5-on-5: Wild East weekend
Let's explore five questions in the East after the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs
Derrick Rose with an MVP-style flurry to beat the Pacers. The Sixers almost beating the Heat. The Hawks shocking Orlando. The Celtics somehow overcoming the Knicks in the final minute.
We knew the Eastern Conference playoffs would be exciting, but we didn't know the thrills would start with the very first game and not let up until Ray Allen's game winner in TD Garden.
Here's what our writers have to say about the East battles after the first weekend of the NBA playoffs:
1. Game 1 for the Bulls: Bad game or bad sign?
Royce Webb, ESPN.com: Bad game wrapped in a bad sign, coated with another bad sign, like a chili corn dog. The Bulls are better than they looked, as they'll demonstrate soon, but two concerns linger: (1) The 37-45 Pacers did expose some Chicago vulnerabilities, and (2) the Bulls just found out that pretty much every team plays hard in the postseason.
Jared Wade, Hardwood Paroxysm: A bad game. This team was too dominant throughout the second half of the season for anyone to get overly concerned by one lackluster performance in a game that it still won. Indiana's abuse of Carlos Boozer in the pick-and-roll should cause concern, but if the Bulls win the title it will be because of defense and Derrick Rose's brilliance. And both of those were in heavy supply when it came time to win Game 1.
J.M. Poulard, WarriorsWorld: The Pacers shot better from the floor than the Bulls, hit 55.6 percent of their 3-point attempts, collected 13 offensive rebounds, forced 14 turnovers ... and still lost. I don't think Indiana plays this well again. I say bad game for the Bulls.
Matt McHale, By The Horns: It wasn't Chicago's best game, but look at it this way: Darren Collison, Danny Granger and Tyler Hansbrough combined to shoot 12-for-22 from 16-23 feet for Indiana (Hansbrough went 7-for-10). Plus, Collison and Granger were 6-for-10 from downtown. Furthermore, Brandon Rush and A.J. Price combined to go 4-for-5 on 3s. Trust me: That kind of unusually hot outside shooting won't continue.
Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: It's not a good sign that, for the second time in their past two meetings, the Bulls allowed a mediocre Pacers offense to score 116 points per 100 possessions. Two data points don't make a trend, so Monday night might tell Chicago (and the league) whether Indiana is doing something that threatens the Bulls.
2. What is it we did and didn't learn about the Heat in Game 1?
Royce Webb, ESPN.com: We learned that an outbreak of parity has suddenly swept across the NBA universe, and that the Heat are not immune. How about a weekend in which the road teams had a legitimate shot at going 8-0? This is exactly the kind of "April Madness" that many hoped for as this postseason was anticipated to be perhaps the Best Playoffs Ever.
Jared Wade, Hardwood Paroxysm: I didn't learn much. Miami can overwhelm weaker opposition with its talent. The unknown is whether LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can play at such a high level that the depth issue won't even matter against legitimate contenders with a lot more on the bench. This series against the Sixers is just a tuneup. Step one in that process is complete.
J.M. Poulard, WarriorsWorld: Miami took a punch in the mouth early in the game but fought back as a team. Wade and James could have tried to take over early to get them back in the flow, but instead the Heat did it as a unit. Still, I'm not sure if they have enough of a killer instinct to shatter an opponent's confidence.
Matt McHale, By the Horns: Nothing more or less than what we already knew: LeBron, Wade and Bosh have to do everything every night for the Heat to win. And most of the time, they can do it. But the relative weakness of their supporting cast leaves a window of opportunity for any team playing against them.
Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: I don't know that we learned anything so much as we were reminded of what we should have already known. Chris Bosh may not be elite, but he's awfully talented. Dwyane Wade's ability to close games is why Miami is capable of beating anyone.
3. What's your take on Hawks-Magic Game 1 and the rest of the series?
Royce Webb, ESPN.com: The upside of not giving a crap about the regular season is that you can surprise a better team when you start playing hard. Sure, the Magic are in some trouble now, but they don't lose to mediocre teams in the playoffs, and the Hawks don't beat good teams. So color me skeptical that Game 1 was the pivot point.
Jared Wade, Hardwood Paroxysm: If the Magic can't win when Dwight Howard puts in a performance like the onslaught he unleashed on Saturday, I'm not sure they have much hope. Last year, when Orlando undressed Atlanta, it seemed a cautionary tale against building a middling team around a "star" like Joe Johnson. Now, the shoe has switched feet and it feels like the Magic are showing us just how short a window title-contending teams have in the modern NBA.
