May 7, 2012
By Oliver Layco
After an intense 66-game season the NBA playoffs are among us. The season was filled with its fair share of drama and injuries. The Chicago Bulls managed to stay atop the East despite losing their star player, Derrick Rose, to injury for almost half the season. The Orlando Magic had to deal with Dwight Howard trade rumors and then coach drama; then after all that hoop-la he’s not even playing in the playoffs. Then there was this guy named Metta World Peace who started to play like Ron Artest again, but that got him suspended for 7 games. And I can’t forget about the Miami Heat; I still hate them. There were numerous stories throughout the season that I could delve into, but that is not my focus this time.
The playoffs are indeed here and already in full swing. The Chicago Bulls kicked things off against the 76ers. First off, the 76ers had a really surprising season. I wasn’t expecting them to even make the playoffs; but they started off strong and were able to establish a good base. However, late in the season they struggled and barely managed to hold onto the eighth seed in the East. Still, it’s nice to see them get this far compared to what they’ve been in recent years. Now for the game itself, it wasn’t too exciting since the Bulls were up for most of it. Derrick Rose was just getting back into the rhythm of things, and it was obvious that he struggled from the field in the first half. At some point he was able to get into some sort of rhythm and it looked like the Bulls had this game in hand; they led by twelve with just under 2 minutes left in the game. A series of unfortunate events that had Rose in when the game was at hand would leave the Bulls without the reigning MVP for the remainder of the season. Rose would make an aggressive drive towards the basket, but his knee would give out and he landed awkwardly. It immediately looked bad. After the game, it was determined that he tore his ACL in his left knee and would be done for the rest of the postseason. Some would question the decision of the coach, Tom Thibodeau. With the game in hand, some wondered why their star player was still in the game. He would go on to respond saying that he wanted Rose to get back into his rhythm. I can see his viewpoint, and the reality is that his team just has to deal with the situation that was handed to them. It’s a real shame that Rose got injured with the goals that this team had. Even if the Bulls go deep into the playoffs, it’s going to be hard to see Rose coming back. He’s more than likely going to have to return next season.
The next big game was the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks. This series in itself is a revival, of sorts, of their past rivalry. The first game in this series proved to be a letdown. While New York was in it for the first half, they completely fell apart during the second. It was really a combination of the Heat’s offense, the Knicks lack of offense, and the referees. By the Heat I mean LeBron James. While my distaste for his personality runs deep, I must acknowledge his talent. He completely took over, and by the end of the game he had more points that all the Knicks starters combined. While the Knicks aren’t going to shoot this poorly throughout the series, it was an impressive feat by James to do what he did. However, for me, this was marred by the questionable decisions of the referees. Throughout the game, it seemed like the calls would lean in Miami’s favor. Then there was one flagrant foul that was called against Tyson Chandler that shouldn’t have been a flagrant. LeBron was back pedaling and Tyson set a hard screen at half court. LeBron would then fall while flailing his arms outward to emphasize the action. This is my major issue with the sport. I don’t understand how players can just drop their integrity to win. With flopping, it’s just like cheating for me. If some fouls went New York’s way, there might have been a different outcome. Check the video below to make your own judgment
The next surprise game was the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers. This should have been in Indiana’s favor because Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic has been out due to major back problems. He recently had back surgery that put him out until the start of next season. With this, the Pacers should have had this in hand; and for the better part of the game they did. They were doing everything right by controlling the pace of the game. They were even up 17 at one point. However, the Magic kept their composure and pulled together and slowly started to climb back into this. It also helped that the Pacers’ defense fell apart. This was a good win for Orlando so they can realize all isn’t lost without Howard. This should make the series interesting because Orlando can believe in themselves while Indiana won’t take the Magic for granted.
The final game of the first day was Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder. This was the first game that was thrilling throughout. From the start, the Mavs were the underdogs for everything that’s happened to them this season; especially since they were the defending champs. No one expected them to struggle like they did. They added a lot of veteran experience to counter losing a lot of their core players. The Thunder were expected to dominate because that’s what they’ve been doing all season. When the game started, it immediately had a different feel. Neither team had a stronghold on the lead throughout the game. It was an impressive battle as both teams were putting everything into it. What’s even more surprising was that Dirk Nowitzki was struggling throughout until the fourth quarter. He started to heat up and the Mavs would be up nine and seemed to have the game in hand. However, the Thunder didn’t give up and that would be beneficial in the end. In the end, it came down to the final shot by Kevin Durant. He would take an unbalanced shot from the top of the key that rattled around before going through the net. There were two seconds left on the clock, but for whatever reason Shawn Marion dribbled up court and took a shot after the buzzer. For whatever reason he didn’t realize the time situation. That last segment by Marion was an anti-climatic end to what proved to be the most exciting game on the first day.
