Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards @ Toronto
Wizards lead 1-0
If I were a nice guy, I’d say this game was downright ugly. But I’m not a nice guy.
What the hell was that Game 1 about?? I cannot remember the last time I saw such reckless basketball being played. Once sequence, 3 minutes into the 2nd quarter, looked like two lowly high school teams playing a finals game in a tournament sponsored by the local convenience store. Only these are two professional NBA teams that are in the NBA playoffs!
If you needed more proof that Wittman needs to go, please watch this game. The Wizards won this game solely on the sheer talent they trot out on court. No one is surprised that Pierce is now the leader and coach of this team. You could see him actively leading in the breaks and timeouts, rallying this team that he knows has the ability to beat a team that is clearly better (although he will not admit it) than them. Wall and Beal were uncharacteristically ineffective, but that will change when they adjust to the defense in Game 2. They did play solid defense, impressively keeping all five Raptors outside the three-point line for large stretches of time. If they want to win this series they will need to throttle the Raps flow (like they did in spurts this game) for 48 minutes.
This game was a colossal mess for a team that does not often struggle on the offensive end. The Raptors looked impatient, and seemed more concerned about living up to and going one up on last year’s post season run. This was clearly evident in the reckless possessions, missed layups, forced shots and shot-clock-expiring Hail Mary passes that were being thrown around. Even Lowry notching up 6 fouls well before regulation time was indication that he was trying too hard. Yes, this is the playoffs, and yes, I’d expect the Raptors to come out with increased intensity, but they have to be patient and trust their system. Come playoff time, patience and aggression are opposite sides of the same coin, and someone needs to remind the Raptors of this.
Golden State Warriors vs. New Orleans Pelicans @ Golden State
Warriors lead 1-0
It’s such a joy to watch basketball played the right way. To watch sublime movement off the ball. To watch sublime movement, period. No one thought the Pelicans would be a pushover in this series, but to watch them come together as a team and match the Warriors play-for-play for a full quarter in this game was hugely refreshing after that horrible TOR vs. WAS game.
Jeff “The Sage” Van Gundy disagreed with Mike Breen. He (Van Gundy) said that this game was more a learning for the Warriors than the Pelicans, because, if they (the Warriors) did blow out the Pelicans in Game 1 at home, which in all probability they should have, Kerr would find it hard to pick apart their faults and prepare them for a Pelicans resurgence in Game 2. I could not agree more. Look, the Warriors looked impeccable for three quarters. They ran circles around the Pelicans both on offense and defense. I got frustrated just watching them toy around with the Pelicans, I can only imagine how the Pelicans felt. But the Warriors need to keep mercilessly pounding away in the first two rounds and get them over in five games each. Why? To get that much needed rest between rounds that will help them put up a fight against Pop and the Spurs. (Yes, I just revealed my Western Conference Finalists)
The Warriors were expected to dominate the game. They are after all playing at home where they are 39-2 and have the best offense and defense in the League. What was unexpected though, and feel free to call me skeptical, was the Pelicans’ response. I was ready to see them overwhelmed by the scale of it all, to be intimidated by the raucous Oracle crowd, to give up in the third quarter, 25 points down. What they did instead is show the world they belong here, and rightfully so. That they did not crumble under pressure showed tremendous character on their part. From being 25 points down to outscoring the Warriors 40-22 over the last 12:41 of the game, to Davis making it clear that his regular season fourth quarter antics aren’t a flash in the pan, the Pelicans matched up spectacularly and gave the Warriors everything they could handle in a Game 1. Put it this way…the Pelicans lost by seven and the Warriors had exactly four wide-open defensive-breakdown lay ups. You do the math.
Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks @ Chicago
Bulls lead 1-0
Contrary to my prejudice, I quite enjoyed this game. Both teams were expected to be horrendous from the field, but while Milwaukee’s young team marginally struggled offensively, they did have a few good moments, while Chicago was finding its offensive flow just in time shooting 38% from 3-pt and 46% from the field.
Watching Rose show streaks of his former self, going for 23 points in 27 minutes on 56% was easily the highlight of my weekend. One play in particular in the second quarter where he blows by MCW, who is ready for him, for a reverse layup brought back so many memories from his MVP season and the 2011 playoffs. What’s impressed me is that Chicago are playing at just the right pace to allow Rose back into the flow, both offensively and defensively. They have come a long way in his absence, something even Rose acknowledged, and being patient with themselves in Game 1 of the playoff, no less, shows a lot of maturity. If this Game 1 is any indication, the Bulls only get better and create a power shift in the East rankings this playoffs.
They were everything they were in the regular season, a long armed, defensive team that struggles to score the basketball for large periods in the game. They aren’t intimidated, which is encouraging, so they can only get better from here. The high odds that they have one fairly solid shooting night means they will steal a game at home. This will also be aided by the Bulls playing at a comfortable pace for reasons mentioned above. This is the first series where I feel I may need to change my pick to say Bulls in 5.
Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks @ Houston
Rockets lead 1-0
The first quarter of this game showed everything that is right about the Rockets. The second showed everything that isn’t. Right from the whistle, it was clear that Harden and the Rockets took to heart Cuban’s words that they were a predictable, one dimensional (not very good) team built around Harden, his brilliance and his isolation plays. Nothing in the first quarter vindicated Cuban. Every Rocket contributed, whether it was Brewer slashing to the rim, Terry throwing lobs, and Howard with three blocks. That monster first quarter coupled with Brewer’s outburst in the fourth quarter helped the Rockets stay in the game and hold on to home court advantage. What has been established is that for Houston to succeed in the playoffs, Howard has to be on the floor since he is the only competent rim protector they have. This was glaringly evident as every Dallas comeback coincided with Howard on the bench. What is encouraging for Houston is that the pulled off this win with Harden barely cracking 20 pts on 4-11 shooting. That’s not gonna happen too often now, will it?
Cuban may not have been vindicated on his Rockets analysis, but his Rondo predictions seem to have come true, for this game at least. From a player who got suspended for arguing with the coaching staff, to 15-5 in 27 minutes in Game 1 of the playoffs, Rondo has come a long way and is, along with Barea, the x-factor in this series. What was frustrating to watch though, was the Mavs, including Ellis, often ignore the mismatch on Nowitski on the pick and roll, especially when he (Nowitski) was calling for the ball. It takes some level of idiocy to ignore a 7-ft All Star German screaming for the ball.
This game did make me wonder if the Mavs can take this series. For them to do that, two things need to happen, 1.) Ellis needs to straighten himself out and play at a much higher level, something that he is capable of, and b.) Nowitski needs to come down hard on the team, rallying them to believe that they can beat these guys.