It’s time to put away the brooms and grab the popcorn. The second round of the 2013 NBA playoffs will officially be without a sweep.
Wins from the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night officially locked every series into a 1-1 tie, guaranteeing there will be a Game 5 in all four matchups.
In other words, these four rounds are no longer seen as merely a precursor to the parade in South Beach. There is, you know, actual good basketball to watch on a nightly basis. Well, at least semi-nightly since the NBA is off Thursday night, which is as dumb as it sounds.
But I digress. Everything is tied and this has turned into a whole new series now, right?
Well, yes and no.
By losing either Game 1 or Game 2, each higher seed has already lost its home-court advantage in each series, meaning they’re now the side looking to steal one on the road. Multiple studies have shown that having home-court advantage matters way more in the postseason than during the 82-game pre-playoff slog, and that’s particularly salient for these favored squads.
So perhaps it’s time we take a look around the league and re-evaluate each Round 2 and reconfigure our predictions as a result.
Here is a detailed check-in on each playoff series, along with our updated projections for who will advance to the conference finals.
No. 1 Miami Heat vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls
No matter the final score of Miami’s abject destruction of Chicago on Wednesday night, the Bulls again proved that the defending champs won’t bully their way to the conference finals. In one of the chippiest Game 2s in recent NBA history, the Bulls and Heat seemed more concerned with nearly fighting one another than playing basketball.
Fouls of the technical and flagrant variety became a normal occurrence, with Bleacher Report’s Twitter feed sending out the damage:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Bulls-Heat Game 2: 43 personal fouls, 9 technical fouls, 1 flagrant, 2 ejections http://t.co/BWHHo7nzic2013-5-9 01:15:16
The nine technicals between the two teams were the most in a playoff game since 1995, according to ESPN Stats & Information:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The 9 combined player technical fouls called in tonight's Bulls-Heat game are the most in a playoff game since May 7, 1995 (Pacers-Knicks).2013-5-9 01:59:38
It was the type of slugfest most fans were unsure whether they hated or loved watching it. The refs will undoubtedly come down with a mandate to get control of the series, so expect quick whistles when the teams return to the floor on Friday. So there’s little in the way of takeaways from that aspect—other than I wouldn’t want to bump in to Chris Andersen or Taj Gibson in a dark alley when they’re angry. You wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.
However, Game 2 was notable because the Heat returned to being the best basketball team on the planet. They thrashed Chicago, 115-78, giving Miami its biggest win in postseason history.
What was notable about the contest is that not all that much looked different from Game 1—at least from the Heat’s offensive perspective. Tom Thibodeau’s expert pick-and-roll defense held Miami ball-handlers to 4-of-11 shooting out of those sets, per Synergy Sports, and the Bulls continued to pack the paint expertly.
The difference, though, was that Miami’s shooters showed up. The Heat were a dreadful 9-of-24 on spot-up opportunities in Game 1. Most of those were relatively open looks. That number jumped up to 13-of-20 on a night Miami shot 60 percent from the floor overall.
Couple that with an awful night from just about everyone in Chicago’s rotation, and Game 2 was a microcosm of every Bulls fan’s worst nightmare. The Heat’s trap-heavy defense suffocated Chicago’s entire offensive philosophy and Nate Robinson wasn’t there to play hero on Tuesday.
Of the two games in this series, Monday felt far more like the outlier.
Miami is going to win this series, barring some catastrophic injury. Bulls fans can live in a world with unicorns and Derrick Rose returns all they want, but until either one happens, this series is dead in the water.
The remaining question is just how tough of a series Chicago can give the Heat, and whether that will have any bearing on Miami’s conference finals series.
That’s not a dig on the Bulls whatsoever. Miami is just better in every facet of the game.
Series Prediction: Heat in 5.
No. 2 New York Knicks vs. No. 3 Indiana Pacers
While the Heat’s blowout of Chicago felt at least somewhat in line with what we were expecting from this series, New York’s beatdown of Indiana wasn’t quite the same.
These Knicks weren’t your knock-down-every-three bunch. They hit only 10-of-30 from distance, continuing a semi-concerning downspell during the postseason. Instead, the Knicks recaptured their efficient offensive ways in the same way they have all postseason—by having Pablo Prigioni on the floor.
It’s always dangerous to put weight into small sample sizes, but the effect Prigioni has had on the Knicks this postseason is just too much to ignore.
According to NBA.com, the Knicks average 109.4 points and give up only 86 points per 100 possessions when he’s been on the floor this postseason. When Prigioni is off, New York scores a dreadful 94.2 points and allows 97.4 points per 100 possessions.
More important than any on-off splits is that New York’s offense just looks better when Prigioni is on the floor. The heavy iso-ball of Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith is still there—and it always will be—but it’s being used after ball-movement has set up advantageous situations for the two stars,
That was a late-game possession from Game 1, at which point I’m pretty sure the entire Upper West Side threw their televisions out the window.
Here is just a quick snapshot of what the offense looks like with Prigioni on the floor. Even though he acts a little more than a hand-off man in this set, the first action is ball movement. It gets the Pacers defense just enough on its heels to get Anthony a wide-open jumper.
It’s unclear how long Prigioni’s aging body can stand being on the floor, but Mike Woodson needs to make sure he’s pushing the 30-minutes barrier going forward.
As for Indiana’s offensive woes, there’s no over-arching concern needed here. The Pacers know they’re a hit-and-miss offensive club. It’s been that way all season long, and the months of April and May only exacerbate those problems.
There are just going to be times where Indiana scores in the 70s, leading to some overblown reactions that get taken back by the next game.
