The second round of the NBA playoffs is underway. We’re down to eight teams, four in each conference, after eight pretenders to the crown fell by the wayside in what was arguably the greatest first round in NBA history. Eight first-round games went into overtime—including four in the Memphis-OKC series—and numerous games went down the wire. Five series went to a Game 7, and only a Damian Lillard buzzer-beater prevented Houston-Portland from being the sixth.
The second round was always going to compare unfavourably to the drama-laden first. However, the second round (the Thunder-Clippers series, in particular) has begun to find its groove after a slow start. Expect more drama as we get deeper into each series.
Here’s where we stand in the second as of this morning.
Miami Heats vs. Brooklyn Nets (Heat lead the series 2-1)
After the opening two games, this series looked as good as over. A well-rested Heat team—they swept the Bobcats and had a week off before the opening game of this series—destroyed the Nets in Game 1, 107-86. The Heat achieved balanced scoring throughout the team, and Ray Allen was big off the bench with 19 points.
The Nets put up a better fight in Game 2, but once again they were overpowered by the Heat’s balanced offense. Miami outscored the Nets 25-15 in the fourth quarter to seal the game. Deron Williams went missing for the Nets, held without a single point, while Kevin Garnett continued to look like a sad shell of the player he once was.
But just when people were starting to anticipate a Heat sweep, the Nets put a big Game 3 together to get back into the series. Brooklyn finally got hot from downtown, nailing 15 of 25 three-point attempts, with Joe Johnson and Mirza Teletovic combining to go nine of 14 from beyond the arc. For the Heat, LeBron James was his usual great self and Dwyane Wade contributed, but the Heat were unable to get anything else from their starters. Chris Bosh was held to just 12 points, and the Nets took full advantage.
Game 4 goes down tonight in Brooklyn, and the Nets will feel like they’re right back in this series.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers (Spurs lead the series 3-0)
Perhaps a tough series against the Dallas Mavericks was just what the Spurs needed. Taken to the brink of what would’ve been a shocking first-round exit by Rick Carlisle’s team, the Spurs put together a crushing victory in Game 7. They have carried over that form into their second-round series with the Blazers.
Portland simply has no answers for the steamrolling Spurs offense that’s firing on all cylinders right now. Through three games in this series, the Spurs have averaged 111 points and have crushed the Blazers by an average of 18 points. There have been no small victories, or anything to build on for Portland in these losses—they’ve simply been taken behind the proverbial woodshed.
Tony Parker is un-guardable, while Kawhi Leonard has stepped up two or three gears in this series. And when the Spurs starters have sat, bench players like Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills have continued the onslaught. Another big plus for the Spurs has been the play of Tiago Splitter. The Spurs’ Brazilian centre has done an excellent job guarding LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers’ key man.
The way this series has gone so far, don’t expect it to last past tonight’s Game 4.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers (series tied 2-2)
The pick of the second-round matchups thus far, the Thunder and Clippers began their series evenly matched, and the games have reflected that fact.
Game 1 was a blowout, however, as the Clippers walked into Oklahoma City and took the lead behind Chris Paul’s eight three-pointers. Fresh off his MVP win and inspiring speech, Kevin Durant evened up the series in Game 2, dropping 32 points on the Clippers, while Russell Westbrook came up big with a triple-double.
The series shifted to Los Angeles for Game 3, and the Thunder seemed to find their stride. Durant had another monster night with 36 points, while the Thunder as a team shot 55 per cent from the field, defeating the Clippers 118-112.
Yesterday’s Game 4 (a crucial game for Doc Rivers’ team) was the easily best game of the second round. The Thunder appeared to be cruising, on their way to a 3-1 stranglehold in the series. They outscored the Clippers 32-15 in the first quarter, led by as many as 22 points in the game, and still held a 16-point lead in the fourth. But the Clippers came roaring back, thanks to a combination of gutsy play, some bad Thunder turnovers and more inept play-calling from Scott Brooks.
With J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes struggling, Rivers kept faith with bench players Danny Granger and, crucially, Darren Collison. Collison finished with 18 points, and had 12 points in the final quarter. Game 5 goes in Oklahoma on Tuesday, and with the way this series has gone, who wins is anybody’s guess.
Indiana Pacers vs. Washington Wizards (Pacers lead the series 3-1)
The Pacers mounted a 17-point comeback against the Wizards last night, winning 95-92 to take a 3-1 lead in the series and move to the brink of the Conference Finals. Roy Hibbert continued his mini-renaissance with another solid performance, while Paul George played like the Paul George of last November and December. George put up 39 points and 11 rebounds, a career playoff high, and had 28 points in the second half.
After the Wizards took a 1-0 series lead building on their impressive series win against the Bulls—and receiving another impressive performance from Bradley Beal—the momentum shifted. The Pacers finally got a big performance from the struggling Roy Hibbert in Game 2. Hibbert scored 28 points and had nine rebounds to tie the series.
The Pacers leaned on their defense, once so good during the regular season, to take Friday night’s Game 3. They held the Wizards down to just 63 points—a low for these playoffs. The Wizards’ predictable half-court offense and some terrible decision-making from struggling point guard John Wall certainly didn’t make things too challenging for Indiana.
The Wizards will rue blowing Game 4—they built up a comfortable lead thanks in large part to their bench, but fell apart in the third and fourth quarters. In the final minutes they seemed unable to get anything going offensively.
The series heads back to Indiana for Game 5, and the Wizards will have to find some way to grind out a win against a Pacers team that is suddenly, and rather inexplicably, brimming with confidence.