Day One In The NBA Playoffs: The Injury, The Upset & The Escape

The NBA playoffs aren’t supposed to be this newsworthy on the first day, but a devastating injury, a big upset and a potential statement game by a rising star made Day One’s four games noteworthy. TheSportsNotebook recaps all four and looks ahead to Sunday’s basketball action…

Miami 100 New York 67: We’ll start with the one game that had no overarching storyline. The Knicks came into this game with a good frontcourt, and while scoring was in short supply, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudamire and Tyson Chandler led an effort that produced a 41-38 rebounding advantage. The Knicks game into this game with a bad backcourt, which didn’t produce offensive opportunities and turned it over 24 times. The combination of the two balanced out to…well, look at the score, it didn’t balance out. New York won’t look this bad each game out, but the atrocious guard play is why LeBron (who scored 32), D-Wade & Co., will be sending them home in short order.

Orlando 81 Indiana 77: The Pacers looked nothing like the solid favorite in this series and a team that could upend Miami in the next round. Orlando, playing without Dwight Howard, needed a combination of great backcourt play and some Indiana no-shows if they were to get a road win. Both happened. The Magic guards, Nelson and Jason Richardson, combined for 34 points. Indiana ran four guards out there, but even if you add up Darren Collison, Paul George, George Hill and Leandro Barbosa, you only have 22 points. Then center Roy Hibbert turned in an inexcusably weak offensive effort, scoring just eight points in spite of Howard’s absence. It’s easy to say it’s only one game and in the bigger picture of this series it probably is. But those of us how considered the Pacers a legit title darkhorse have to take note of Hibbert’s unproductive outing in a spot where a championship-ready player would have sent a statement and taken over. You can’t tell me Indiana team president Larry Bird didn’t take notice.

Chicago 103 Philadelphia 91: Derrick’s Rose torn ACL is the story all over the mainstream sports media today and that’s completely justified. Rose is out for the playoffs and he was playing like the Rose of old, with 23 points/9 rebounds/9 assists, before going down with 1:20 left. Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau is going to catch flack for having Rose on the floor, but the head coach was completely correct to do so. Strange things happen at the end of games in the NBA playoffs—if anyone should know that it’s a Bulls fan base weaned on Michael Jordan—and you can’t let an opponent off the mat under any circumstances.  Eighty seconds is enough time for several possessions and that meant the Sixers had a mathematical chance. As fans, we can know that’s not a practical chance. As a head coach, Thibodeau has a responsibility to be paranoid. For this series, the Bulls will still win—Philly’s calling card of good defense was non-existent in the Windy City, allowing Chicago to shoot 52 percent from the floor, while Philly’s other calling card of an inability to rebound and for its stars to step up did stay in existence. Andre Iguodala scored 11, unable to lift his game for the postseason and sixth man scoring machine Lou Williams was held to nine.

Oklahoma City 99 Dallas 98: You can look at this game and see a sign that the Thunder aren’t yet ready to win a title, needing last-second heroics from Kevin Durant to beat a #7 seed at home. I see the opposite—if there’s anything the NBA is known for, it’s eventual champions having to pull something out of their posterior in the closing minutes of games they have no business winning and for a superstar to take over at the critical moment. Oklahoma City trailed by seven with 2 ½ minutes left, but rallied and Durant eventually knocked down the game-winner. Go through some past history and you see examples of Bird’s Celtics, Jordan’s Bulls and Shaq’s Lakers being similarly pushed in spots where you didn’t expect it. Whether we include Durant’s Thunder in that group someday is a big if, but the young scoring machine delivered a single performance in that vein on Saturday night. The concern for Oklahoma City is that scoring was very top-heavy, with Russell Westbrook’s 28 and Serge Ibaka’s 22 joining Durant’s 25 in carrying the Thunder offense. For Dallas, you have to wonder if they can continue to hit ten treys a night to give themselves a chance to win games like this. Of course we wondered that last spring and early summer, and fans of the Miami Heat are still wondering. But either way, we certainly can’t expect the Mavs to win rebounding 42-36 like they did in Game 1. The champs are going to wear the belt well and come out fighting like they did last night, but if they were going to win this series, they would have stolen Game 1.

The other four first-round series go today, and you can read TheSportsNotebook’s previews of Utah-San Antonio, Denver-LA Lakers, Boston-Atlanta and LA Clippers-Memphis.