After the home team won all eight Game 1s – the final six of which were decided by double digits – the first round of the NBA playoffs seemed to be on its way to being about as exciting as an average episode of American Pickers.
As it turned out, though, we wound up with six of the eight series needing at least a Game 6 and Chicago and Brooklyn delivering a fairly memorable Game 7 to cap a wild series. Steph Curry became a household name, the Grizzlies emerged as a legit threat to win the Western Conference and the Heat and Spurs had enough time off to take a week-long Alaskan cruise together.
What’s in store for Round 2? The two series that begin Sunday have the potential to go 6 or 7, which is considerably more than we can say for the two set to start Monday. Let’s take a look at Grizzlies-Thunder and Pacers-Knicks.
No. 2 New York vs. No. 3 Indiana
What’s in the past: Both teams needed six games to escape the first round and an overmatched – and in the case of the Celtics, undermanned – opponent, with the Knicks dropping games 4 and 5 after building a 3-0 lead and nearly coughing up a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 6. New York’s series with Boston was predictably ugly, with no one scoring more than 92 points in regulation. Carmelo Anthony really had to work for his offense, scoring 1.09 points per field-goal attempt after averaging 1.29 per shot in the regular season. Indiana’s series with Atlanta was similarly difficult to watch, but a massive rebounding edge for the team that had the league’s best differential during the regular season made the difference. Individually, George Hill’s play tilted things in the Pacers’ favor. In the four wins against the Hawks, Hill averaged 19.0 points and shot 56.5 percent, going 10 for 21 from 3-point range. In the two losses? 7.5 points per, 0 for 9 from 3.
What’s to come: Technical fouls. These teams met six times in the playoffs in the 90s, and although they haven’t played in the postseason since 2000, there’s enough veterans on these teams who like to throw their weight around to make this an extremely physical series. The home team won each game as they split the regular season series, with the Knicks shooting a dreadful 36.9 percent. New York isn’t going to shoot a high percentage here, either, but that’s why facing the muck-it-up, short-handed Celtics may have been a very good thing for them. The Knicks were 10-21 in the regular season when they scored 98 points or fewer but just played six games where no one touched that total. New York is capable of shooting itself into or out of any game with the volume of 3-pointers it takes, whereas Indiana would prefer to let Hill and Paul George create while letting David West and Roy Hibbert clean up the glass. Hill (7.3 ppg, 32.1 percent shooting) and Hibbert (22 points, 25 rebounds, 14 turnovers in four games), though, were dreadful against the Knicks this season.
Potential X-Factor: Amare Stoudemire. STAT may return for Game 3 and could help on the glass, but it’s hard to imagine Stoudemire giving the Knicks more than 10 to 15 minutes a game.
Level of dislike (1 to 10), with the hope of a fight spilling into the stands: 8.5
The pick: Pacers in 6
No. 1 Oklahoma City vs. No. 5 Memphis
What’s in the past: Like New York, the Thunder dropped games 4 and 5 after taking a 3-0 lead and had to fight to win Game 6 on the road, while Memphis lost its first two against the Clippers before reeling off four straight wins. Russell Westbrook is out with a right knee injury suffered in Game 2 against Houston, which means Reggie Jackson has to grow up quickly against emerging Grizzlies star Mike Conley. Jackson did a pretty good job of progressing against the Rockets, averaging 17.3 points in his four starts and dishing out eight assists in the clincher, but going against Memphis’ meat grinder of a defense rather than Houston’s careless crew will be a night-and-day difference.
What’s to come: This would have been a difficult series for the Thunder even with Westbrook considering they lost twice to Memphis when he was healthy, but it’s now a toss-up even though Oklahoma City has one of the league’s best home-court advantages. Kevin Durant is going to have to win at least two games essentially by himself, because the Thunder’s other offensive options – Jackson, Kevin Martin, Serge Ibaka, Hasheem Thabeet (HA!), etc. – can’t be counted upon to provide consistent scoring against this defense. The knock on the Grizzlies, meanwhile, is that they don’t have one consistent offensive option in tight games down the stretch, but Conley might be their new go-to guy after he scored at least eight fourth-quarter points in three of the six games against the Clippers. Yet the biggest difference came from Zach Randolph, who had 13 points in each of the first two losses while battling foul trouble but then scored 27, 24, 25 and 23 in the four wins. If Randolph, who had 48(!) rebounds in three games against the Thunder in the regular season, is demanding the ball in the post, the Grizzlies are a different animal entirely. With Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince at least frustrating Durant, it’s hard to imagine OKC getting enough secondary scoring to turn this into the up-tempo, quicker pace it would prefer if Westbrook was healthy.
Potential X-Factor: Jerryd Bayless. Memphis rarely relies on the 3, but if Bayless gets hot from outside he’s capable of changing a game or two in the process. He did that against OKC in the regular season, scoring 55 points in 85 minutes and hitting 8 of 14 from 3.
Level of dislike, with the hope of a fight spilling into the stands: 9.5. This link and the following video should explain most of it, but Randolph and Kendrick Perkins … well, let’s just say they won’t be seeing Iron Man 3 together over a bucket of popcorn.
The pick: Grizzlies in 6