If you're a Miami Heat fan, the glass is half-full. If you're a Dallas Mavericks fan, the glass is half-empty. If you're a New York Knicks fan, the glass is half-remaining on the fire extinguisher case and half lacerating your left arm. In any case, there are an awful lot of games left to go before anything is decided, but that doesn't mean we haven't learned anything.
1. The Knicks' quest to win a playoff game has hit a… something
In Amar'e Stoudemire's defense the fire extinguisher case said "Break Glass in Case of Emergency," and it's difficult to argue that it isn't an emergency for the New York Knicks, who are down 0-2 to a far superior Miami Heat team. So after Monday night's 104-94 loss, Stoudemire took out his frustrations on the innocent fire extinguisher, injuring his left hand in the process and probably taking him out for the remainder of the postseason (or, to put it another way, for the next two games). With Stoudemire out, it seems almost comical that injured point guard Jeremy Lin is apparently rushing his way back to the court. It's as if he's racing back just in time to get slaughtered by LeBron James and company much like Scatman Crothers rushing to the Overlook just in time to get killed by Jack Nicholson.
Stoudemire's injury, although devastating to the Knicks' long-term playoff survival, will probably lead to some unintended benefits for others. The Miami Heat will get additional rest because they won't have to play a long series. Celtics' point guard Rajon Rondo won't win the "dumbest playoff moment of the year" award for his suspension-earning referee bump. Finally, without Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony will get a chance to play his patented form of hero ball on a very, very big stage.
Before the series began, some Knicks fans may have dreaded the return of "'Melo Being 'Melo", but with Stoudemire out, the team is going to have to rely on Anthony's prodigious scoring ability if they want to extend the series. When the Heat/Knicks series opened, optimistic Knicks fans were hoping that the Knicks could possibly somehow, maybe with the aid of divine intervention, steal the series from this juggernaut Heat team. Now, these same wild-eyed optimists are wondering if the Knicks could, just maybe, finally win a playoff game. Without their second best player, it's going to take an act of ridiculous selfishness from one of the NBA's purest scorers for the Knicks to accomplish this. Luckily for them, they have just the right man for the job.
2. Mavericks and Grizzlies probably both deserve to be up 2-0
Has there ever been a team that has performed better than the Dallas Mavericks in a playoff series while still ending up in a 0-2 hole? The Dallas Mavericks would have won their first game of the series against the Oklahoma City Thunder if Kevin Durant hadn't made a literally last-second shot that had no business banking in. In the closing moments of Monday night's game two, Dirk Nowitski had a chance to make his own last minute shot to answer the Thunder but his shot rimmed out, and the Mavs lost a second straight heartbreaker, 102-99.
The Mavericks cannot be happy with how close these first two games have been, but their performance actually is a harbinger of good things. Going into the series, the Mavericks were an underdog behind the Thunder, a team considered by many to be the best in the Western Conference. The fact that Mavericks should have won their first road game against the Thunder and could have easily won the second, losing by a combined total of four points, is remarkable. Remember: No series really begins until a road team wins a game. (In honor of Amar'e Stoudemire this blog has utilized the "In Case of Emergency, Break Out Cliché" option.) Expect the Mavs to keep this series alive at least until a game six.
Meanwhile, the Memphis Grizzlies, who would be up 2-0 on their series against the Los Angeles Clippers had they not out-Clipper'd the Clippers and blown a 27 point lead, won their second game 105-98. Conventional wisdom suggested that the Grizzlies mentally wouldn't be able to bounce back from the psychic aftermath of such a memorable disaster, but, perhaps motivated by their lack of motivation in game one, they pulled out a rather easy victory. Then again, maybe there's no need for glib team psychoanalysis here to determine why this series is evened up after two games, these two opponents are the most closely matched of the postseason. In fact, if this series doesn't go to seven games, this blog promises never to mention Avery Bradley by name until the end of the playoffs.
Note: The previous predictions were all guaranteed by gambling expert Sarah Phillips: former ESPN columnist and, allegedly, front for an elaborate con preying on comedic sports bloggers and those who run Twitter parody accounts. Obviously this blog has no reason to suspect that it could be a potential target.
3. Don't count out the old guys
It seems fitting that San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was voted the NBA's Coach of the Year in the midst of this year's playoffs. Popovich was the man who, if one remembers, re-invented the NBA's Injury List this season by listing his (insert euphemistic adjective here) superstar Tim Duncan with a "DNP – Old" designation. Popovich was careful to rest his most valuable veteran during the regular season - not that it hurt the Spurs who earned the top seed anyway - because he wanted him rested for the playoffs. Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers did something similar when he didn't even bring the New Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Charlotte when his team faced the futile Bobcats late in the season. Heck, the Los Angeles Lakers even convinced Kobe Bryant to take some additional rest at the expense of winning the scoring title.
