You can call it Easter. Here in the Land of Basketball Nuts Who Get Their Holidays Confused, we call it Christmas in April.
It took a full three games to get there, but the second day of NBA playoff action finally delivered the same delicious drama of Saturday's opening canto—and then some, a lot of some, so much some.
Then more some.
Led by Tim Duncan's 27 points, the San Antonio Spurs held on for a 90-85 win over the Dallas Mavericks in a scintillating seesaw affair.
Later in the afternoon, the Miami Heat brushed off some first-quarter cobwebs en route to dispatching the Charlotte Bobcats 99-88.
The Washington Wizards used timely runs, stifling fourth-quarter defense and inspired performances from Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat to put the home-court hurt on the No. 4 seed Chicago Bulls, 102-93.
Finally, in a nerve-racking nightcap, LaMarcus Aldridge's brilliant performance (more on that later) propelled the Portland Trail Blazers to a stunning 122-120 overtime win over the Houston Rockets. We're still waiting to catch our breath.
Monday's docket is a little light, so we hope you got your Sunday fill of Peeps and pick-and-rolls. Let us analyze basketball things.
Where the Series Stand
Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8): ATL leads 1-0 (8-point differential)
Miami Heat (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7): MIA leads 1-0 (+11)
Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6): BKN leads 1-0 (+7)
Chicago Bulls (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5): WAS leads 1-0 (+9)
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Dallas Mavericks (8): SAS lead 1-0 (+5)
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7): OKC leads 1-0 (+14)
Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. Golden State Warriors (6): GSW leads 1-0 (+4)
Houston Rockets (4) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5): POR leads 1-0 (+2)
Two Key Storylines for Monday's Games
1. Can Blake Griffin Stay out of Foul Trouble?
Scanning the stats from Saturday's Game 1 matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors—a thriller eventually won by the visiting Dubs—one number pops up in bracing relief: 19, as in the number of minutes Blake Griffin actually managed to stay on the floor.
Chris Paul might be the engine that makes L.A.'s high-octane offense run, but without Griffin's interior presence putting consistent pressure on Golden State, the Warriors are able to better account for the slew of shooters lining the Clips' perimeter.
How good has Griffin been this season? Speaking to the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami, Golden State head coach Mark Jackson had this to say prior to Game 1:
If I'm sitting in the other room with Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen, I'm picking the Clippers, they're the 3 seed, they won a bunch of games, [L.A.'s] got two of the top 10 players in the world. They've got a future Hall of Fame coach.
What's that? Jackson said the exact same thing in the video above, as well? (Hat tip to Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb.)
So long as Griffin can stay on the floor, the Clippers have the all of the firepower—not to mention the rage wrought by Saturday's loss—to pull even in what could be an instant-classic series.
|Monday's Playoff Schedule|
|Home||Away||Time||Home TV||Away TV||National TV||Odds|
|Oklahoma City||Memphis||8 p.m. ET||TNT||OKC -8|
|L.A. Clippers||Golden State||10:30 p.m. ET||CSNB||TNT||L.A. -7|
|NBA.com / VegasInsider.com|
2. Will Memphis Reassert Itself on the Boards?
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies finished the regular season ranked first and third in the NBA in overall rebounding rate, respectively, which is what made OKC's 51-41 Game 1 glass advantage so jarring.
The Grizzlies offense isn't the most beautiful of basketball creations. But where the Grizz have been able to do real damage is on the offensive boards, where they ranked second in the league—this despite having lost center Marc Gasol for the better part of two months earlier in the season.
Unfortunately, as Dan Roiter of iSportsWeb.com points out, Saturday was hardly an aberration:
The Thunder also always out-rebounded the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies normally average 42.2 rebounds per game, but against the Thunder, that number falls to only 36 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, the Thunder was able to grab 42.5 rebounds per game against the Grizzlies. The problem with this is that the Grizzlies only give up an average of 39.4 rebounds per game, the lowest out of any team.
