In 67 years of playoff basketball the NBA has never seen a first round like this. 50 games. 8 overtimes. 2 buzzer beaters. 210+ points scored 16 times. A 40 point loss. A 22 point comeback. Road teams playing as if they were at home. A home team trailing by 20. A blocked shot to end game 7 on the road. An owner fired. An All-Star suspended for game 7. An averted boycott. Players in a fight before the playoffs even start. Bad referring. A 7 foot center with 0 points and 0 rebounds. It just might happen that the Spurs and Heat have a rematch in the NBA Finals. Or something crazy might happen, like what we saw in these first two weeks, April Madness all the way to June. The Blazers could be in the Finals.
Two Weeks of Memories:
The Donald Evicted: Long time nemesis of civil rights and human decency, Donald Sterling spewed out a racial diatribe. The Clippers were angry and bitter, the Warrior players were infuriated too. The two teams avoided a boycott when Adam Silver stepped in and dropped the hammer on Donald stripping him of his team. The series went on, ending in a seventh game shootout.
The MVP’s: In the East, Lebron James brilliance was on display against an undermanned, barely talented Bobcat team who had no one to guard him. It made his stats seem unworthy, almost apologetic: 30 points, 6 assists, 8 rebounds. Paul George started slow in his series against the Hawks but picked up his game as the series went on and in game 7 he had 30 points and 11 rebounds. While out West LaMarcus Aldridge was in beast mode in games 1 and 2 at Houston: 45 points, 13 rebounds. Dwight Howard redeemed himself from last year when he was swept out of the playoffs. In game six he carried his team (26 points, 11 rebounds) but could not prevent the heartbreak of a last second shot.
You Can’t Stop Me: Vince Carter’s step back three to send the Spurs to a stunning loss in game 3 at Dallas was vintage Vince- Vince of the Half Man-Half Amazing myth. He was nostalgic in the aftermath. In the playoffs in 2001 against Philly Vince had a chance to win the series. It was a much closer shot than the one in Dallas. But he missed and the team lost. The failure of it has haunted Vince ever since. I suppose what goes around comes around. Thirteen years later Vince helped carry his team to a game 7. Up north, Damian Lilliard’s unguarded three sent the Blazers to the second round, something they have not done since 2000. He will forever be their hero.
You Can Stop Me: Tony Allen’s defense on Kevin Durant made Durant look average. The local newspaper called Durant, “Mr. Unreliable.” Durant admitted Allen was inside his head. Allen, the best perimeter defender in the NBA (look at what he did to Kobe in the 2008 NBA finals), had his day and then he didn’t. Durant poured in 36 points in game 7.
You Don’t Want to Stop Me: James Harden’s defense was deplorable throughout the Blazers series. Chandler Parsons wasn’t much better. Ditto Joakim Noah with the bad knees who could do nothing against Nene in the post. And the Bradley Beal-Trevor Ariza combo that could not stop Mike Dunleavey on down screens- you both get an F. Dunleavey made 8 three pointers, a franchise record. Dunleavey and 35 points don’t belong in the same sentence. The Pacers saw no need to guard Jeff Teague the first 5 games of the series with Atlanta until they found themselves trailing in an elimination game. Then they figured it out: stop Teague, stop the Hawks.
The Hurt Locker: Al Jefferson ripped his fascia but kept on playing. Every sprint down the court, every post up was painful for Big Al who had a remarkable season guiding the Bobcats to the playoffs. As often happens this time of year Chris Paul is banged up. This time it was his hamstring he reinjured. Then he had ligament damage to his thumb. Jermaine O’Neal had a bone bruise. Joakim Noah played on bad knees.
The Re-emergence of Joe Johnson: Much maligned for his bloated contract, Johnson is undervalued and rarely appreciated as a preeminent shooting guard.There’s Kobe, Wade and then there’s Joe. No one ever gives him credit but he is the straw the stirs the drink in Brooklyn. He was the reason the Nets made the incredible comeback when they trailed by 22 points in game 5. The Nets tied the score and eventually lost but Joe was the difference in the series, the one player Toronto had no answer for.
The Wild Wild West: The Clippers scored 138 points vs. the Warriors. Two games later the Warriors scored 118 points vs. the Clippers. The Blazers scored 123 points vs. the Rockets. The day before, the Rockets scored 121 vs. Blazers. The Mavericks scored 113 points vs. the Spurs. The next game the Spurs scored 119 points against Mavericks. There were 6 overtime games in the West.
Road Rules: In the first round the road team won 23 of the 50 games. Both #1 seeds lost a game at home. Both #3 seeds lost a game at home. Both #4 seeds lost a game at home. Both #5 seeds lost a game at home. Both #6 seeds lost a game at home. Both #7 seeds lost a game at home. Both #8 seeds lost a game at home. And yet only one road team, the Brooklyn Nets, won a game 7.
Everything changes when you lose in the first round. It is vacation for some and anxiety for others, for those who no longer have a contract. Some have played their last game for their playoff team and are free agents. Kyle Lowry of the Raptors. Kirk Hinrich of the Bulls. Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Dejuan Blair, Devin Harris, Vince Carter of the Mavericks. Mike Miller is a free agent for Memphis.
All of the young teams were eliminated in the first round. John Wall, Paul George, Lance Stephenson, Reggie Jackson, Kawhi Leonard, Thomas Robinson, Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard were drafted in 2010 or later. They make up 10% of the rotation players available in the second round. It speaks to how hard it is for young players to have success. But those that are still playing find themselves in the semi-final round. Are they ready for round two, for a redux, for another chance at amazing? Or is their vacation two weeks away?