One sweep, one game 7, several injuries, a new catch phrase, and impressive play from 3 MVP candidates made the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs interesting.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers
Mike Brown filled in as head coach for Kerr for game 3 and 4. Kerr was, and reports suggests, still is fighting ailments that are a result of his back surgery last year. Spinal fluid is leaking causing severe pain and nausea for Kerr. Mike Brown has coaching experience, most notably with LeBron during his first stint with Cleveland.
Durant missed two game and only played 20 minutes in another. Shaun Livingston missed the final three games of the series after spraining his finger in game one. Bench players like JaVale McGee have stepped up in the absence of normal rotation allowing the Warriors to win 4 in a row and earn a week of rest before the semi-final round. Draymond Green played at his high standard during the series and had two massive blocks in game one along with a near 5×5 stat line.
The Warriors expect all players to be at full strength by the start of their series with Utah but the status of coach Steve Kerr is still uncertain.
The Warriors scored 45 points in the first quarter of game 4, tying an all-time record. A first quarter score of 45-22 with a team not at full strength has to be terrifying to everyone else in the west.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzles
The Grizzles won two games at home and were a difficult out for the Spurs as they so often are. The series could have ended in 5 but Marc Gasol drained an ugly hook shot in the final seconds to seal the victory for the Grizzles.
I was just going to say that Leonard is playing at the super star level he is known to play at, but then I looked at his numbers. He had the best first round in the playoffs ever. The man with tight corn rolls averaged 31.2 points, 6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2 steals, and shot 59-61 from the free throw line for the series. Considering the tattoo on his right arm I am going to say something I assume Kawhi has never said; Jesus fucking Christ.
Along with his insane offense, he is playing suffocating defense. This year’s MVP race is 4 players deep, (Westbrook, Leonard, Harden, James) and if Westbrook didn’t break a 60 year record, Leonard would most likely win the award. His performance in the playoffs so far proves that.
As I just stated, Leonard had 61 free throws in 6 games. Most of those are a result of being impossible to defend requiring the Grizzles to foul him, but some of it comes with playing at home as a super star. Grizzles coach David Fizzdale did not think his team was receiving the same calls as the Spurs and angrily expressed that fact in his post-game press conference after game 2. He read a bunch of stats supporting his claim that the refs are showing preferential treatment to Leonard while ignoring calls on his point guard Mike Conley. He ended the interview with an emphatic “take that for data!” and a hard slam on the table. Fizzdale then left the conference without answering any questions.
He received a $30,000 fine for the remarks about the officiating, but it was well worth it. Everyone loved his honesty and his new catch phrase. T-shirts and all kinds of gear with the “take that for data!” slogan and Fizzdale’s signature thick rimmed glasses on them were produced. His players were thankful of him for supporting them publicly and pooled up the $30k to pay the fine for him.
(3) Houston Rockets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder
James Harden balled hard in the first round finishing the OKC Westbrooks in 5 games. Harden’s point totals in order of the 5 games are 37, 35, 44, 34, and 34. Westbrook kept his triple double average alive in the playoffs averaging 37.4, 11.6 and 10.8 in the 5 games. It was hard to watch Westbrook play so hard but it not being enough to win more than one game.
The ending of game 4 was particularly frustrating as the incompetence of the Thunder was exposed. The Thunder were down 5 points, with under 20 seconds left when Steven Adams was fouled. Adam made the first free throw making the score 110 – 106. Before attempting the second free throw Adams spoke to Westbrook telling him his plan to miss the second shot on purpose. Adams missed the second free throw perfectly which bound off the rim and into his hands. Adams immediately passed the ball back to Westbrook who was closer to half court than the three point line and he drained the three pointer. Only 18 seconds remained and the Thunder were down 110-109. Then they shit the bed.
The Rockets in-bounded the ball and instead of fouling right away, the Thunder allowed the ball to get to Nene on the other side of the court. The Thunder fouled Nene eventually but not until he made the high percentage shot and was awarded the and one. Nene made the free throw and ended the game.
Even more infuriating was watching the Rockets intentionally foul Andre Roberson late in the game. Roberson is shockingly bad at shooting free throws and went 2 for 12 from the line. The Rockets benched laughed at him from the sidelines and Roberson was furious when the crowd cheered him after he finally made one. Keeping him in late in the game probably wasn’t the right call. His defense must be amazing as his offense and free throw liability is atrocious.
Westbrook was confrontational with journalists in his post-game press conferences and talked smack to Patrick Beverly, both instances being unwarranted. A reporter asked Steven Adams his opinions of the Thunders drastic decrease in productivity when Westbrook goes to the bench and Westbrook didn’t allow Adams to answer. Westbrook took the opportunity to publicly say the Thunder are one team, it’s not Westbrook and the other guys, they are one team. When asking a follow up, Westbrook shut the reporter down and didn’t allow Adams to answer the question.
Westbrook and Beverly traded words on the court. Reportedly Beverly was boasting about being on the NBA all-defensive team and Westbrook responded with saying he can’t be guarded as he had 42 points in the game. Beverly said “yea but it took you 34 shots to get there.” Ouch. Not a good series for the Thunder or Westbrook.
The Rockets were led by Harden but Lou Williams and Eric Gordon were great in their supporting roles. The 3 ball is Houston’s strength and Williams and Gordon will need to make a lot of them as Harden will defended well by Kawhi in the next round.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Utah Jazz
The Clippers exited the playoffs in the most Clipper way possible. They lost Blake Griffin for the playoffs with a broken toe he suffered during game 3. That is a massive loss to the team but the Jazz lost Rudy Gobert in the first 15 seconds of game 1 and he didn’t come back until game 4 and 5 before injuring his ankle in Game 6. Gobert played in Game 7 but got into early foul trouble and only played minimal minutes.
After the Jazz stole game 1 without Gobert everyone began doubting the Clippers. Chris Paul made the floater shot late in the game to (the exact same shot he hit over Tim Duncan in game 7 of the first round 2 years ago) to tie the score at 95-95. On the other end of the court Iso Joe drained the game winning shot at the buzzer.
The Clippers played better later in the series but they couldn’t win a first series against the tough, but short-handed Jazz. Gobert missed several games, Gordon Hayward somehow got food poisoning, and Derrick Favors looked like 41 year old Tim Duncan running around on bad knees. The Clippers core of Paul, Jordan, Griffin, and Reddick will most likely split apart after playing 4 years together. Jordan already has a massive contract and Paul and Griffin have player options where they can both get major money as restricted free agents.
Reddick is going to be a unrestricted free agent, and Mbah a Moute and Speights are expected to opt out of their deals as well. Regardless on if the Clippers pay massive money to keep the core of this team together, they are going to look different next year.
Paul Pierce played his final game in the NBA on Sunday retiring after a 19 year career. He was emotional as the he left the court to the home fans cheering his name.