April 21, 2014

NBA Playoffs: Opening Weekend Thoughts

After craving for the start of playoff basketball, casual and die hard NBA fans had their itch comfortably scratched with some fantastic Game 1's on Saturday and Sunday.

Toronto Raptors (3) vs Brooklyn Nets (6):

In Toronto on Saturday, we saw the youthful Toronto Raptors try to claim Game 1 in their home building, but the experience of the Brooklyn Nets made it tough for them to prevail. The Raptors inexperience and nervousness was evident, as all-star DeMar DeRozan shot 3 of 13 from the field, appearing to be rattled by the monumental stage of the playoffs and the length and athletic ability of Shaun Livingston on the defensive end.

Toronto also doomed themselves with 17 turnovers, while Brooklyn only had 8. It's hard enough to win a professional basketball game, and giving a team such as the Nets 17 extra possessions simply generates a recipe that leaves disaster promptly on Toronto's doorstep.

Nets point guard Deron Williams scored 24 in the contest, netting 18 in the first half. If BKY wants to surprise the entire basketball world and march to the Eastern Conference Finals, this type of productivity is imperative out of D-Will, who use to be mentioned in the same breath as CP3, Tony Parker and Rondo as best point guards in the league.

Injuries and team issues have put that thought on the back burner, but a solid postseason could help to resurrect those thoughts.

Brooklyn shot 4-24 from beyond the arc, which is frightening for Toronto as the Nets were still able to prevail.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett came up huge down the stretch, hitting some clutch shots to propel Brooklyn to victory. That's what veterans do. Garnett swam in uncharted waters on Saturday, as he was held scoreless in the first half for the first time in his postseason career, but hit an important bucket in the 4th quarter.

No matter how the previous quarter or minutes have gone, great players find a way to swings in their favor. They step up to the occasion and steer the results in their favor. The keyword in this series is experience and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams have a boatload of it.

Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs Golden State Warriors (6):

The Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors matchup was riveting, as the contest came right down to the nitty gritty. The referees put their stamp on this game, as Blake Griffin fouled out and was limited to 19 minutes.

Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala also found the refereeing to be problematic, as he also fouled out and was able to play only 20 minutes.
Despite the constant tweaks, it didn't slow the teams from an offensive efficiency standpoint. Both ballclubs shot above 40% from three, connecting on at least 10. GSW scored 109, LAC scored 105.

The point guard matchup proved to be an anticlimactic duel in a sense, as Steph Curry didn't have his best game (14 points, 6-16 FG, 2-6 3PT FG, 7 AST, 7 TO,) and Chris Paul have some unexpected end of game blunders that ultimately costed the Clips the game.

Paul had 28 points on 10-23 FG (5-9 3PT FG,) 7 REB and 8 AST, but also had an uncharacteristic 6 turnovers. One of these miscarriages came at the end of the game, in addition to two missed Paul FT's that would've tied the game.
Regardless of all of this, the game still proved to live up to the hype that clung to the series as soon as it was known that these two would square off. The up and down action, the hatred these two teams possess for each other and the talented players participating make it such awesome basketball, and hopefully in Game 2, the teams best players aren't plagued by foul troubles and are able to stay on the floor. This would only better the great product that is the Golden State Warriors vs the Los Angeles Clippers.

Indiana Pacers (1) vs Atlanta Hawks (8):

For the Indiana Pacers the inconsistencies continue. The panic has been heightened and the frustrations have amassed.

Watching their Game 1 misstep made one thing evident: this team is in dire need of a wakeup call. That wakeup call may present itself in the form of a playoff matchup with the Miami Heat, but this occurrence may be considered far fetched with the current horrific play of Paul George and company.

Indiana's body language is funky. Their demeanor is teetering between confused and disgruntled. After clinching the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers have fans wonder if they were worthy of this feat after dropping Game 1 at home vs the Atlanta Hawks 101-93.

The Pacers at times looked extremely confused, not running crisp sets or anything close to resembling an efficient offense. A lot of standing around, looking, wondering who would step up to the occasion. Paul George and Lance Stephenson both forced at times (a combined 14-36) and nobody else resembled an explosive offensive force.

Their defense was extremely flawed, as Atlanta's three point shooting bigs drew Roy Hibbert out from his domain: the painted area. Pero Antic and Paul Millsap shot a combined 9 three's, extracting the lanky and intimidating Hibbert from the paint.

