NBA Playoffs - Round 1 Review, Round 2 Preview
Well, the Pacers found a way to finally get back to their old form just in time for Saturday’s 92-80 home win in Game 7 over the Hawks. It wasn’t easy, or pretty, for Indy, but they got the job done against an inferior opponent, No. 8 seed Atlanta, yet were still somewhat lucky to come away with the series win. Pacer fans had pretty much given up after the Hawks won Game 5 in Indy, needing only to win at home in Game 6, or on the road in Game 7 to pull of what would have been a somewhat historic upset, as No. 8’s don’t beat No. 1’s very often.
Despite leading most of Game 6 and playing in front of a frenzied home crowd in Atlanta on Thursday night, the Hawks fumbled away the lead as Lou Williams, and not Jeff Teague, somehow found the ball in his hands several times with the game on the line. And then on Saturday, we finally saw the return of Roy Hibbert, who had been playing throughout the series, but might as well have been on the bench. He came through in Game 7 with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks, while the rest of the Pacer starters also played well. Paul George seemingly couldn’t miss and finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds, David West scored just four points, but had 13 rebounds, two steals and six blocks, George Hill had 15 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Lance Stephenson returned to form with 19 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and a 3-pointer to send the Hawks fishing.
I never thought the Hawks were a great team, but I took them to win this series because I’d never seen a No. 1 seed playing as poorly as the Pacers were coming into the series. They entered the playoffs with a 12-13 record over their last 25 regular-season games and really hadn’t played well since, shall we say, January? In my humble opinion, entering the playoffs, they were playing like anything but a No. 1 seed, prompting me to tell friends that they were the worst No. 1 seed I’ve ever seen. Maybe that was harsh, but I really didn’t think they had much of a shot against the Hawks, let alone any other team in the East, in Round 1.
They proved me wrong and definitely have a better matchup against the Wizards in Round 2, as Hibbert won’t have to mess with chasing Pero Antic around the perimeter, and the Pacers may have chased a lot of demons away by getting everyone back on the same page in Game 7. That balanced box score had basically been MIA for weeks, if not months, prior to Game 7, and the Pacers will need more of the same in Round 2.
We saw an unheard of five Game 7’s, the Blazers beat the Rockets in thrilling fashion after Damian Lillard hit the shot of his life to avoid a trip back to Houston, and the Heat swept the Bobcats as Al Jefferson limped through plantar fasciitis, and LeBron James played like the best player in the world again.
Here are the Round 1 final tallies.
No. 1 Pacers beat No. 8 Hawks 4-3
No. 2 Heat beat No. 7 Bobcats 4-0
No. 3 Raptors lose to No. 6 Nets 3-4
No. 4 Bulls lose to No. 5 Wizards 1-4
No. 1 Spurs beat No. 8 Mavericks 4-3
No. 2 Thunder beat No. 7 Grizzlies 4-3
No. 3 Clippers beat No. 6 Warriors 4-3
No. 5 Blazers beat No. 4 Rockets 4-2
My Round 1 Prediction Results
I had the winner: I had the Heat over the Bobcats in 5 games (won in 4), I had the Spurs over the Mavericks in 6 (won in 7), I had the Thunder over the Grizzlies in 5 (won in 7), I had the Clippers over the Warriors in 6 (won in 7), and I had the Blazers over the Rockets in 7 (won in 6).
I was wrong: I had Hawks over the Pacers in 7 (Pacers won in 7), I had the Raptors over the Nets in 7 (Nets won in 7), and I had the Bulls over the Wizards in 5 (Wizards won in 5).
Round 2 Predictions
No. 1 Pacers vs. No. 5 Wizards
The Wizards basically shocked the Bulls in five games in Round 1 and now get the Pacers in Round 2. Normally, the No. 1 seed would be the obvious choice in this one, but I’m still not convinced that the Pacers are reloaded and ready to play four games like the one they pulled off against the Hawks in Game 7.
John Wall and Bradley Beal should run circles around George Hill and Lance Stephenson, Trevor Ariza should be a tough defensive match up for Paul George, David West will have his hands full with Nene, and Roy Hibbert is not going to have an easy go of it against Marcin Gortat, who might be the most underrated center in the league. The Pacers could easily get hot and win this series without a problem, but I think the Wizards are going to be loose, and the pressure is still on the No. 1 seeded Pacers. And since, in my eyes, the Wizards have the advantage everywhere except with Paul George at small forward, I’m going with the Wizards in a tough series.
Prediction: Wizards in 6
No. 2 Heat vs. No. 6 Nets
The Heat cruised through the Bobcats like they weren’t even there and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all well rested, healthy and playing at a high level. Yes, the Nets did a nice job against the Raptors and have some confidence after sweeping the Heat in the regular season, but they were pushed to the brink by the Raptors and now have to play a team that is probably ticked off about hearing about the regular-season sweep constantly prior to this one tipping off. It took a somewhat miraculous blocked shot by Paul Pierce on Kyle Lowry to secure advancement, and I just don’t see the Heat backing down to Jason Kidd’s boys. Props go out to Kidd, who became the first rookie coach in history to win a Game 7 on the road, but the Heat have been here before and spent the entire season preparing for a series like this one. While it’s true the Nets have had great success against Miami recently and were basically built to beat them, I still don’t see it happening.
Prediction: Heat in 6
No. 1 Spurs vs. No. 5 Blazers
The Spurs got a nice test against the Mavericks and were pushed to a Game 7, but won that game handily. They are the most balanced team in the league and the No. 1 overall seed, and while the Blazers are the feel-good story of these playoffs, with Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge riding on cloud 9, it will take everything they have to pull out a seven-game series win over the Spurs. Tim Duncan will have to lock down Aldridge and Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard will have their hands full with Lillard and Nicolas Batum, but I think the Spurs are going to pull this one out behind strong defense and well rested players.
Prediction: Spurs in 7
No. 2 Thunder vs. No. 3 Clippers
The Thunder needed seven games to get by the Grizzlies, and many of the OKC players called it the toughest series they’ve ever played in. The suspension of Zach Randolph, who punched Steven Adams in the jaw, was a big help to the Thunder, while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (two triple-doubles) were at their best for most of the series.
The Clippers used everything they had to get by the Warriors and now face an even tougher test in the Thunder. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan get most of the credit for what the Clippers do, but Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick appear to be the difference makers. And because I had the Clippers facing the Heat in my original prediction for the Finals, I’m sticking with it. But it’s likely going to take seven games to determine the winner of this series. And despite the curse of Donald Sterling, and potentially having to win a Game 7 at OKC, give me the Clips.
Prediction: Clippers in 7
Semifinals Schedules for Game 1
Wizards at Pacers 7 p.m.
Clippers at Thunder 9:30 p.m.
Nets at Heat 7 p.m.
Blazers at Spurs 9:30