NBA Playoffs: Conference Finals Recap

And then there were 2.

It’s a rematch of the 2012-13 NBA Finals, with the only difference being the team holding home-court resides in the West.

Before I breakdown what I see happening, let’s look back to what went down in the Conference Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) Indiana Pacers

  • For a team that worked very hard to get home-court advantage, the Pacers looked like they forgot the goal is to WIN in the playoffs.  After making things tough on themselves in the 1st two rounds, Indiana was out of this before it started.  Sure they forced it to 6 games, but even in wins they didn’t look impressive.  Lance Stephenson became a distraction unable to back up his words.  Roy Hibbert finished the playoffs with 4 games where he didn’t score.  The defense wasn’t up to their normal standards and turnovers continued to plague them.  Oh and the Miami Heat have LeBron James. And Dwyane Wade.  And Chris Bosh.  And they know how to win, at home AND on the road.  It’s pretty simple.

Western Conference Finals

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • This was the story of holding home-court. Blowouts for the home teams is how the first 5 games went.  You can argue Serge Ibaka going down for games 1 and 2 turned the series in San Antonio’s favor, and it sure helped, but he did return to get it back to a place where OKC had home-court again, and a chance to advance tied 2-2.  But the Thunder defense was not good, Kevin Durant was exposed and they didn’t get help off the bench.  The Spurs bench can hurt you in so many ways, and they proved it in the clincher when Tony Parker went down and a guy like Boris Diaw helped close out Oklahoma City in overtime. Oh and Tim Duncan thinks he’s 30 again.  That helps.

NBA Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • Here we are.  A rematch of last seasons NBA Finals.  The Spurs looked to have the championship in the bag late in game 6.  Then everything went right for the Heat, including a game winning Ray Allen 3.  A game 7 win sealed Miami’s 2nd straight championship.  And now it’s the question of dynasty or revenge: which will be the ultimate headline? On the one hand, with how easy it was for the Heat to get out of a very down Eastern Conference, you’d think it’s got to be then.  And on the other, you’ve got the Spurs who finished with the best record in the league, making their way out of a stacked West.  They’ve proven themselves against the top teams this year, while Miami has bested the West’s best the past two years.  So which do I think comes to pass?  Revenge is a dish best served on the games biggest stage.  Give me the Spurs.  I said all along that the Thunder would win it all, but if OKC didn’t make it to the finals, that I’d take the West representative. San Antonio has been consistently great for nearly 2 decades.  Yes, Tony Parker is questionable with an ankle injury (boy do ankles HATE point guards huh?), but knowing him and the Spurs way, if he can put any kind of pressure on it, he’s on that court.  That heart, plus the depth of San Antonio vs the Heat depth, is the advantage I give the Spurs.  I know, I know. LeBron James is the best basketball on the planet.  I’m still going with the Spurs in 7. Final answer.

Now tell me if you agree with the team I think is hanging another banner!

7 games again.  We deserve it as fans.  Stretches of this season were dull and after a great 1st round of the playoffs, the best game was Spurs/Thunder game 6.  This fairly predictable finals match-up dictates high drama every game.  We want, and I believe we will get, at least 6 hotly contested games.  No more of this home team blowout non-sense.  Big 3s, defense and two of the best to ever play the game (James and Tim Duncan), trying to add another ring to their legacies.  These are two fantastic organizations, and I cannot wait til Thursday in San Antonio, the site of game 1.

Enjoy it NBA fans. Enjoy it sports fans.  Just enjoy.

Advertisements

NBA Playoffs: Round 2 Recap

After a fun first two rounds of the playoffs and here are, down to 4 teams.  Out West you’ve for last years runner-up San Antonio Spurs, and MVP Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder.  And of course in the East you have a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.  The top-seeded Indiana Pacers, and the 2-time reigning World Champion Miami heat.  After a 5 1st round series going 7, the top 2 seeds in each conference have advanced, show just how hard it is for low seeds to make it through all 3 rounds of the playoffs leading up til the finals.

So here’s what I see happening we march one step closer to determining this years champion.

Eastern Conference Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) Indiana Pacers

  • It’s the match-up we all predicted back when they were the only two East teams over .500.  It’s the rematch the Pacers worked so hard to ensure would happen with home-court advantage after losing game 7 in Miami a year ago.  Despite a bad 2nd half to the season, and a strange post-season, Indiana is here.  Miami had a fairly easy road here in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and you know they don’t care if they have to go into Indy and win.  They did show some stretches that could be concerning in their match-up against the Brooklyn Nets, but showed they still know how to execute late game situations better than most teams. So what happens?  The Pacers biggest advantage comes in the front-court, if and only if, Roy Hibbert plays closer to his 28 point performance, and not his 0 point playoff performance. But LeBron James is the biggest advantage of them all, and to that how well Ray Allen has looked, and how healthy Dwyane Wade has looked, I’m not sure home-court comes into play here. So give me the Heat in 6.

Western Conference Finals

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • In a super talented, hotly contested West, the top 2 seeds found a way to get it done and advance again.  OKC’s defense has been spotty at times this postseason, but they’ve come up big when needed.  The same can be said for San Antonio, though I think the Spurs look like the best team of the 4 left standing after shutting down the up-and-coming Portland Trailblazers squad.   I’m most looking forward to the point-guard match-up in this one.  Tony Parker has carried this team throughout the playoffs, and Russell Westbrook has been dominant offensively.  It’ll be interesting to see which bench provides the most consistent spark.  I picked the Thunder to win it all before the playoffs began, and I think OKC wins it in 7.

So that it, I think we’ve got a 2012 NBA Finals rematch on top, pitting the two best players on the planet and their deep teams against each other.

 

NBA Playoffs: Round 1 Recap

Image

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:

Eastern Conference

(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

  1. 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.

Western Conference

(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.