Still, it doesn’t exactly help when your best player turns the ball over seven times. Paul George is prone to these enigmatic stretches on offense, which keep him from ever quite taking 'The Leap' to superstardom.
Also, a memo to Lance Stephenson: When you think about taking seven three-pointers in a game, just don’t. It’s not going to end well.
Even with a horrific loss, this Pacers team still does a bunch of things really well—many of which work against the Knicks. George is a menace to society on Anthony, Roy Hibbert "defangs" Raymond Felton’s drive-to-the-hoop game and the Pacers do a great job of allowing Smith to be terrible at basketball.
This series is going seven games. Its ultimate result will rest on whether Anthony and Woodson are willing to buy into the offensive adjustments we saw in Game 2 and continue them for the rest of this series.
Series Prediction: Knicks in 7
No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies
There are no good losses in the postseason. Each defeat, no matter how big a blowout or how close of a contest, puts you one step closer to your proverbial NBA grave.
A good playoff loss is like a good Tyler Perry joke—you tell me when you find one.
So the notion that Memphis’ Game 1 loss to Oklahoma City—a contest the Grizzlies should have won—was a “good” sign? Poppycock. We wouldn’t have been saying that had the Grizzlies gone back home down 2-0.
That being said, Game 1 seems to have been a workshop for Lionel Hollins, who made a few key adjustments that cements his team as the favorite in this series.
Mike Conley has received the most credit for Memphis’ win, and deservedly so. His fourth-quarter performance was superstar-worthy, and the slow build to Conley’s reputation as a real cornerstone piece is only growing. A 6’1” guard scoring 11 points and pulling down seven rebounds in one 12-minute stretch is worthy of nothing but applause.
Going forward, however, it’s Marc Gasol who continues to hold the power for Memphis. It became clear in Game 2 that Scott Brooks has no option for defending the seven-footer and he tried just about everything he could to do so in Game 2.
The presence of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka was supposed to help mitigate the effect of Memphis’ twin towers, yet Gasol’s versatility has given anyone Scott Brooks throws at him fits.
The Grizzlies were really effective using Gasol as a pick-and-pop threat when guarded by Perkins, who is too slow-footed to help hard and get back.
Brooks even tried putting Kevin Durant on Gasol for a stretch in the Thunder’s small-ball lineup. It went about as poorly as you would expect before Oklahoma City smartly abandoned the thought.
This move below, my friends, is what we should be out GIFing.
Memphis also went away from using the post-up solely as a vehicle for shot-taking. The Grizz took just 10 shots out of the post in Game 2, cutting their total from the first game in half. Instead, they’re using the post threat to set up other actions in the offense.
As for Oklahoma City? It’s beginning to look Brooks is out of adjustments offensively. The Thunder have become a Durant-only team that simply hopes one of their secondary stars will get hot that night. Hollins has become increasingly aware of this fact and is getting more brazen by the possession in collapsing the paint.
Durant is going to have to use more possessions in semi-transition, as it’s become clear he’s the only Thunder player Memphis has any respect for offensively.
Barring something unforeseen though, Memphis is the better team at this point and should advance to the conference finals.
Series Prediction: Grizzlies in 6
No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors
Even though there was a different final score and result, Games 1 and 2 of this series felt one in the same.
In both contests, Golden State stormed out to a massive lead behind some jaw-dropping shooting from one of its guards—Steph Curry in Game 1, Klay Thompson in Game 2—and some surprisingly spry defense. The Warriors held leads of 20-plus, looked like the far superior team on both ends and left Spurs fans shrieking in horror rather than glee.
San Antonio, of course, mounted a comeback both times. The Spurs infamously came back to win a double-overtime thriller in Game 1, thanks to a clutch three-pointer from Manu Ginobili to clinch it. On Monday night was a total collapse, a confirmation that this Warriors' bunch just wasn’t quite ready for primetime.
When San Antonio stormed back in the third quarter on Wednesday, the “here it goes again” feeling washed over Warriors fans. Their team, which had once held a 20-point lead midway through the third quarter, allowed the veteran Spurs to close within seven points just eight minutes later.
The difference this time around was that Golden State held on. Despite the torrid run by San Antonio in the third quarter, the Warriors held ground for the final 12 minutes and never allowed the Spurs any closer than six points after a Ginobili three with 4:22 remaining.
The adjustments made by Mark Jackson were ones many clamored for during Game 1. The Festus Ezeli entrance into the starting lineup was quickly scrapped with Draymond Green re-entering the fold. While he played 43 minutes on Wednesday, those five minutes of rest were more than Curry got in the entire two-overtime session.
Down the stretch of Game 1, it was clear just how much Curry’s extended minutes were tiring him out. He was at least a half-step slow on every pick-and-roll, allowing Gregg Popovich to put Kawhi Leonard on the Warriors' point guard without worrying about him getting destroyed off the dribble.
It also helped a metric ton that Thompson, the team’s best Tony Parker-defender and leading scorer on Wednesday, stayed completely out of foul trouble.
Just about anything that gets Richard Jefferson a “DNP-CD” is just fine with us.
What does this mean heading back to what should be a deafening crowd at Oracle Arena? It’s hard to tell.
The Spurs haven’t looked right this entire series, and the cliched “they’re old and slow” criticism of San Antonio is starting to hold some weight. Odds are that Tim Duncan and Parker throw in a vintage game and steal one before going back to Texas—at least that’s what conventional wisdom says.
We’re sticking with San Antonio here by proxy of experience and Golden State’s always-tricky reliance on the three-ball. Just don’t ask us whether we actually feel good about making this pick. (Spoiler: Not one bit.)
Series Prediction: Spurs in 7