The second round was set Thursday with the Atlanta Hawks pulling out a thrilling win over the Orlando Magic, to capture the series 4-2. The other three teams, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 (Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, respectively) needed less time to finish off their lower seeded opponents.
The Bulls surprisingly struggled against the supposedly overmatched Indiana Pacers. They needed fourth quarter comebacks in the first three games, and lost Game 4 despite putting together another spirited fourth-quarter effort.
In Game 5, they showed no pity, rolling past Indiana, 116-89. It was the only game in which Chicago truly looked like a top-seeded squad.
Second-seeded Miami also needed five games to close out the seventh-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. The pesky Sixers fought hard in Games 1, 3 and 5 and pulled out a very tough win in Game 4. Game 2 was the only one in which the Heat thoroughly dominated.
The Heat showed many flaws as they let a late six-point lead in game 4 (a potential close-out game) evaporate as Philly went on a late 10-0 run to steal that game. In the waning moments, the Heat had a chance to tie and gave the ball to LeBron James, who got a good look, but was swatted by Elton Brand at the rim.
The Heat had this problem all season, converting only one of 16 game-tying or go-ahead buckets in the final 30 seconds of a game. If this issue persists, the Heat will surely not be playing into June.
The No. 3 Celtics were the only team to sweep their opponents as they handled the shorthanded New York Knicks in four games. However, Boston was by absolutely no means perfect. The Celtics needed a questionable charging call on Carmelo Anthony to sneak by in Game 1, and could not stop ‘Melo in a game that at times seemed like a one on five in Game 2.
Nevertheless, they survived both games and turned in two stellar performances at the Garden as they won Games 3 and 4 with ease. Shockingly, the Hawks may have been the most commanding team in East, as they defeated an Orlando Magic team that had swept them out of the previous years’ playoffs with remarkable ease.
The Hawks were the only lower-seeded team to get into the second round in the East, they showed some very good qualities, as they toughed out a couple hard games and were able to shut down Dwight Howard’s supporting cast enough to get wins.
This young team obviously showed flaws, but with so many bodies to throw at opposite big men, they are never afraid to foul. Overall, I think that the top-seeded Bulls will only get better as the playoffs go on and win this conference, and eventually, the championship.
The second round was set yesterday, as the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies joined the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder, by stunning the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in six thrilling games. San Antonio looked old, slow and tired, more like the team that many expected them to be at the start of the season than the team that jumped out to an early lead in the conference race and never looked back.
Memphis looked just the opposite, playing fast, young and full of energy, characteristics that they have had all season long. Zach Randolph proved to be the best player in the series using his athleticism in the post and relying on his sweet mid-range jumper to average 21.5 points and 9.2 boards in the six games.
Memphis showed very strong mental toughness, rebounding from a heartbreaking Game 5 loss to win a tough Game 6. They should be a team to be reckoned with as the playoffs move on.
The two-time defending champion Lakers looked sloppy at times, as they needed six games to finish off the considerably inferior New Orleans Hornets. Pau Gasol continued to look soft in the post, as he was lucky that Andrew Bynum picked up all his slack, as he played a fantastic series.
The Lakers played to their advantages as they fed the ball down low against the undersized Hornets, who got significantly out rebounded throughout the series. The Lakers showed some weaknesses on the perimeter, as Kobe Bryant hurt his ankle and neither Derek Fisher nor Steve Blake could slow the electrifying Chris Paul.
Dallas proved many doubters wrong as they played well down the stretch in Games 5 and 6 and defeated trendy upset pick Portland. The Mavs, who crumbled during the fourth quarter of a Game 4 loss, blowing an 18-point lead, and losing by three, rebounded well as they won the final two games.
Dirk Nowitzki had some key baskets late in each win and must keep up this good play if Dallas wants any chance to win it all. With Caron Butler's return on the horizon, Dallas should be considered serious contenders.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, led by superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, were the only team that did not need six games, as they finished off the Denver Nuggets four games to one. The Thunder jumped out to a 3-0 lead, by surviving close calls in Games 1 and 3 and cruising past Denver in Game 2.
Despite a Game 4 loss, Durant exploded for 41 points in Game 5, as he went on an inhuman run, scoring 16 points in the final four minutes of the game. The Thunder looked very strong during the series and the trade that brought them bruiser Kendrick Perkins is looking to be a great move. The only worry that they have is the lack of playoff experience, in their starting five, only Perkins is a veteran of the postseason.
Overall, the Lakers run ends this season as the younger, more athletic Thunder take them put in the conference finals.