The good, the bad and the ugly in the first round of the NBA Playoffs
Was there any story as great as watching PG13 tear up the East again? Just a year removed from a devastating injury, George returned to the postseason and proceeded to have his way with the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors tried several different defenses, but George just couldn’t be stopped. George just elevates everyone around him, and seeing the return of a functioning George Hill and some life from Solomon Hill and Paul George easily has breathed life back into the Pacers organization. Welcome back, PG13.
In a surprising twist, the best player for most of the Charlotte-Miami series happened to be the aging Luol Deng. Deng returned to his form from his Chicago days and absolutely torched the Hornets in Games 1 and 2, shooting nearly flawlessly from the field and sparking the romps that ensued. Even in the Heat’s losses in the series, Deng provided consistent offense, as Charlotte never really found a true answer for Deng, who was guarded by everyone from Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller, to Marvin Williams and Jeremy Lin. Nothing worked for Charlotte and the veteran was a pleasant surprise for Miami.
The return of the Hornets
It seems like ages ago that the likes of Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, and Mugsy Bouges roamed the court for the Hornets – and that’s because it has been. But it’s been that long since the Charlotte franchise has fielded a team as competitive as this year’s squad. It was tough not to like Charlotte against Miami, with personalities galore on the team that just made them likeable. Seeing Big Al Jefferson posting up Hassan Whiteside, and the antics of Linsanity, along with another big-time clutch performance from Kemba Walker, and seeing the Hornets playing meaningful basketball this deep in the season again was something to appreciate. The Hornets, if their core stays together, look to be a mainstay in the East.
The King’s Court
As great as LeBron James’ game has been in this postseason, his amount of deferment to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love has been something to marvel. It’s the first time LeBron hasn’t been the leading scorer for his team since the 2011 Finals – and the Cavaliers offense clicked. Irving played well, along with Love looking like he belonged, as the Irving-Love pick and roll game was absolutely killer to the Pistons’ defense. The Cavs look like a major force again in the East.
While the first round of this year’s playoffs were certainly criticized for lack of competiveness, the East (aside from Cleveland and Detroit) didn’t disappoint in drama. Toronto and Indiana was intense from the start, with an upset early on and trading games back and forward. Boston-Atlanta and Charlotte-Miami both started like the other series in the playoffs, with the Celtics and Hornets facing 2-0 deficits, but both would rally and tie the series. The drama was certainly high on this side of the bracket, which slightly made up for the disappointing West.
When exactly do we start to understand that Green may be the glue that holds Golden State together? Green anchored the Warriors offense and defense, facilitating an offense that didn’t miss a single beat when the League MVP went down. Draymond is the catalyst behind this run, keeping the Warriors humming at full speed as a fully functioning triple double machine. With Steph Curry down for an extended period of time, Green playing this way could easily carry the Warriors to a showdown with San Antonio.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan
While the Raptors were able to advance, it was certainly not due to the play of the Raptors’ two stars. DeRozan gets a slight pass based on two games at the end, but he was still pretty bad in Game 7. A record of 30 points on 32 shots is bad by any stretch of the imagination. The Raptors offense has been inefficient and just plain bad, and allowed the much smaller and less athletic Pacers to dictate tempo throughout the series. And I know this has been touched on before, but seriously, Lowry has been a shell of himself. He’s struggling in every measure compared to the regular season. Even the one total that’s up, assists, has been negated by the fact that his turnovers are through the roof in this postseason. The Raptors could survive the overmatched Pacers, which I guess is progress, but this can’t continue or Miami are going to make quick work of Toronto. A lot is made of the drop off in their offense, but the defense has been just as bad. Maybe this is just a first-round thing for Toronto, but they better figure it out in a hurry.
Regardless of how tonight plays out, I think we have enough evidence on how far a team led by Lowry/DeRozan will go: Not very far
— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) May 2, 2016
The Motor City made huge strides in making it to the playoffs this season, and that deserves to be celebrated. But it was tough to take anything the Pistons did seriously against Cleveland. While Van Gundy called an excellent series (seriously, how smart were those pick and roll switches on LeBron where Drummond sagged off?), it was overshadowed by how Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson acted throughout this series. I’m all for getting in your opponents head, but there comes a point where you’re just irritating a really good team. I mean, you had Stanley Johnson at one point talk about being “in LeBron’s head” after watching LeBron drop 30 on him. Poor Stanley is a graduate of Reggie Jackson’s School of Overconfidence, but hopefully the coaching of Van Gundy can keep these guys on the right track.
Poor Dallas. They won the sweepstakes of not having to face San Antonio or Golden State, but walked right into a freight train playing Oklahoma City. But that’s not all bad, and I certainly wouldn’t fault Dallas for coming short against a really good Thunder team. But what was Villanueva doing? He followed Westbrook around during pregame, he was talking trash, all while playing a grand total of five minutes throughout the whole series. Not only did he get eliminated, but he made himself the subject of the disses from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I’m pretty sure he’s the first guy to pull off looking creepy in a headband.
Westbrook asked about Charlie Villanueva standing behind him pregame: pic.twitter.com/1gG9UmzNuz
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 26, 2016
I can’t remember a more lopsided opening round for a conference than the West put out this year. Houston managed to squeeze one game from Golden State, but was demolished in their four losses. Dallas also squeezed a game, but was quickly put down by the Thunder. San Antonio made mincemeat of Memphis, and rolled in four games. The only close series, the Clippers and the Blazers, only became that way when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin went down. If drama was what you were after in the first round, you sorely missed it here.
Seriously, what in the world happened to the Rockets? From Western Conference Finals contenders to barely getting in the playoffs, that first-round series against Golden State was hard to watch. Houston managed to steal a game, but even with Curry down, Houston struggled. The defense was abysmal, with no effort made to guard almost anyone at any level. Harden was a bright spot, but the defense he played on Klay Thompson cost them early in Games 4 and 5. But the part that makes Houston ugly instead of just bad was the antics on the bench. The team looks disjointed and totally out of sync. Howard played with one foot out the door and absolutely no one on that roster should feel safe about their place next season.
Injuries, Injuries, and Injuries
The first round of this series will be remembered for what could have been. League MVP Steph Curry went down early in the first round. Memphis missed half of their roster due to injury, and promptly gave the Spurs nothing. Los Angeles looked well on their way to handling Portland before they lost both of their stars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. In the East, Boston and Atlanta had a classic game one before Avery Bradley went down, and the Celtics became an underdog that couldn’t get the offense they needed to really challenge Atlanta. And in the Charlotte and Miami series, Miami went without Bosh (as they have most of the season), while Charlotte dealt with injuries to Nicolas Batum and missed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. While no one is fully healthy at this time of the year, the overwhelming degree of injuries in this first round can’t help but leave fans thinking what could have been.
“I won’t wait until I’m 100% because obviously there’s a sense of urgency” -Steph Curry gives an injury update.https://t.co/XdtcMBjus0
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) April 30, 2016