March Madness may have the reputation for nail-biting basketball games with do-or-die implications, but the 2014 NBA playoffs are doing the best they can to term the phrase April Madness.
Friday brought another thrilling set of games, particularly in the Eastern Conference.
The Brooklyn Nets outlasted the resilient Toronto Raptors to take a 2-1 lead, and the Chicago Bulls kept their second-round hopes figuratively alive by knocking off the Washington Wizards to climb within 2-1.
An updated bracket for the entire NBA postseason can be found here.
Now that we know what the bracket looks like, let’s dig into a couple of takeaways from Friday’s Eastern Conference action.
Chicago Can Score When It Matters in the Fourth Quarter
With superstar Derrick Rose sitting on the sidelines for the second playoffs in a row, the Bulls lost fourth-quarter leads at home in both Games 1 and 2 to the Wizards.
Who wins this series?
Chicago simply didn’t have a go-to scorer when the games became grinding half-court affairs in the final moments, and it cost it dearly in the first two contests. Alas, it was a different story when the series switched to Washington in Game 3.
It looked like we were watching the same script for a while after the Bulls blew a late seven-point lead and the Wizards actually built a two-point advantage, but Jimmy Butler hit a critical three-pointer when the game was tied in the final minute. Butler had struggled on the offensive end throughout the series, and it was a confidence-boosting shot that ultimately gave his team the win.
Don’t overlook the scoring contributions from Mike Dunleavy either, as Fox Sports Hoops pointed out:
Now that the Bulls finally got some scoring, it’s only natural to ask what that means for Game 4.
Chicago has been the better team for extended stretches of every contest in this series but has collapsed down the stretch. The defense has been solid all season (although it has looked susceptible at times against Washington), so some offensive production will be welcomed with open arms.
After winning a tough contest on the road, expect the Bulls to come out with confidence Sunday.
If Dunleavy and Butler carry that momentum forward and provide a scoring punch from the outside, we could have a 2-2 series just like that. The defense is typically there for the Bulls, so this newfound offense could be the missing piece.
There Is Fight in the Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are arguably the most overlooked team in the entire playoffs. Everyone seems to be making plans already for a second-round showdown between the Brooklyn Nets and the Miami Heat.
In Game 3, the Raptors trailed by double digits late in the fourth quarter and appeared primed to be down two games to one. Rihanna was dancing courtside, the crowd was delirious and it simply seemed over.
Instead, Toronto clawed back and cut the deficit to two points in the final seconds and even had a chance to tie it on the free-throw line. Alas, the Raptors missed those shots from the charity stripe, but they showed resolve and determination in fighting back.
Playoff veteran Paul Pierce acknowledged that Brooklyn would be in trouble in the future if it closes games like that again, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
It feels good to win, but at the same time you know you can be a lot better. I'm looking for down the road, I'm looking for when it's like that Game 6 or 7, if we're ever in that situation with this team, it's going to come to those little things and we can't afford those small mistakes.
Ultimately, this may be a good thing for an experienced team like the Nets to realize that they can’t take their foot off the pedal against the Raptors, even for a single moment. There are no such things as moral victories in the NBA, but Toronto will be right back in this series if it fights in Game 4 like it did in the final minutes of Game 3.
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