If the first days of games of the opening round of the NBA playoffs are any indication of what we can expect from here on out, buckle up your seat belts! This is going to be one heck of the ride. Six out of the eight games went down to the wire. We saw some unbelievable individual performances, and the Knicks even played defense for 48 minutes. But when I look back at all of the games, something stood out more than anything else. The Young Guns are coming while the Old Vanguards might be riding off in the sunset.
It seemed as if each game was settled in the final seconds. The Chicago Bulls needed a Herculean effort in their 104-99 comeback victory over the Indiana Pacers. They were down 10 points with a little more than two minutes to go and then they seemed to flip the switch. Derrick Rose had a monster game, scoring 39 points, dishing out 6 assists and grabbing 6 boards. Most will focus on the points, but the two assists in the final two minutes blew me away. The kick out to Kyle Kover for his go ahead three pointer was one thing, but Rose threading the needle on that bounce pass to Joakim Noah was a thing of beauty. Rose just willed his team to that win, refusing to accept defeat.
The Philadelphia 76ers got off to a hot start and made the Miami Heat sweat it out in the end of the 97-89 Miami victory. The Big Three got theirs (LeBron James 21 points, Chris Bosh 25 points and Dwyane Wade 17 points). However, Philadelphia showed that they were not going away quietly.
Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni was out coached by his counterpart Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Down the stretch, Rivers went to the players with the hot hands, while D’Antoni and his Knicks forgot that Amar’e Stoudemire was even on the court. Stevie Wonder could see that Amar’e was on fire in the final period (12 points, 6-7 from the field) and the fact that he did not touch the ball once in the last seven possessions was inexcusable. You have to give the Knicks credit for their defensive performance in their two-point defeat at the hands of the Celtics. However, it was mind-boggling that Stoudemire did no see the ball down the stretch. Rivers drew up plays and his crew executed them to a tee. D’Antoni’s crew looked lost down the stretch. That is the difference between teams who move on in the post season and those who go home early.
Kevin Durant demonstrated why he deserved serious consideration for the MVP award this year, as he scorched the Nuggets for 41 points in the Thunder’s 107-103 victory over Denver. The Nuggets put up a valiant effort, but they just could over hump, Durant’s play, and perhaps, some bad officiating.
The Dallas Mavericks outlasted the Portland Trailblazers on the backs of their seasoned veterans Jason Kidd, who scored 24 points, and Dirk Nowitzki, who added 28 points and 10 rebounds. That was good for the first game but if they are going to outlast the Trailblazer for the series, they are going to need more from their bench, especially Jason Terry.
You have to give big ups to the Memphis Grizzlies for their 101-98 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. Without Manu Ginobili, it is going to be an uphill battle for the Spurs, especially considering that the Grizzlies were the hottest team in the NBA after the All Star break.
I was not surprised that Chris Paul, 33 points and 14 assists, went off on the Los Angeles Lakers during the New Orleans Hornets 109-100 victory over the defending champs. Lighting-quick point guards have traditionally given Lakers head coach Phil Jackson and his crew fits. The thing that did shock me was how small the Lakers’ bigs played. Eight points from Pau Gasol, REALLY?
After watching the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Mavericks either lose or struggle in their respective game ones of the playoffs, one has to wonder if this post season will be the last call at the bar for these teams. Jacksonis retiring and it appears that the Lakers have squeezed the most out of the existing unit.
The Spurs’ Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili have logged a lot of minutes during their tenure under head coach Greg Popavich. They all have spent significant stretches on the disable list over the past few seasons and they do not seem to bounce back from injuries like they use to.
The Boston Celtics looked as if they have lost more than the toughness of Kendrick Perkins. The Knicks should have beaten them on Sunday, but the Celtics of three years ago would have run away with that game.
I never believed that the Mavs had the firepower and the heart to emerge from the Western Conference anyway. If they beat the Trailblazer, they would then lose to the Lakers. There are too many hurdles for them in the West.
The window of opportunity is obviously closing on the Spurs, Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks. The Bulls, Thunder, Trailblazers, Grizzlies and even the Knicks now have a chance to seize the moment. You know that the Heat are poised to dominate over the next 5-to-10 years if they stay healthy. I can see any of the aforementioned teams being the teams-to-beat in the not-to-distant future. The Heat, Bulls and Thunder are on the verge. The Knicks are a player away and the Grizzlies and the Trailblazers need a little more seasoning.
Rivers and Jackson most likely will not be manning the sidelines of the Celtics and Lakers next year. It might be time to break up the Mavs and the Spurs are getting old quick. By Tuesday and Wednesday, this might be a moot point as the favorites bounce back with game two victories. And, I expect them to. Don’t be surprised if the Thunder, Bulls and perhaps our Knicks along with the Heat are the teams to beat next year.