Winners and Losers From First Week of 2013 NBA Playoffs
With two games down in each 2013 NBA first-round playoff series, we've seen a host of highlights and lowlights in the first few days of the postseason.
There's no shortage of candidates for the top. Paul George dropped a triple-double in Indiana's playoff-opening game (and followed up with 27 points in Game 2), while LeBron James and Russell Westbrook each flirted with triple-doubles of their own in their opening games.
It's easy to throw the top teams in both conferences among the "winners" list, too, as they've all been steamrolling their opponents into submission.
With three 20-plus-point blowouts in just Game 1s alone, we also have plenty of candidates for the worst moments of the first week.
Defensive guru Tom Thibodeau couldn't have slept easy after seeing his team give up 106 points to the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1, while the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies can't be thrilled giving up 112 to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1, either. Both teams rebounded nicely in Game 2, but only one could score the upset victory.
Let's take a look at some of the biggest winners and losers of Week 1.
Winner: Carmelo Anthony
For most superstars, scoring 36 points on 29 shots wouldn't necessarily be cause for celebration.
Carmelo Anthony isn't most superstars.
Anthony entered the playoffs with a career 17-37 postseason record, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor, and the Knicks had won exactly one playoff game in the past 12 years. Had the Knicks dropped Game 1 at home to the battered Boston Celtics, the New York media would've sprung into a feeding frenzy.
Melo wanted no part of that, so he finished the Knicks' Game 1 victory by knocking down his final four shots and dishing the game-clinching assist to Kenyon Martin. The NBA's leading scorer finished with even more of a masterpiece in Game 2, scoring 34 points on 24 shots in the Knicks' 87-71 victory.
He's been hitting big shot after big shot to thwart the Celtics' rallies in both games, ultimately sending the C's into bouts of offensive anemia which they haven't yet overcome.
The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy called Melo an "overrated ball hog" in response to his Game 1 performance, but Anthony's nevertheless proving that efficient shot-making (a la LeBron James) isn't the only way to drive nails into the coffin of an opponent.
Loser: Brandon Jennings
Before the start of the series between his Milwaukee Bucks and the defending champion Miami Heat, Brandon Jennings just had to go and open his big mouth.
Jennings proclaimed that the eighth-seeded Bucks would topple the top-seeded Heat in six games, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That prediction led to one of the greatest reactions in Dwyane Wade's career.
The Heat weren't fooling around on the court, though, as they rolled out to a 110-87 Game 1 victory over the Bucks. Jennings scored a team-high 26 points but needed 20 shots to get there, while on the other side of the ball, LeBron James managed 27 points on an incredible 9-of-11 shooting.
Game 2 wasn't much better for Jennings and his Milwaukee compatriots, as the Heat busted the game open for good with a 12-0 run early in the fourth quarter. Jennings in particular had a brutal night, finishing with eight points while shooting 3-of-15 from the field and 0-of-7 from three-point range.
As noted by Israel Gutierrez on ESPN.com, the Heat-Bucks series is a contrast in styles: The Heat place a premium on shooting efficiency while the Bucks rely upon Jennings and Monta Ellis consistently bailing them out with low-percentage shots.
Thus far, the Heat's efficiency is trumping the hero ball of the Bucks, much to the surprise of absolutely no one not named Brandon Jennings.
Winner: Mark Jackson's Adaptability
When David Lee went down with a season-ending injury in the opening game of the playoffs, the Golden State Warriors' chances of pulling the upset seemed to go from slim to none.
The injury left Warriors coach Mark Jackson with two distinct options: Either plug Carl Landry in as the starting 4 and pray he could be a poor man's Lee or go small-ball by starting three guards and sticking Harrison Barnes at the 4.
Before Game 2, Ethan Sherwood Strauss of Warriors World argued that Jackson should choose the latter strategy, as Barnes' size, athleticism and shooting ability made him a prime stretch-4 candidate.
Lo and behold, Jackson opted with Strauss' strategy. Despite the Warriors announcing Carl Landry as the Game 2 starter, Barnes was the one who went out onto the court for the opening tip.
Barnes rewarded Jackson's confidence by chipping in a career-high 24 points and six rebounds, helping the Dubs steal home-court advantage with a 131-117 victory over the Denver Nuggets. The Warriors shot a ridiculous 64.6 percent overall and 56 percent from three-point range, as the trio of Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson laid waste to Denver's defense.
The Nuggets' sense of home-court invincibility in this series is now shattered, in no small part due to Jackson's willingness to trot out a rarely-used lineup on the fly.
