Winners and Losers from 3rd Week of 2013 NBA Playoffs
The 2013 NBA playoffs are starting to heat up with the conference semifinals in full swing, and things should only get spicier from here.
Two games into the second round, all four of the lower-seeded teams have stolen home-court advantage from their higher-seeded opponents. It's the first time that's happened since the NBA expanded to a 16-team playoff format before the 1983-84 season, according to NBA.com.
We've been treated to nail-biters like the double-overtime masterpiece between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs in Game 1, franchise-record blowouts such as the Miami Heat's 37-point win over the Chicago Bulls in Game 2, and everything in between.
From newly unemployed coaches to white-hot shooters, players powering through injuries to spinal taps, there's been no shortage of drama as the playoffs churn onward.
Let's check out some of the players, teams and coaches who broke out as clear winners and losers in Week 3 of the 2013 NBA playoffs.
Note: For the purposes of this slideshow, Week 3 spans from games played on Friday, May 3, through Wednesday, May 8. All advanced statistics come from either Basketball-Reference or NBA.com/stats, except where otherwise noted.
Winner: Stephen Curry
When you're at the point where you're hitting one-legged three-pointers during the NBA playoffs, you're a lock for being on the "winners" side of a "winners and losers" list.
Between drilling three-pointers taken five feet behind the line, a bevy of brilliant behind-the-back passes and a third-quarter playoff shot chart that's simply surreal, Stephen Curry is making anyone who didn't vote him into the All-Star Game feel foolish.
We've reached the point where you automatically assume every shot Curry takes is going in.
I still have flashbacks to the 2008 NCAA tournament where I witnessed firsthand how Curry's sublime shooting can utterly deflate an opponent. My Georgetown Hoyas entered halftime with a 15-point lead, which Curry promptly eviscerated with a barrage of unbelievable second-half shots.
Looking back on that game five years later, it's clear now that the Hoyas were up against a force beyond all comprehension that day. When Curry gets going, there isn't a single player in the world who can stop him.
Loser: George Karl
George Karl received not one, but two kisses of death in the third week of the 2013 playoffs.
First, his third-seeded Denver Nuggets bit the dust against the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of the postseason.
The Nuggets appeared to be the stronger, more complete team heading into the playoffs. Their advantage theoretically grew larger when the Warriors lost David Lee to a torn hip flexor in Game 1. Instead, the Dubs stretched out the Nuggets by playing four-out, one-in, taking advantage of Denver's lackluster three-point defense to steal the series.
Less than a week after the playoff upset, Karl took home his first-ever NBA Coach of the Year Award. While that might sound like a good thing on the surface, keep in mind that four of the past seven recipients (before this year) have been fired within two years of winning the award, as noted by ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh.
As Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference explained on ESPN.com (subscription required), Karl has a legitimate claim to being the most disappointing playoff coach since the NBA expanded to a 16-team playoff.
Winner: Joakim Noah
If the NBA handed out a tough-as-nails award, Joakim Noah would be the runaway winner in the 2013 playoffs.
Before the Chicago Bulls' first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets started, Noah sounded unsure if he'd even be able to take the floor after suffering a setback with his plantar fasciitis.
Less than two weeks later, Noah went out and recorded 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks in 41 minutes of the Bulls' first Game 7 road win in franchise history. He became just the fifth player in NBA history to finish with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a Game 7 win, according to the Elias Stats Bureau (via ESPN.com).
As an encore, Noah managed 13 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in the Bulls' Game 1 upset over the top-seeded Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals. His physicality and aggressiveness rendered Chris Bosh of the Heat to a complete non-factor in that Game 1 win.
The Heat got their revenge in Game 2, handing the Bulls their worst loss in postseason franchise history. Despite getting ejected in the fourth quarter, Noah's postgame quotes (which included, "I definitely deserved to get kicked out" and "I wanted to let [the referee] know how I felt about the game," according to ESPNChicago.com) only further cemented his status as a Week 3 playoff winner.
Loser: Luol Deng
Think you've been having a bad week? Talk to Luol Deng.
After Deng missed Game 6 of the first-round series between his Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets due to the flu, some Bulls fans called his toughness into question.
He responded with a stomach-churning series of tweets describing the complications he'd been experiencing after a spinal tap gone wrong. Long story short, the puncture from the spinal tap didn't heal properly, which caused spinal fluid to leak out and resulted in crippling migraine headaches that effectively prevented Deng from standing up.
The Bulls forward ended up having to get a "blood patch" to stop the spinal fluid leakage, according to the Chicago Tribune (B/R's Dave Siebert dives into the nitty-gritty here). ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh described a similar miserable experience with a spinal tap of his own from 2005, and suffice it to say, it sounds awful.
Deng's status as a "loser" here isn't a reflection of his toughness. Instead, it's simply an acknowledgement of how miserable his life must have been this past week.
Winner: Zach Randolph
Two games into the 2013 playoffs, the end appeared nigh for the Zach Randolph era in Memphis.
Two games into the second round, Randolph and his Memphis Grizzlies suddenly look like the favorites to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
After combining for 26 points and 12 rebounds in Games 1 and 2 against the Los Angeles Clippers during the opening round, Z-Bo went into beast mode, notching four straight 20-point games. In the Game 6 clincher, the 31-year-old recorded 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting, five rebounds and four assists.
