Holy Hell! What a day … well, what a night.
The NBA Playoffs are alive and kicking and, thanks to the Dallas-OKC game, the first day didn’t disappoint.
Chicago vs. Philadelphia
Final Score: 103-91 (Chicago)
Series: 1-0 Chicago
What a great start for the Bulls – they won their first game! And looked absolutely sharp against Philly. Elton Brand (19 points) and co. made their runs, but only because Chicago fell asleep and needed a recharge to push the lead back up to double digits. About mid-way through the contest I got bored and began looking at pictures of unicorns on my phone. Seriously, it was one of those games that you knew Chicago was going to win. Rose scored 23 points, dished out nine assists and looked solid after sustaining numerous injuries throughout the season. Hamilton, Deng, Korver, and Noah all posted double digits and the team shot over 51-percent as a whole. Oh yeah, and then Derrick Rose went up for a jump shot with a minute remaining and tore his friggin’ ACL (as ESPN reminded us all day: his knee buckled as he went up for a shot). Damn.
Well, that sure changes my playoff predictions. The five of you who read my Eastern Conference analysis will know that I had the Bulls locked in to win it all (at least now I can never be proven wrong) – boy did I put the ultimate curse on Coach Thibbs’ team. Sorry guys.
In all seriousness, that sucks. The whole point of the playoffs is to give fans an opportunity to enjoy top-level competition. Chicago, while still a good team despite Rose’s absence, no longer stands head and shoulders above all else. What a horrible, horrible loss. I’m even wondering how well the Bulls will fare against a very athletic 76ers squad (who must be salivating in anticipation like wild hyenas at this point). Can Chicago still win this series? Will it matter?
With Rose out, who else on Chicago can step up and score? Deng and Hamilton can chip in shots, but neither offer a whole lot of leadership. Korver? Brewer? Role players … not superstars. Good luck trying to go through Booz – everyone in Utah will tell you that alone will guarantee more losses than wins. What a shame, because I fully expected a whopper of series between Miami and Chicago.
Miami vs. New York
Final Score: 100-67 (Miami)
Series: 1-0 Miami
Way to go New York! Way to show some heart, tenacity and spunk against the Heat! A 30+ point blowout in Game 1 of the NBA Finals? Are you kidding me? Sure I didn’t expect the Knicks to do much against LBJ, Wade and the Other Guys, but for the love of all that is holy – this IS professional basketball, right?
Melo scored just 11 points, Stoudemire had nine. When the high score of your team belongs to J.R. Smith (17 points) you know something’s amiss.
Miami came out swinging (literally, as many a physical confrontation took place this afternoon), obviously relishing the chance to prove all naysayers (myself included) wrong. James scored 32 points in three quarters. Yeah. He sat the entire fourth period. Wade had 19. Things clicked so well for the Heat, even Turiaf got some playing time.
I don’t expect much from this series, but Melo (and I know you couldn’t give a squat about fans, championships, awards and such) could at least pretend to play like he cares.
Indiana vs. Orlando
Final Score: 81-77 (Orlando)
Series: 1-0 Orlando
In the most shocking game of the night, Orlando shot just 39-percent, but beat the heavily favored Indiana Pacers with stellar defense (holding Granger’s team to ZERO points in the game’s final four minutes), and some terrific offensive execution. I have to credit Coach Stan Van Gundy – the man knows how to infiltrate a defense and attack its weakness. In this case, Nelson continually hounded Indiana’s BIGS (namely Hibbert and Hansbrough), driving to the lane and either scoring at will, drawing a foul or kicking the ball out to one of his outside shooters. Orlando made nine 3-pointers on the night, but really it was their play underneath the basket (along with said defense) that brought home the bacon.
Turkoglu only nabbed nine points in the game, but his presence took a lot of pressure off of Nelson, especially in that pivotal fourth quarter run. Alarmingly, Indiana led through most of the game and even jumped out to a 17-7 lead in the first quarter before Orlando closed out the period on a 14-5 run that brought them within a point.
Indiana seemingly took control in the fourth period after Paul George’s tip shot put them up 75-68 with just five minutes remaining in the game, but Orlando kept attacking. Darren Collison’s jumper pushed the lead to 77-70, and that was the last time Indiana scored.
Jason Richardson nailed two 3-pointers, and then Nelson and Redick polished off the game with some clutch free throws.
A botched play during which Collison went for the BIG shot left those in attendance – including Larry Bird – realizing just how young a team Indiana really is.
I still say the Pacers win this series, but man they gotta play a lot better down the stretch – um, David West you had 19 points. Where did you go?
One thing’s for sure: Orlando came in as the underdogs and played like they had something to prove all night.
Dallas vs. OKC
Final Score: 99-98 (OKC)
Series: 1-0 OKC
While the Indiana game provided some slight thrills, the Dallas/OKC match-up blew the roof off the house. Amidst a stellar sell-out crowd, Dallas’ greats – Nowitzki, Terry, Kidd – duked it out with OKC’s up and coming greats – Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka – and found things weren’t as easy this time around. What kills me is that Dallas carried a seven point lead with three minutes remaining and then absolutely BLEW it!
Dirk and Kidd both missed timely 3-pointers and couldn’t stop OKC’s offensive attack without fouling. The Thunder led the league in free throws this season, so obviously you don’t want to put them on the free throw line. But that’s exactly what Dallas did.
Kevin Durant’s spectacular dunk tied the game at 94 with a minute and a half to go – and it came off one of Dirk’s six turnovers – capping off a mighty run that made me suddenly remember why the Thunder carried so much hype heading into the season.
Mahinmi hit two free throws after a Kendrick Perkins foul, but then Ibaka threw down a dunk of his own and also drew a foul – 97-96 (OKC). 1:02 left to play.
Dirk split two defenders and drew a foul on the other end, converted both free throws … 98-97 (Dallas).
But then Kevin Durant hit a beautiful shot from the top of the key that bounced around the rim before finally touching the bottom of the net – 99-97. Game over. (Loved the wide angle shot of the OKC crowd reacting to Durant’s game-winning jumper – classic!)
Wow. OKC kept their heads and pulled off a mighty miracle. Dirk and co. looked unbelievable during that fourth quarter (Dirk had 11 points in the final period), but instead of falling apart (like they did last year) OKC stepped up, executed and, thanks to a downright awesome James Harden performance (19 points, six rebounds, three assists), made the BIGGER plays down the stretch to defeat the World Champions.
This series will be an absolute joy to watch. Dallas wont give up – they’ve been in this situation before – but OKC sure looked a lot more grown up tonight than I’ve ever seen them. Well played, sir.
Quick notes: Chicago still carries a potent defense; I think they were something like 17-9 without Rose this season; don’t count them out just yet … Orlando needs to drop Dwight Howard; he brings great defense, but hinders the offense; without him, Nelson can run and gun, which fits the team’s style much more effectively; Orlando could drop Howard, pick up some adequate big men and be friggin scary next year … Loved everyone acting as though D. Rose had bought the bucket (“Our thoughts are with him!”); I’m pretty sure the entire league just exploded in celebration upon Rose’s injury, especially the Miami Heat whose championship hopes just got a whole lot bigger … Where the hell did Jason Terry go in the final quarter of the Dallas game? The man was amazing tonight with 20-points and five assists, but went scoreless in the final period; that won’t due Jet … Glad to see Westbrook finally give the ball up to Durant – repeat after me, Russell: Durant is your go to guy. I don’t care what kind of a game he’s having!