Loser: David Lee
In calling David Lee a "loser" of the first week, that's only meant in the nicest, "you have the worst luck in the entire world" way possible.
For the first time in eight years, a team with the about-to-be-30-year-old David Lee qualified for the NBA playoffs in 2013. He scored 10 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in his playoff debut against the Denver Nuggets before promptly tearing his hip flexor in the second half.
"Last night was almost a feeling of disbelief," Lee said while addressing the media the day after the injury, according to the San Jose Mercury News. "Injuries happen. That's a given. But the timing of it, and I've waited so long, I had my best season as a pro. That's the toughest part."
Lee admitted to the media that his back had troubled him over the final two weeks of the season and that he wasn't sure whether he contributed to the hip injury by overcompensating for his back.
Regardless, the big man is done for the playoffs in one of the most brutal ways imaginable. Here's hoping that he comes back stronger than ever.
Winner: Home-Court Advantage
Home teams started the 2013 playoffs with an 8-0 sweep over their lower-seeded opponents in Game 1.
Since the NBA started the 16-team playoff format in 1984, it's only the fourth time that's happened, according to John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com.
For certain teams, like the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, it won't matter where they play; their respective series aren't going the distance.
For others, like the Los Angeles Clippers, the 2-0 home record puts an immense amount of pressure on their opponents to win Game 3, lest their series should end in five as well.
The tiny number of road upsets in the first two games of the playoffs only speaks to the importance of securing home-court advantage in the regular season.
Just ask Memphis Grizzlies fans if home cooking by the referees influenced the Clippers' Game 2 win.
Loser: The Memphis Grizzlies' Defensive Identity
The Memphis Grizzlies went into their first-round playoff rematch with the Los Angeles Clippers with physical, gritty defense on their minds.
After two games, the Clippers have sent the Grizzlies reeling.
The Grizzlies submitted the worst defensive performance in Game 1 out of all 16 playoff teams, allowing the Clippers to score 112 points in 85 possessions, according to HoopData.
Despite touting center Marc Gasol, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, and Tony Allen, who finished fifth in the D-POY vote, the Grizzlies allowed Chris Paul and the Clippers Clippers to ring them up to the tune of a 131.8 offensive efficiency.
Memphis came roaring back in Game 2, limiting the Clippers to 93 points on 92 possessions. They just couldn't stop Paul at the end of the game from proving why he's the best point guard in the world.
With only seconds left in a 91-all game, Allen stayed glued to Paul the entire way to the basket, but Paul's craftiness won out. His last-second, bounce-off-the-backboard game-winner may end up crushing the Grizzlies' spirits worse than the Game 1 blowout did.
Winner: Paul George's Superstar Credentials
Paul George, the 2013 Most Improved Player, didn't necessarily deserve the award. His talent wasn't a major secret to anyone; he just wasn't getting enough minutes in previous seasons to earn the requisite buzz.
In 2012-13, with Danny Granger sidelined for nearly the whole year, George took advantage of the opportunity to put his talent on display. He's been so wholly excellent this season that he's made Granger effectively expendable to the Indiana Pacers.
George used Game 1 of the playoffs as his national coming-out party. He dropped 23 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in the opening playoff game, joining now-Golden State Nuggets coach Mark Jackson as the only Pacer to finish with a triple-double in playoff franchise history.
He's only the fifth player to have a triple-double in the opening game of the postseason over the past 20 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Game 2 was more of the same for George, who finished with 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting, eight rebounds, four steals, three assists and a block in the 113-98 win over the Atlanta Hawks. He's been one of the revelations of the playoffs, to say the least.
Based on what he's done in the past year, it's not crazy to think that George will soon be mentioned along the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony as one of the best forwards in the league.
Loser: Josh Smith's Agent
To any team considering signing Josh Smith to a max contract in the summer of 2013: Look at his shot chart from Game 1 of the playoffs before falling too far in love with that idea.
Smith attempted an incomprehensible four three-point shots (he went 1-of-4) and four other mid-range jumpers, compared to only seven field-goal attempts in the paint. He finished the Game 1 loss with 15 points on 15 shots, eight rebounds, five assists and four turnovers.
To make matters worse, Smith sprained his right ankle in the second half of Game 1, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He missed practice to rest the ankle before Game 2, but did suit up come game time.
Foul trouble plagued Smith in the second game of the series, limiting him to only 20 minutes. In that time, he finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, six rebounds and three assists, teasing at his potential once more.
