The first games are in for the Eastern Conference playoffs, and apparently home-court advantage is a myth this time of year.
The road team won three of the four contests Saturday and Sunday, with the solo victory from a better seed coming in Miami, where the Heat outlasted an overmatched Charlotte Bobcats squad. All that means is we could see a handful of long and exciting series as the momentum swings back and forth between the competing teams.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some early takeaways from the first batch of Eastern Conference playoff games.
Chicago Bulls Need a Fourth-Quarter Presence
The Chicago Bulls controlled the first three quarters of their game against the Washington Wizards and appeared well on their way to a victory when they held a double-digit point lead in the second half.
Who wins the series?
Then the fourth quarter started.
Washington outscored the Bulls 30-18 in the final 12 minutes, and Nene Hilario finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block. Still, it was the lack of an elite, go-to scorer that hurt Chicago’s offense down the stretch when the Wizards’ defense clamped down.
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald noted that many saw this problem coming:
Fourth quarter scoring, we knew it would be an issue in the playoffs.— Mike McGraw (@McGrawDHBulls) April 21, 2014
The Chicago Bulls passed along some postgame quotes from coach Tom Thibodeau in which he blamed the defense in typical Thibs fashion but also acknowledged that his team needs to be better in the fourth quarter:
Thibodeau: "Our defense wasn't very good. ... 102 points, 48%, outrebounded. It's hard to win like that." #WASvsCHI— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 21, 2014
Look for the Bulls to come out with an extra level of intensity in Game 2 given the stakes. If they lose the first two games at home, they can almost forget about advancing to the next round, and they will respond in kind.
However, Chicago will have a hard time winning this series without a go-to scorer in the fourth quarter. Playoff games often come down to grinding half-court possessions in the final minutes, and the Bulls simply don’t have the one guy to make the one-on-one plays necessary to advance with Derrick Rose watching on the sidelines.
Indiana Pacers Have a Matchup Problem Down Low
Sure, the Indiana Pacers are the No. 1 seed in the East, but they have themselves a matchup problem in the No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks.
Paul Millsap and Pero Antic are the starting two big men for the Hawks, and both are capable of stretching the floor and hitting from behind the three-point line (they each hit two in Game 1). That forces David West and Roy Hibbert to leave their comfort zone closer to the basket on defense and defend the entire floor.
This is especially important in the case of Hibbert, who is known as a rim protector on the defensive end.
Without Hibbert down low, point guard Jeff Teague eviscerated Indiana for 28 points, much of which came on penetration to the basket, and Atlanta grabbed nine offensive rebounds. It will be difficult for the two Indiana big men to handle these defensive assignments over the course of a long series.
Brooklyn Can’t Fast Forward to Miami Yet
It may seem strange to talk about a No. 6 seed possibly overlooking a No. 3 seed, but when it was finalized that the Brooklyn Nets were playing the Toronto Raptors in Round 1, it seemed like everyone wanted to discuss the presumed second-round matchup between Brooklyn and Miami.
However, it was clear in Game 1 that the Toronto Raptors will hang with the Nets during the course of this series. The Nets won the game 94-87, but it was only after a late charge that they pulled away.
Toronto’s defense will make life difficult for Brooklyn, much like it did in Game 1, if Pierce and company overlook the Raptors.
Miami Will Make Quick Work of Charlotte
As if Charlotte didn’t have its back against the wall enough against Miami, superstar Al Jefferson aggravated his foot during the Game 1 loss. He played the majority of the game after leaving for a stretch, but he was also hobbled throughout.
All that means is that James and the rest of the Heat will make even quicker work of the overmatched Bobcats.
Charlotte hasn’t beaten Miami in a single game since James took his talents to South Beach, and it certainly isn’t going to if its one matchup advantage is injured. Throw in the fact that James typically dominates Charlotte (he scored 61 points against the Bobcats in one game this year), and this series will be over quickly.
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