These playoffs are just flying by!
No matter, because we’ve got some great match-ups in the second round.
Boston vs. Philly
Who would’ve thought the “lowly” 76ers would beat Boston in Boston? I sure didn’t. In fact, I likened them to the Utah Jazz squad that defeated the ho hum Golden State Warriors (thanks to fortunate circumstances) to advance to the Western Conference Finals back in the day. That Jazz squad eventually fell to the San Antonio Spurs 4-1. I really didn’t think the 76ers had it in them. And while I still think Boston takes this series in six (maybe seven), Philadelphia is proving they’re a force to be reckoned with.
The big problem Boston faces is their lack of scoring ability. Doc Rivers’ squad wins games by executing on the defensive end, forcing turnovers and then taking advantage of late game situations. Against Atlanta, the Celtics averaged just 86 points per game and gave up 82 – and only once scored over 100 points (in Game 4 when Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo combined for 44 points). The Celtics need help on the offensive end in order to beat Philly, a smaller, faster team than Atlanta that carries numerous scoring options in the form of Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and, most especially, Jrue Holiday.
These games will likely all be decided by three points or less, in which case I think Boston squeezes out a few unfortunate wins, but the 76ers are for real. And they’re good.
Lakers vs. Thunder
Wow. I’m not sure if every game will come so easily for OKC, but if Monday night’s 119-90 win over Kobe’s thugs are any indication, the Lakers are in for a world of hurt. Coach Mike Brown’s team had no answer for Russell Westbrook, or Kevin Durant, or James Harden. The much touted rematch between World Peace and James Harden (their first pairing since World Peace failed to control his insanity) was practically nonexistent; and the only signs of life LA showed was when Devin Ebanks went all bazerko and tried to kill official Greg Willard with angry cuss words.
The X-Factor to the game was Derek Fisher … ha! ha! ha! Riiiiiiight. Fisher scored five points and was basically non-existent during the Thunder’s tremendous first half run. He played most of crunch time – so if by X-Factor they mean the guy who knows how to hold onto a 30 point lead with two minutes remaining on the clock while the entire team more or less ignores the game from behind damp towels … then yeah, he was the X-Factor. Personally, and I’m speaking mainly as a Jazz fan who still thinks Fisher should burn in Hell, I don’t think D. Fish adds much to OKC’s lineup. In point of fact, at times it looks like OKC with Fisher stapled to the side. Oh well.
I think LA will come back stronger in Game 2 – they were “fatigued” after all, sniff, sniff, cry – but OKC just has too many options. They more or less manhandled LA this season, losing only once after World Peace delivered a crushing blow to Harden’s dome (I never tire writing that). OKC looks poised, determined and organized. Westbrook, the team’s only liability, has displayed maturity and leadership on the court; giving the ball to Durant when he’s hot, but taking the shot when the opportunity presents itself (as it did twice when he posted up Steve Blake in the third period, both times resulting in a beautiful turn around J).
You can never count out Kobe (at least according to The Glove), but you can’t knock OKC either. Sorry, LA. Kobe won’t be winning his sixth ring this year. (Sound of Laker fans taking off their Bryant jerseys and replacing them with that of LeBron James … [checks ESPN, sees Chris Bosh out for season] … Miami Heat jerseys replaced with Oklahoma City attire.)
Miami vs. Indiana
After James “the Chosen One” and Wade took over the fourth quarter against the Pacers on Sunday even despite Bosh’s absence, I decided Indiana didn’t have what it took to win the series. I mean come on! Down the stretch in Game 1 they looked absolutely atrocious – their offense ground to a stop; their defense lackadaisical. If they couldn’t beat the Heat without Bosh, what the hell were they gonna do when he came back?
Fortunately for Indiana, Bosh will most likely miss the next few games, if not the series entire, due to an abdominal strain sustained while going for an easy layup in the first half of Game 1. To that end, Miami’s championship hopes suddenly become dire as James and Wade, still deadly, must shoulder an extra 15-20 points per game to make up for their center’s absence. (He also provided key rebounds, something the Heat sorely missed in Game 2.)
The cracks were visible in yesterday’s game. Miami, forced to rely on backups Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony, lacked the offensive punch needed to push them over the edge come crunch time. In actuality, the Heat run much better without Bosh, but James and Wade can only do so much. In Game 1, Bosh scored 13 points in the first half, which meant the other two could take turns alternatively running the offense (James handled the first quarter with six easy points; Wade took over the second with 11 points) and resting.
In Game 2, James and Wade both combined for 22 points in the first half, then finished the game with 28 and 24 apiece, respectively. The biggest difference? Nobody else could make up Bosh’s 13 Game 1 points (and he probably would’ve scored 20+ if he hadn’t gotten injured). James and Wade expended much of their energy in the first three quarters trying to keep up with Indiana’s potent offense (and used far too much defensive juice to do so).
Of course, the Pacers faltered in the fourth; LBJ and Wade racked up the points and even took the lead at one point. But as custom for Miami, their big two didn’t show up for the last play. Instead, James and Wade dished the ball to Mario Chalmers and then watched their “easy second round” hopes clank off the back of the rim. Seriously, did the Heat learn nothing from last season? They look like the same exact team that sputtered and faltered in late game situations against Dallas in the finals. Until LBJ learns to take the final shot in tight situations, Miami will never progress. (Would Kobe have five rings if he’d always passed the rock to Chucky Atkins or Ron Harper? This is why I refuse to follow James – the man can play ball, but he sure has difficulty winning championships.)
I really think Indiana can take this thing if they win these next two at home. If they lose even one, the series is probably over (they won’t win in Miami twice) – but they need to execute a lot better down the stretch and stop forcing the ball inside to Hibbert. David West needs to step up and take charge; draw fouls on LBJ, and make the big plays down the stretch. I think he will in Indiana.
San Antonio vs. LA #2
1-0 (San Antonio)
San Antonio looked legit in their fairly easy victory over the Clips tonight. When I mean fairly easy, I mean they won by their usual 10 point-plus margin; and held the Clips at arms length for much of the contest.
A buddy of mine sent me this text during the Jazz series: “How the hell does San Antonio get all of these 3-point shooters?” My answer: “No friggin’ clue.”
The Spurs made a pretty good (and athletic) Clipper team look almost pathetic in the second half of Game 1. They simply flipped a switch and turned a five point, nay three point, game into a 15-point blow out at the start of the third quarter and never looked back. At least, I think they didn’t. (I stopped watching at that moment, so tired I am of watching Parker, Ginobili and “Timmy” argue with refs and flop after every damned play – these guys must study the NBA manual, because they know every dirty trick in the book. They’re also boring as Hell.)
Tellingly, watching this game made me appreciate the Jazz that much more. I thought we looked pathetic against G-Pop’s army – well, we did, but so did a much better Clippers team. I’m starting to wonder if OKC can take down San Antonio … how about Indiana, Miami, or Boston? Philly? I think Chicago had the best shot. Then again, the NBA is all about match-ups. The Clips do not match up well with the Spurs. Their offense remains inconsistent and sloppy; and their defense falters between explosive (nice blocks K-Mart), to sluggish. Fatigue may play a factor, but if the Lakers don’t get any leeway, then neither do their next door neighbors.