By Dennis Berry
Have you been paying attention to the NBA Playoffs? If you have not been, you should start. The first round has been a great showcase of how good NBA basketball can be.
Saturday had four games that came down to the final minutes. One team was able to avoid being swept out of the playoffs. Another team won after being down 18 points in the fourth quarter. One team won its first home playoff game. One team was able to build a 3-0 series lead on the road.
The Indiana Pacers forced a game five with the Chicago Bulls with a 89-84 win. The Pacers never trailed in the game, but did have to hold off a Bulls rally. The Pacers lead 84-71 with just over two minutes and Chicago and the Bulls cut it to 84-81, but that was as close as they could get. The Pacers had struggled to finish out the first three games, losing them by a total of 15 points. Saturday, they were able to hold off Chicago.
That was followed by the Dallas Mavericks at the Portland Trailblazers. This game appeared to be heading to a blowout at the end of the third quarter. The Mavericks only had a two point lead at halftime, but extended it to as many as 23 in the third quarter before entering the fourth with an 18 point lead. The Blazers came back to win 84-82, thanks in large part to Brandon Roy who scored 18 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. He scored the Blazers' last eight points.
Then came the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies. This was also a game that came down to the final minute. Memphis was able to get its first home playoff with a 91-88 win. Zach Randolph scored 25 points and made his first three pointer in the playoffs, but it was the poor execution by the Spurs at the end of the game. With a chance to tie the game, after a missed Randolph jumper, the Spurs pushed the ball instead of taking a time out and did not get a shot off as time ran out. Grizzlies are up 2-1 and have two more home games in this series.
The nightcap on Saturday featured the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Denver Nuggets. The Thunder took a 3-0 series lead on the Nuggets. Kevin Durant may have lead the Thunder with 26, but it was Serge Ibaka's 22 points that helped the Thunder win. The end came down to a final shot for the tie by Denver, but JR Smith missed a three pointer at the buzzer. Smith then complained to the referees as he felt he was fouled, but it appeared to be good straight up defense by James Harden. The Thunder are now in position to win their first playoff series since they were the Seattle Supersonics.
Saturday was just a great day of basketball. Every game came down to the final minutes. The NBA could not ask for a better day for its league. The story of the day had to be Brandon Roy. After only playing in 47 games this year and struggling with injuries he showed what made him an All-Star player. Also the 8 seed Grizzlies leading the 1 seed Spurs has to catch everyone's eye.
Sunday was much more of the same in the playoffs. One team was able to keep from being eliminated. We had our first team advance to the second round and another team pushed to the edge of being knocked out of the playoffs.
Sunday started the Miami Heat looking to close out the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers got out to a 28-16 lead after the first quarter, but as the case this series the Heat control the second quarter and lead 47-46 at the half. The second half was back and forth. Then it appeared the Philadelphia season was over when Miami was up six with 1:35 to go. The young Sixers team did not want to go home yet as Evan Turner made a jumper followed by three pointers from Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams made three pointers to give Philadelphia the lead. Turner then iced the game with free throws.
The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks followed that, with the Knicks looking to stay alive. In the first half, they appeared they were ready to go home. New York faced a 17 point hole at halftime and just did not appear to have any fight. The Knicks put up a fight in the second half. They cut the lead to 10 at the end of the third had it down to 4 points late in the fourth quarter. It's as close as the New York got as Boston extended its lead and swept New York out of the playoffs.
The first of the evening games saw the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks built a 46-37 halftime lead. Jamal Crawford lead them with 14 points. Orlando had a terrible first half shooting with only 1-14 from the three point line. As was the norm this weekend, the Hawks made a run. They were able to cut it two one point in the final minute, but could never get the lead. Dwight Howard had 29 points and Gilbert Arenas provided 20 off the bench. The Magics shooting did not improve in the second half as they finished the game 2-23 from three point land. Crawford lead the Hawks with 25.
The nightcap on Sunday night featured the L.A. Lakers visiting the New Orleans Hornets. This close game down to the end. Kobe Bryant actually scoreless in first half, but the Lakers got a boost from Ron Artest who scored 16 points in the first half. The Hornets Chris Paul scored four points in the first half, but Trevor Ariza scored 16 as the Horents had a 49-45 lead at halftime. The third quarter was a show between Bryant and Paul. Bryant scored 14 points in the third and Paul secured a triple double. Hornets were never able to put the Lakers away until the final seconds and won 93-88.
The story of Sunday had to be the Celtics sweep of the Knicks. The Celtics had not looked good coming into the playoffs. A match up with New York was just what they needed. Boston withstood one last charge from the Knicks and get some much needed rest ahead of a potential match up against the Heat in the second round.
It was a great way to wrap up the playoff weekend. I cannot think of a better week to start out the NBA Playoffs. There is still a lot of basketball to go and better match up to take place, but this has been a very entertaining first round for the NBA.