These moves have paid off in the postseason. After a 114-83 defeat of the Utah Jazz, the Spurs are poised to easily dismiss their "just happy to be there" opponents. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to a 2-0 advantage against the Denver Nuggets, scoring 38 points on route to a 104-100 win. In Atlanta, the Boston Celtics pulled off an impressive fourth quarter comeback against the Hawks, again thanks to one of its long-toothed veterans, Paul Pierce. Pierce, who is so old and out-of-touch he thought Tebowing was still a thing, scored 36 points during the 87-80 Celtics victory.
So what does it mean that these veterans are providing key victories? Have they discovered the fountain of youth? Does Tim Duncan have a portrait of himself in an attic that is rapidly aging? Will Kevin Garnett at some point realize how many minutes he's played in the NBA and crumble into dust before our eyes? And if it happens, will it be captured in HD (because that would be awesome)? Or could it be that early in the playoffs, players with a lot of postseason experience have the advantage over their younger counterparts, and this advantage could disappear as older players are forced to play more minutes? This blog is sticking with the "fountain of youth" theory. This is an Occam's Razor-Free Zone.
4. The Island of the Misfit Matchups
Don't feel bad if you skipped out on the San Antonio Spurs/Utah Jazz series, most people have, possibly including some of the Jazz's players. Despite a Hall of Fame coach (Popovich) and one of the greatest players in NBA history (Duncan), the Spurs were never much of a fan-favorite outside of Texas, and having them play against the most anonymous team in the playoffs doesn't help their drawing power either. It seems these undercard-level matchups are just inevitable parts of the NBA postseason picture. The NBA wants to get as many markets available in the playoff hunt as possible, but starting the postseason with sixteen teams inevitably leads to a few uninspiring first-round matchups.
Not that anyone could have predicted that the Indiana Pacers/Orlando Magic first round showdown would be this uninspiring until a week or so before the playoffs. If Dwight "Basketball Hamlet" Howard were still with the Magic, instead of recovering from back surgery, this would have been an interesting matchup featuring a team built around the NBA's best center (and one of this season's most discussed figures) facing off against a very talented, very likeable Pacers team. Without him, Roy Hibbert and Glen "Big Baby" Davis end up being the biggest names in the series and the NBA seems to be burning through the series like episodes of an unloved, cancelled drama. The Pacers' 97-74 victory over the Magic, a not as close as the score indicates snoozer that gave Indiana a 2-1 advantage in the series, was the first game three of the postseason and the only one scheduled on Wednesday night.
Then, of course, there's the Chicago Bulls/Philadelphia 76ers series and… (sigh). Listen, do I have to talk about this? I think I'm not quite ready to accept that Derrick Rose is gone, not yet. Why did the Basketball Gods have to take him? Is this city of Chicago being punished for the horrendous GM decisions of its prodigal son Michael Jordan? I can't go on, I'll go on.
The Philadelphia 76ers won 109-92, evening up the series 1-1 and eradicating the Bulls' home court advantage. Chicago fans were teased briefly when Derrick Rose appeared to a standing ovation, but then the injured star disappeared from the court leaving Bulls fans to grapple with the most difficult stage of sports grief: acceptance.
5. Other Things We've Learned
• Things Paul Pierce could have done on Tuesday night besides Tebowing that would have been way more current: Planking, the Ochocinco "sign the ball with a sharpie" move, the Macarena, an "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" reference, the Worm, the Bump, the Robot and, honestly, even the Lindy Hop or goldfish swallowing.
• Just in case this ends up being the last time I can mention Avery Bradley by name: After appearing overwhelmed in the Celtics' game one loss against the Atlanta Hawks, Bradley had a bounce back performance as part of the Celtics' comeback game two win. Not only did Bradley hit a game-tying shot in the fourth quarter, but he also contributed this memorable shot block on Jeff Teague.
• Related note: Please, please, please go to seven games Grizzlies/Clippers.
• Likely Heat/Knicks series Most Valuable Player, the fire extinguisher, tells its side of the story of the infamous Stoudemire brawl to the Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay.
• The NBA's biggest rivalry? Chris Paul vs. TNT analyst Craig Sager and his Multicolored Wardrobe of Doom.
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image: © Keith Allison