoever is tasked with defending LeBron James. That will probably be a team effort led by Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson. The King will get his, but if they make it hard on him, that will be huge.
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (3) Los Angeles Clippers
- The Thunder played very good defense against Memphis, while the Clippers thrived on offense against the Warriors. Neither had the series was crisp, but here they are. I picked OKC before the playoffs in six, and I’ll stick with that. It’s going to be a close, hard-fought series, and while I think the scores will be high, in crunch time, I think the Thunder will dig deeper and get the stops needed.
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (5) Portland Trailblazers
- (Originally I had Spurs in 6 over Houston), but here are the Blazers after they won in 6. I’m still taking the Spurs in 6 because of experience and if they an defend the way they did in-game 7, they should be okay. But man did Portland show us something. Or rather remind us of something . The Blazers were so hot to start the season, and they got back to doing those things that got them off to the quick start. Aldridge was the best player on the court, and Lillard showed in just year two he’s not afraid to take the biggest shot. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the regular season’s best team falls to the upstart team from the north-west.
So there you go, that’s what I saw from the magical 1st round, and how I think round 2 goes. Here’s to another fun and nail-biting round of the NBA Playoffs.