How can you not love playoff basketball, especially this season’s version of postseason antics? It has at once been exhilarating and boring, expected and surprising, heroic and deflating. What is left is right, up is down, yet it all is normal in the same prism that previous playoffs have been seen in.
Dwyane Wade being unstoppable is the norm, yet it felt unbelievable as he torched the Celtics despite double and triple teams being thrown his way. He put his team on his back and carried them to an improbable and in all likelihood pyrrhic victory. Of course, the Heat didn’t win solely because Wade was close to magical, Chalmers and Beasley had key buckets and Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem combined to render Boston’s big men neutral.
But the Celtics being exponentially better than Miami is at least somewhat unexpected. Boston was a team well on its downslide, likely one of the last if not the last run this group will make, and Miami was riding a hot streak into the postseason. But Boston has proved that they are clearly superior to the Heat, and Wade has proved that he is clearly superior to everyone else.
If both teams were lined up on a playground and the coaches had to pick teams, Wade would be the first pick and Boston would have the next 5 players chosen (Pierce, Rondo, Perkins, Allen, Garnett, maybe Beasley could push for the 6th spot).
Atlanta has reverted back into their younger forms, at least so far, in that they dominate at home but on the road they look like puppies trying to figure out where they have been dropped off. Milwaukee is not the same after Bogut’s gruesome injury, desperately lacking the toughness and inside presence Bogut brought. With Bogut, it wasn’t unreasonable to think the Bucks could make an appearance in the 2nd round. Without, they should be lucky to win a game.
But the Hawks have proved ill prepared or disinterested after their first visit to Wisconsin in the playoffs. Josh Smith may not find Milwaukee nightlife interesting, but the court is the same length no matter what city it’s in.
Also, the Octagon was right, Brandon Jennings is the coolest player in the NBA. He seems so ready for this stage, even in game 1 he was ready to play (the only Bucks player really) and game 3 was a showcase for what he does for his team.
Before the San Antonio-Dallas series began, if questioned about the Spurs’ ability to win the series most educated followers would concede at least a “pretty good” shot at upsetting the Mavericks. Yet, now up 3-1 over Dallas, it seems really surprising that the Spurs might actually win. This is the same Spurs team that was written off as “dead” no longer than one month ago. All of the sudden the Spurs burdensome age has turned into wisdom and the rust is now viewed as battle scars.
And the fact that Dallas is down is very surprising. The Mavs were and are seen at worst as the 2nd most talented team in the Western Conference. They weren’t playing particularly well at the end of the season, but they are a team chockablock full of veterans who have seen the deepest recesses of the NBA playoffs. But, something just hasn’t clicked beyond game 1. They are essentially done, although it isn’t beyond their talent to win the two remaining home games and “steal” the last remaining road game.
George Hill has finally decided to play the last two games like he did for stretches of the regular season. He has some weird ability to play the 1, 2, and 3 depending on if Pop wants to have Ginobili and/or Parker in at the same time. His flexibility is really incredible, as his improved shot making capabilities are.
The Lakers have looked the old and rigid team San Antonio should be, especially when examined next to the young and vibrant Thunder. Everyone knew that the Thunder would do more than compete, maybe even win some games they weren’t supposed to. But this seems foreign. Its like seeing Ali get knocked down in the 3rd round. Kobe looks furious nearly every minute, looking like he wishes he were an actual Mamba so that he can repeatedly bite Derek Fisher in the neck for turning Russell Westbrook into a track star on the fast break.
But that was almost expected, most expecting the Thunder to exploit the matchup of Westbrook vs. anyone on the Lakers and letting Durant be Durant. The difference has been the comfort of Green, Harden, and Ibaka. Maybe the Thunder will be little more than a road nuisance for the Lakers, or maybe they have discovered what was true all along, that they can compete with anyone regardless of what month it is.
The Chicago-Cleveland series could have easily gone the way LA-OKC has gone, but LeBron matched Wade’s inhumane determination to destroy the opponent and obliterated Chicago on his way to an effortless triple double. Chicago is much better than their record would indicate, a young, athletic team that has enough talent to make top teams break a sweat.