The second day of the playoffs started with the San Antonio Spurs and the Utah Jazz. This was a surprising game due in part to the Spurs. No one could have picked them to be number one in the West. The excuses were the same as they’ve been over the past few years; they’re too old, they play slow basketball. Whatever it was, they were never considered contenders. But Pop and the Spurs proved everyone wrong every year. It’s like they have a secret fountain of youth to keep Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili going. Then Utah wasn’t able to clinch the last spot in the West until the closing days of the season. At first, the game was fairly close for what it was. Then eventually the old faithful of the Spurs were able to take control of the game. Duncan was able to drive and finish with a hard dunk at one point. It continues to amaze me that these players continue to produce at the level I’ve expected from them. Then there’s a combination of Pop’s system and the new players they’ve integrated into the system. The Spurs would eventually win the game and take the lead in the series.
The next game of the day involved the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets. For the Nuggets, they had a surprising season. At the beginning of the season they were doing pretty well. Yet they would go on a slide and even drop out of the top eight. However, they closed the season strong and claimed an opening playoff round with the Lakers. As for the Lakers, it wouldn’t be the normal season without the drama. Yet, they quietly made it to the third spot in the West. Coach Brown has quite a job ahead of him to follow in the steps of Phil Jackson. Luckily he has Kobe Bean Bryant leading the team. The Nuggets would prove to be a challenge since they were the highest scoring team during the regular season; while the Lakers are a slow it down half-court offense. Especially without Metta World Peace for the next few games, it seemed like the Nuggets would be able to take advantage of it. However, the Lakers bench and Bynum would be able to hold the fort. As a team the Lakers were able to control the tempo of the game so that the Nuggets wouldn’t get out in the open court. It also helped that Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill continue to produce good numbers. The real factor had to be their team defense; led by Andrew Bynum. Throughout the night they kept going after blocks and having their presence known so that the Nuggets had to alter their shots. Then Bynum was just a monster on the blocks; he had 10 blocked shots. That set the Laker playoff record for most blocked shots. That stat in itself is impressive considering the big men that have played for this organization. He also tied the record for overall NBA blocks in a playoff game. One name is Mark Eaton who I have no idea who he is. The second name is Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. When any player passes the likes of Kareem Abdul Jabaar and ties Hakeem Olajuwon, then that’s one hell of a performer. Along with this, Kobe had his usual offensive output and that was enough to hold off the Nuggets.
Although I didn’t see much of this game, the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks were on next. Personally I would want Boston to make it just to see them in the Finals; and for the most part this season they did better than most thought they would do with all the trade speculation. Then the Atlanta Hawks have done the same as they did last year. When I did tune into this game, the Hawks were up by a decent amount. It seemed like Boston was just playing at a slow pace. The Hawks had the energy to keep pushing the ball and the critics of Boston seemed to be right saying that the Big Three were old. At one point Boston would make a charge and close the gap in the fourth. Unfortunately, there would be a close call that would end up going Atlanta’s way, and Rajon Rondo would react intensely; he would react so bad that he bumped into the referee, which then caused him to get ejected. Since that point, Atlanta took over and was able to close out the game. Rondo is sure to be fined or suspended for his actions, but it all depends if the league determines that the bump was intentional or not.
The conclusion of the opening round of the playoffs involved the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies. This series I am biased towards the Grizzlies simply because I don’t want the Clippers to win. Their fan base and the egos of those players are just too much. The way they carry themselves, they think they’re entitled to all the glory already. As for the Grizzlies, they are a more humble team who’ve worked hard to get where they are; and for most of the game it was going this way. The Grizzlies were able to make a high percentage of their 3-point shots. Yet, that’s what would kill them later on. The Grizzlies were even up 27 at one point. All my predictions of the Clippers thinking too much of themselves proved to be right. Yet by some miraculous act they pulled it together and started to play team basketball. Slowly but surely the Clippers were picking away at the lead while the Grizzlies fell apart. If the Grizzlies played their inside game in addition to their hot hand, then they would have won this game easily. Yet, this was not to be tonight for the Clippers pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history and ended up winning the game by one.
This was just the start of the playoffs. By the time you read this there will be much more that has already happened. Some series may even be over. This game is too unpredictable for anything to be certain. This is the time when legends are made and broken. This could be the year LeBron finally gets a ring; but personally I hope he never wins one. It’ll be interesting to see how far the Bulls can go without Rose. The Spurs are the dark horse even if they are the best team in the West. And the Lakers are a potential filled team that only has to realize it for themselves.