There are two sides to every coin. As the exciting NBA post-season tipped off on Saturday night, the remaining sixteen teams vying for the NBA championship across the league got prepared for the most grueling test of them all. Sixteen wins required, and with each win, a step closer to the Promised Land. But a high for one is a low for another because With each big win comes a demoralizing loss. Each joyful heart creates another heart-break elsewhere.
And this year’s playoffs began with a flurry of miseries, casting an ominous cloud across the league in its very first days. One of the game’s best players fell to a season-ending injury on the very first night, one rookie had his promising first season shortened, one defending champion lost in the final seconds after a valiant effort, and one team squandered a 27-point lead at home to an epic comeback.
The NBA playoffs are an unpredictable story, and every day adds a new twist to the tale. Here is a look around the league after the Game 1 of each series, catching up with each spurt of joy and each moment of misery.
Bulls (1) vs. 76ers (8) Chicago couldn’t have celebrated a more depressing win. The Bulls did their job, protecting their home-court against the 76ers, and Derrick Rose (23 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists) was back in MVP form at just the right time. But in the final minutes of the game, the impending victory turned into a nightmare as Rose hurt his ankle and left the game, later to discover that he would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The Bulls won 103-91 behind a balanced effort from their starters, but they will be handicapped without their best player in making a run for the championship.
Heat (2) vs. Knicks (7) The Heat played scintillating defense to break down the Knicks early, and then kept hammering them down. LeBron James had a great start to the playoffs with 32 points as Miami cruised to a soul-crushing 100-67 victory. In the process, fate added insult to injury to the Knicks as their rookie Iman Shumpert hurt his ankle, and like Rose, discovered that he would be out for several months, too.
Pacers (3) vs. Magic (6) Less than a week ago, I had predicted on these very pages that Orlando stand little or no chance going against the more-talented Pacers without Dwight Howard. But on Game 1, experience and good coaching prevailed over youth and talent. The Magic played tough defense, hit their outside shots, and snatched home advantage from Indiana with a 81-77 victory.
Celtics (4) vs. Hawks (5) The Hawks came out on fire early against the older and slower Celtics, and by the time Boston recovered, it was far too late. Josh Smith had an epic Game 1 performance, scoring 22 points to go with 18 rebounds. The Celtics started slowly, but had gas for one late comeback behind Rajon Rondo (20 points, 11 assists) and Kevin Garnett (20 points). Their surge stopped short in the final minute when Rondo was ejected from the game for bumping a referee, and the Celtics never recovered. Hawks won 83-74.
Spurs (1) vs. Jazz (8) The Spurs took care of business during Game 1 at home doing things just the way they have all season: quietly, efficiently, and with a whole lot of Tony Parker (28 points, 8 assists). The visiting Jazz showed heart in staying competitive behind leading scorer Paul Millsap (20 points), but it wasn’t enough to prevent a 106-91 Spurs win.
Thunder (2) vs. Mavericks (7) The Mavericks may be reigning champs but started the playoffs as underdogs against the Thunder. They gave their best shot in Game 1, behind a strong game by Nowitzki (25 points) and tough defense to hold down the sharp-shooting Thunder. And yet, they had their hearts broken in the last second as Kevin Durant (25 points) hit a tough jumper over two defenders to give OKC the 99-98 victory. Russell Westbrook carried the load for the Thunder with 28 points.
Lakers (3) vs. Nuggets (6) Andrew Bynum left last year’s playoffs ejected for hurting Dallas’ JJ Barea and dejected with a 0-4 loss to the Mavericks. He seemed to return with a vengeance this year, going for a rare triple-double in Game 1 against the Nuggets where he had 10 massive blocks to go with his 10 points and 13 rebounds. The Nuggets defense found a hard time stopping Kobe Bryant (31 points) too, and the Lakers won 103-88.
Grizzlies (4) vs. Clippers (5) Eight minutes left, 24 points up, time to relax, lift those feet, get a back massage and clear the bench. That’s the situation that the Memphis Grizzlies found themselves in at home in their first game against the Clippers. But the Clippers had different ideas, and a historic rally – one of the greatest in NBA playoff history – led them all the way back to shock the home team and deliver them a heartbreaking 99-98 loss. The run was orchestrated by Chris Paul (14 points, 11 assists) and Nick Young (19 points) as the Clippers capture all the momentum in this close matchup.
The O’Brien Files: A little taste of Playoff history - The reigning champions Dallas Mavericks start the Playoffs at a disappointing seventh place in the West. The odds are against them to win a repeat title, but if they are successful in doing so, they could become the lowest seed in NBA history to win a championship since the 1995 Houston Rockets, who were ranked 6th in the West.