Monday, April 18, 2011

NBA playoffs, best ever? by Aubrey Wieber

With every game one already in the books for the 2011 NBA playoffs, many believe that we are on the verge of seeing something historically great. I can't remember ever seeing every game come down to the wire the way they did on Saturday and Sunday. There is always at least one blow out, especially in the east, and so many home teams losing their home court advantage is quite rare. Fans witnessed some spectacular finishes from Boston, Chicago, and Miami along with incredible individual performances from Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and Kevin Durant. So what does this mean? Is this trend going to continue and deliver the greatest NBA playoffs of all time?

Bulls v. Pacers:
Indiana seemed poised to do the unthinkable. They came into the playoffs with the worst regular season record facing the number one over all seed in Chicago, and lead for the majority of game one. They did it by playing team ball and with a nothing to lose attitude, while Chicago played an opposite style.
Down the stretch, Bulls players seemed extremely reluctant to even touch the ball, seeming more comfortable with depending on Rose to take over like he has so many times. This inevitably worked, as the future MVP pulled out an array of jaw dropping moves to cement the win, but Chi town fans should be far from happy with the win. Korver did eventually hit a big shot after Rose drove and collapsed the Indiana D, but that came after missing open jumpers and taking low percentage shots in traffic.
I actually expected game two to be a route before they go to Indiana and further struggle, but it was also close. If they plan on getting to the finals, they will need a game plan that doesn't consist of 1 on 5 offense during the last 3 minutes of play. Game 3 will belong to the Pacers, who are giving the Bulls just enough competition to warm them up for a big second round.

Heat v. 76ers
Many people thought that this would be a breeze for Miami after they swept the sixers during the regular season, but as Philly coach Doug Collins pointed out, the last two meetings were very competitive.
Miami seemed a bit shocked by the caliber of play Philly came at them with, but after Wade sank the game winner Miami fans surely slept better. The heats Achilles heel all season was choosing who would take the final shot on a team overflowing with ego. Most spectators knew it should be Wade, but often that wasn't the case. After Saturday's finish in South Beach I think we know who will get those final looks. I expect the Sixers will steal at least one at home.

Magic v. Hawks
After last years complete failure to put up any sort of resemblance of competition in the playoffs, the Hawks were considered definite underdogs in this match up despite going 3-1 against Orlando in the regular season. Both teams have under performed the last couple years when you look at the star power they posses, but with Orlando having a perennial MVP candidate in Dwight Howard, this was expected to be some what of a cake walk. Not the case.
Last week on the B.S. Report John Hollinger, who spends half of the season in Atlanta, called Jason Collins kryptonite and claimed he was in the NBA for one reason; to bother Dwight Howard and Shaq. Collins was one of the many bodies thrown at the big guy, but that didn't stop him from having a monster of a game, boasting 46-19. Jameer Nelson chipped in 27, but the rest of the team failed to sport double digits in a single category and the only players with a positive +/- were Ryan Anderson (zero points) and J.J. Redick( 4 points).
Atlanta just played more of a team game and gutted out a win, and proving that this series will be more intriguing than most thought.

