NBA fans treated to exceptional first round
The best first-round in NBA Playoff history is nearing its conclusion. This past week was crazier than the first, with 16 out of 23 games decided by single digits, 10 games decided by four points or less, and four overtime games. The Western Conference alone had all four OT games, six games decided by five points or less, and a game-winning, buzzer-beating three by 37-year-old Vince Carter. It seems fitting that NBA fans will get to enjoy the two best words in sports: Game Seven. There will be at least two of them, after Golden State and Oklahoma City won last night, so let’s examine each series as they reach their thrilling ends.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State: The Warriors stayed alive last night with a back and forth one-point victory at home, thanks mostly to Steph Curry (24 points, 9 assists) and Draymond Green (14 points, 14 rebounds). It was an offensive struggle for both teams, especially the Clips, who shot just under 37% from the floor, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin going a combined 11-34. A surprising development in this series has been the poor play of Paul, generally considered the best point guard in the game. Curry has outplayed Paul in the series, especially last night. Still, LA has game seven at home, which is always a plus, and it is highly unlikely Paul and Griffin will perform that poorly again. With the Donald Sterling situation behind them for now, the Clippers can feel good going home for the deciding game, one which I expect to be very close, but won by the Clippers.
Oklahoma City vs. Memphis: game six last night was a truly dominant performance in a series that has been as close as can be, with four consecutive overtime games before last night. Facing huge pressure and questions about the team’s future, the Thunder came out strong and kept building their lead as the game went on. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were exceptional, combining for 61 points and 19 rebounds, the type of performances fans expect from star players in “win or go home” games. OKC must be feeling good with a game seven at home tomorrow, but the Grizzlies certainly will not back down. However, if the Grizz do not have point guard Mike Conley, who is questionable for game seven after leaving game six with a hamstring injury, they will be in serious trouble. If Conley can’t play or is limited, it will be very tough for Memphis to pull out game seven on the road.
Houston vs. Portland: The Rockets stayed alive Wednesday night after pulling out a ten point home win in game five. Dwight Howard was huge in this game (22 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks), as was Omer Asik (10 points, 15 rebounds), and James Harden finally made some big shots late to seal the victory. Plus, Houston finally showed some life on the defensive end and held LaMarcus Aldridge to 8 points on 3-12 shooting. With all that being said, I believe Portland will clinch the series tonight at home. Aldridge is too good to have another game like he did Wednesday, and the Blazers’ bench (which, like most benches, plays better at home) will surely give them more than the 5 points and 5 turnovers it had in game five. Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews have all played great this series, and that should continue. Add Aldridge playing like his normal self and better bench production, and I see Portland moving on to round two.
San Antonio vs. Dallas: I think the Mavs blew their chance at a series win after their game four loss at home on Monday night. Monta Ellis had a great look to tie the game with about five seconds left, but missed a contested layup, and the Spurs ended up winning by four. If Dallas had won that game, they would have been up 3-1 and feeling great headed back to San Antonio. Now the Spurs are up 3-2 and looking to clinch tonight on the road, and home court hasn’t really mattered in this series. Dirk Nowitzki finally had a good scoring night in game five, and Vinsanity put up 28 points (7-9 from three), but the Spurs’ offensive balance was too tough, with five guys scoring 15 point or more. The Spurs seem to have gotten it together, thanks in part to huge contributions from role players Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw. San Antonio now has the upper hand, and it will take two nearly perfect games by the Mavs to win the series.