If you're Smith's agent, it's your job this summer to convince teams that they can rein Smith in and harness his immense talents. Watching him launch a bevy of long-range jumpers or fall into severe foul trouble in playoff games isn't helping your case.
Winner: Chris Paul, Point God
How do you one-up a Game 1 performance in which you finish with 23 points, seven assists and two steals en route to a 21-point romp?
You finish with your team's final eight points, including the game-winning basket with less than a second left on the clock, in Game 2.
In his ongoing dissection of the Memphis Grizzlies, Chris Paul is sending everyone a reminder as to who remains the best point guard on the planet.
Paul dominated on both ends of the court in the opening game of the playoffs. He harassed Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley into a miserable Game 1 performance and assumed full control of the game's tempo throughout.
Conley came back swinging in Game 2, scoring a team-high 28 points and dishing out nine assists, but CP3 wasn't far behind, finishing with 24 points, nine dimes and the game-winning bucket.
Keep in mind, Conley is one of the best young point guards in the league. Regardless, Paul hasn't yet been fazed, which largely explains why his Los Angeles Clippers head to Memphis up 2-0 in the series
Loser: Jeremy Lin
Let's just get this out of the way: Jeremy Lin isn't as terrible as he's looked during the opening-round series between his Houston Rockets and the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
Russell Westbrook just so happens to be one of the worst possible matchups for Lin in the NBA.
Westbrook's explosiveness and athleticism make him a defensive nightmare for any opposing point guard. Few players possess the quickness to thwart Westbrook's aggressive drives to the basket, and Lin certainly isn't one of them.
In Game 1, while Westbrook was off flirting with a triple-double, Lin finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting, four assists and four turnovers in 32 foul-plagued minutes. Westbrook didn't hesitate to back down Lin in the post on a few occasions, leaving Lin looking overwhelmed both offensively and defensively.
Lin fared slightly better in Game 2, finishing with seven points, four rebounds and three assists, but a shoulder injury kept him sidelined from halftime onward. With Patrick Beverly as a replacement, the Rockets put a legitimate scare into the Thunder before falling 105-102.
New York Knicks fans will likely peer at the two box scores and assume that Linsanity is gone forever. While that's not an entirely fair assumption, if Lin's shoulder injury turns out to be minor, he needs to step up his game against Westbrook considerably to give the Rockets a chance in this series.
Winner and Loser: Kobe Bryant's Twitter Account
Kobe Bryant only joined Twitter earlier this year, but he's already risen to the ranks of Twitter All-Star.
When the Black Mamba tore his Achilles tendon on April 12, it only meant more Twitter time for Bryant. After all, there's only so much you can do when you're more or less banned from walking.
Kobe took to Twitter during Game 1 of the first-round series between his Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs, imploring his team to pound the ball to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in the post. His running commentary led to a brief postgame kerfuffle with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who said Kobe was "a fan right now" (#microphonetalk).
Thus, Bryant's tweeting earns him a spot as both a winner and a loser on this list.
After all, how many times will NBA fans get to hear a future Hall of Famer provide insight during a game on what he'd be saying to his team if he were currently with them? It's nothing short of awesome for anyone not in the Lakers' locker room.
Kobe's well aware of the distraction his Game 1 tweeting became though, and he swore off live-tweeting any more games in the series as a result. For that, we all lose.
Winner and Loser: The Chicago Bulls Defense
Of all 16 teams in the 2013 NBA playoffs, the Chicago Bulls sported the second-worst defensive efficiency in Game 1.
The Bulls allowed the Brooklyn Nets to score a staggering 106 points in only 86 possessions, which resulted in a cover-your-eyes-awful defensive rating of 123.3, according to HoopData.
Only the Memphis Grizzlies, who allowed 112 points in 85 possessions (good for a defensive efficiency of 131.8) bested the Bulls for the honor of the worst defense in the opening game of the postseason.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, a well-renowned defensive guru, didn't take kindly to such a thrashing. When asked after Game 1 about the team's defensive issues, Thibodeau plainly replied, "from A to Z," according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Bulls then went out in Game 2 and held the Brooklyn Nets to a miserable 82 points on 36 percent shooting, stealing home-court advantage in the process. The Bulls completely suffocated the Nets in the third quarter, allowing them to knock down only two of their 19 shot attempts.
Just like that, the Bulls went from looking like first-round sweep fodder to a potential series winner. As long as Joakim Noah can continue anchoring the team's defense while hobbling around on one leg, the Bulls stand a realistic chance of taking down the Nets.
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