Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Series: Miami leads 2-1 The script had gone almost perfectly for coach Eric Spoelstra and his triumvirate of stars at the beginning of this series. Combining for more than 61 PPG in Game 1 & 2, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade seemed set to make this series their true coming-out party. With Chris Bosh rebounding as a big man should and bench-players James Jones and Joel Anthony contributing to the scoreboard, all the aspects of the Heat’s game seemed to be gelling at just the right time. [caption id="attachment_623" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Wade was ruthless in Game 1"][/caption] Looking to stay true to his word about never going home early from the playoffs again, Wade was ruthless in Game 1, shooting above 60% from the field, going off for 38 points and provoking Boston’s Paul Pierce enough to get him ejected from the game. With the bulldozer-like LeBron James getting to the rim at will in Game 2 and Dwyane Wade breaking Ray Allen’s ankles on the perimeter and leading Kevin Garnett a merry dance in the paint, the aged and injured Celtics looked dead in the water. They needed a superhero to avoid a backbreaking 0-3 hole they faced. After suffering a horrific dislocation of his left elbow in Boston’s biggest game of the year, the hopes of the Celtics’ fans that their aging superstars could avoid an 0-3 series deficit all but vanished when Rajon Rondo crashed to the floor. Without the defensive-minded floor general, it seemed that the younger, stronger Big Three of the Heat would take the game and the series by the scruff of the neck. The nuggety Rondo had other ideas. Returning to the bench with thunderous applause from the sold out TD Garden, Rondo re-entered the game with his left arm heavily guarded and hanging by his side. His supreme court vision not only allowed him to finish with 11 assists, but allowed him to steal an errant Heat pass in the fourth to run the court and finish with a dunk that ignited his teammates in what will go down as one of the toughest performances in NBA history. With Rondo set to play in Game 4 and Kevin Garnett firing up, it would take a silly man to think this series is close to being decided.
Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks Series: Bulls lead 2-1 The Hawks shocked the Bulls in Game 1 of this series. On the back of some clutch shooting from Joe Johnson, including 5 from 5 behind the arc, the Hawks shot over 50% from the field against a quality defense to take a 1-0 series lead. With newly-crowned MVP Derrick Rose shooting 40% from the field and failing to get to the charity stripe, the Bulls, whose starters still combined for 73 points, weren’t their customary defensive powerhouse against the Hawks, letting Johnson stroll into the paint with ease and failing to lock him down when on the perimeter. [caption id="attachment_624" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Noah was the star of Game 2"][/caption] As all good teams do, the Bulls found a way to fight back in Game 2. Even though the Hawks don’t scare anyone with their offensive firepower, the Bulls were back to their stingy selves, holding the Hawks to a playoff-low 33.8%. Joakim Noah was the star in this one with 19 points and 14 boards. The script returned to normal for Rose and his Bulls in Game 3. On the road, the Bulls looked exactly like the team that won a league-best 62 games this season. Importantly for the Bulls, their big guys controlled the boards and their MVP looked and played with all the confidence and swagger befitting a winner of the award. Hitting nearly 60% from the field, Rose had arguably his most commanding game as a pro. Dishing 7 assists to go along with his career-high 44 points, Rose’s speed dominated the Hawks‘ lackluster defence. He attacked the rim like a man much bigger than 6’3”, and controlled the game from the opening tip-off. To prove that they aren’t here by fluke though, the Hawks fought back in Game 4, tying the series at 2-2 after an impressive 12-point home victory. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith keyed this important win, with JJ shooting 64% from the field to finish with 24 points and Smith dominating the glass, all while holding the Bulls to a low 41% from the field, including only 3 of 16 from behind the arc.
Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies Series: Grizzlies lead 2-1 Wow. Just wow. After knocking off the No. 1 seed in the first round, the Grizzlies could have been forgiven if they got swept in this series. But, after a super-charged effort in round 1, the Grizzlies still believe. Perhaps even converting a few non-believers along the way. Going on the road to Oklahoma City for Game 1, the Grizzlies once again completely owned the paint, with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph simply bulling their way to a combined 54 points off 64% percent shooting to go along with 23 rebounds. Even with Oklahoma’s Kevin Durant hitting 33 points and pulling in 11 rebounds, the Grizzlies spread of scorers and the relentless Z-Bo were able to shake Russell Westbrook, who missed 14 of his 23 shots, close out on the Thunder’s bench and run away with a 13-point road victory that pried home-court advantage off the Thunder. [caption id="attachment_625" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Is it Russell Westbrook or Russell Westbrick?"][/caption] After the Thunder levelled the series in Game 2 at home, they started well in Memphis for Game 3, controlling the tone from the opening tip. Forced to chase the Thunder all game and with a deficit of 13 points in the 4th quarter, the Grizzlies pulled off a miraculous fightback in a game that, years from now, may very well be the game that got the Grizzlies into the Western Conference Finals. By fighting back in the fourth to steal the game in overtime, the Grizzlies not only kept hold of the home-court advantage they robbed from the higher seeded Thunder, but added more fuel to the growing inferno that is burning inside this team. The Grizzlies have seemingly come from nowhere to lead the series 2-1 after the Memphis Miracle, taking the upper hand and looking determined not to give it up any time soon. For the Thunder, their biggest issues in this series has been Russell Westbrook’s transformation into Russell Westbrick. His penchant for pulling up for the 20-foot jump shot rather than play the point properly and get an open shot for Durant or James Harden has put the Thunder in very real danger. Although he is scoring 25.3 PPG this series, he’s hit a pathetic 25-65 from the field, with most of his misses coming off ill-timed jumpers when he had an open man. As long as Westbrook is pulling up for jump shots that miss by miles, the Grizzlies, riding their emotions and a ferocious front court, will keep marching forward with the belief that anything is possible. Stay tuned in this one, folks.
Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks Series: Mavericks win 4-0 Hands up who predicted this one? With Pau Gasol playing the worst basketball of his career, shooting an atrocious 43% from the field, a career playoff-worst, and Lamar Odom being infuriatingly inconsistent, the Lakers have failed in their quest to send coach Phil Jackson out with his fourth three-peat. Dropping both games at home to the Mavericks before being swept on the road, the Lakers seemed a frustrated, fallible team all series long. A far cry from their previous three playoff trips that culminated in three consecutive Finals appearances. Even though Kobe Bryant insisted he and the Lakers would still win this series, they became the 99th team in NBA history to be eliminated after starting the series 0-3. After falling short of another three-peat in spectacular fashion, finishing Game 4 in Dallas in a flurry of flagrants and thuggery, the Lakers seem set to have a mass clean-out of their roster. [caption id="attachment_626" align="alignright" width="200" caption="The Mavs put on a shooting display of the ages"][/caption] Even with all the Lakers’ issues, this series was about the Dallas Mavericks, their superstar, and re-writing their legacy. So let’s give them their moment in the sun. Having started the playoffs with critics predicting it to be the 11th straight year they would enter with a 50+ win season and leave without a championship, the Mavericks were unstoppable in the second round. Still looking like they were exorcising demons from playoffs-past against the Trail Blazers, the resurgent Mavs attacked in Game 1. They attacked in Game 2. Heading back to Texas with a commanding 2 game lead, the Mavs attacked in Game 3, too, putting their foot on the throat of their bitter rival and setting themselves up to deliver the death blow in Game 4. A death blow to the tune of 36 points. For the Mavs, the key to this series win was great shooting. Not just from Dirk Nowitzki but from the entire roster. Playing with a killer instinct that only the best possess, the German sharpshooter owned this series, shooting an excellent 54% from the floor and dominating both Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in every facet of the game. Taking a leaf from their leaders’ book, the Mavs put on a shooting display of the ages, hitting over 60% from the floor and behind the arc to become the first team in NBA history to eliminate a Phil Jackson-coached team in a cleansweep.