At long last, the NBA playoffs lived up to the hype. One day, two excellent games. Hopefully this is something of a turning point. Until now, injuries and ugly play have marred the proceedings just enough to take the sparkle out of the playoffs. But no more. Let’s just go ahead and dive in, shall we?
Boston Celtics 92, Philadelphia 76ers 91: Boston leads series 1-0
The second round kicked off with a bang when the Sixers and Celtics faced off in Boston, and things got pretty interesting. There was a first round villain, Evan Turner, putting in shots like had lowered the difficulty to ‘rookie.’ There was a much maligned franchise cornerstone, Andre Iguodala, playing his game and living up to the hype with an excellent all-around performance. Then there was the old guy, Kevin Garnett, turning back the clock and playing like he was back in Minneapolis. And then the guy who nobody really knows how to define, Rajon Rondo, slapping up a triple-double and hitting clutch jumpers down the stretch (trust me, that felt as weird to write as I’m sure it did to read) despite having sucked for most of the game. All of it culminated in a semi-stunning Philadelphia collapse — not quite as stunning if you’d watched them during the regular season — and a couple of heady plays by Rondo to ice the game.
The last few minutes were weird for a couple of different reasons. First of all, there was Rondo flipping a switch and doing Rajon Rondo things, adding a few jumpers for good measure just to mess with our heads, presumably. Then there were the Sixers completely melting down and not understanding how much time it would take to foul twice and then failing to execute even one foul, although you can credit that mostly to Rondo simply running away from them. Also, Rondo fouling Jrue Holiday in transition when the Celtics were up 3 was one of the smartest plays I’ve ever seen from an NBA player. And if that wasn’t enough, no close Celtics game is complete without a Paul Pierce step-back jumper from the elbow in the clutch, and he delivered a textbook example in the final minute. Everyone in the building saw it coming. Great game, even if the Bulls really should be there instead of the Sixers. Sigh.
Los Angeles Lakers 96, Denver Nuggets 87: Lakers win series 4-3
Well, we finally have a Western Semifinal matchup finalized: The Lakers will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder starting on Monday, May 14th. And in our first game seven of the postseason, we got pretty much everything we could have hoped for, up to and including Andrew Bynum being a total dick for no real reason. First the Lakers were going to run away with it. Then the Nuggets came back. Then it was close for a while. Then the Lakers ran away with it. Then the Nuggets came back and seemed to take control. Then the Lakers took control and didn’t quite manage to relinquish it. This made for arguably the single most enjoyable game of the playoffs, although game five of this series and pretty much all of the Grizzlies-Clippers series also have to be considered.
Intriguing individual performances were all over the place. Ty Lawson carved up the Lakers’ defense like a Thanksgiving turkey for 3 quarters and then disappeared off the face of the earth for the fourth. Al Harrington got buckets in his first really good performance of the series. JaVale McGee did JaVale McGee things. On the other side, Ron Artest (I refuse to call him anything else after his ridiculous elbow on James Harden) had a mostly triumphant return to action after his suspension and Steve Blake absolutely lost his mind off of the bench, scoring 19 points and going 5/6 from downtown. Kobe Bryant defied all expectations and played a facilitator role, only scoring 17 points but adding 8 assists. Of course, that’s a lot easier when Bynum and Pau Gasol combine for 39 points, 35 rebounds (20 of those offensive rebounds and yes you read that correctly) and 10 blocks, which they did.
That’s the real lesson from this series. You can only do so much to overcome superior size and talent, without having that kind of size and/or talent on your side. The Nuggets couldn’t match the Lakers there and paid the price. Oklahoma City on the other hand…well, we’ll just have to see.
Sunday, May 13th:
Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies Game 7, 1 PM EDT, ABC
Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat Game 1, 3:30 PM EDT, ABC