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Five Lessons Learned from the Opening Weekend of the NBA Playoffs
The NBA Playoffs kicked off this weekend in fairly boring fashion. The games were close enough to keep the viewers watching and hoping for an upset, but -- with the exception of Portland -- ended up being not have any last second heroics. Seven of the eight games ended with the home team beating the away squad.
Interestingly enough, a few of the games ended up telling viewers everything they would need to know about that particular series.
The following are five things that should be taken away from the opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs:
1. The two number one seeds have nothing to worry about.
Ignore the naysayers, the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers made huge statements to start the playoffs.
Their message: Who are our round two opponents going to be?
On Sunday afternoon, the Lakers showed why they picked Ron Artest over Trevor Ariza last summer. Artest was a bull. He pushed Kevin Durant around, he bullied him, and he gave the youngster his first real taste of playoff basketball in a way only he could. As the game continued, Durant became visibly frustrated with Artestís suffocating defense. When all was said and done, the young swingman ended up missing 17 of his 24 field goals.
The final score does not even begin to tell the whole story. The Oklahoma City Thunder never had chance against the Lakers. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum brutally outplayed the Thunderís front court putting up 19 points/13 rebounds and 13 points/12 rebounds, respectively. Kobe Bryant came back from missing the last four out five games of the season with 21 points, and Derek Fisher added 11.
The advantage that the Thunder have with point guard Russell Westbrook being speedier than Fisher never translated past empty numbers.
The Cavaliers were equally dominant on Saturday afternoon with a 96-83 victory over the Chicago Bulls. Coming out gunning in the first quarter, the Cavs established a good lead over the Bulls and never looked back. LeBron James put up a fairly modest statline by his standards with 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Antwan Jamison added 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Shaquille OíNeal put up 12 points in 24 minutes.
Despite a stellar 28 point, 10 assist, and 7 rebound performance from Derrick Rose, the Bulls were simply outplayed by a better team. The Cavs had far more size and far more depth than their opponents, and they utilized both to ensure that the Bulls never got close in the first game of the first round series.
It may take four games or it may take seven games, but one way or another, both the Lakers and Cavs will be in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
2. Kevin Garnett is passionate when the Boston Celtics are winning, and stupid when they are losing.
Two years ago when the Boston Celtics won their seventeenth NBA title, Kevin Garnettís attitude was admirable. He was passionate. He was fiery. He was inspirational.
Now that the Celtics are losing, heís a bully. Heís overly-emotional. Heís stupid.
The tide changes quickly in professional sports.
Yesterday, the league announced that Garnett was suspended for Game 2 of the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat first round series.
Towards the end of the fourth quarter of the first game, Celtics forward Paul Pierce collapsed onto the floor with a shoulder injury. With a smirk on his face, the Heatís Quentin Richardson came over and had some words for Pierce. Garnett, thinking Richardson was taunting his teammate, pushed Richardson away. A tense scuffle followed and Garnett ended up elbowing Richardson in the head.
Garnett clearly deserved the punishment he got. However, it is very interesting that his passionate style of play is now seen as his biggest weakness when a mere two years ago, it was considered his biggest strength.
3. The San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks are done.
The dynasty that used to be the San Antonio Spurs ended three seasons ago. Now with every passing playoff series, we are reminded of how old and out-of-it they look.
As Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki put up 36 points on 12 of 14 shooting, it didnít appear to click in the Spursí minds that they may want to send more defenders at him.
Despite the score being close throughout the game, the Mavs simply had too many weapons for the Spurs to contain. Caron Butler had 22 points and 6 rebounds in his Mavs playoff debut, and Jason Kidd added 13 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds.
The Spurs were outrebounded by eight and gave up 13 offensive rebounds. They had 17 turnovers, leading to 20 Dallas points.
The ďFear the DearĒ movement seems to have died when Andrew Bogut went down with an injury before the start of the playoffs. Despite an amazing effort from rookie Brandon Jennings who put up 34 points to lead his team, the Milwaukee Bucks were never in the hunt to win the first game of their series.
All five Atlanta Hawks starters scored in double figures, as did the frontrunner for the 6th man of the year award, Jamal Crawford. Joe Johnson led the way with 22 points, and forward Josh Smith chipped in with a 12 point and 10 rebound effort.
Much like the Lakers and Cavs, the Hawks can start looking ahead to their second round match-up.
4. The Phoenix-Portland series has the two most underrated point guards in the league.
It is hard to sell a two-time league Most Valuable Player as being underrated, but that is exactly what Steve Nash is. The Phoenix Suns point guard has gone his whole career with excuses being made for why he is as good as he is. First he played with a ton of talent in Dallas. Then, when he really started to prosper in Phoenix, it was because of the system he is played in. And of course there was the one legitimate point against him that he could never shake: heís never been to the NBA Finals.
Still, as he put the Phoenix Suns on back in the teamís loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was hard to not respect the effort with which he plays. Nash put up 25 points and 9 assists in the losing effort, but missed a potential game-tying three point jumper with less than ten seconds remaining in the game.
Andre Miller has always been an underrated point guard. A journeyman of sorts for his whole career, Miller has brought stability and maturity to every unit he has ever played for.
In Sundayís game one victory against the Suns, Miller just continued doing what he had been known for his entire career. When the timely pass needed to be made, he made it. When the team needed a three point bucket, he provided it. A timely stop by forcing an offensive foul? No problem.
Millerís statline read: 31 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds.
However, despite Millerís amazing playÖ.