The first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs came to a close last Friday night. One sweep and three 6 game series saw some typical mediocre first round games but with various juicy story lines mixed in.
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Chicago Bulls
The Celtics looked finished being down 0-2 heading to Chicago. Isaiah Thomas was dealing with the death of his 22 year old sister, the Celtics had zero big men who could rebound allowing the bad Lopez brother to grab rebounds at the rate of 1960’s Wilt Chamberlain, and Rajon Rondo looked like championship winning Rondo. Sure Dwyane Wade embarrassingly got stuffed by the rim on a dunk attempt, but the star power and experience of Butler, Wade, and Rondo appeared to be better than the vulnerable 1 seeded Celtics.
Then Rondo broke his thumb in Game 2. He didn’t play the rest of the series. The Bulls collapsed and lost 4 in a row to lose the series in 6. Rondo received a lot of attention with his sleeveless suit jacket and attempting to trip Jae Crowder from the bench for which he received a $25,000 fine. Rumors also surfaced that Rondo was coaching the team over the inept Fred Hoiberg from the bench. Just when things started looking good for the Bulls, all of the positivity evaporated.
The frustrated Hoiberg complained after Game 4 in the post-game press conference that it is nearly impossible to guard Isaiah Thomas due to his ball carrying. Hoiberg stated that Thomas is allowed to carry the ball and travel his way to the bucket. Hoiberg wasn’t fined for this underhanded criticism of the officials but it was clear someone from the NBA spoke to him about it. After Game 5 when asked if he believed Thomas carried the ball during the game he said “no” and promptly left the press conference. Only answering one question (untruthfully) to avoid a fine made sense and provided a humorous visual.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Indiana Pacers
The Cavs swept the 7th seeded Pacers but it could have easily gone the other way. The Pacers had a chance of winning all 4 games against the mediocre looking Cavs.
Game one ended by a score of 109 – 108 and C.J. Miles missed the game winning shot at the buzzer. The inbound pass went to Paul George but after getting double teamed he passed the ball to the open Miles with just 3 second left. George could be seen immediately asking for the ball back and when Miles’ shot missed, the disgusted George walked back to his bench like an elementary school student would after learning his mom forgot to pack his favorite juice box in his lunch. In his post-game press conference George said he talked to Miles about the shot and stated Turner and everyone else knows he, Paul George, needs to be taking the final shot.
Lance Stephenson is, as Ryen Russillo accurately described, a 6 talent with a 1 personality. What that means is he isn’t that good but he believes he is an all-star and plays and acts like an all-star. Stephenson played pretty well for the Pacers in this series playing big minutes and used his volatile emotional playing style to light a fire under his teammates. During game two Stephenson got a little too fired up and started making mistakes. George stated that Stephenson needs to learn how to control himself and considers him to be a leader on the team.
In Game 3 the Cavs were down by 26 points in the second quarter. I stopped watching at half time as it was clear the Pacers were going to earn their first victory of the series at home. Then LeBron took over. The Cavs won the game by the final score of 119 – 114 on the back of LeBron who had 41 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists while Kyrie and Love remained on the bench for the entire 4th quarter.
With just 19 seconds remaining in Game 4, the Cavs were winning by a score of 105 – 102. The Pacers drove down the court and sloppily turned the ball over to J.R. Smith. J.R. then did the second most J.R. thing ever (the first being his missed defensive assignment while greeting Jason Terry in week 6 of the season) and gave the ball right back to the Pacers after failing at a behind the back high risk pass. The ball arrived in George’s hands, he pulled up for a three and bricked the game tying shot. It wasn’t even close to going in as it hit all back board. George got the shot he asked for and whiffed as hard as possible.
To cap off the awful series for George, right after missing the shot, the broadcast went to commercial. The first ad that aired was George’s Gatorade Flow commercial which shows him hitting a game winning shot forcing the national TV audience to bath in the hilarious irony. That commercial is atrocious by the way. I initially thought it was a parody when I first saw it but I think Gatorade and George were serious in their attempts to make him look like a bad ass.
With Larry Bird stepping down as President of the Pacers, it can be deduced that Paul George is most likely leaving the team in free agency.
(3) Washington Wizards vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
The Wizards/Hawks series is the one I watched least of. The Hawks are painful to watch and none of the 6 games were all that close. John Wall looked great on both ends of the court completing behind the back full court sprints and run down blocks on defense.
Wall was nothing short of dominant during that six-game series. He recorded averages of 29.5 points, 10.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.5 3-point field goals made on a slash line of .525/.474/.840. Wall had 32 points and 14 assists in game 1, 14 assists in game 5, and 42 points (19 of which came in the 4th quarter) in game 6. The playoffs often come down to what team has the better super star, and the Wizards have a great one in John Wall. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the perimeter defense of Boston.
Accusations of being a cry baby were being thrown around by Paul Millsap and Markieff Morris. It got chippy between the two during the series which came off as immature and petty to me but it was like high quality fetish porn to old timers like Barkley. Playoff basketball is awesome because of the elevated play and high stakes, not because some mediocre players (Morris) throw elbows out of anger.
(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Milwaukee Bucks
The Raptors/Bucks series, similar to the Wizards/Hawks, was demoted to the early NBA TV time slot meaning I didn’t watch a lot of it. I saw the first two games and was awe like the rest of the world of Giannis Antetokounmpo. During game one he grabbed the rim on a dunk and when his feet touched the ground he was still holding onto the rim. The dude is long, tall, fast, can shoot, and has the handle of a point guard.
I knew the Bucks had a lot of young long guys on their team in Antetokounmpo, Maker, Parker (who was injured before the playoffs for the second straight year), and Middleton. But I forgot how deep the bench of the Bucks is when watching game 1. Greg Monroe, Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, Jason Terry, and Michael Beasley all make up a decent B team.
The Raptors looked vulnerable early in the series with the help of the trademark poor post season play of Lowry. They pulled out the series win in 6 games but they are the worst team remaining in the playoffs and I don’t think the Cavs, even in their diminished state, will have issues with defeating them in 4 or 5 games.