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NBA Roundup: Deron Williams, Bucks Turn Eastern Conference Playoffs Upside Down

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 28, 2015

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The narrative saying the first round of this year's NBA playoffs lacked excitement and unpredictability died on Monday, and Deron Williams killed it.

The Brooklyn Nets evened their series against the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks at two games apiece with a 120-115 overtime win at the Barclays Center, led by Williams and his career-playoff-high-tying 35 points.

Now, in the event you wandered into some kind of time warp around 2012, none of this shocks you. (Also, welcome to 2015; iPhones are watches now.)

But if you'd been privy to Williams' career over the past few years, you'd realize just how unlikely his Game 4 outburst truly was. In fact, if you'd only witnessed this playoff series and endured the persistent criticism of his performance, you'd still have a good sense of how improbable Monday's results were.

Not only did Williams produce like the guy Brooklyn thought would be its franchise cornerstone, but he actually looked like him. He crossed over unsuspecting defenders and finished sneaky scoop shots at the rim.

He drilled seven threes in 11 attempts, including a back-to-back pair that turned a one-point Nets deficit into a five-point lead in the fourth quarter. Later in that same period, Williams buried what was probably the most impressive and important bucket of his entire Brooklyn career.

That, from a guy who had totaled 18 points in the three previous games of this series combined.

That, from a guy who missed a wide-open jumper that could have swung Game 2 and who Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News noted had failed time and again when it mattered most:

About one year ago, he was held scoreless in a playoff game in Miami. And since signing with the Nets, he has shot 2-for-17 in the playoffs in clutch situations, or when there are less than five minutes remaining and the score is within five points.

That, from a guy who has heard nothing but criticism for his play during these playoffs, the regular season that led up to them and, really, his entire career with the Nets.

D-Will needed this, and his postgame reaction, per Rod Boone of Newsday, confirmed as much:

Rod Boone @rodboone

Deron: "It's definitely gratifying to have a game like this at this moment in time."

And let's not forget that even Williams' coach, Lionel Hollins, didn't come into this series with the rosiest outlook, per Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game:

Now, the tables have turned, and The Associated Press' Brian Mahoney envisioned a bizarrely plausible scenario as Williams was leading his Nets to a win:

Brian Mahoney @briancmahoney

Deron Williams might have the first press conference ever that starts with people apologizing to him. 30 points, Nets lead 93-88.

It wasn't a perfect effort by Williams, and if the Hawks had been able to convert a game-winner with the 6.5 seconds D-Will left them by attacking with far too much time on the Nets' last possession, he might have retained his pariah status.

But Brooklyn survived in overtime, and it will now head to Atlanta to face a Hawks team that can't possibly have seen this matchup playing out so competitively.

Realistically, you'd still expect these Hawks to regroup and take the series. After all, they played excellent basketball all year, won 60 games and still probably have more talent on hand than their opponents.

But that's just it.

BROOKLYN, NY - APRIL 27: Deron Williams #8 of the Brooklyn Nets during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals  against the Atlanta Hawks during the NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2015 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

If Williams can defy expectations and thwart logic in such shocking fashion, what sense is there in expecting anything? And why trust in reason ever again?

If Williams can completely flip what seemed like the most locked-in postseason narrative on its head, it's clear we've entered a playoff space with no rules.

So much for first-round predictability.

The Bucks Do a Mean Bulls Impression

Apr 27, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) in game five of the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczyn
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Chicago Bulls at their own gritty, defense-first game on Monday, notching a 94-88 win to stave off elimination in Game 5.

Michael Carter-Williams put up 22 points, nine assists and eight rebounds while markedly out-playing Derrick Rose, who shot 5-of-20 from the field and 0-of-7 from long range. And, of course, the Bucks leaned on their defense to limit Chicago to 34.4 percent shooting as a team.

If you're looking for positives for the Bulls, their dozen turnovers were a significant improvement on the 28 they surrendered in Game 4.

Other than that, it was ugly for Chicago, and the Bucks seemed to take pleasure in making it that way. Both O.J. Mayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo had words with Jimmy Butler, who struggled to a 5-of-21 shooting night, and Zaza Pachulia managed to bump or jostle every Bulls player he could reach.

This is who the Bucks are. They win games with length and physicality on defense, and they're not easily intimidated.

ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne put it another way:

Ramona Shelburne @ramonashelburne

From what I've seen the last three games, the young @Bucks are out-Bullsing the Bulls.

It's hard to know whether the Bulls should be afraid of or thankful for what Milwaukee has done to them over the past few games. On the one hand, the Bucks have made this first-round series a much bigger pain than anybody expected.

On the other, they've reminded the Bulls of the things they'll need to embrace—the things that have defined their franchise since Tom Thibodeau took over—in order to make a deep playoff run.

It's a harsh lesson, but it's one Chicago seems to need.

The Fallout in Cleveland

Apr 26, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) injures his shoulder during the first half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics. at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Spo
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't play on Monday, but their postseason fate may have changed all the same.

That's because they learned they'd be without Kevin Love for the entirety of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. Love dislocated his left shoulder and suffered torn ligaments in a tie-up with Boston Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk in Game 4 on Sunday, according to a Cavs press release.

In addition, J.R. Smith earned a two-game suspension for clocking Jae Crowder in the face during Game 4.

Cleveland will likely still be the favorite in a highly anticipated matchup against the Bulls (assuming Chicago eventually finds a way past the Bucks), as it boasts the best player in the series in LeBron James and still has home-court advantage. But it's not hard to see things getting tough in the two games the Cavs will have to play without a pair of starters.

And losing Love for the series will cost Cleveland valuable shooting, spacing and rebounding.

This is going to be interesting, folks.

The Blazers Have Some Fight In Them

Apr 27, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives past Memphis Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes (12) during the second quarter in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Cra
Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

A clearly desperate Portland Trail Blazers team clawed its way to a 99-92 win against the Memphis Grizzlies, who nearly pulled off the series sweep despite the absence of starting point guard Mike Conley.

An elbow from C.J. McCollum resulted in facial fractures for Conley, who's now out indefinitely.

With the Grizzlies' best backcourt player out, Damian Lillard played his best offensive game, scoring 32 points on 12-of-23 shooting. His four-point play with just under two minutes remaining in the game was a major momentum-swinger, a cap to a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback.

And his assist on a McCollum triple put the Blazers up for good shortly thereafter.

Portland still has plenty of issues to address. Lillard was a sieve on defense again, and LaMarcus Aldridge's 6-of-22 shooting from the field was a clear indicator of tired legs. With elimination looming in every upcoming game, Portland will have to dig deep, keep getting inspired efforts from supporting players like Meyers Leonard (13 points and 13 rebounds off the bench) and hope the Grizzlies keep missing the mid-range jumpers the Blazers defense encourages to stay alive.

Portland heads to Memphis for Game 5 with some positive momentum, but nothing squashes good vibes like the Grindhouse. "Better" was enough to beat the Grizz on Monday.

To survive any longer, the Blazers will have to be at their best.

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