Each NBA Playoff Series' Hidden Storylines
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In these NBA playoffs, storylines get pitched to us like we're DreamWorks executives looking for movies to greenlight.
But in all the furor by the networks and the league to capture our hearts and minds, some stories fly under the radar.
For example, much has been made of 5'9" Nate Robinson's emergence. He's appeared as if sent by Central Casting to lead his Chicago Bulls to a one-all semifinals series.
But did you know that three of the remaining playoff teams—the New York Knicks, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors—all let Robinson get away?
Nate would have seen little time on the Warriors. But you can bet the Knicks and Thunder are kicking themselves as they watch practically everything the Bulls guard puts up go down; they both would have loved to have the little guy in the fold.
What other stories are hidden deep within the recesses of these second-round playoff series?
Miami Heat / Chicago Bulls: Super Mario?
(Courtesy of Issac Baldizon, nba.com)
Mario Chalmers has never lacked for confidence, even as those of us watching wondered whether he lacked for sanity.
Remember last year when he told Bleacher Report's Peter Emerick he was "in the front end of the top 10" best point guards in the NBA?
It sounded crazy. It still does. And yet, Chalmers has indeed begun to make a reputation for himself as one of the best in the NBA…at stopping Cinderella stories.
In late February of 2012, it was Chalmers who finally found an answer to Jeremy Lin when nobody else could. Chalmers stopped Lin and the New York Knicks, officially putting an end to the historic Linsanity run.
Fifteen months later, Chalmers—with help from teammate Norris Cole—stopped the NBA's latest coming-out-of-nowhere story, holding the Chicago Bulls' diminutive Nate Robinson to just 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting, a game after Robinson torched him for 27 points.
So the score of the Chalmers-Robinson matchup, just like the series itself, is tied at one.
If Chalmers can continue to stop the NBA's latest and tiniest playoff sensation, maybe he'll actually lend credence to his ludicrous boast.
If, however, Robinson finds his form again, maybe he'll be the one to finally make Chalmers shut up.
New York Knicks / Indiana Pacers: Blood Feud Renewed
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Some will say too much has been made of this storyline. For those of us old enough to remember it, I say not enough has been made of it.
The New York Knicks-Indiana Pacers rivalry of the '90s was the best in the NBA, and was actually the best in all of sports outside of hockey's Detroit Red Wings-Colorado Avalanche war.
Once the Knicks got Patrick Ewing with the first pick in the 1985 NBA draft, it was assumed to be just a matter of time until they were NBA champions. Sure enough, in 1992 the Knicks began working their way up the NBA ladder, losing in the conference semifinals, then in the conference finals in 1993 and in the NBA Finals in 1994.
Along the way, they had two hotly contested series against the Pacers. But it seemed 1995 would be the year the Knicks would break through, especially with Michael Jordan in retirement.
But the Pacers derailed their plans not only in '95, but also in 1998 and 2000. With victories in those three series, they effectively rewrote the Knicks' championship destiny. Only in 1999 did New York, an eight seed that year, upset the Pacers, only to fall one final time in the NBA Finals.
Ironically, though both teams had superlative seasons during those years, neither won a championship. And of course, most of today's players were in elementary school when these two teams last met in the playoffs, so there really isn't a rivalry on the court.
But in the stands? New York fans can virtually see the ghost of Reggie Miller on the court—not to mention having to endure the indignity of him sitting courtside as a broadcaster. In the Knicks' Game 1 home loss, it's a darned good thing Miller didn't put his hands to his neck in the "choke" symbol. Otherwise, there would have been mayhem, as the fans in New York would have decided to Do The Right Thing.
Put it this way: For anyone who sat through those classic playoff brouhahas, this is no ordinary second-round series. This is a series each city wants to win to avenge the past.
San Antonio Spurs / Golden State Warriors: Five-Game Sweep?
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After Game 1, all anyone could talk about was the Spurs' incredible comeback.
After Game 2, the first contest looks like it could have been a blip on a Warriors' march toward the conference finals.
No one's better at making adjustments to counter-punch than Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Yet after two games on their court, the Spurs were very fortunate to come away with just one victory.
If Danny Green's three-pointer doesn't fall in Game 1 to force overtime, the Spurs would be headed to Oracle Arena down 0-2. And on their home court, Golden State was 5.3 points stouter per game on defense than on the road, while scoring a point more on offense.
More often than not, anyone who picks against the Spurs ends up looking foolish. But if I were San Antonio, I'd be mighty worried.
The Spurs have two guards going into the Hall of Fame in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But Golden State's Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are outplaying them.
I've never seen a more incredible release than Curry's this playoffs. He shoots like Hector "Macho" Camacho used to throw punches: lightning fast. In some cases, it looks like the ball is magnetized to go from Curry's hands right to the hoop, before he squares up toward the net, sometimes before he even fully straightens.
The Warriors are more athletic and have more lineup versatility. If they continue to shoot like desperadoes, that Game 1 victory might end up being the Spurs' last stand.
OKC Thunder / Memphis Grizzlies: Allen Wrench
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Oklahoma City was on its way to a 2-0 series lead behind 36 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists from the transcendent Kevin Durant.
And then came Tony Allen.
The 6'4" guard, who gives up five inches, four years and incalculable name recognition to Durant, checked in, matched up against Durant and stopped the Thunder superstar in his sizable tracks.
Durant didn't score in the final 3:17 as an 88-86 Thunder lead disintegrated into a 99-93 loss. And because their final three points were scored on an undefended last-second triple by Derek Fisher, it's fair to say the Thunder scored just two points in that span.
At this point in the playoffs, it's become apparent that the key to beating the Thunder without Russell Westbrook is slowing Durant.
Nobody dared even think about stopping him.
With Allen's play to end Game 2, that might have changed.
Allen has always been known as a defensive gem; some even call him the best all-around defender in the NBA. But stopping Kevin Durant is like stopping Jim Carrey from making funny faces. It just ain't gonna happen.
For one incredible game-winning span, courtesy of Allen, it did.
Will Memphis match Allen up against Durant again in Game 3? Will he be able to repeat his success? It'll make for must-see TV, that's for darn sure.