Thoughts on the NBA Playoff games so far

James Harden and the Rockets know they will have their hands full come Game 2 against the Mavericks. Photo Courtesy: Michael Kolch
James Harden and the Rockets know they will have their hands full come Game 2 against the Mavericks. Photo Courtesy: Michael Kolch

By Craig Fields

So the playoffs have started and there weren’t that many surprises. In most cases the home team held serve, and left the away team with questions on how to steal one on the road in Game 2.

The home team won every game except for the Toronto-Washington game in which the Wizards came out victorious. This game which showcased the four and five seeds in the Eastern Conference, started out slow and ugly with both teams struggling to put together a sustained stretch of effective offensive possessions. However, it ended in overtime with the Wizards showing the ability to actually make shots.

The Raptors were unable to really get anything going as their leaders Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry struggled mightily going a combined 8-30 from the field. To make matters worse, Lowry actually fouled out the game and was never really able to get anything going because he had been in foul trouble the entire game.

Paul Pierce hit 7-10 shots from the field and really led the Wizards to victory with his efficient 20 point game. The Raptors will need to find some offense fast if they hope to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Game 2 will take place on Tuesday at 7 p.m CT.

The 1-8 matchup in the West proved to be a lot more exciting than perhaps anticipated by the general public and sports analysts. While it is true that New Orleans Pelicans will probably lose the series against the best team in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, the Pelicans fought hard and made the game very entertaining down the stretch.

MVP candidate Anthony Davis would score 20 of his team high 35-points in the fourth quarter to pull his team close to actually upsetting the Warriors in Game 1. At one point the Pelicans were down 20 and looked every bit as overwhelmed as people thought they would. The resilience shown by this young Pelicans team was surprising and will probably make for an entertaining series.

Another MVP candidate by the name of Stephen Curry led the way for his squad with 34-points and three steals. The Warriors never really looked like they were in danger of losing this one, but if they have another prolonged defensive lapse like they did in the fourth quarter of game one, they could find themselves losing a game to New Orleans.

I think it is fair to say that Steph and “The Brow” are going to get theirs. The determining factor of this series will be which supporting cast plays better. Tyreke Evans is injured and was questionable for Game 2. Jrue Holiday was the starting point guard for his Pelicans until an injury basically took him out for the entire season. He is now on the comeback trail but still looks a bit rusty out on the floor.

The Warriors, with Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and company clearly have the better supporting cast and bench players to support Curry but will that be enough to take a 2-0 series lead against a scrappy and hungry, but hobbled Pelicans team? The answer is yes as the Warriors took care of business at home again.

Trail Blazers/Grizzlies
The 4-5 matchup of the Portland Trail Blazers vs the Memphis Grizzlies was a bit of a wash to be honest. The Grizzlies pretty much wiped the floor with them, and the game was not even as close as the 14-point win margin.

The only person who came to play for the guys in black and red was LaMarcus Aldridge. L.A. had 32-points, 14 boards, and four blocked shots. Damian Lillard shot a horrible 5-21 from the field and just looked uncomfortable all night.

The Grizzlies played the Trail Blazers hard and physically all night. Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Beno Udrih all played a hand in keeping Lillard in check. Speaking of Udrih, he had a playoff career high night in points scoring 20 on 9-14 shooting from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. He was everything you look for in a backup point guard. His veteran leadership and intensity were spectacular all night.

It has to be noted that the Trail Blazers are without starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews and backup shooting guard Arron Afflalo who are both injured. This hurts the team both offensively and defensively as either guy can act as that third scoring option if L.A. or Lillard are both struggling.

It remains to be seen if Afflalo will be able to play in Game 2 of the series but is listed as questionable. What is certain is that Matthews is done for the season and the Blazers still need a third option scorer. Without that third guy to alleviate scoring pressure from Lillard and L.A. the Blazers, in my humble opinion, do not stand a chance in this series. Game 2 is Wednesday at 7 p.m CT.

One of the more surprising games of the first round action over the weekend was the Los Angeles Clippers blowout victory over of the San Antonio Spurs, 107-92. Plenty of analysts and sports writers chose the Spurs to win Game 1 and the series. Not only did they not win Game 1, but the way they lost it have some people thinking that father time has finally caught up to the Spurs.

There were spurts of good play from the Spurs, but down the stretch they just could not keep up with the quicker, faster, more athletic Clippers. Chris Paul led all scorers with 32 points six boards and seven assists. Blake Griffin was a man among boys throwing down thunderous dunk after dunk on his way to a brilliant night of 26 points, 12 rebounds six assists, three steals, and three blocks.

Deandre Jordan kept Tim Duncan out of the lane for the most part, and bolstered his attempts for best defensive player in the league with four big blocks and 14 boards. Kawhi Leonard looked to be the only Spur pulling his weight as he had 18 points and four steals. Collectively the Spurs only shot 36.6 percent from the field. That kind of shooting will not get it done in this series. Alternatively, the Clippers shot over 51 percent from the field. With the kind of shots the Clippers get i.e. dunks, layups, short range jumpers and floaters, it is not hard to think that they could be around 45-50 percent shooting for the entire series.

It was a good thing that Head Coach Gregg Popovich’s answers were so short and curt in the post game conference. Maybe he can use the time he saved, giving short horrible answers to valid media questions, figuring out what he has to do to get his team ready to play in Game 2 which takes place Wednesday at 9:30 pm CT.

The 2-7 matchup in the Western Conference showcased two teams that do not particularly like each other. There really is no love lost between the Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets. That was pretty evident as the chippiness between players took place throughout the entire game.

The Rockets won the game 118-108 but much like the Grizzlies game, the ending score of this one does not really epitomize the competitiveness of the game. There were seven lead changes and the games was also tied seven times. Fondly called the Lonestar Showdown, this game was a lot closer than the score might show.

MVP candidate James Harden had 24-points and 11 assists, but it was the “other”guys that really hurt the Mavs in this one. Corey Brewer sprang to life in the fourth quarter and made 13 of his 15 points in that frame. Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones combined for 31 points respectively. In all, the Rockets had seven players in double digits and really beat the Mavs with ball movement. A few late in the shot clock defensive lapses that left the Rockets wide open for three often left the Mavericks team looking dejected.

Dirk led the way for the Mavs with 24-points and eight rebounds. Overall the Mavs shot a decent percentage, just north of 44 percent, but the game was lost with poor shooting from Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis, and Amar’e Stoudemire. Parsons shot 5-15 from the field and could not find the distance from three all night. Ellis shot 5-16 from the field and actually made two big three pointers in the game, but struggled from mid-range which is his sweet spot. Stoudemire shot 2-12 from the field and couldn’t knock down his bread and butter 16-18 foot jump shot to save his life.

Dwight Howard only had 11-points but his impact was huge on the defensive end where he had five blocked shots. He also struggled with foul trouble and only played about 18 minutes in the game. Rookie Clint Capela played about 17 minutes and filled in Dwight Howard’s shoes pretty well with eight points, six boards, and two blocks.

For the Mavericks to win Game 2, they will need to execute defensively for the full 24-second shot clock, otherwise they might be headed back to Dallas down 0-2 in the series. Game 2 will be Tuesday at 8:30 p.m CT.

The 1-8 matchup in the Eastern Conference showed us a series that might be full of runs and ebbs and flows. Every two seconds it seemed like with the Brooklyn Nets or the Atlanta Hawks were going on an extended run. Kyle Korver led all scorers with 21-points and hit 5-11 from downtown.

The Hawks had five players score in double-digits, however Paul Millsap was not among them. The power forward was a sad 2-11 from the field and could not get anything going against Thaddeus Young, which is surprising considering the fact that Young has had issues playing defense ever since his days in Philadelphia with the 76ers.

This game was a lot closer than the 1-seeded Hawks would have liked, and that was because of Millsap’s lack of involvement effectiveness in the offense. Head Coach Mike Budenholzer will need to find a way to get his versatile forward involved in the game, or this series might be a little more competitive than he’d like.

Meanwhile, on the Nets sideline, Head Coach Lionel Hollins needs to find a way to get production from his shooting guard position. Bojan Bogdanovic played 32 minutes and only contributed five points. That his been his calling card for most of the season and it is time for Coach Hollins to change things up.

There is no reason for backup point guard Jarrett Jack to only see 16 minutes off the bench, when he is UNARGUABLY your best bench player on the team. While it is true that the Nets are not a highly talented team, there remains no reason that his best and most talented lineup is not on the floor for extended periods of time.

This is the playoffs and the players that give you the best chance to win should be out on the floor the most. Simple. Do not be surprised if Jack starts to take over Bogdanovic’s minutes, because without change, the Nets will be swept right out the stadium doors and onto their couches. Game 2 is Wednesday at 6 p.m CT.

The third ranked Chicago Bulls beat the sixth ranked Milwaukee Bucks 103-91 thanks in large part to one man who saw his first playoff action in three years. Derrick Rose looked like a kid again as he slashed through the Bucks defense, jacked up three after three, made timely passes to the tune of seven assists, and controlled the overall pace of the game. He only played 27 minutes, but he was spectacular and efficient scoring 23 points on 9-16 shooting from the field.

Jimmy Butler also had a big game and scored 25 points on 8-14 shooting and added six assists. The Bulls controlled the glass and out rebounded the Bucks by 11. Pau Gasol was a big part of that effort as he had 13 boards to go along with 10 points.

Jason Kidd, the head coach of the Bucks called the first quarter “Fool’s Gold”. He was referring to the fact that his team had scored 29 points in the first quarter, and from that point on they played as if defense had not been their calling card all season. His team went to sleep on defense multiple times and gave up way too many points in the paint.

No one on the Bucks team scored 20-points but they did have five players score in double-digits. The makeup of this team is team basketball offensively, and great to elite team basketball defensively. If they want to have a chance in this series, they are going to have to continue to play great defense and keep the Bulls around 88-95 points. They will not win this series if the Bulls average 100 points per game. The Bucks do not have the scoring power or ability to go shot for shot with the Bulls. Game 2 was on Monday and again the Bulls took care of business.

Last but certainly not least, we have the second ranked Cleveland Cavaliers, taking on the seventh ranked Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Games aren’t won on paper and this game was definitely more competitive than the paper would have indicated.

Kyrie Irving aka “Uncle Drew” made his playoff debut and he showed anything but nerves. He shot 11-21 from the field and scorched the net for 30 points. LeBron James was his normal “produce in every category” self as he had 20-points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and one block. Also making his playoff debut was Kevin Love who had 19 points, 12 board, and four assists.

The Cavaliers started out slow and actually trailed by eight at one point in the first quarter. In all actuality the game didn’t really get out of hand until midway in the third quarter when the Cavaliers jumped out to a 20 point lead.

At that point the Celtics went on a 14-0 run to cut the deficit to six. The charge was led by the Celtics lone bright star Isaiah Thomas who had 22-points, 10 assists, and five rebounds in 31 minutes of action.

The Celtics showed a lot of resilience but was not able to overcome the Cavaliers three-headed monster in James, Love, and Irving. Head Coach Brad Stevens of the Celtics is going to have to find a way to get more out of Kelly Olynyk, who only played 19 minutes but managed to score 12 points.

I do not see this series going past four games, but even though that may be the case, we could be watching the emergence of a potential star in Thomas. He showed leadership, shot making ability, and playmaking skills in what was also his playoff debut. The Celtics are not terribly talented but will give their coach 110 percent. That might be good for a win in this series but I personally do not think so. Game 2 is Tuesday at 6 p.m CT.