First of all, that’s Diddy in the upper left hand corner of the photo as J.R. Smith is celebrating right? This picture just keeps getting better and better.
Second, if you missed it, I recorded a podcast with Sean Highkin of USA Today Sports over the weekend previewing the second round of the playoffs and many other things. Do check it out here.
The opening weekend of the playoffs was chalk, in which all the home teams opened with a victory in Game 1. And just when it seemed safe to presume that most of the first round would go quickly and according to form, we were treated to six Game 6s and one Game 7, and three lower-seeded teams ended up moving on.
The thing about the NBA, and especially the playoffs, is that it’s essentially a two-month exercise in giving us answers to questions we spend all season posing, or sometimes, seasons. LeBron this, LeBron that, and then LeBron wins the title. There’s your conclusion.
The presumption coming into the post-season was that the Oklahoma City Thunder were at least co-favorites with the Spurs to come out of the West. Meanwhile, we’ve spent several years fascinated with those Memphis Grizzlies. Because of their front court, their defense that seems to disrupt their opponents into that grit and grind game that the Grizzlies love so much, and because of their upset of San Antonio in the first round several years ago, and how well they match up against not only the Spurs, but the Thunder as well.
The Thunder stormed to a 2-0 lead against the Rockets in the first round, at the same time, Chris Paul was putting the finishing touches to a masterpiece in Game 2 that sent the Grizzlies into a 0-2 hole.
At that particular moment, our presumptions stood up: the Thunder were primed for an extended playoff run. The Grizzlies? Tantalizing, but perhaps drawing the worst possible match-up in the Clippers.
Of course, four straight wins from the Grizzlies later, and a season-ending injury to Russell Westbrook, and suddenly it’s the Grizzlies who’ve assumed the co-favorite role, while every win from the Thunder is a surprise to most at this point, just a matter of extending the season as long as possible without their point guard.
But then, the playoffs are weird that way. And one shift leads to another. In yesterday’s Game 1 match-up in Oklahoma City, Durant put up 35 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists, including the go-ahead basket with 11 seconds left. The Thunder made a rousing comeback at home, and even though it’s a long series, now the Grizzlies have given up one that they should’ve had. You only get so many opportunities in a seven-game series.
And so, we might shift again. With Kevin Martin responding with two straight strong outings, perhaps it’s the Thunder that are now moving out of their adjustment phase without Westbrook. Or just like in the first round, the Grizzlies will respond to the challenge after falling behind in the series.
It’s going to be great theater.
Footnotes (or, my other playoff thoughts):
1. I’ll admit, I didn’t watch a single minute of the Pacers-Hawks first round series. I did ask around on Twitter for a Yelp review of the series. Jared Wade of the excellent Pacers blog Eight Points Nine Seconds obliged: “Standard diner fare. Nothing on the menu will blow you away, but you won’t leave hungry. Big portions. Polite service.” Sounds like I didn’t miss much!
2. Vinny Del Negro will have a lot of time with the Team Stream app on his iPad now that the Clippers season ended early. Speaking of which, for all the vitriol the Lakers received throughout this season, keep in mind that since the Chris Paul non-trade to the Lakers, both Los Angeles teams have won one playoff series each. Things might look dire for the Lakers right now, but would you bet on the Clippers getting to the Finals before the Lakers do again?
3. J.R. Smith and David West getting into a tussle seems inevitable, right? Or maybe Tyler Hansbrough.
4. I need to make sure no one misses this tweet from Roy Hibbert.
5. Amare Stoudemire is schedule to return in Game 3. You can just see it how can’t you: Knicks win Game 2, then struggle mightily in Games 3 and 4 as it coincides with Amare’s return. And to think, those first 40 or so games of Stoudemire’s New York tenure were so great. That was Knicks basketball revived. The Garden was rocking every night.
6. There’s a lot of stories — and there will be a lot this round — written about Derrick Rose’s non-return to the Bulls. The latest seems to be that he’s struggling with muscle memory with his knee. As I’ve said previously, once Rose didn’t come back during the last few weeks of the regular season, I considered this to be a non-story and that he wouldn’t be back until training camp next year. There doesn’t need to be a merged narrative of what the Bulls are courageously doing in the face of injuries to key players on their team and what Rose isn’t doing as he sits on the sidelines. Or put it this way: the story isn’t about what Derrick Rose isn’t doing, but it’s more about what the Bulls are doing without him. We can keep those two separate, it’s actually okay.
7. The Spurs just roll over the Warriors right? Even as they’ve become more enjoyable on the court and fun to root for overall, San Antonio remains the buzzkill waiting just around the corner just when an underdog seems like they might just make a deep playoff run.
8. The picks: Grizzlies in 6 (I initially had them in 5, but how great I get to adjust it because I’m writing this after Game 1), Heat in 5, Spurs in 5, Knicks in 7.