A popular saying in NBA Playoff Basketball is that a series doesn’t start until someone wins on the road. So far in the 2012 Eastern and Western Conference Finals, home has been sweet and the road a struggle. After four games each, each team has won on their home court, and thus, both series are now tied at 2-2. But don’t be fooled: after two overtimes, a clutch 18-point fourth quarter, a career-best 44-point game, 8 push-ups by a battle-hardened veteran, some flawless old-school team basketball, drama, animosity, domination and resilience, the two Conference Finals have offered tons of memorable excitement already.
But the real treat still lies ahead. Both the Conference Finals have now been reduced to ‘best-of-three’ series. Two teams are two wins away from an NBA Finals appearance. With both series tied at 2-2, the fifth game is a major tipping point: the winner gets one foot into the Finals while the loser is just step away from going to an early holiday.
If the home advantage continues to play a major part as it has so far in the Conference Finals, then the Heat and the Spurs are favourites to move on to the Finals. But if the teams carrying the winning momentum will continue to dictate things in the coming week, then the advantage lies with the Celtics and the Thunder.
It’s unpredictable, it’s exciting, it’s painful, and it’s exhilarating. But more than anything, it’s un-missable. It’s the Conference Finals!
East: Heat vs. Celtics
The Miami Heat followed their dominating Game 1 victory with a gut-wrenching win over the Celtics in Overtime in Game 2. LeBron James carried the Heat on his back but it was a player on the losing side – Rajon Rondo – who stole the spotlight with a jaw-dropping 44-point, 10-assist, 8-rebound performance.
Shaken but not deterred, Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett bounced back in the next two games back in Boston to equal the series at two games apiece. Game 4 also went into overtime, but this time, it was Boston who held the nerve to pick up a close win. For Miami, LeBron continues to be Mr. Do-It-All, but Miami seemed to struggle without steady production from Dwyane Wade. The Celtics will continue to show persistence and keep bouncing back; going back to Miami, it will be Wade who will be the key in determining if the Heat can reach the Finals for the second consecutive season.
West: Spurs vs. Thunder
Twenty consecutive wins and a 10-0 start to their 2012 Playoff campaign had the San Antonio Spurs looking and perhaps feeling unbeatable. They outfoxed the Thunder on their home court, spreading the ball amongst their many options to keep the offense flowing and unpredictable. And when they desperately needed a clutch bucket, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili delivered over and over again in Games 1 and 2.
But the story flipped back in Oklahoma City. The Thunder came out strong early with a loud home crowd behind them to blow out San Antonio and remove their ‘invincible’ tag in Game 3. But it was their Game 4 victory that really propelled them back in the series: despite subpar games by Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the Thunder got great offensive production from Kendrick Perkins and particularly Serge Ibaka, who made all his 11 shots for 26 points. And when the going got tough in the fourth quarter, the best player on the court – Kevin Durant – got going. Durant scored 16 consecutive points and 18 of his 36 in the fourth to help OKC maintain their lead and even the series at 2-2.
The O’Brien Files: A little taste of Playoff history - 477 – In Game 3 versus the Thunder, Spurs legend Tim Duncan swatted Serge Ibaka for his 4th block of the game and 477th of his playoff career, and thus became the all-time NBA Leader in Playoff blocks, going one ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Duncan seems to have a few more years of playoff basketball left in him, so look for him to stretch that number even higher!