The first weekend of the NBA playoffs has come and gone, and not without plenty of drama. Many of these games came with little surprises, with the Bulls, Heat, Spurs, and Lakers showing that they are the juggernauts that came as advertised. Unfortunately, what should’ve been a thrilling weekend was dampened by the news that both Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert tore their left ACL’s in non-contact situations. That is sobering news for the Chicago and New York fan bases, as the Bulls’ championship aspirations took a serious blow, while the Knicks slim chances of survival look all but gone now. Meanwhile, the weekend ended with one of the greatest playoff comebacks of all-time as the Clippers came back from a 27-point second half deficit to take down the Grizzlies in Memphis. Here are some quick thoughts from Game 1 of every Conference Quarterfinal series.
(1) Chicago Bulls v. (8) Philadelphia Sixers
My Prediction: Bulls in 5
The Bulls in game 1 showed what I expected, that this Chicago team is just too physical and too well-coached for a rag-tag, superstar-less Sixers squad that relies on its athleticism to overcome their lack of size. Chicago’s offense is sure to suffer with the loss of the current MVP Derrick Rose, however this resilient Bulls squad showed all year that not only can they win without Rose, they can straight bully you. What makes the Bulls a handful is their ability to pound the glass, especially on the offensive end. There are few things in basketball more deflating then playing great team defense for 20 seconds and then watching the opposing team get the ball right back off a miss. The Bulls CAN and WILL break your spirit.
(2) Miami Heat v. (7) New York Knicks
My Prediction: Heat in 5
LeBron James: 32 pts, 10-14 FG, 11-14 FT, 4 Reb, 3 Ast, 4 Stl, 32 min, +35
That line says it all. If the soon-to-be 3-time MVP plays at that level, there is NO HOPE for the rest of the league. None. The loss of Shumpert means the Knicks have one less quality defender to put in front of Dwyane. Tyson Chandler became the first player in over 25 years to have 7 turnovers in a playoff game without scoring a single point (I guess his flu was a little more serious than Nowitzki’s last year). Stoudamire, contrary to reports from New York, is still a cadaver. Wade and Bosh were both rather contained in Game 1, yet the game was never close. The Knicks’ 12-year streak without a playoff win seems to have a great chance to survive into the summer.
The Knicks’ Game 1 loss in a nutshell: Final 12 possessions of the first half. 1 FG. 10 turnovers. #decadesofirrelevance
(3) Indiana Pacers v. (6) Orlando Magic
My Prediction: Pacers in 6
People completely wrote of the Magic the second they lost Dwight Howard for the rest of the postseason. However, I did not. Stan Van Gundy is still at top-5 coach in my opinion and always has his team ready to play in a way that gives them the best chance at success. Glen Davis showed up big in Game 1 and proved to be a capable replacement for Superman down in the paint (16 Pts, 13 Reb, 3 Blks). I still have the Pacers winning because they are the more talented team, however those that picked the Pacers to sweep need to remember a truth about basketball: When your best player (Danny Granger) is not elite, you’re not sweeping anybody.
(2) Oklahoma City v. (7) Dallas Mavericks
My Prediction: Thunder in 6
Things I learned from Game 1: The Mavericks are not as dead as everyone makes them out to be. Russell Westbrook is a mid-range shooter that must be respected (I couldn’t count the number of times he was WIPE OPEN from 16-18 feet on BOTH my hands). Jason Terry is still the greatest irrational confidence guy of all-time (see: Simmons article on the Wire, scroll to point 19). Harden appears to be just fine after taking a flying elbow from Ron Artest (the artist formerly referred to as Metta World Peace). The custodian needs more playing time. Brendan Haywood isn’t Tyson Chandler, but the defensive drop off isn’t as steep as the media would have you believe. I could see every game in this series go down to the wire.
(1) San Antonio Spurs v. (8) Utah Jazz
My Prediction: Spurs in 6
The San Antonio Spurs are a lot of things. They’re a grizzled, veteran club led by a Big 3 of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. They’re a deep, talented club with promising young pieces such as Kawhi Leonard, Daniel Green, Gary Neal, and Tiago Splitter. They can eviscerate your defense with deadly pick and roll action from Parker and Ginobili, or they can spread you out and bury you with 3-pointers thanks to the selfishness and passing ability of Parker and the Big Fundamental. The Spurs of old were built on defense and low-post play. These Spurs will run and gun and do it in an efficient manner. I still believe the Jazz steal a couple of games with their strong frontcourt play from Millsap and Jefferson, however they are no match on the perimeter for this crafty, veteran team. Popovich will always get the most out of his players.
(3) Los Angeles Lakers v. (6) Denver Nuggets
My Prediction: Lakers in 7
This is the one prediction I can say will most likely be wrong after watching Game 1. The Lakers size is far too much for this athletic Nuggets team. This is just a bad matchup. Who on Denver is going to stop Andrew Bynum (10 Pts on 7 shots, 13 Rebs, 10(!!) Blks)? Their only options are Javale McGee and Kosta Koufos. *pause for laughter*. While I still believe Denver will win a few games on account of them having the biggest home court advantage in the NBA, there are things the Nuggest cannot fix, such as: Star count: Lakers 3, Nuggets 0. The addition of Ramon Sessions has effectively cancelled out the point guard advantage Denver would have with the lethally quick Ty Lawson. This Lakers team is a juggernaut. A trip to the Western Conference Finals is within their grasp.
(4) Boston Celtics v. (5) Atlanta Hawks
My Prediction: Hawks in 7
I picked the Hawks to not even make the playoffs before the season started. Now I have them upsetting one of the hottest teams going into the playoffs in the Celtics. Funny how wrong you can be sometimes. I’ve always had a problem with these Hawks teams because it seemed like the talent on their team was always overvalued (See: Joe Johnson making more than LeBron James). However, between the emergence of Josh Smith and the re-emergence of Joe Johnson along with the incredibly underrated Jeff Teague, this Hawks team can beat anyone on any given night. Given that the Celtics most likely lost Rajon Rondo for the Game 2 because of this, I feel even better about the Hawks pulling out this series, albeit it will still be very tight. The Creaky Knees World Tour knows this is their last hurrah, they will go down swinging.
(4) Memphis Grizzlies v. (5) Los Angeles Clippers
My Prediction: Grizzlies in 6
What a game. What a tough loss to swallow for the Grizzlies. Blowing a 27-point second half lead at home in what was one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history. You can never count out a team led by the greatest point-guard of our generation, Chris Paul. Game 2 is going to be crucial for the Grizzlies because they showed for the majority of Game 1 that they are indeed the better team, and if they don’t leave Memphis with at least a split, this series can get away from them in a hurry. With ZBO not playing to his potential right now, the coaching staff must ensure that Gasol gets more touches down low, given his superior play of late. The loss of Caron Butler is going to be a big one for the Clippers as he is the only true small forward in their rotation. Nick Young must continue to play big like he did in Game 1 for the Clips to win their first playoff series since 2006.