By Kirti Chakote
The first round is done, and the conference semi-finals of the NBA playoffs are underway.
Like all other seasons, this year’s playoffs have not fallen short of entertaining fans with many compelling story lines. From wondering if the Chicago Bulls could respond after losing the league’s former MVP Derrick Rose in game one of the series against the Philadelphia Sixers, to seeing if the New York Knicks could win their first playoff series in 12 seasons, NBA fans had reasons to anticipate high-intensity playoff basketball.
However, in comparison to last season, there have been few upsets, including a number one seeded Bulls team that lost its series in six games and all of its firepower without its starting point guard. As expected, some series were more competitive than others, notably the matchups including the two Los Angeles’ teams, the Lakers and the Clippers.
In the Lakers’ series with the Denver Nuggets, the matchup took seven games and it was eventually settled on Saturday night. Within the early going, the Lakers took a commanding 3-1 lead. However, the Nuggets battled back to tie the series 3-3. It seemed as if the Lakers were losing their continuity, since Andrew Bynum did not seem to be stepping up to his true potential, after having a 30-rebound game during the season, and Pau Gasol was not aggressive. Even though Kobe Bryant facilitated the ball, the role players were not making key shots. In game seven, things changed. Metta World Peace returned from his suspension and played great defense against Danillo Gallinari. Gasol and Bynum combined for 35 rebounds, and Lakers point guard Steve Blake was the x-factor, when he made five of six three pointers.
Similarly, the Clippers matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies also took seven games, which concluded Sunday afternoon. The margin of victory was a lot closer in this series, 5.3 points compared to 9.6 of the Lakers and Nuggets. The series followed a similar trend as the Clippers built a 3-1 lead. The Grizzlies battled back in the next two games to tie the series 3-3. In game five, the Clippers had four technical fouls in the fourth and could not execute properly to close out the game. Game six, which had see-saw leads, came down to who would make key plays and not make costly turnovers, such as the one by Randy Foye with 10 seconds left in the game. Finally, the Clippers were victorious in Game seven with great contribution from the bench, including Kenyon Martin, Eric Bledsoe, Maurice Williams and Nick Young.
It is without a doubt that the rest of the NBA playoffs will not disappoint. Dominating first-round series wins by the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat make them look like serious title contenders. These teams each have characteristics that could make them formidable: Spurs have a veteran core that knows how to keep composure through grueling games, the Thunder have the one-two punch of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Indiana Pacers have great team chemistry and the Miami Heat have three of the leagues best players who now have a year’s worth of playoff experience together.
When it’s time to leave Union in the first week of June, the Larry O’Brien trophy should be shining bright at the Ford Center of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I think the incredible scoring ability of Durant, along with Westbrook, will be too challenging for any other team in the NBA to handle. The team’s ability to close out games and make key plays will be the difference. Also, the team’s down-low aggressive rebounders of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka will out battle other opponents in the paint. All these factors combined with two years of crunch time playoff experience makes the Thunder the team to beat.
Although, things might be different if Lebron James actually shows up this time.