Russell Westbrook got injured, Patrick Beverley got death threats, and then everybody sounded the death knell of the Oklahoma City Thunder. David Lee got injured, but that didn’t stop the Warriors from upsetting the Nuggets seemingly because I predicted the opposite outcome. Everybody jumped on the Steph Curry bandwagon (including yours truly). The Grizzles became the first team ever (as in, like, ev-ar) to crawl out of an 0-2 deficit to win the next four games in a row by 10+ points. The Heat swept the Bucks. The Celtics showed that there is pride even in defeat. The Knicks continued to jack up terrible shots. Dwight Howard got ejected. J.R .Smith got ejected. Z-Bo got ejected (after they had already won the game and closed out the series, no less). Chris Paul got ejected. Disappointment abounded. The Spurs mercifully put the Lakers out of their misery. The Hawks-Pacers series went to seven games, and nobody cared because it was just too unbearable to watch. Lebron James won his fourth MVP award, missing out on the league’s first unanimous decision by one lousy dissenting vote. Derek Fisher was miraculously the only player fined for flopping during the first round, while Chris Paul flopped around on-court like a dying fish unpunished.
P.J. Carlesimo got fired. Mike Dunlap got fired. Lawrence Frank got fired. Scott Skiles got fired. Byron Scott got fired. Doug Collins resigned. Vinny Del Negro will most likely get fired. It was basically a bloodbath at the head coaching position at the end of this season, paving the way for a whole slew of currently unemployed coaches, including Nate McMillan, the brothers Van Gundy, Phil Jackson, and whoever’s dumb enough to hire Avery Johnson.
The first round is always a dizzying ordeal, and this year was particularly exciting, with four potential closeout games happening at the same time on Saturday night. Teams tend to establish or reinforce their identities during the opening round, and those who don’t quite know who they are yet often get exploited for their deficiencies. Either way, they learn something about themselves. We saw this in the Knicks-Celtics series when borderline-MVP-candidate ‘Melo – who spent the regular season learning how to pass, rebound, and play defense – reverted back to the old isolation, hero-ball ‘Melo who jacks up 25-30 questionable shots per game and nearly let Boston back into the series in the process. So which ‘Melo are we going to see in the second round?
And which Thunder team are we going to see? Without Russell Westbrook’s energy and tenacity, the Thunder have struggled at both ends of the court, causing Kevin Durant to assume a tremendous amount of responsibility. The question is whether the increased workload is sustainable through the later rounds. They edged out the Grizzlies in game one but only because of Durant’s last-minute heroics.
There is an enormous amount of tension surrounding a team’s expectations and how they actually perform in games. The initial test for a team is to defend home-court advantage. They say that the playoffs don’t officially start until someone loses on their home floor. The teams who earned home-court advantage during the regular season play their first two playoff games at home, so it’s their job to defend home court advantage while the other team tries to steal at least one of those first two games.
With 40 games in 40 nights, there’s barely enough time for players to catch their breath before they have to pack up and head to an opposing team’s city and try to win a game in front of a hostile home crowd. Some teams cave under the pressure (the Nets). Some teams simply catch the plague in the process (most of the Bulls roster).
So what happens now?
The second round technically started yesterday with a double-header on ABC, and it continues tonight in earnest as the Heat host the Bulls and the Spurs host the Warriors.
Eye-popping Fact: the Warriors haven’t won in San Antonio in the last 29 games (13 years). That’s a pretty daunting prospect. They’re hoping to ride the momentum into the second round against a consistent and vastly-more-experienced Spurs team who’s had plenty of rest since ousting the Lakers a week ago.
The Grizzlies will have to find an answer for Kevin Martin in game two. They already have their hands full with Durant, but they left Martin open for far too many corner threes in game one. They also made some costly turnovers down the stretch, and there’s absolutely no good reason why Conley shouldn’t be destroying 172-year-old Derek Fisher, so look for him to bounce back on Tuesday.
The Heat claim that they’re not underestimating the Bulls, who ousted the Nets despite their increasingly depleted roster. Remember that it was the Bulls who halted the Heat’s historic 27-game win streak last month, so don’t be surprised to see a physical, chippy series with lots of flagrants and technicals between these two sworn enemies.
The Knicks are already down 0-1 to the Pacers, and the Pacers have them right where they want them: hoisting up lots of contested jump shots. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith were a combined 14-43 from the field. The Pacers were also more aggressive on the boards and just generally better all-around.