Mavericks v. Blazers
Portland really struggled in the first half of this game, especially defensively. They didn't have the gritty play on defense that fueled them all year. They were not jumping out in the passing lanes and taking charges. Also, the leader of that gritty play, Gerald Wallace, was scoreless in the first half.
They started off the third quarter down ten, but came out aggressive. Wallace got active, but Jason Kidd put on a clinic. He had his best statistical game of the season, which included a career playoff best 6 triples.
Aldridge played excellent D on Dirk as he has all season, forcing him to shoot 7-20, but he still finished with 28. 18 came in the fourth quarter, 13 of which came from the line, equaling the amount of trips Portland took to the foul line through out the whole game. Despite having 42 points in the paint, Portland struggled to get calls, especially down the stretch. The free-throw discrepancy in the fourth was 18-2, which allowed Dallas to over come the Blazers late game efforts. This however is not why Portland lost. Many favored Portland in this series due to their depth at virtually every position, but players like Rudy and Wes Matthews seemed terrified to touch the ball. Brandon Roy seemed physically able to have a huge game but had an obvious mental block. He consistently beat his man off the dribble, but instead of pulling up for an easy jumper or taking it all the way to the cup, he repeatedly passed out to teammates that weren't expecting the ball, usually either forcing a bad shot to beat the clock or causing the need to reset the offense.
It wasn't all bad though, as Aldridge had a huge game, scoring at will anytime he got position on the left block, proving that Dallas has no one to guard him. Dre played well but had the burden of offensively making up for his teammates which resulted in several ill-advised shots.
I believe that Roy will have at least one big game in this series which the blazers definitely need, and that combined with the Gerald Wallace we are used to seeing will help turn things around.
Hopefully they got their playoff nerves under control and are ready for game two, because if they come back to Portland winless they can all but guarantee another first round exit.

Grizzlies v. Spurs
During the first half of the season I thought the Spurs were unstoppable. I felt they had far too much experience and talent to fall short of the Finals. Then I did a little more research and realized that this team is actually built for the regular season as opposed to the team that dominated the 2000's. They are middle of the pack in terms of defense (this was shocking to me), and they survived this long due to their young players that allowed Duncan to rest up, playing a career low in minutes and their ability to shoot the 3, but as the Magic have shown us every year for the past four years, having a dominant center and a bunch of shooters doesn't win a title. The leader of your team does not play 25 minutes a game in the playoffs.
If the Spurs want to advance, they need Manu back, and they need him to be effective. He led the team in points, assists, and minutes played during the season, and with out him they are much easier to defend.
Their is a reason why the Grizz tanked to get this match up. The rest of the series will depend on continued brilliant play from Gasol and Randolph (who were the best players on the floor in game one), and how effective Manu is when he returns.

Hornets v. Lakers
The Lakers destroyed New Orleans during the regular season, but all of those wins came before the late season slump. They look old and tired, which they are.
The Hornets are not the better team, but could have the best player in this series. LA gives up .775 points per possession. On the 20 pick and rolls where Chris Paul was the ball handler, New Orleans 1.45 points per possession. How will LA reduce that number? Surely it will not be with the great defense of Derek Fisher, and they can't have Kobe playing that hard on both ends and not expect him to tire out.
CP3 destroyed the Lakers, picking apart their defense, and scoring at will. Paul either scored or assisted on 25 of the 34 made field goals for New Orleans, who as a team only turned the ball over 3 times. Obviously those stats cannot persist through out a 7 game series, and the Laker's should bounce back.
After Kobe called out Pau's lackadaisical play (a page out of Phil's book), I would expect a bigger game from him and better team defense from the Lakers, but for a team that limped into the post season with their age being very apparent, a game one loss could be a bigger deal than most think.

Celtics v. Knicks
New York did the worst thing they possibly could in this game, they woke Boston up from their regular season slumber.
The Knicks could have easily won this game, and maybe the series, but they changed the tempo and got physical and chippy with Boston. Thats how the Celts are built to play. Don't piss them off.
Now with Billups out for at least the next game, New York seems like a much bigger underdog than before game one. If I were a Knicks fan I would hope that D'antoni won't freeze out A'mare again during the last 7 possessions while he's having a monster game to have everything run through an ice cold Melo, but you never know. If this tough play continues for Boston, Miami will be glued to the TV in fear.

Thunder v. Nuggets
Perhaps the best game of the weekend, and possibly the best series of the first round. Durant and Westbrook put on an incredible show that in the end was too much for Denver.
I think this will end up going at least 6 games, but Felton will need to gain some composure. Denver has some big advantages going into the next few games; they dominated points in the paint (46-28) while taking Ibaka completely out of his game. If they can be competitive in game two and steal one on the road before taking it back to Denver they are in good shape. No one wants to go into mile high tied up in a series.

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