The Biggest Disappointments in the 2014 NBA Playoffs So Far
Wow, now that's a first round for the ages.
With five Game 7s, a ton of overtime periods and plenty of close encounters, the 2014 NBA playoffs have been terrific.
But with all the good, there has come some bad.
There's been a few disappointing moments so far, whether it's been players, teams or in between, and there's sure to be plenty more going forward.
But for now, let's take a look at the biggest disappointments of the playoffs thus far.
No, I'm not looking at you Derrick Rose.
Although having said that, the postseason would have been much more exciting with Rose and the Chicago Bulls going against John Wall and the Washington Wizards.
Aside from that, a plethora of key players have gone down with injury in the postseason. Guys like Chris Paul, Al Jefferson, Patrick Beverley, Taj Gibson and Mike Conley were all hampered in one way or another, and that in turn limited their effectiveness.
It's hard to predict whether their teams' success would have changed, specifically the last four players, but it was still disappointing to see when the competitiveness reaches such a high point.
In addition, the Golden State Warriors losing Andrew Bogut (rib) prior to the beginning of the postseason played a big role, as the Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan averaged 12.1 points, 15.1 rebounds and 4.0 blocks on 75.7 percent shooting as the only true big man out there.
The Warriors' Jermaine O'Neal was the only player who had the length to try to contain him, but he went down with injury as well.
We've been lucky enough to see the star players healthy, so it isn't yet a repeat of the past few seasons (see: Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Rose), but it's still disappointing nonetheless.
Zach Randolph's Suspension for Game 7
Okay, hear me out.
After pushing the Oklahoma City Thunder to the brink of elimination, the Memphis Grizzlies saw it all slip away in Game 7. With forward Zach Randolph suspended, the end result was pretty much certain before the tip. Only had he played, it could have been much different.
Randolph received the suspension for this physical altercation with Thunder center Steven Adams. The play itself was out of frustration, and could absolutely have been avoided had Randolph kept his cool.
The two jostled heading up the court, with Randolph shoving Adams above the neck to create some space.
Before I sound like I'm drumming up an officiating conspiracy, let's be clear—the suspension was fair. Randolph connected with the jaw of Adams, which was ruled as a punch, and constitutes a suspension under league rules (Section IX—Punching Fouls).
But to see the Thunder and the Grizzlies battle out a Game 7 sans the latter team's best player was disappointing to say the least. After such a hard-fought series and the level of defense and competition seen, the final and deciding game was underwhelming.
The 120-109 final margin was still close, but Memphis needed a scoring threat down the stretch.
It could, and should, have been Randolph.
Please don't fine me, Adam Silver.
The NBA playoffs are played at a much different style than that of the regular season, and with that comes a different approach for the officials. The game reaches a slower pace (unless you're playing for the Portland Trail Blazers or the Houston Rockets) and becomes much more physical.
Having said that, some of the officiating has been questionable. After just two players averaged more than 3.5 personal fouls during the season (four averaged 3.4), a total of 24 players are at that same pace of fouling in the postseason.
It's a given to see an increase in calls like that, and that's hardly disappointing. But the lack of consistency in the officiating is where the disappointment lies.
Take the suspension of Randolph, for example. His contact with Adams' face was unnecessary and a suspension under league rules, but an incident (video) between the Atlanta Hawks' Mike Scott and Indiana Pacers' George Hill saw no punishments handed out. Scott shoves Hill's face with both hands, which should have also been a suspension under league rules.
Randolph's suspension was disappointing in itself, but the absence of regulating that rule properly makes it that much more discouraging. He missed a pivotal Game 7 for one play, while another commits the same act without repercussion.
In addition, a number of missed calls in crucial moments could have truly swayed the fortunes of certain teams. Whether it was the no-call by Chris Paul on Stephen Curry, the six players the San Antonio Spurs had on the floor in Game 6 or an abundance of others, it was disappointing to see the transparency of the officiating in the opening round of the postseason.
The majority of the end results weren't swayed because of it, but it remained disheartening to see in pivotal moments.
The Inconsistency of the San Antonio Spurs Defense
Phew, that was close.
Despite finishing the season with a league-best 62-20 record, the San Antonio Spurs almost saw an early exit after so much hard work to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Firstly, the Dallas Mavericks deserve a ton of credit. The series ultimately slipped away after an early 2-1 series lead (here's looking at you, Vince Carter), but the Mavericks fought until the end and gave San Antonio an early challenge.
The Spurs were a tad inconsistent, with their defense falling apart in separate games. They allowed 101.1 points per game in the first round after limiting opponents to 97.6 points during the regular season.
San Antonio kept Dallas to just 85 points in Game 1 before the Mavericks went off for 113 points and 109 points in Games 2 and 3, respectively.
The Spurs were their usual brilliant selves offensively, but almost dropped the ball in the opening round after reaching the NBA Finals last season. San Antonio will now face the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round: a team far more dangerous offensively than Dallas.
But the Spurs managed to advance despite the inconsistency. It wasn't so much disappointing as it was disheartening, given the drive San Antonio has to net one last title before Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili hang 'em up.
Also, it's the Spurs. They rarely disappoint, so don't expect them any higher than here on the list.
You can either love him or hate him. Or both simultaneously.