Unless Memphis can redouble its efforts on the glass—particularly on offense, thereby giving its occasionally stagnant offense a much-needed boost—Grit 'n' Grind is liable to become Golf 'n' More Golf before the Grizzlies know it.
4 Takeaways from Sunday's Action
1. The Rockets-Blazers Series Might Destroy Twitter
Check this joke out: 79 free throws.
That's it. That's the joke.
Jokes aside, Sunday's Game 1 tilt between the Blazers and Rockets will go down as both one of the greatest first-round games in recent NBA history...and arguably one of the most overly officiated, mostly if you're a Rockets fan who just got done ripping your hair out.
For the moment, let's pay heed to the former. Everyone knew this had the potential to be the most consistently exciting first-round matchup. And it might well finish that way even if this ends with the Blazers winning the next three by an average of 30 points.
Which they won't, because this series is going to be amazing.
Twitter agrees. And no tweet more succinctly captured the tone and scope of the series than this one:
2. Without a Healthy Al Jefferson, the Cats Are Cooked
All right, Charlotte is toast even with Al Jefferson. But at least Big Al gives the Bobcats an interior presence for which Miami simply has no answer—short of exerting its championship will and future-Hall of Famer credentials, that is.
We are, of course, referring to this:
So...that's not good.
The early indications are that Jefferson will indeed play in Game 2. However, his effectiveness (or lack thereof) spells certain trouble for the pugnacious Cats.
Miami is nothing if not a cerebral team, a squad with brains on court and bench alike. But it also knows blood when it smells it.
The Heat are really smart sharks, is what I'm trying to say. The Cats can still make this a series, of course, but without Jefferson's firepower, it's bound to be an even tougher row to hoe.
3. Duncan Tricked Us...Again
We look at Tim Duncan's stat line (27 points on 12-of-20 shooting, seven rebounds and a cache of clutch buckets down the stretch) and act surprised, because apparently we all have amnesia.
Gregg Popovich has done a masterful job of managing his team's minutes over the past few seasons, and this year's campaign was no different. Now, the fruits are beginning to show themselves in full once again, with the Big Fundamental's opening act being perhaps a harbinger of yet another June journey for San Antonio.
What's more, Duncan even hinted after the game that, contrary to popular belief, this might not be Grandpa's last go-round the shuffleboard...pitch? Court? Whatever.
Duncan was limited down the stretch with what appeared to be a left knee tweak. No word yet on the severity, but given his ability to get back in and contribute in the clutch, he will most likely be ready to go for Game 2.
Meanwhile, the Mavs might've blown their best opportunity to steal one early; you can bet your bottom dollar the Spurs aren't going to go 3-of-17 from three-point range again.
4. A Healthy Nene Is Bad News for Chicago
Those looking for a more in-depth analysis of Nene's paramount importance can check out this piece by some clown named Tim Cavin.
Here's the long and the short of it: The Bulls had no answer for Nene, who torched Chicago with a beautifully fluent offensive game mixing mid-range jumpers and around-the-rim deftness to help spur the Wizards to victory.
If you're the Bulls, that's a problem—not only strategically, but psychologically as well.
Chicago has a very difficult time scoring. That much is clear. But with a healthy Nene in the fold for the Wizards, the Bulls can't only be concerned with cornering John Wall's playmaking abilities; they have to worry about Nene sticking jumper after jumper right in their eye.
Should Tom Thibodeau opt to focus more of his defensive efforts on Nene, he'd better hope Kirk Hinrich—along with Jimmy Butler, Chicago's best perimeter defender—can stay out of foul trouble, something he was unable to do Sunday afternoon.
Player of the Day for Sunday: LaMarcus Aldridge
Full disclosure: LMA locked this up roughly midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, win or lose. Notwithstanding his profoundly ill-advised screen at the end of overtime (resulting in his sixth foul), Aldridge was flat-out brilliant. How brilliant, you ask?
You get the picture. In case you don't like pictures, here's the full box score: