The first round of the NBA Playoffs is over. Two teams that many assume would storm their way into the Finals swept their opponents. But what are some of the other stories to come out of the first round? As with anything in the National Basketball Association, there is plenty to discuss and many stories to dissect.
What now for the Clippers?
The Los Angeles Clippers went down at the hands of Utah 104-91 in Game 7 of their first-round series, ending Paul Pierce’s career and effectively ending the Lob City era in Los Angeles.
When Chris Paul first arrived in Los Angeles for the 2011-12 campaign, the Clippers quickly became one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA. So much so, they even briefly challenged the Lakers for ownership of the City of Angels.
However, what followed was a series of playoff disappointments. Since CP3’s arrival, the Clips have never dipped below .600 and made the playoffs for six consecutive seasons. Yet in that time, they have never made it past the second round to the Conference Finals.
With another abrupt end to a season, in Game 7 at home no less, many have felt that the current Clippers team has run its course and you could see it in the manner they finished. They allowed the Jazz to sink too many easy shots and could not take advantage of an open lane with Rudy Gobert in foul trouble for a majority of the contest.
This is not to say they gave up, but that Game 7 intensity in particular wasn’t there for the Clippers and they appeared like a team who had accepted their fate. They were playing their last game as a group and it showed.
There’s going to be some tough decisions for the Clippers front office this off-season. Do you blow it up and start over? Trade your stars and pick up some picks in time for a loaded draft? Or do you give it one more shot with a team that’s only taken you so far in a league that only getting better?
These are the questions the LAC board have to address.
Celtics Finally Look The Part of a No. 1 Seed
Boston opened the playoffs by dropping their first two games against Chicago at home. These performances were nothing like the team that had stolen the East’s No. 1 seed out from under Cleveland’s nose.
Despite the death of his sister on the eve of Game 1, Isaiah Thomas has been brilliant for the Celtics with big performances every night. But he wasn’t able to count on the rest of his team to show up. The next four games, however, saw the rest of the Celtics come to play and close out the series in six games, including a couple of blowouts on the road.
Avery Bradley stepped up, scoring 24 points in both Game 5 and 6. Jae Crowder started hitting the three point shots that had troubled him earlier in the series and Al Horford finally worked out how to outrebound Robin Lopez.
Game 1 of their Conference Semi-Final series versus Washington saw the Celtics almost fall into the same trap they did against Chicago. The Wizards started the game with a 16-0 run before the Celtics finally scored their first basket with 6:42 left in the first quarter and rallied to take home the win 123-111.
It was the first time in the playoffs that the whole team played to their potential. Thomas had 33 points despite not getting back to Boston until 4am. Al Horford was inches away from a triple-double with 21 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. Jae Crowder found his shot again with 24 points including 6-8 from deep.
Now that the Celtics are all on the same page again, they’re looking like the No. 1 seed they earned and a team to reckon as the playoffs roll on.
Death, Taxes and San Antonio Spurs Making Playoffs
Somehow the Spurs train just keeps on rolling. The franchise has only missed four post-seasons since joining the NBA as part of the NBA-ABA merger in the 1976-77 season and haven’t missed one since the season before they drafted Tim Duncan 20 years ago.
The story hasn’t changed for the Spurs after Duncan’s retirement, as it’s just next man up with the new wave being led by Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The former is once again right in the middle of the MVP conversation after being edged out by a ridiculous Steph Curry season last year and it appears as though the same fate may befall him after Russell Westbrook and James Harden’s historical seasons.
Even with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on the decline, the wheels keep turning as Patty Mills has stepped up to become a reliable option of the bench for Gregg Popovich’s squad.
One worry for the Spurs is the form of the Houston Rockets on the horizon. Given their deficiencies in the backcourt including troubles guarding Mike Conley in their six-game series win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Popovich’s men might struggle to win out in this contest.
Conley averaged 24.7 points and seven assists during the series and now the Spurs’ defence has a tougher test in trying to defend James Harden along with the rest of the Houston’s fast-paced, high-scoring offence.
Harden averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 assists and nine rebounds in the Rockets’ four meetings with the Spurs, so stopping him will be crucial to San Antonio’s chances of moving on to the Western Conference Finals.
NBA Playoffs Second Round Fixtures:
– Golden State Warriors vs. Utah Jazz
– Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs
– Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards
– Toronto Raptors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers