Monday, April 21, 2008

Just Getting Started...

With each round's first game complete, the NBA playoffs has demonstrated its excitement and unpredictability from the start. Day 1 featured a double overtime thriller and an impressive debut, while Day 2 featured a shocking upset and an established dominance by the favorite. But the playoffs have only just begun, and there is no doubt that there will be more great things to come.

Saturday afternoon featured two great matchups. For the third straight year, Cleveland & Washington met again in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Lebron and company were outplayed in the first 3 quarters, but pulled away in the 4th en route to a 93-86 victory. James led all scorers with 32 in the contest. The second matchup, San Antonio versus Phoenix, was a rematch of last year's controversial series between the two foes. Phoenix's early attempt at revenge was foiled when Michael Finley buried a 3 with seconds remaining to send the contest into overtime. Phoenix looked to have to the game won again in the closing seconds of overtime, when Tim Duncan hit an unlikely 3 with 3.0 seconds remaining. In double overtime, it was the Suns face to face with a loss, down 115-112, when Steve Nash nailed a tough fade-away 3 to tie it up with 15 ticks on the clock. However, Manu Ginobli was the answer in the clutch; driving to the rim for the tough layup that fell with 1.8 seconds left to give the Spurs a 1-0 series lead. Duncan led all scorers with 40.

In the night cap, Chris Paul made his playoff debut and didn't disappoint. The MVP candidate and rising star nearly made the playoff record books, dropping 35 points in his first career playoff game. Paul also spread the ball around, adding 10 assists. In a game that the Mavericks appeared to handle early on, marching to a 12 point lead at the half, the Hornets stormed back behind the leadership of their MVP. Paul launched the comeback with a 7-0 run by himself in the 3rd quarter. Minutes later, the Hornets led 86-74 after capping off a 30-10 run. The young Hornets, who looked inexperienced in the first half, proved why they had been atop the Western Conference standings all year with a 104-92 win. In the final game of Day 1, the Jazz easily took down the Rockets 93-82. Will T-Mac ever get that playoff series victory?

In Sunday's first game, behind Dwight Howard's 20-20 performance (25 pts & 22 rebounds), Orlando easily defeated Toronto 114-100.

In a physical game with a lot of jawing between the two teams, Kobe and the Lakers rolled to a 128-114 victory over the Nuggets. Bryant had foul trouble early, but his 18 4th quarter points left him with 32 when it was all said and done. The real story was Pau Gasol who took over while Bryant was sidelined, leading the Lakers in scoring, rebounds, and assists. Gasol had 36 points on 14-20 shooting, 16 rebounds, and 8 assists for the near triple-double in his first career playoff win. Denver had no answer for Gasol. The poor defense that had been hindering their potential all year was exposed once again. Frustration began to set in at the end when Kenyon Martin was T'd up along with Bryant, in an altercation between the two. Allen Iverson then followed that up receiving a double technical after arguing with an official on a call that ejected him from the game. Denver needs to sort out their problems fast, before they find themselves on an early bus back home.

Sunday had played out as planned until Philadelphia rolled into the Palace at Auburn Hills in Detroit. In Sunday's only upset, Philadelphia, one of the NBA's surprise teams of the year, hung tough with Detroit the whole way in the Game 1 matchup. Then, in the final minutes, the Sixers closed the Pistons out. The Pistons had many chances to win/tie the game late, but missed the shots they needed to make. The Sixers deserve much credit for the way they played. Andre Miller led Philadelphia with 20 points. It should be interesting to see how the Pistons respond to the upset. I would expect them to come out strong in Game 2.

In the final game of the weekend, Boston established themselves as the powerhouse they are. The Celtics cruised past the Hawks to a 104-81 victory that was no contest. The Big 3 combined for 50 points and were all smiles in the closing minutes of the game. With victories for both Boston and Los Angeles, the road begins for a potential clash between the two #1 seeds with such a historic past. Will history repeat itself once again? Regardless, expect a playoffs nothing short of spectacular.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

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