Two NBA superstars go head-to-head as the series between Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma Clippers and Chris Paul and Los Angeles Clippers begin Monday, May 5.
By KELTON BROOKS (@BrooksWeekly)
Series clinching 3-point daggers, acrobatic tumbling layups and a historic Saturday where three Game 7s all fell on the same day for the first time in NBA history has finally come to an end.
But that was only the first round. Not too shabby for an opening act of the playoffs, wouldn’t you say?
The Pacers survived becoming just the sixth No. 1 seed in NBA history to lose in the first round. Despite their downward spiral into the postseason, losing to a team who stumbled into the playoffs with a losing record would have been detrimental to the front office leading to an immediate coaching change and figure out if the amber alert on center Roy Hibbert has been lifted.
“Mr. Unreliable” a.k.a., “Slim Reaper” a.k.a. “The Servant”–really–or Kevin Durant as you know him, proved he was reliable after he and volatile yet sensational PG Russell Westbrook narrowly escaped the Memphis Grizzlies–albeit, thanks to the suspension of Memphis’ forward, Zach Randolph because of a sort of push-punch to the face to Thunder forward Steven Adams. And sats off to the Mavericks for making it a series against the defending Western Conference Champion Spurs who I originally picked to win the series in five games. Vince Carter took a sip from the fountain of youth in that series, but we all may have seen the last of him.
Exciting and as can’t-leave-the-couch-because-I-don’t-want-to-miss-anything-good as the first round was, it’s yesterday’s news now. It’s now time for the Semifinals.
Let’s see who I have moving on to the Conference Finals:
Indiana Pacers vs. Washington Wizards (Regular season series; Pacers 2-1)
As hard of a time as the Pacers had stopping Jeff Teague, then how in the world will they attempt to contain John Wall and Bradley Beal?
While it’s easy to say switch Paul George–who needs to play to his all-star capabilities every single game this round–on Wall, then what do you do with Beal and Trevor Ariza? Kyle Korver was lethal behind the arc against Indiana shooting 43 percent of his 3-pointers, but I’d take the trio of Wall-Beal-Ariza, over Teague-Korver-Paul Milsap without hesitation.
The speed and vision of Wall to create will prove hazardous for George Hill and the Pacers throughout this series. Not to mention the coming out part of Beal who only flashed his potential against the Bulls, and the beneficiary of Walls’ ability to create on the perimeter. Matched up against the nuisance but competitor that is Lance Stephenson, will truly test Beal’s drive.
Even with the convincing Game 7 win over the Hawks, the question still remains, are the Pacers back? If they are, George will have to play beyond the level he did in round one, and that says a lot because the young star averaged a double-double (23.9 ppg; 10.7 reb/g) in the series against Atlanta.
But to answer that question, no.
The Pacers have home court advantage, but from what this playoffs have shown us, home court advantage doesn’t mean a thing.
Wizards in 7, grudgingly.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers (Regular season series; tied 2-2)
Damian Lillard has arrived, everyone.
In his first playoff game ever, he dropped 31 on the Rockets, along with a 46 point barrage from LaMarcus Aldridge I might add. But no matter how much time is left on the clock or no matter the deficit his team has to overcome, Lillard remains unfazed.
That 0.9 second clutch shot to send the Houston Rockets fishing was the top play of the playoffs so far. Lillard is the most composed young player in the NBA today, period. However, the Trail Blazers are up against an entirely different beast in the the Spurs. The Spurs have arguably the best coach in the NBA in Greg Popovich. The Spurs have one of the deepest benches in the NBA with Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Cory Joseph. The Spurs were the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA that was inexplicably off collectively against Dallas, but they can easily heat up against Portland.
Portland is the most impressive team in the playoffs at this very moment, but the craftiness and veteran skillset of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will get the best of Portland. Spurs in 6.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Regular season series; tied 2-2)
We’re in for a dandy here.
Two of the most dynamic teams square off featuring four players I would rank in the top 10 players in the league in soon-to-be-named-MVP in Durant, and Westbrook, Paul and Blake Griffin. These teams don’t differ much from each other. The Clippers bring Lob City, the most prolific offense in the regular season (109.4 points ppg) and the seventh ranked defense, brought in large part by the defensive minded coach Doc Rivers (102.1 ppg). A lot of the defensive credit should go to DeAndre Jordan who snagged 18 rebounds and four blocks in three games in a seven game series, the first player ever to accomplish that feat in NBA history.
Oklahoma City ranked seventh in points per game at 108.1, and held opponents to 99.8 ppg, ranking 12th in the league. As big of a problem Durant is for any team, let alone the Clippers, who will decide this matchup is Russell Westbrook. Chris Paul has been hampered by injuries this year and is still nursing his shoulder covered by the sleeve he wears during games. Paul missed six weeks after separating his shoulder Jan. 3 in Dallas. Guarding the sharp shooting Steph Curry is one thing, but the ultra-athletic Westbrook might prove too much for Paul. Although, Paul did go off for 22 points, 14 assists, four steals in the win or go home game against the Warriors. Maybe he’s not that hurt.
Let’s just throw out all the numbers for a second. When the Clippers hired Doc Rivers in the offseason, I immediately said, this team is going to the Finals. He was the piece this talented team was missing. Doc has been fist pumping on the sidelines, more emotional and strongly encouraging his team. They all needed that after the Donald Sterling fiasco. Am I being too much of a prison of the moment to think that whole ordeal could give the Clippers a mental boost to the Finals? Yes, probably. I’ll play this one smart. Thunder in 7.
Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn Nets (Regular season series; Nets 4-0)
If anything, there won’t be any blowouts this series. In the four regular season games against these two teams, three games were decided by one point and the other game went to overtime. Make no mistake about it, the Nets were constructed this offseason for two obvious reasons: 1) to win a championship; 2) to beat the Heat.
So many variables are at work in this matchup. When Paul Pierce is used as a small power forward, he averaged 21.3 points per game against Miami in the regular season. The Heat’s rebounding woes have been widely documented, but it’s the fast and athletic point guards that causes Miami the most trouble. Nets PG Deron Williams has the ability and talent to play like the best point guard in the NBA when he wants to, but that’s the problem, when he wants to. In Brooklyn’s losses to Toronto, Williams average 12 ppg. In wins, he averaged 20.5 ppg. If Brooklyn is to win this series, Williams has to play to his all-star caliber level.
With the Heat, what will they get from Dwayne Wade who scored 23 points in game 1 against the Bobcats, but dropped down to 15.6 points the rest of the way. But in his defense, he wasn’t needed as Miami soundly swept Charlotte in four games. The Nets are here for a reason, and I see them as a bigger obstacle than the Pacers.
BUT, Miami does have the best player on the planet in 4-time MVP and 2-time defending champion LeBron James. Heat in 6.