At best, the first round of the NBA playoffs were something to switch to during Cubs game commercials, and at worst they were straight trash. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul got a couples MRI, Stanley Johnson lost him mind, and Steph Curry channeled his inner Derrick Rose when he returned from an ankle injury only to SLIP ON A WET SPOT and sprain his MCL one half of basketball later. While we did see two oddly competitive game 7s, I don’t think anyone will look back on basketball in April fondly, except maybe Thibs. So with that, round 1 is behind us and lets never speak of it again. We’re now into round 2 where two series may actually turn out to be competitive, and at least all of the teams that are still competing have a compelling reason to win, regardless of how you (or I) may dislike some of them (Cleveland).
Starting in the Eastern Conference, Toronto is fresh off their 2nd playoff series win in the franchise’s 21 year history, and ready to take on the Miami Heat on 48 hours rest. Both teams will go into Tuesday night’s game with nothing more than a shootaround to prepare so I would imagine the play will be as sloppy and bizarre as any in the teams’ round 1 match ups. Miami’s playoff experience, star power and hot shooting will likely move them on to the Conference Finals, but if Toronto’s DeRozan and Lowry can get back up to their regular season scoring numbers, they’ll have a shot.
On the West Coast, the Spurs/Thunder match up tips off the part of the NBA playoffs where you wonder why they even televise games in Atlanta or Toronto, when Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green are playing basketball a few thousand miles away. But Game 1 did not turn out to be the elite competition we had hoped. Instead, the Spurs played ‘as good as it gets’, executing flawlessly on the offensive side, and throwing defender after defender at Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, rushing and contesting not just shots, but steps. Before Monday night, I figured the Spurs (probably) wouldn’t score 73 in the first half of every game this series but that we might have to endure an under-achieving Oklahoma City team fall in less than 7 games, with their inexperienced rotation pushing Durant over the edge and out of town. While I was preparing myself to adjust perspective and appreciate the impeccable and dominant Spurs for as long as they’re around, OKC made it interesting with a last second win over San Antonio on Monday, evening the series and reminding us just how fun the NBA Playoffs can be.
And then there’s Lebron. And the inevitable question – can he be stopped? Answer: No. Not in the Eastern conference. The Cavs have a 9 game post-season winning streak against the Atlanta Hawks which is the 2nd longest active streak in the league, coming up short only to the Cavs 12 game run over Detroit who they just swept. They may have to weather a few storms here and there from Al Horford, Jeff Teague and a Hawks team who won’t roll over as easily as last year, but in the end, we’ll still be talking about Lebron, the health of his teammates and their chemistry with the coach 2 weeks from now when they’re headed to South Beach or the great white North for LBJ’s 6th straight Eastern Conference Finals.
Last but certainly not least, prayers up for Steph. He’s poised to return in Game 3 of Warriors/Blazers, but his team is doing just fine without him. They obliterated the Blazers in Game 1 behind the smothering defense of fellow splash brother Klay Thompson, and a triple double from the pride of Saginaw, Draymond Green. They don’t need Steph this series, but they’ll want to be firing on all cylinders when they head to the Conference Finals, so rest between games 2 and 3 can’t come soon enough for the winners of 73 regular season games.
So that’s round 2 in a nutshell. The playoffs are on the up and up, and the TNT crew is in post-season form. It’s way overdue but it’s here and it’s fleeting, so just like Chicago Summer, enjoy it while it lasts.