The Memphis Grizzlies gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a good scare, instilling a suffocating defensive game plan to limit Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But with Durant being covered by Tony Allen, it was up to the latter to deliver.
Westbrook did to a certain extent, just not as efficiently as one would hope. The point guard still went off for 25.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 8.0 assists in the first round, but converted only 38.2 percent of his attempts.
He also shot 23.8 percent from long range, continually looking for his three-point shot and averaging six attempts from beyond the arc per game. Westbrook made some questionable decisions, averaging 4.9 turnovers per game, often dribbling out the clock at the top of the key before making a move.
And with potential MVP Kevin Durant on his team, the guard still trumped him in usage rate despite Durant playing 46.3 minutes compared to his 40.7 per game. Westbrook's 34.3 usage rate ranks No. 1 in the playoffs, with Durant's 28.7 coming in at No. 4 (tie).
Despite all that, he still netted two triple-doubles in the process and was key in the Thunder advancing. Westbrook's play and decision-making is constantly called into question, but he comes through when it counts.
But that doesn't overshadow how disappointing some of his play was in the first round, especially considering his role as the point guard and OKC's second-best player. It didn't cost Westbrook's team the series, but he'd be ranked much higher on the list if it did.
The Chicago Bulls
Oh Chicago, what happened?
This team went 21-9 after the All-Star break, topping the likes of the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers, the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors.
But the Bulls couldn't put it together against the Washington Wizards.
Chicago went 1-2 against them in the regular season, and the Bulls' lack of a scorer and creator offensively was on full display.
Washington was still held to 94.6 points on 44 percent shooting defensively, but it fell short from the 91.8 points on 43 percent shooting seen from Chicago in the regular season. It's not a huge difference, but it was enough of one when the margin of victory was just 4.6 points in the Wizards' favor.
The Bulls were meant to be the team no one wanted to face, with physical defense, team chemistry and hustle being staples of their play.
Washington's young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal deserves credit though. It wasn't as if the Wizards were going to be an easy opponent, but it's disappointing to see the Bulls net only one game in the 4-1 series loss.
Chicago gets a slight pass for being undermanned and outmatched, so it doesn't move up higher in this list. But it remains a disappointing outcome nonetheless.
Better luck next year, James Harden.
In a performance reminiscent of the meltdown seen in the 2012 NBA Finals, the shooting guard saw his Houston Rockets drop out of the postseason in the first round for the second straight season. Even after reloading with Dwight Howard, Harden and his team couldn't get it done, and his status as a star player is slowly eroding.
That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but his performance during these playoffs and past serve as evidence.
Against the Portland Trail Blazers, Harden still put up his usual high-scoring average of 26.8 points but shot just 37.6 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from three-point range. The defense of the Blazers absolutely deserves credit, especially the work of guard Wesley Matthews.
But even considering that, Harden seemed disjointed and disinterested, especially defensively. The Rockets allowed 112.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, compared to 107.1 when he was on the bench.
Harden shot above 45 percent just once, and only truly looked engaged when he went for 34 points in the pivotal Game 6 (9-of-15 shooting).
Even going back to last season's playoffs, where he averaged 26.3 points on 39.1 percent shooting, which isn't much different from this year, Harden will have a lot to prove going forward.
Houston had high hopes for this team, pairing Harden and Howard together to make a deep playoff run. Howard did his part, dropping 26 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks down low, but Harden wasn't there to consistently provide that perimeter threat on either end of the floor.
Considering the star status Harden holds as an All-Star guard in the NBA, it was disappointing to see his play drop to such a level when it was needed most. The blame of an early postseason exit doesn't fall solely on his shoulders, but his lack of efficiency had something to do with it.
Harden almost netted the top spot, but his play wasn't as bad as the next guy on our list. Can you guess who?
Lucky the Indiana Pacers have that guy named Paul George.
The Pacers were truly challenged by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, but the end result could have been much different. But it was truly too close for comfort, and much of that has to do with the play of Roy Hibbert.
The 7'2" center has struggled mightily since the All-Star break, averaging just 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds on 39 percent shooting.
Who'd have thought it could actually get worse?
Hibbert dropped to 5.3 points and 3.7 rebounds on 37.2 percent shooting against the Hawks, with 3.1 personal fouls in only 21.9 minutes. His worst performance came in Game 5, where he went for zero points, zero rebounds and four fouls in 12 minutes, prompting this parody of the famous photo following Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.
It's bad enough that an All-Star like Hibbert is playing so poorly, but what makes it worse is the competition. With Al Horford out, Hibbert didn't go up against any challenging big men to make his life hard.
And now with the Pacers going up against the Washington Wizards in the second round, he will face the physicality of Marcin Gortat and Nene on the front line. They form a duo much more skilled than any Atlanta could have offered, and both like to play rough in the paint.
Hibbert's play as of late was already disappointing, but it's now on a whole other level. He's playing nothing like the All-Star status denoted upon him, nor what we've seen in the past. It's now at a point of wondering just how bad it can get.
He did slightly redeem himself with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in the deciding Game 7, so hopefully that gives him some confidence.
If not, Hibbert can pencil himself in for the top spot on another list like this. For this one, it's chiseled in stone.