Sunday, May 5, 2013

NBA Playoffs: Round one review

The first round of the playoffs was a mixed bag, and the journey to it was bipolar.  As the regular season was ending, it looked like we weren't going to get the best matchups.  It looked like Houston would face San Antonio and the Thunder would face the Lakers or Jazz.  But then the Rockets lost to the Suns and the perfect playoff bracket was still in play for the West.  Amazingly, the best matchups ended up happening.  We got James Harden facing his old team, the two most successful franchises of the past decade doing battle once again, a rematch of last year's 7-game series, and the "leftovers" being a matchup between two of the most exciting teams in the league.  In the East, we even got a Celtics-Knicks series.  On paper, the matchups looked about as good as possible.  Unfortunately, what looked good on paper didn't really materialize, as injuries wreaked havoc.

Kobe got hurt, as well as almost every other Laker, ruining what may have be the final go-round of a Kobe-Duncan series (at least one that included both guys playing at such a high level).  Injury struck again with Russell Westbrook, delivering a blow to that series.  David Lee got hurt (thankfully that didn't ruin that series, maybe because Denver had their own loss with Gallinari).  Almost every Bull has suffered some type of ailment.  Sensing a theme?  Add in the other injured players for playoff teams and here's the list of important players that didn't contribute in the playoffs: Kobe, Westbrook, Lee, Rose, Rondo, Granger, and Gallinari.  And this list doesn't even include other players who were injured that didn't make the playoffs (Kevin Love and Andrew Bynum); whose teams may have made it, had they been healthy (same goes for the Wizards, had John Wall been healthy the whole year).  Has there ever been a larger quantity of valuable players who missed the playoffs?  Could that group of guys medal in the Olympics?  I think they could.

Between the (probably) unprecedented number of injuries, the predictable Miami sweep, and Boston falling down 3-0 (all but guaranteeing their elimination), the first round ended up being very disappointing.  The saving grace came in the form of two series' (Sorry, Indiana and Atlanta fans. Not one of them): Clippers-Grizzlies and Warriors-Nuggets.  Clippers-Grizzlies was a quality follow-up to last year's series.  The bad blood and physicality makes for some great basketball.  But as good as that series was, my personal favorite was Warriors-Nuggets.  Which wasn't really a surprise to me, because these teams were two of my favorites to watch this year.  From start to finish, I thought the Warriors were the most exciting team to watch.  Their team even provided my favorite highlight clip from this season:

The Nuggets were thoroughly entertaining as well, but I wasn't privy to them until much later in the season.  They didn't become one of my favorites until after their February game against the Lakers, which produced my second favorite highlight clip of the season (coincidentally, the two teams I thought were most exciting provided my two favorite clips of the season, and they did it two days apart):

Those first two dunks are especially incredible.  I hadn't seen much of the Nuggets before this game, but I was a fan of them after it.  They played such a unique style of basketball.  I don't think I've ever seen a team attack the basket as much as they did.

Anyway, back to the series, the only downside to two exciting teams squaring off is that one of them had to be eliminated.  And while having seven games would've been fun, it would've been hard to top game 6.  Steph Curry going off, in front of an electric crowd, with Kevin Harlan calling the game is pretty much basketball at its greatest:

I hope these teams come back even better next year, but for now we'll just have to settle for them providing the highlight of round one.

While pretty much the rest of the first round may have been disappointing, I'm hoping that it at least sets up a very good second round.   We're kicking things off with a rematch of 2011's classic series between the Thunder and Grizzlies (which featured the superb triple overtime game).  Following that up with Pacers-Knicks, which I'm sure will provide plenty of flashbacks to their historic rivalry.  Spurs-Warriors has potential to be really fun.  And we cap it off with the Heat facing the Bulls, teams who have a nice history of tough games (including this year's great game where Miami's win-streak was ended).

There are two things would make round two even better.  One, no more injuries (additionally, the guys that are banged up become or stay capable of contributing).  Two, Derrick Rose returns.  Now I'm not one of those people saying he has to play.  If he's not comfortable yet, he shouldn't play.  Fans are fickle.  They may say he should play now, but if he came back and got hurt, then they would say he shouldn't have played.  Or if he doesn't play, but goes on to continue having a great career, no ones really going to care about him sitting out.  Perceptions change (just ask LeBron).  So I'm not saying I think he's ready to play; I'm just hoping that he is (A surprise return in game 3 would be especially fun. Chicago would go insane).

As it is, round two has a lot of potential to be great.  Let's just hope that, unlike round one, the potential is actually realized.

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