Yet their victory was surprising to some, but not as surprising as the fact they were competitive in the first two games. Then the third game hit like a coiled viper before Cleveland was able to react and apply enough pressure to get back into the game. Then LeBron came into game 4 with an intensity that made Antawn Jamison wet his pants with fear and excitement and LeBron delivered.
His performance was needed, as was their loss in game 3. Maybe that woke them up, perhaps it let Cleveland know that they weren’t invincible. Whatever happened, LeBron looked determined to not have that embarrassment happen again, at least not in this series.
Determination is not a trait that belongs exclusively to LeBron. Gerald Wallace knows how to bring it every single possession, hopelessly trying to bring his team a much-needed W. Other than Wallace, and several quarters from Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats don’t seem equal to Orlando.
Orlando has played terribly, no doubt some of the credit belonging to Charlotte’s game plan and execution, and still has looked dominant. Jameer Nelson has redefined his mode in this series. He comes out looking to dictate through scoring, not through his usual passing, and he is overwhelmingly succeeding.
Kevin McHale is talking himself hoarse from the press table imploring the Bobcats to drive to the basket, which runs counter to personal logic with Howard still roaming the painted area. Imagine what Larry Brown must be doing to inspire his players to run sprints into Dwight. Howard has been impotent offensively yet, when he can manage to stay on the floor, totally governs the action.
This series, more than any other, seems hopeless. The Bobcats would be beyond lucky to win a game at home at this point and should hope that Dwight Howard continues to commit blatantly stupid offensive fouls on Tyson Chandler.
Then there is the Phoenix-Portland series that has changed tone more times than Robin Williams discussing serious subjects.
First, Portland steals game 1 without stud Brandon Roy and panic sets in for Phoenix fans. Then the next two games go according to plan and the Suns turn the games into layup lines. Then game four brings Roy from injury banishment into the game and unleashes howls in Portland that probably resulted in some permanent hearing loss.
The long term benefits/costs of bringing Roy in were irrelevant to the thousands of fans who see little beyond their belief that this team can win now despite logic dictating it can’t. Whatever, Brandon Roy will not be denied by something so minor as knee surgery just over one week beforehand.
Jason Richardson has never been so crucial. If he plays well, the Suns will win, if he doesn’t, the odds aren’t so favorable. It seems starkly simple, but it never is with J-Rich.
And that leaves only Denver-Utah, which is a series that continues to stupefy. Denver has been lost without George Karl. They seemed poised to compete if not capture the Western Conference crown, a team that made it there last season and bettered itself with the addition of Ty Lawson to solidify the backup point position.
Carmelo is the MVP candidate and always scoring champion threat, Billups is the ready leader, JR Smith is the streaky shooter, Birdman the passionate psycho, Kenyon the weird glue guy, and Nene the Brazilian. They have it all. At their peak, they can and have beaten anyone.
But they no longer do. It was a bit surprising that they won the first game like they did. However, Utah for much of the year has been one of the few teams thought capable of rivaling the Lakers (along with Denver) so victories are far from surprising. However, they lose AK-47 before the series begins and then lose Okur in the first game. And Deron Williams looks like the best point guard on the planet. Aside from Nash, what other point guard can contend with Williams for the title at least in the playoffs? He performs on the court, puts on a dance and leaves opponents looking like members of the Washington Generals.
He will purposely wait until a defender is on him to perform a fake penetration dribble only to pull up and leave his opponents in the painted area while he drains a three. This happens at least once a game. He has perhaps the quickest crossover in the game, and his size makes Chauncey Billups look like a welterweight. That isn’t even mentioning his speed.
Carmelo has gone out on the superstar limb, notifying the public that he can’t do it by himself. Wade had similar comments after his insane bludgeoning of Boston’s defense. However, Carmelo has teammates that can actually not look incompetent on the floor. It would be surprising if anyone outside of Utah thought the series would come to this, especially after Denver defended home court so well in game 1. This is why playoff basketball is so good/exciting/infuriating. There is no way to tell what will happen, yet usually the end is predicted.