This greatly assisted Jeff Teague, who proceeded to have a field day with little to no rim protection for Indiana. Teague's 28 points and 5 assists led the way for ATL, as they hope to swipe Game 2 away from Indiana.

If the Pacers want to be considered an elite team, and Paul George wants to be considered a legitimate superstar, he and the team must bounce back strongly after a miserable effort in Game 1. If Indiana is serious in terms of being a title contender, they will have a dominant Game 2 effort, to begin to reassert themselves as one of the leagues best.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs Memphis Grizzlies (7):

Kevin Durant flexed his soon to be MVP muscles on Saturday, helping OKC excel in their Game 1 contest against Memphis. Durant tallied 33 points on 13-25 FG (3-7 3PT FG,) 8 REB and 7 AST. The Thunder's lead ballooned to 25 points at halftime, but the resilient Grizzlies refused to be strangled by doubt.

They stormed all the way back, carving the lead down to two points, before Zach Randolph picked up his 5th personal foul which changed the tide of the remainder of the contest.

The Grizz's main focus was the interior, and that proved to be effective as they totaled 50 points in the paint. Randolph finished with 21 points (7-21 FG,) and 11 REB. Marc Gasol had 16 points (7-19 FG,) 6 REB and 4 AST.

The Grizzlies fought back hard, but it's tough to claw all the way back from a 25 point deficit on the road against a team such as OKC. If Memphis wants to steal home court, they are going to have to refrain from going down big, or it could just result in another unsuccessful rally. Memphis had to exert so much energy coming back, that Randolph's foul woes and fatigue became too much to overcome. They hope this isn't the case in Game 2.

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs Dallas Mavericks (8)

All season long Dallas was tormented by end of game woes. I've watch them blow games against Golden State, Brooklyn, the Clippers and other teams as well. This misfortune shadowed them into the postseason, as they failed to cling onto their 10 point lead in the 4th quarter.

A Brandan Wright three point play gave the Mavs a 81-71 lead with 7:45 left in the 4th, from their the San Antonio onslaught commenced. The Spurs went on a 15-0 run to grasp a 86-81 lead.

Dallas' output sputtered as they missed their next 12 shots and committed three turnovers as time dwindled down in the contest. The Mavericks starters went a combined 16-50 from the field, including Dirk Nowitzki who was only 4-14.
Meanwhile, Tony Parker chipped in 21 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds, as he ripped Dallas defense to shreds as they continued to switch on pick and rolls and honor the Spurs remarkable three point shooting ability. Parker's various flip shots and spin moves mesmerized fans and terrorized Dallas, as they failed to contain the veteran.

Also, Tim Duncan continued to gulp from the fountain of youth, hammering Dallas with 27 points and 7 rebounds. The Spurs only connected on three 3 pointers, but Duncan's incredible performance made this notion easy to ignore.

Dallas put up a fight, and I expect Dirk to have a much better performance in Game 2. If he does, and is able to get 19 points and 5 assists from Devin Harris off the bench, the Mavs stealing Game 2 is a completely feasible thought.

Miami Heat (2) vs Charlotte Bobcats (7)

Charlotte's only hope of making this series competitive was by playing through big man Al Jefferson. Miami's weakness in the interior is absolutely no secret, and the Bobcats center has been thriving all season long. Now, with Jefferson hobbled by ripping something in his plantar fascia. He was laboring in pain during majority of Game 1, and awkwardly trotted up and down the court.

Jefferson lacked explosion and quickness in his movements, but still finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The Bobcats aren't the most talented team, but they are an extremely cohesive unit. It's that togetherness that allows them to play top notch defense which keeps most contests close for them. The unity this team flirts with makes them fantastic to watch, and if they are able to acquire a legitimate wing scorer and or playmaker, they will truly be a force to be reckoned with.

Simply put, Charlotte cannot handle Miami. Every basketball fan that watches Miami Heat basketball knows they may go through lulls, but they can usually turn up the intensity at any given moment. How a team counteracts this run that usually comes via trapping the ball handler on pick and rolls, forcing turnovers and three point barrages is a huge determining factor on who wins the game.

Charlotte didn't respond to the run well, as Miami utilized a 18-4 4th quarter run to prevail over the Bobcats. LeBron James finished with 27 points and 9 rebounds, and Dwyane Wade contributed 23 points and 5 assists. Also behind this blitz was James Jones, as his 12 points and 2 three pointers was huge for Miami.

Last year, Mike Miller proved to be the shooting threat off the bench that greatly aided Miami. Although Jones doesn't possess Miller's playmaking or rebounding ability, his shooting is incredibly valuable to this team as they began their quest for a 3rd straight NBA championship.