J.M. Poulard, WarriorsWorld: The Hawks plan to give the Magic a run for their money and did a good job in Game 1 of limiting Howard's teammates. That said, I'm not convinced the Hawks can shoot 51.4 percent from the field for the rest of the series and continue to force the Magic to commit turnovers (18 in Game 1). Atlanta will make it entertaining for seven games, but Orlando's interior presence will be the difference.
Matt McHale, By the Horns: My take is that Howard's supporting cast looked (as Charles Barkley would say) turrible. Dwight played about as well as humanly possible (minus his eight turnovers) and the Hawks still controlled the game. If guys like Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas don't step up their games, the Magic are finished.
Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger: If you're a Hawks fan, you've got to be giddy. Howard had possibly the finest game of his career, and still the Georgians managed to prevail. Even though it defies all kinds of statistical analysis, this season Atlanta just feels confident against these cats. Unless someone on the Magic (other than Jameer Nelson) steps up and provides consistent scoring (I'm looking at you, Jason Richardson) and they seriously cut down on their turnovers, this one could be over quickly.
4. What's your take on Knicks-Celtics Game 1 and the rest of the series?
Royce Webb, ESPN.com: I really thought for a few minutes there that we were just days away from another epic Heat-Knicks playoff battle. And maybe we still are. But it feels a lot more like Celtics in seven than it does Knicks in six after Boston stole one on its own parquet floor. One wild card among many: How is Chauncey Billups' knee?
Jared Wade, Hardwood Paroxysm: We knew the Celtics were the better team, but the Knicks showed the world that the disparity is not as great as it may have seemed. Their dearth of defense is their well-known Achilles' heel, so it was impressive to see them kick off the postseason by holding Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to 16-for-44 shooting. As in Game 1, Boston will still pull out the series, but the Knicks might not be as far away as some thought.
J.M. Poulard, WarriorsWorld: A lot is riding on Billups' health, but Amare Stoudemire and his teammates showed that they are not afraid to go right at the Celtics. This should be a physical series in which teams exchange a lot of big shots in the fourth quarters. Carmelo Anthony will have to play better for the Knicks to have a chance to win this series, but the truth is, I'm not sure he will.
Matt McHale, By the Horns: The Celtics still haven't really re-established their identity since the Kendrick Perkins trade, but they have the talent to go toe-to-toe with anybody. Meanwhile, the Knicks haven't set the world on fire since trading for Carmelo Anthony, but they have the offensive firepower to potentially beat any team on any given night. I genuinely wouldn't be surprised to see six more games that are as competitive as Game 1.
Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger: In Game 1, neither team put forth its finest effort, but the Knicks showed more defensive moxie than we'd seen since Jeff Van Gundy patrolled the sidelines. To still fall short's gotta smart. The keys now are (a) whether losing an utterly winnable game is a "we can play with these guys" rallying cry or sends them into a funk, and (b) the severity of Billups' injury. The thought of Anthony Carter getting more than 20 minutes a game is enough to make any 'Bocker backer queasy.
5. What's your take on the offensive foul on Melo with 21 seconds left?
Royce Webb, ESPN.com: No fan of the game (not wearing Celtic green) could like that call. Does anyone think that wasn't a flop? Does anyone think that would've been called at MSG? Still, shame on Melo for not being more savvy, and kudos to Pierce, I guess, for demonstrating why he was nominated last week as the NBA's Best Thespian.
Jared Wade, Hardwood Paroxysm: That is not a call I ever want to see made. The rulebook is the rulebook but the real reason fouls exist is so that one team, or player, cannot gain an advantage by doing something that isn't in the spirit of the game. Melo did not get himself a major edge there. Let the players decide the game.
J.M. Poulard, WarriorsWorld: I'm just not a fan of that type of offensive foul call late in a ballgame. I don't feel that the space Melo created warranted a foul call. Reggie Miller got away with far worse when he pushed off Michael Jordan in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals.
Matt McHale, By the Horns: Technically, by the book and letter of the law, it was the right call. That said, it's not the kind of call you expect down the stretch of a hotly contested Eastern Conference playoff game.
Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger: Outside of the context of the rest of the game, yes, Melo committed an offensive foul. But considering how much physical play they'd let go to that point (and the fact that KG subsequently tripped Douglas on Allen's last shot with nary a whistle), it was a surprising call to say the least. And I'll avoid mentioning the equally questionable calls on the shot to the melon that injured Billups, Big Baby's tumble/travel, the charge on Amare that nullified a Douglas 3 ...
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