I’ve been out of the game these past few days – busy, busy, busy. Plus I’ve been sleeping a lot, and playing far too much 2K12 (damn you Miami!) – but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching the playoffs.
Yesterday was probably the most exciting playoff day yet (and I’m not even sure what day we’re on … call it 12?) what with Denver clobbering LA for three quarters, but only narrowly surviving a Kobe Bryant explosion in the final period; Atlanta’s Al Horford stepping up big and lifting his team over the Celtics, despite a spectacular Rajon Rondo performance; and Chicago proving they still have far too much heartto simply roll over and die.
Since I’m way behind the games at this point, I figured I’d simply recap each series and see where each one stands at the moment.
Chicago vs. Philly
Series: 3-2 Philly
I’ve already lamented the loss of Derrick Rose to death, so I’ll skip over the usual tandems and focus on the here and now: the Bulls pulled off a rather surprising victory Tuesday night, ousting Philly 77-69 thanks to terrific performances from Lou Deng (24 points), Carlos Boozer (19 points) and Taj Gibson (8 points, but the man played on a sprained ankle for cripes sakes).
At this point in the series, Philly should feel a little worried. Chicago is a capable team, going 18-of-27 without their superstar over the course of the season which helped them secure the number one seed in the east. I’m betting the shock of losing Rose has finally subsided, hence the Game 5 win – all eyes now turn to Philly to see if Iguodala and his rag tag team of up and comers can close out the series.
My money still sits with Philly (awesome defense or not, Chicago still can’t score), but the 76ers need to close out Game 6 early – otherwise the Bulls’ beating heart might actually pull off the upset.
Miami vs. New York
Series: 4-1 Miami
I was shocked at how New York played in Game 4: Melo had 41 friggin’ points, while Stoudemire dropped in 20 en route to a surprising 89-87 victory (and to think I said Melo had no heart – he doesn’t). Of course then they flew to Miami and got their butts kicked 106-94. But at least they tried. And they proved this Heat team can indeed be beat - much like last year when Philly won just a single game, but revealed a huge Miami flaw: an inability to finish down the stretch. The Heat remain the odds-on-favorite to win it all, but I think Indiana and Boston are both formidable opponents who are only barely hitting their peak this season.
Indiana vs. Orlando
Series: 4-1 Indiana
For exactly one quarter this series looked like it was going to provide some gritty excitement. Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Hedo Turkoglo, and Jason Richardson (among others) surprised everyone, including myself, by besting Indiana on their home court in Game 1. The Pacers responded in kind, though, sweeping the next four games (see, it was a sweep after all) and proving their a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, the Pacers must now take on Miami which WILL provide ample entertainment and deliver an exciting playoff series. I think Indiana will pull off the upset due to their more capable teamwork, but the Heat have always shocked me; and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them waltz out of Pacer-ville with heads held high, en route to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Boston vs. Atlanta
Series: 3-2 Boston
Game 5 was easily one of the best contests we’ve seen in these playoffs so far. The fourth quarter alone delivered high octane NBA magic at its best, with both parties hitting shot after shot as though their lives depended on it. I still think the Celtics finish Atlanta off in Boston (provided Paul Pierce breaks out of his shooting slump), but all credit must be given to the Hawks, particularly Al Horford who, in the starting lineup for the first time since January, lit the Celtics up with big shot after big shot and hard nosed defense to boot.
Boston trailed by 10 in the third quarter before Rajon Rondo went off. He scored six straight points to close out the quarter, then assisted on the next two plays at the start of the fourth, then scored another bucket that broke a 68-68 tie; and finally assisted a Ray Allen 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a five point lead with 8:33 remaining.
But Josh Smith and Al Horford weren’t about to let up. The feisty duo took turns hitting baskets left and right. Horford’s 16-foot jumper with less than seven minutes to go gave Atlanta the lead which they never relinquished from then on out.
Rondo did have a chance to win the game, stealing a Josh Smith inbounds pass with nie seconds left on the clock. But Horford and Smith forced the thrifty PG out of the lane; he instead went left, found himself trapped near the sideline, tripped and lost control of the ball. Smith leaned over the scorer’s table, obviously quite relived to have survived to fight another day.
That’s some great NBA right there.
San Antonio vs. Utah
Series: 4-0 San Antonio
Utah lost. I’m still getting over it.
OKC vs. Dallas
Series: 4-0 OKC
Dallas lost. I suddenly don’t feel so bad about my Jazz.
Lakers vs. Nuggets
Series: 3-2 Lakers
This series feels almost exactly like the 2009 playoff match-up between Houston and LA. Remember, the one where Metta World Peace (then formerly known as Ron Artest) nearly went ape-shiz all over Kobe’s grill? The Rockets surprised LA by winning Games 1, 4 and 6, but ended up losing in a big way in Game 7. I think the same will probably happen to Denver: they’ll win the next game (barely) and force a Game 7 where the Lakers will promptly finish them off.
I’m not down on the Nuggets – they’re a terrific squad. I think it says a lot that they’ve kept pushing, despite the odds heavily stacked against them. That horrific Game 4 loss would’ve crushed most teams, but Denver came out swinging on Tuesday – as if to say, “You may beat us, but we’ll make sure you earn the victory.” As such, Andre Miller played better than I’ve ever seen him play (24 points and 8 assists off the bench), Afflalo removed his timid cap and threw down some hate (19 points), and JaVale McGee had a coming out party with 21 points, many of which had the Staples Center crowd buzzing. The young kid made dunking look fun, and easy – he also made Andrew Bynum look like a chump in comparison.
I thought Charles Barkley put it best during the post-game wrap up when he called Bynum an enigma. The man can play, no doubts abouts it. But he chooses not to play. He has Greg Ostertag’s heart tucked within Shaquille O’Neal’s body circa 1998. The point is, when Bynum shows up to play (whether it be in Denver or LA), the Nuggets don’t stand a chance.
Then again, Kobe Bryant’s dazzling 43 point performance (of which he made three, 3-pointers down the stretch and almost brought the Lakers back from a double digit deficit) proved the Nuggets can take a beating and still walk away with a win.
Steve Kerr mentioned how he felt LA was putting themselves in a dangerous position by giving the Nuggets some hope – after all, there’s nothing worse than the power of hope. Especially in the NBA.
LA #2 vs. Memphis
Series: 3-2 LA #2
The Clippers might also feel the pressure now that they’ve let Memphis back into the series. LA#2 had a chance to finish the Grizzles off tonight, but turned in a sub-par performance. And just as well, the Grizzlies are the better team, but LA#2 carries too much firepower. I’m starting to fear them, which isn’t something I would’ve said before these playoffs begin.