Chicago Bulls (4) vs Washington Wizards (5)

Many consider the Wizards to be underdogs in this series, but the belief they have in themselves and their personnel was on full display Sunday evening in Chicago.

Washington prevailed 102-93, as their offense was facilitated through Nene while John Wall and Bradley Beal both played sluggish games. Wall scored 16 points, but shot only 4-14 from the field. He also dished out 6 assists and corralled 6 rebounds. Beal had 13 points, but shot an abysmal 3 of 11 from the floor.

Nene was stellar, registering 24 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. The Bulls energy early hurt Washington, was the Wizards guards were allowing an unhealthy amount of penetration, which allowed an abundance of offensive rebound opportunities for Chicago.

Offensive rebounds may have been the most effective scoring method for the Bulls, as no player scored more than 16 points. DJ Augustin shot 3-15, and defensive player of the year hopeful Joakim Noah only had 10.

Washington had Chicago right where they wanted them at the end of the game. Chicago was yearning for someone to step up, shoulder the offensive load and lead them to victory. Instead, the Bulls clanked shot after shot, gazing amongst themselves looking for someone to breakthrough offensively.

Having the Bulls in this position made this game a must win for the Wizards, and that's exactly what they did. The Bulls cannot be happy giving up 102 points in the first game of the 2014 postseason, and I fully expect them to come out fully engaged in the next game, looking to make Washington squirm on the offensive end.

Houston Rockets (4) vs Portland Trailblazers (5)

The best game of the weekend took place in Houston, as the Blazers and Rockets combated each other till the end.

The Blazers emerged victorious against the Rockets in a overtime thriller that saw a legendary performance by Portland big man LaMarcus Aldridge. The final score was 122-120, and Aldridge had 46 of those points. He also snagged down 18 rebounds and had 2 blocked shots.

LaMarcus fouled out in overtime, and that's when the Damian Lillard takeover commenced. Dame had been harassed all night by Patrick Beverley, but found overtime to be a breath of fresh air. Lillard had a game tying three pointer in regulation, and then proceeded to drill two free throws which ultimately would win Portland the game.

Adidas newest main cog finished with 31 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, as Portland snatched home court away from Houston.

This game was filled to the brim with excitement, and the rest of this series should follow suit. The Houston crowd was energized from the start of the game, as they roared with a ferociousness that had been absent for quite some time.

James Harden pinned the blame on himself, as he shot 8-28 from the floor and 3-14 from beyond the arc, including bricking the potential game winning shot for Houston.

The blame can't be placed squarely on Harden, as his running mate Dwight Howard didn't perform too greatly in crunch time either. DH12 finished with 27 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks, but also fouled out the game and his inconsistencies at the free throw lined allowed Portland back into the ballgame.

Portland pulled this one out, but they need better production from their bench. The bench tallied 7 total points, and Mo Williams (the guy I highlighted as an x-factor for PDX,) was 1-6 from the field and scored 3 points.

With both benches so slim in terms of production, this series may be reliant on who doesn't feel fatigue first. Especially for Portland, as every starter with the exception of Robin Lopez played at least 42 minutes.

LaMarcus Aldridge ushered himself into some rare company with his virtuoso performance, as he shouldered a major load for Portland. Take a look here:

If LMA keeps this up, this series will be swung heavily in Portland's favor. They absolutely need better production from their bench if they plan on thieving this series away from the favored Rockets. They can't expect Harden to shoot 8-28 from the field every night, or for Houston to shoot 23% from three point land.

All in all, this was a VERY exciting opening weekend for playoff basketball. 5 road teams prevailed and we saw some stellar performances from some fantastic players. For how great the basketball was, the refereeing was subpar, as quick whistles and silly technicals took away from the game.

This is playoff basketball. The athletes that compose the NBA dreamt of this moment since adolescence. Assessing technical fouls for a display of emotion or a high level of intensity is silly. Let these guys show force and desire. It's a treat to see professional athletes ooze energy and intensity. It's an inspiration. The refs need to realize this and let the players play.

Extra Notes:
Josh McRoberts did THIS 
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri said this
And Blake Griffin did THIS

What was YOUR favorite part of the 2014 NBA Playoffs opening weekend? Have any of your predictions changed after the 1st games? Which series are you most looking forward to now? Hit me with thoughts and opinions on twitter (@wcboyer24) and remember to continue to support The Basketball Society. 

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