Thursday, April 21, 2011

2011 NBA Playoffs: Where Magic Happens

These Playoffs have been fannnnnnnnnntastic!!!
Before we get to the Celtics, let's get something straight: the NBA playoffs have been magnificent so far and have a chance to be one of the most entertaining postseasons the NBA has seen in a while.

This is a star studded league, and we are reaping the benefits

          With a surplus of superstars scattered across the league, unpredictability has been the overarching theme of this years playoffs. Fans were treated to game one stunners in San Antonio and LA (the first time in NBA history that the number one and two seeds both lost a game one in the first round), as well as a bunch of other hyper-competitive games that came down to the last minute of play. In fact, Elias Sports Bureau reported that in the first eight games of this postseason, there have already been five games in which a team overcame a double digit deficit to win (OKC, Memphis, Chicago, Miami and Boston), whereas there were only eleven of these types of games all of last postseason, spanning eighty two games.

Wow. Seems like we are in for a hell of a treat.

Let's quickly check in on each of the eight series of round one:

San Antonio vs. Memphis (tied 1-1):

The Grizzlies stole game one* in Texas after nearly blowing what seemed like a sure victory. Matt Bonner drained two big time trey bombs to bring San Antonio back, but Memphis won the game after Shane Battier- one of the sneakier deadline additions this season- swished a clutch three to put the Grizz on top for good. It was the franchise's first playoff victory. Game two swung back to the three time champion Duncan-led Spurs, who may be one of the weakest 60 win teams in NBA history. They are getting hammered down low by Zach Randolph and the other Gasol, and are having trouble doing anything offensively. Memphis has a real chance to win this series. (*Manu Ginobili, probably San Antonio's best player, and definitely their best fourth quarter scorer, sat out game one)
Welcome Back

Los Angeles vs. New Orleans (tied 1-1):

After Chris Paul's virtuoso performance in game one (33-7-14 with 4 steals to boot), everyone was jumping on the Hornets' bandwagon. But after New Orleans' miserable game two performance (39% fg, 63% ft), people started to remember why New Orleans was considered the weakest link in the Western Conference playoffs. Despite Kobe and Pau combining for a meager 19-8-2, New Orleans was barely able to keep up with the gigantic front line of Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. If Paul can get back on track (he had trouble getting open looks in game 2 against bigger defenders), the Hornets have a chance, but you have to think that the Lakers are going to get out of this slump sooner rather than later.
[Total sidenote that has nothing to do with anything but I feel is my obligation to share. For everyone who hated Sasha Vujacic, this video proves that even from him, some good can come:
3 Year Old LOVES Sasha "Machine" Vujacic
One of the greatest videos I have ever seen. Honestly, how can a kid come away from an NBA game and think that SASHA VUJACIC is the best player- granted, it was a Nets game? I'm officially worried about where the world is headed.]

Dallas vs. Portland (Dallas 2-0):

After practically everyone (including me) wrote off the Mavs following their putrid late-season performance, they have really quieted the critics with a strong win in game one behind the veteran leadership of Jason Kidd (oldest player to hit 6 threes in a playoff game) and Dirk Nowitzki (tied Jordan for most free throws made in a playoff quarter with 13 in the 4th), and a convincing win in game two. Portland needs to win game three to have any sort of chance in this series, but it's looking more and more like the Mavericks will be advancing to round two before LA or San Antonio.

Absolutely ANYTHING
Oklahoma City vs. Denver (OKC 2-0):

It's really too bad because Denver is a fun team to watch and a great story. But Oklahoma City is just too much for them to handle. In game one, OKC relied on Westbrook in the first half, and Durant (25 2nd half points) in the second half, to win a tight, controversial contest. Former Celtics player Kendrick Perkins tipped in a Westbrook miss to give OKC a lead with a minute to go (replays seemed to indicate that it was offensive goaltending and the basket should NOT have counted), and Denver never recovered. OKC, firing on all cylinders in game 2, destroyed Denver 106-89. OKC continues to be the trendy pick to usurp the power in the Western Conference from the Lakers, with its unbelievable display of scoring, size, athleticism and experience (despite it's youth, OKC has players who know how to win big games, Perkins won a title as a starter in 08', and Westbrook and Durant led Team USA to a Title in the World Championships this past summer). Look for OKC to take care of business in Denver.

Chicago vs. Indiana (Chicago 2-0):

After completely blowing game one (up ten with 3:30 to go), Indiana may have ruined it's chance to upset the consensus title-favorite Bulls. Give credit to Chicago for not panicking, and to Derrick Rose for putting on yet another phenomenal performance to lead the comeback. With Rose playing at such a high level, and with Thibodeau's defensive genius, knocking off Chicago will be an extremely tough task this postseason. The only question with them is if they will get enough from the other guys to keep up with the likes of Miami, Boston and LA. Only time will tell.

Miami vs. Philadelphia (Miami 2-0):

Finally living up to expectations? Or Bust?
After Philly gave Miami a run for its money in game one, Miami has basically taken control of the series. There is no way a team led by Wade and Bron blows a 2-0 lead to an inexperienced Sixers squad.

Orlando vs. Atlanta (tied 1-1):

Watching this series is like watching "Ripley's Believe it or Not." Dwight Howard's complete evisceration of Atlanta's frontcourt has been the single reason why anybody, anywhere (including Atlanta and Orlando) would watch this series. That, and Dwight Howard's shoulders.
The Extra-Terrestrial
[I can see it now: "Next on Ripley's, we look into what went wrong in game one when Howard submitted a 46-19 and still lost. One bystander blamed it on zombies (Gilbert Arenas) and ghosts (Hedo Turkoglu), while another said he saw dead bodies (J-Rich, and everyone on the Magic bench). Also, we look into claims that Dwight Howard is actually an alien.]

Boston vs. New York (Boston 2-0):

So first of all, hell yes. Any time I see Boston 2, New York 0, in anything, it makes me happy. OK, well where do we start? The Celtics aren't winning pretty, but they are winning, and they are going to keep chugging along until they face a superior opponent. New York is not superior (this was a general New York, and a specific, Knicks) to Boston. The Celtics are battled tested veterans who, when the playoffs roll around, sort of pick their spots against inferior teams. Look back to 08', when the inexperienced Hawks improbably took the C's to 7 games. We closed them out when we needed to. Against better teams like the Cavs and Pistons, the C's seemed to play a lot better. I guess that's what happens when you are a veteran team. You understand the importance of the moment. You get up for big games. You elevate your play when the stage gets bigger. That's what the Celtics did in 08', and that's what they did last year. It can't be a coincidence that Celtics teams in the Big Three era have all jumped to fantastic starts, only to fade after Christmas. They "flipped the switch." Go ask Gregg Popovich or Tim Duncan to explain it to you. Although the Celtics haven't been flashy, in fact, they haven't even really been all that good in either of these first two games, they have gotten the W. And that's the thing. The Celtics don't even have to be that good to get past the first round. They are still rounding into form, still tinkering with minutes and rotations, still getting healthy. The Celtics will be there in round 2, and they will be there in full force. They know the Heat are a worthy opponent. The Knicks don't belong on the same floor as these Celtics, and that is not to say that the Knicks can't win a game or two or three. It's just to say that the Celtics will buckle down when they need to, and the Knicks will not (partially because they don't know how yet, and partially because they have only three good players). The Celtics will battle the Heat, and they will battle the Bulls, and they will battle the Lakers or whoever comes out of the West. These Celtics are ABLE to play and succeed against any team in the world right now. The question remains: WILL they?

What are we?