The first round of the playoffs, they’ve been a whirlwind so far. In the best-of-seven system, the first team to win four games will win the series and enter the second round. The Memphis Grizzlies vs. The Oklahoma City Thunder, the Golden State Warriors vs. The Los Angeles Clippers and the Atlanta Hawks vs. The Indiana Pacers are all tied at three games apiece, forcing each game into a Game 7 – and these three games will be played on Saturday. It will be the first time ever three Game 7s will be played on one night.
Teams that were perceived to be weak heading into the playoffs obviously failed to read the script. The Grizzlies have been the Thunder’s kryptonite, the Hawks have been taking full advantage of the Pacers’ woes, and the old bodies of the Mavericks have been irritating the Spurs. Only the Miami Heat have overcome their first round opposition in expected fashion, sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats in four games.
It’s been the best first round in playoffs history, and it’s not over yet.
— NBA (@NBA) April 30, 2014
These been some of the best first round games in a while
— Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung) April 30, 2014
3 Game 7s on Saturday. They could go 99 for all I care. Best 1st Round Ever #NBAPlayoffs
— Ronnie 2K 2K14 (@Ronnie2K) May 2, 2014
Memphis Grizzlies @ Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoman sports editor apologizes for Kevin Durant 'Mr. Unreliable' headline saying newspaper "failed". pic.twitter.com/dMsUu6Ef3O
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 1, 2014
Kevin Durant, Mr. Unreliable? Maybe a bit too far, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will have to rediscover the form which saw them tear up the regular season if they want to live to see round two. They’re simply not shooting well, and Russell is currently having the worst volume shooting playoffs performance in league history. It’s difficult to pinpoint the source of the problem. Durant is shooting 41.2% from the field and 25% from the arc in his first six games. Russell Westbrook is embarrassingly 35.6% and 20%. These statistics paint a grey picture for the two stars, but most of Scott Brooks’ plays force the ball into their hands. Isolating either of them against the opposition seems to be the ‘plan’. It’s not working. The ball usually ends up in their hands with little left on the shot clock, forcing them into taking shots on poor looks.
On the other end of the court, the Grizzlies’ big man combination of Zac Randolph and Marc Gasol are causing significant problems for the Thunder. Both are catching 8.7 rebounds per game, and scoring 18.2 and 16.2 points per game, respectively. The Grizzlies were the seventh seed in the Western Conference, and have proved to be a nightmare matchup for the second seed, Oklahoma.
If the Thunder want to proceed, they’ll need a little more of this:
And a little less of this:
Atlanta Hawks @ Indiana Pacers
Roy Hibbert, what the hell has happened?
Hibbert started the season in monster form, a shoe in for Defensive Player of the Year. He ended the season as the worst center in the league, and it’s carried on into the playoffs. In tandem, Paul George was an MVP candidate at the beginning of the season, and got worse every month. The only difference is, Paul George has actually showed up for the post season. In the last two games, Hibbert has caught two rebounds and scored no points. For a team whose identity is built on defence and playing big, this is really bad news.
The Hawks have taken full advantage, playing with a host of three-point shooters and stretching the floor, limiting the effectiveness of Indiana’s big men who live in the paint. Seven guys on the Hawks’ team are shooting above 33.3% from the 3-point line.
If the Indiana Pacers do manage to lose, it will be a collapse of epic proportions. The first seed in the Eastern Conference will be undone by the eight seed. Talk about a fall from grace.
Can Paul George pull them through?
Golden State Warriors @ Los Angeles Clippers
It’s been a tough few days for those at the Los Angeles Clippers franchise. Unless you live in a cave, you’ve heard of the racist remarks from owner Donald Sterling. Whether or not the fiasco has had a galvanising effect on the squad, or been a distraction, is hard to say. They’ve lost and won games to the Warriors since the news broke. Taking off their warm up gear was the only act of defiance the group could possibly take on the court. It’s unfortunate that such an ugly episode has overshadowed a wonderful series.
The Warriors are relying on the form of Stephen Curry to get them through. When Curry has caught fire, the Warriors have won. Stopping Blake Griffin has been a big part of their game plan. As soon as they get the power-forward to put the ball on the ground, they send double teams on his first or second dribble.
Game 7 will depend on which superstar executes down the stretch. If the Splash Brothers, Curry and Thompson, heat up, there’s little anyone can do to stop them. If Griffin shakes off those double-teaming shackles and Chris Paul controls the floor, the Clippers will be unstoppable. If all these things happen, we’re in for quite a game.
If DeAndre Jordan can keep blocking shots like this, I’d fancy the Clippers to take Game 7.
Get ready for some upsets tonight, and plenty of drama.
Joseph Carroll, Pundit Arena.