In the conference semifinals, he and teammate Marc Gasol have thoroughly outplayed the Oklahoma City Thunder frontcourt through the first two games of the series. In Game 2, the Grizzlies dominated the Thunder on the offensive glass, 16-8, and attempted 46 shots in the paint, 20 more than OKC.
If Randolph and Gasol continue to have their way with the Thunder bigs, Kevin Durant will need to post Herculean performances on a nightly basis to keep the Grizzlies from the conference finals. That's quite the turnaround from where Randolph and Memphis stood all but two weeks before.
Loser: The Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers' surprising first-round playoff exit makes them one of the biggest losers of the 2013 playoffs to date.
What was once seen as inevitable—star point guard Chris Paul re-signing long term with the Clippers in the summer of 2013—may now be more of a question mark.
Does Paul believe that the Clippers provide him the best opportunity to win a championship? Two sources told ESPN's Marc Stein that despite the playoff disappointment, CP3 is still likely to stick around, but the Clippers suddenly have more reason to sweat it out until Paul signs his name on the dotted line.
Regardless of what happens with Paul, it sounds as though head coach Vinny Del Negro sealed his fate by losing to the Memphis Grizzlies. He's set to meet with Clippers owner Donald Sterling in the coming days, according to CBSSports.com's Ken Berger, who reports that Del Negro's chances of keeping his job appear slim.
With a 2-0 series lead over the Grizzlies, and the Oklahoma City Thunder having lost Russell Westbrook to a torn meniscus in the opening round of the playoffs, the Clippers had a clear shot to the conference finals. Instead, they're now poised for an offseason of turmoil, presumably starting with a search for a new head coach.
Winner: Tom Thibodeau
During Week 3 of the 2013 playoffs, Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau earned every penny of the four-year contract extension that he signed before the start of the 2012-13 season.
After blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round of the playoffs, his beaten-and-battered Bulls responded forcefully. Despite being without three of their best players (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich), the Bulls pulled off the first Game 7 road win in franchise playoff history, upsetting the Nets 99-93.
Two days later, the Bulls pulled an even more improbable upset, taking down the defending champion Miami Heat at home in Game 1.
"[Thibodeau] watches so much film, he knows what's going to happen," said Bulls power forward Taj Gibson after the game, via Steve Aschburner of NBA.com."... Every time they ran offense, it was exactly what Thibs showed us on paper. It worked."
With Thibodeau and his team heading back to Chicago having stolen home-court advantage, the Game 2 blowout shouldn't detract too much from acknowledging the incredible week that Thibs and the Bulls just experienced.
Loser: P.J. Carlesimo
After losing Game 7 at home to a beaten-down Chicago Bulls team in the opening round of the playoffs, Brooklyn Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo had to know what was coming next.
Nets general manager Billy King wasted little time. Less than 24 hours after the Game 7 upset, King let Carlesimo know that he wouldn't be retained as head coach for the 2013-14 season.
"It was a difficult decision, and we talked about it, but looking at the long-term and the future of this organization, I felt it was best to look elsewhere to try and find the right fit," King said, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com.
The day after being let go, Carlesimo appeared on The Dan Patrick Show and expressed his disappointment in the Nets' decision. He also admitted that "short of winning a championship, it wouldn't have made any difference" in whether Brooklyn retained him, according to Mazzeo.
Back in November, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov made waves by saying an appearance in the conference finals would define a successful first season in Brooklyn, the New York Daily News reported. Carlesimo appears to have only expedited the process of his release by losing to the Bulls instead of getting crushed by the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.
Winner: Derek Fisher
Has anyone epitomized the phrase "zero to hero" like Derek Fisher in the 2013 playoffs?
After signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder at the end of February, Fisher spent the remainder of the regular season largely making Thunder fans livid. He only shot 34.2 percent from the field in 33 games, causing Thunder clappers to openly question why coach Scott Brooks continued to play him at all.
In the playoffs, he's done a complete 180. He's shooting 54.3 percent overall and 61.3 percent from three-point range, helping steady the Thunder after Russell Westbrook went down for the season with a torn meniscus in the opening round of the playoffs.
If it weren't for Fisher, Oklahoma City would almost assuredly be facing a 2-0 series deficit against the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference finals. With time winding down in Game 1 and the Thunder trailing by one point, Fish poked the ball away from Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, allowing Kevin Durant to knock down the game-winning jumper.
Brooks frequently cited Fisher's championship experience as his rationale for keeping him in the rotation despite his regular-season struggles. Based on how Fisher's been playing in the playoffs, Brooks' confidence in him is finally paying dividends, much to the astonishment of Thunder fans.
Loser: J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith picked just about the worst possible time to go into a horrendous shooting slump.
Since being suspended for Game 4 against the Boston Celtics after throwing an elbow to Jason Terry's face, Smith has been more of a hindrance than a help to the New York Knicks.
The 2013 Sixth Man of the Year scored 14 points on 3-of-14 shooting in his first game back, followed by 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting in the decisive Game 6 against Boston.
Things only went downhill from there, as unfathomable as that may be. Smith only converted four of his 15 shots (scoring 17 points total) against the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the conference semifinals, then shot 3-of-15 from the floor for a whopping eight points in Game 2.
It's gotten to the point where Knicks coach Mike Woodson is openly contemplating reducing Smith's minutes, according to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com, recognizing the liability he's become on offense.
Questions about his reported recent partying have only made a bad situation worse.