It’s the most wonderful time of the year for basketball diehards as the best athletes in the world go head to head in a life-or-death struggle for hoops supremacy.
There is a balletic quality to the dazzling acrobatics that they can do. The playoffs are an intriguing mix of physicality, skill, grace, jaw-dropping athleticism, tactical moves (and countermoves) as well as intangible qualities such as hunger, passion, pride and gamesmanship.
While it doesn’t have the immediate tension of the NCAA tournament or NFL playoffs (each with a one-and-done format) the NBA playoffs has its own kind of drama, with storylines able to develop over the course of a series.
Here’s the bonafide Inspector Pumphead analysis of all the series so far (all series best of seven, all times EST):
Celtics vs Bulls (Bulls lead 2-0)
The Celtics are in a tough and unique spot. The boys in green edged the Cavaliers for the number 1 seed and they have a great all-around team, headlined by the dynamic 5’8” point guard Isaiah Thomas. But the Bulls, as dysfunctional a team in the league during the regular season, may have the best player in the series in swingman Jimmy Butler.
Butler dominated in game one with 30 points as the Bulls stole homecourt advantage for the series. To add insult to injury, former Celtic Rajon Rondo had an excellent game his former team in the Bulls’ game two win. But Rondo is out for the next game. With the mercurial point guard no longer a factor, it will be interesting to see if wunderkind coach Brad Stevens can cook up a strategy to contain Butler.
Next Game: Tonight @ 7PM, ESPN
Cavaliers vs Pacers (Cavs lead 3-0)
At age 32, Lebron James is still the best player in the world and he showed why in a remarkable 26-point comeback against the Pacers. James had 41 points (on 14 of 27 shooting), 13 rebounds, 12 assists and two blocks. The King remains the king.
As otherworldly a player as James is, it is still slightly concerning for the defending champions that they’ve been so tested by a mediocre Pacers team. The Cavs’ defense has been, to put it nicely, a complete tire-fire since January and has shown only sporadic improvement in the playoffs. Notably, fellow stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving spent much of the comeback on the bench. If Lebron has to put in a superhuman performance to cover up the defensive deficiencies in every game, it could be a long postseason for the Cavs.
Raptors vs Bucks (Bucks lead 2-1)
Perhaps the most intriguing first round series, with the consistently solid but rarely outstanding Raptors are taking on a young Bucks team bursting with talent but short on experience. The Bucks took game 1 behind the 28 point effort (on 13 of 18 shooting) of the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo. The aptly nicknamed Antetokounmpo measures in at 6’11” with a 7’ wingspan and has the athleticism, passing ability and ball-handling skills of a point guard. Basically, he’s a mutant.
The Raptors managed to rebound with a nice win in game two, but the third game was an absolute nightmare for long-suffering Toronto fans. First, the Bucks played the “Barney” theme song when introducing the Raptors lineup, then proceeded to destroy them by 30 points. It was one of the most humiliating nights any NBA team has suffered in recent memory. Raptors stars Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry need to turn it around to avoid another Canadian heartbreak.
Next game: 04/22 @ 3 PM, TNT
Wizards vs Hawks (Wizards lead 2-0)
The dynamic Wizards point guard John Wall is the main draw of this series. Wall is one of the best at conducting a fast break, changing speeds, finding teammates in optimal scoring position and finishing near the basket. After several years of contention, this Hawks teams just looks old and tired.
Next game: 04/22 @ 5:30 PM, TNT
Warriors vs Blazers (Warriors lead 2-0)
There was a moment in game one where it looked like the Blazers might be able to do the thing. With guard C.J. McCollum put on a dazzling display of shotmaking and offensive prowess, the upset seemed in the cards. Until all-around Warriors defensive dynamo Draymond Green took over, blocking shots and changing the momentum of the game. That was probably the Blazers’ best chance; even without Kevin Durant in game two, the Warriors easily rolled. While there will probably still be some defensive fireworks, for all intents and purposes, this series is over.
Next game: 04/22 @ 10:30 PM, ESPN
Spurs vs Grizzlies (Spurs lead 2-1)
After ho-hum displays of dominance by the Spurs in the first two games, the Grizzlies managed to surprise Kawhi Leonard and company and steal game three. Lead by a throwback game by Zach Randolph and a spirited rant by coach David Fizdale, the Grizzlies now look poised to tie the series. Can they make what looked like an obligatory Spurs sweep interesting?
Next game: 04/22 @ 8 PM, ESPN
Rockets vs Thunder (Thunder lead 2-0)
In perhaps the most anticipated first round series, one featuring the head-to-head matchup of MVP frontrunners James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the Rockets have seized firm control. Westbrook had the platonic ideal of a Russell Westbrook game, throwing up a 50-point triple double, taking over 40 shots, and mixing stunning play with some head scratching decisions, particularly in the fourth quarter. The NBA’s most entertaining and frustrating player continues to play his way.
Harden has played under control and done a good job at finding the Rockets’ many sharpshooters posted outside of the 3-point line. With the series heading to OKC, it remains to be seen whether Westbrook and the Thunder can put together a complete game and get back in the series.
Next game: Tonight @ 9:30 PM, ESPN
Clippers vs Jazz (Series tied 1-1)
The Jazz lost defensive anchor Rudy Gobert to a knee injury in game one, but still managed to surprise the Clippers on a last-second shot by veteran Joe Johnson. The Clipper responded by pounding the Jazz inside to take game two. We’ll see how the Jazz respond tonight.
Next game: Tonight @ 10 PM, ESPN2
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