After watching the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics regained control of their respective Eastern Conference Semi Final Series and the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder reach the Western Conference Finals, the NBA Playoffs appear to be back on par. Hopefully, the Celtics and the Heat will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and we will have a Final Four to remember.
No disrespect to the folks in the City of Brotherly Love and the good people in the State of Indiana, but the last thing I wanted to see this year is a Pacer-76ers Conference Finals. Both are great stories but it will not be an interesting series. Considering the way the Celts finished out the season, I felt they were one of the best teams heading into the post-season. My only concern was that the seasoned vets in green would not be able to hold up during this grueling stretch. That may still be the case but Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has done a masterful job resting these guys and getting the most out of the Big Three (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) and their bench.
Garnett looks as if he has found the Fountain of Youth, averaging basically a double-double for the first two post season series. Even on a gimpy knee, Pierce has delivered and answered the bell when needed. If Allen can get it going after coming back from his ankle injuries, look out.
You can look at the Big Three’s production as the key to the Celtics success, but that designation goes to Rajon Rondo. Boston’s floor leader is the straw that stirs the Celtic’s drink. You can pencil him in for 10-15 assists before the opening tip off. He is the one that is putting the Big Three in position to be successful.
I also like the way the bench has produced for Doc Rivers. Brandon Bass gave the Celts a much needed boost in Game 5. Philadelphia had the Celts back on their heels in that contest at halftime and Bass outscored the entire Sixers squad in the third quarter, 18-16. Ryan Hollins has also provided inside depth to give Garnett a much-need break from time-to-time.
This time last week, there seemed to be trouble in Paradise. Chris Bosh went down with an abdominal strain in Game 1 of the Pacers-Heat series. Although LeBron and Company survived the first game, they lost the next two and the sky appeared to be falling in South Beach. That was evident with the heated verbal exchanged between Dwyane Wade and Miami Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra in Game 3. Wade had his worst playoff game of his storied career during that contest and his coach told him to raise his game during a timeout and the only thing Wade raised was his temper.
Wade rebounded in Game 4, scoring 30 points in the process. LeBron James got Wade going with some nifty passes that led to some easy hoops and Wade went on a roll. But James was story of that game as he scored 40 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and handed out 9 assists. This was one of the greatest post season performances of all time. It is unfair to ask Wade and James to combine to score 70 points against the Pacers for the series, but that it is what it might take for them to advance. They will need help like the 14-point effort they got from Udonis Haslem on Sunday. Hopefully Mike Miller and/or Shane Battier will come out their scoring comas as well.
If the Celts can stay healthy and James and Wade can get some help from their friends, we will get the Eastern Conference Finals that we want. Now out West, the Spurs made short work of the Los Angeles Clippers. I expected the Clippers to put up a better fight but the Spurs are just clicking on all cylinders. They have not lost since April 11, 2012. I know that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul were nursing injuries but even if they were 100% healthy, it would not have mattered. The Spurs are the deepest team still standing. But more importantly, they are an unselfish team where no one cares who gets the credit for the success.
Tim Duncan, like Garnett, has turned back the hands of time. Tony Parker is having a MVP-caliber season and Manu Ginolbli is also having a career season and that is saying something. The Spurs will take on the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals beginning Sunday. This is a series we expected to see from the very beginning. The Lakers put up a good effort but it was unrealistic to think that Kobe and the Bigs were going to be able to keep up with the speedy Thunder for the best of seven match up.
The funny thing is that the Lakers could have and should have won Games 2 and 4. They had significant fourth quarter leads in both contests and could not hold on. The bottom line is that Los Angeles had no answers for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The two young bucks just scored at will on the older Lakers.
Most NBA fans just hope that the Heat and Celts can hold up and make the Eastern Conference Finals and we can look forward to a great Western Conference Finals. Yes the Sixers and Pacers are great stories this year but it is not the series that most want to see. If everything holds to form, the Conference Finals should be very intriguing.