Heat and Pacers playing towards a rematch
“[After] all this the Washington Wizards are who we thought they were, the Brooklyn Nets need some help—perhaps assisted living—and it does look like the Heat and Pacers to go to the conference finals again,” writes Sam Smith, who looks at all four confer
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It was an exciting start to the conference semifinals Sunday with the Clippers’ and Pacers’ dramatic comeback victories.
What! They started a week ago? Technically, probably, and perhaps it was natural after the spectacular series of first round games that those to advance would pause. But as terrific as that first round was with eight overtime games, five of the eight series to seven games and the most ever lower seeded teams winning games in the first round, the first week of round two was so dull you may as well have watched people pull names out of a hat for three days.
Oh, right, that’s what people did and called it the NFL draft.
It was a brutally boring first week of the second round with 10 of the 12 games basically one-sided routs and little late game excitement. Sunday saved it a bit with the Clippers’ comeback win. But after all this the Washington Wizards are who we thought they were, the Brooklyn Nets need some help—perhaps assisted living—and it does look like the Heat and Pacers to go to the conference finals again.
Just like they said it would be. Darn.
The Western Conference just barely has one series going after the Clippers got off the floor Sunday and stunned the Oklahoma City Russells and Kevins, who had led by 16 points with nine minutes remaining.
The Spurs have continued to be the most dominating team in taking a 3-0 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers. The Trail Blazers are a nice story, but they are a bit of a symptom of all the excitement over the first round. With a limited bench and inside game they probably shouldn’t be a second round team. Memphis and Houston looked like more dangerous long term opponents. Until they lost in the first round.
You could say the Bulls and Raptors, too, but it’s not like with their talents they could have made much more difference if they’d gotten out of the first round.
The Thunder has the theoretical edge going home tied 2-2. But that’s a series with all sorts of strategic possibilities the way Game 4 ended.
Clippers vs. Thunder
It was as coach Doc Rivers said afterward an act of desperation about to go down 3-1 going to Oklahoma City. But it could be tempting to try again and often. It’s not like the Clippers hadn’t done so before as Rivers is one of the more creative and flexible coaches. The Clippers closed with three guards and Blake Griffin at center and Chris Paul guarding Kevin Durant. It was an obviously fuming Durant afterward who refused to give Paul any credit. Paul was aggressive and physical and the Clippers trapped with a double team that forced Durant into the turnovers that cost the game. Durant scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook was terrific, taking the ball to the basket instead of pulling up for his arsenal of unnecessary and forced what-the-heck-was-that jump shots. But it also was the Thunder’s two-man domination that doomed them as every time Durant was trapped no one moved. Because no one ever moves on the Thunder because basically no one but Durant and Westbrook get the ball. The Clippers sat regulars J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes. That smaller, quicker lineup could match the Thunder’s pace and scoring and since the Thunder don’t go inside and Durant and Westbrook don’t do much out of the post, it has to be tempting to Rivers to try that again.
Trail Blazers vs. Spurs
This one’s been not much of a competition since the Spurs are relentless the way they make everything difficult on every possession. They challenge every shot, which bothers a jump shooting team like the Trail Blazers. It’s been a great season for the Trail Blazers, the story of the NBA early with a fast start after a 33-win season. And then getting by a more talented Houston team that has such a loose system with its ambivalence about the analytics—Dwight Howard says throw it to me and not all those threes for James Harden—that the Rockets were a bit too disorganized. But the Spurs do everything the same way, are fundamentally terrific and have Tony Parker shooting two-pointers because they go in. Yes, you can shoot two-pointers and score more than 100 points every game. Two-pointers that go in actually are statistically better than three-pointers that miss. It’s a Spurs secret. At 3-0 they should end this series soon and have a nice rest watching that terrific Thunder/Clippers series with the rest of us.
Wizards vs. Pacers
It’s not easy to fall behind 3-1 to a team that plays so casually, but the Wizards are doing a nice job of it. That’s the Wizards team with John Wall making curious decisions and everyone tightening up in close games the Bulls expected to see. But when the Bulls let the Wizards steal those first two home games with no pressure, the pressure was off. They shot away and made enough. It isn’t a very good Pacers team—not terrible, but a bit more entertaining than moribund—that has been a psychology case study and probably should have been out in Game 6 of the opening round if the Hawks were supposed to even be in the playoffs. There’s this sudden acclaim for the return of Roy Hibbert, who I remain amazed makes any shots with that form and having studied James Donaldson tapes. Donaldson was a lumbering Dallas center in the 1980’s who made an All-Star team because the West was out of centers. Hibbert as a two-time All-Star is the true curse of the Eastern Conference. Mark Eaton cannot believe it. But the Wizards have eased the Pacers misery with some of the goofiest closing sequences, firing up wild threes to close games almost as if they can’t wait to be done. It’s not to blame Wall, and he is a much improved shooter, which is to his credit. But he still has no idea how to play point guard and thus the Wizards’ finishes are like someone’s yelled fire and everyone starts scrambling around. Good for the Pacers for pulling themselves out of what would have been a miserable summer of despair, but they hardly look like a threat to a serious team.
Nets vs. Heat
Yes, I predicted the Nets could win the series. But I was assuming Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce would play in this series. Or at least look interested. Sure, the Nets won a game back home to make it 2-1 Miami going into Monday. But it’s as dispirited and disinterested a Nets team as you’d want to see. Or not see. It’s likely more a function of Garnett and Pierce at the end of their wonderful careers, and the Nets haven’t even yet said Williams’ ankle is a problem to give him his monthly excuse. Heck, even Chris Bosh isn’t afraid of Garnett anymore. It’s just that Miami isn’t as good as it was, Dwyane Wade competent but not explosive and if a three point specialist makes a shot now it is a big deal. It looks like if LeBron James thought there was any real trouble he might take the series seriously.