The second round of the NBA playoffs are winding down and these matchups have been fascinating. Every game produces a knee jerk reaction that looks foolish by the following night. Let me take you through the four series with some brief recaps and look ahead at what to expect.
San Antonio vs. LA Clippers (SA Leads 3-0)
This has been the least interesting series so far. The Clippers have shown that they can play with the Spurs, but San Antonio is just so good that it doesn’t matter. Their 24 point comeback in game 3 showed that no lead is safe. After beginning the game shooting just 34%, the Spurs hit at a 53% clip the rest of the way. They are simply much, much better than the Clippers right now. Had Chris Paul and Blake Griffin been healthy, LA maybe could have stolen a game or two, but the Spurs would have still won this series.
Oh, and stop calling Tim Duncan old.
Boston vs Philadelphia (Tied 2-2)
This has been maybe the most evenly matched series, but has given us some brutal basketball to watch. If you enjoy offensive efficiency, this matchup is not for you. It looks more like a Bruins/Flyers game than it does a Celtics/Sixers game.
Philly has just one superstar (yes, Iguodala is one), but they don’t rely on just him. They have a balanced offense and can get points from several other places. Five players scored in double digits in game 4 and that must continue if the Sixers want to win this series.
Boston is still struggling with consistency as they have all year long. The Big 3 are starting to show their age a bit, but any one of them is still capable of going off on any night. Rajon Rondo is the most important piece to the Celtics offense, but as we’ve seen in the past, he’s predictably easy to guard in the playoffs. His jump shot doesn’t scare anyone, so it’s essential 4 on 5 late in games.
Both teams hang their hat on the defensive side of the game and it has shown. The first two games were decided by just 1 point each. In game 3 it looked like the Celtics made a statement with their 107-91 win, but the Sixers seemed unphased as evident by their 92-83 win in game 4. I absolutely expect this game to go 7 at this point, I’m just not sure how much of the next three games I’ll actually be able to watch.
Miami vs Indiana (Ind leads 2-1)
I’ve spent the entire season making fun of the Pacers, but even I can’t deny how well they’ve played so far in this series. The loss of Chris Bosh makes the Heat infinitely easier to defend, but they still should be up in this series. No disrespect to the Pacers (well, maybe a little), but no one on their team should scare you. They’re well balanced and discipline and all that good stuff, but come on. Miami is beating themselves in this series.
After Chris Bosh went down in the first half of game 1, Indiana has outplayed Miami. They would be up 3-0 were it not for Lebron James’ 16 point 4th quarter (not clutch) performance in game 1. In game 2, the Heat offense was lethargic. James and Wade combined for 52 points, but the third leading scorer was Mario Chalmers with 5 points. Still, Miami had a chance to tie the game late but Dwayne Wade missed a layup. That play started a wave of criticism towards Lebron James. Wait, what? Generally a pass to an all-star, former finals MVP for a layup to tie the game would be considered a great play. Not in today’s NBA. Everyone knows that Lebron should have forced a jumper in that situation. That loss gave the Pacers home court advantage and a ton of momentum. They now knew this team was beatable. They rode that wave to a dominating 19 point victory in game 3, sounding the panic button for the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Game 4 tips off in about 3 hours and I’m fascinated to see how Miami responds. Eric Spoelstra is coaching for his job, while James and Wade are hoping to avoid another summer of criticism after not winning it all. Pat Riley put this team together and deserves some blame for this debacle as well. The loss of Bosh cannot be understated, but if you’ve been watching you know Lebron and Wade are good enough to beat Indiana by themselves. Late game situations are a huge problem. You can argue over which star should take the last shot, but I have another question. Why is Miami only running isolation plays for one player, while the other acts as a decoy? Do you know how terrifying a pick and roll with Lebron James and Dwayne Wade would be? Both players can shoot over top if you go under the screen, both players can slash to the basket if you play soft and both players can make a pass to the screener if you overplay. Spoelstra, if you want to save your job make this happen.
Oklahoma City vs LA Lakers (OKC leads 3-1)
The changing of the guard in the West is complete. Kobe Bryant simply isn’t good enough to put the Lakers on his back anymore and the Thunder look incredibly good. Durant and Westbrook are the best 1-2 punch in the NBA, yet the Thunder have a ton of depth as well. The Lakers have a huge advantage down low, but they’ve been unable to capitalize on it thus far.
If you ignore the Thunder’s dominating 30 point win in game 1, the Lakers biggest problem has been their inability to close out games. Yep. Kobe Bryant’s team can’t close out close games. In game 2, the Lakers had a 7 point lead win two minutes remaining. Seemingly an insurmountable lead with Kobe on the other team right? Nope. The Black Mamba went 0-2 from the floor for 0 points, including one airball and another terrible pass that led to an OKC bucket. In game 4 the Lakers blew another lead where Kobe was once again bad in the clutch. In the final 4 minutes, Bryant was 1-6 and the shot he did make was a meaningless jumper once the game was already decided. 2012 Kobe just isn’t the same guy he once was. Sorry guys, those days are over.
Wanna see someone actually hit a clutch shot?
In game 2:
And then again in game 4:
It will be interesting to see how the Lakers respond to elimination in game 5 as they’re known to give up when facing elimination. Examples can be found here, here, and here (the infamous Kobe refusing to shoot game).