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NBA Playoffs: Wild Weekend

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

After the most depressing start possible, fantastic finishes highlighted the first weekend of the NBA Playoffs.

NBA Playoffs: Wild Weekend

The 2012 NBA Playoffs could not have gotten off to a more depressing start.  The first game of the tournament, the top seeded Chicago Bulls taking on the eighth seed Philadelphia 76ers, wasn't competitive long after halftime.  Rip Hamilton was having one of his best games of the entire season, Joakim Noah was leading the rebounding charge on both ends of the floor, and their leader Derrick Rose was flirting with a triple-double to start the series (23 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists).

Chicago was leading comfortably by 12 points with a little over a minute remaining.  Rose was still in the game, and most stars would want to be in that situation.  Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Rose needed to be in there to help finish things off.  He drove into traffic, but then landed awkwardly as he came down.  He crumpled to a heap on the floor, and the thousands in attendance at the United Center stared in in disbelief.  The diagnosis didn't take too long to deliver: Rose suffered a torn ACL in his left knee, ending his postseason and maybe Chicago's as well.

The Bulls certainly did fine without Rose when he missed time in the regular season.  Their defense is so stingy that they could get by.  But without Rose running the offense, their hopes at a title took a significant blow.  The NBA lost its MVP in the first game of the Playoffs.  What a wonderful way to start the tournament.

The next game saw the Miami Heat completely throttle the New York Knicks down in South Beach.  The Heat were relentless, especially LeBron James, who went off for 23 points in the first half, including a personal 9-0 run to take the Heat into halftime up 54-31 and possessing all the momentum.  Things didn't improve for the Knicks in the second half, and injury was added to insult when New York rookie Iman Shumpert ended up writhing on the floor in pain after tearing the ACL and lateral meniscus in his left knee during the third quarter.  The game went from god-awful to worst ever once Shump went down.

New York was a long-shot to win the series even with a healthy Shumpert providing his menacing defense on the perimeter.  Without him, their hopes at advancing dropped drastically, especially with the way Miami looked on both ends of the court.  Miami's defense forced the Knicks into 35.7% from the field, including a dismal 3-15 shooting night.  Now their best perimeter is gone.  In my opinion, it will be difficult for New York to win a game this series now.  

Two games into the postseason, two players been lost to ACL tears.  This was developing into the most disappointing and depressing playoffs maybe of all time.  The Eastern Conference had now been all but gift-wrapped for Miami, and Chicago lost another year in the young prime of Rose.  Things had to get better, right?  That had to be rock bottom, right?

Thankfully, things got better.  Entering the slate of night games with heavy hearts, NBA fans were looking for anything to lift their spirits.  That came in the form of a surprisingly watchable game between the Indiana Pacers and a Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic, one that Orlando pulled out late 81-77.  Then Kevin Durant restored our faith in all things beautiful and magical about the game with this shot against the Dallas Mavericks:

Durant was just 9-26 shooting before letting that one fly, but everyone in the building and watching the game knew he was putting that up.  He shot it with Shawn Marion draped all over him and falling to his left.  The shot bounced around just long enough to hold up the suspense, and when it fell the home crowd erupted as Durant raised his arms triumphantly as Oklahoma City took game one 99-98.  Durant couldn't have known how much we needed that shot.  It was just something to get excited about again after everything that had transpired earlier.

Sunday's game continued the trend of fairly uncompetitive basketball, but the San Antonio Spurs put on an absolute clinic against the Utah Jazz.  Tony Parker continued to play the best basketball of his career, going for 28 points and eight assists in the 106-91 victory.  Manu Ginobili was throwing breathtaking passes left in right, including a gorgeous lead to a cutting Parker who finished with a wild shot at the rim.  Anything San Antonio wanted, they got in this game, which was a complete team effort from top to bottom.  

The Los Angeles Lakers, taking on the Denver Nuggets, looked to get their series started off right in the absence of Metta World Peace.  Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum made sure that happened.  Bryant casually dropped in 31 points on 11-24 shooting, but the star of the game was Bynum.  His triple-double (10 points, 13 rebounds, 10 blocks) helped set the tone for the Lakers on defense.  The Lakers blocked 15 shots in all, which is a stunning number of rejections.  Los Angeles cruised to a 103-88 victory behind another strong team performance headlined by Bryant and Bynum.

Then in the nightcap, the Atlanta Hawks jumped all over the Boston Celtics right from the start.  The Hawks outscored Boston 20-6 in the first 5 minutes and never really looked back.  Josh Smith led the way with 22 points and 18 rebounds, a truly dominating performance for Atlanta in their 83-74 win.  The bigger story that evolved centered around Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who paced Boston with 20 points and 11 assists, but was ejected at the end of the fourth quarter after two technicals and then proceeded to "bump" referee Marc Davis.

With Boston already missing Ray Allen, they can't afford to lose Rondo to suspension for a critical game on the road.  That could very much be a possibility, and so could a 2-0 deficit after game two.  The Celtics looked reactive, letting Atlanta push the tempo and dictate the pace of the game.  That might be more apparent if Rondo is suspended.

The final game may have been the craziest of them all.  The Memphis Grizzlies could not have looked more dominant against the Los Angeles Clippers through the first 39 minutes of the game.  Mike Conley was draining threes, Marc Gasol was finding cutters with no-look passes, and the defense had kept Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in check for most of the game.  The Grizzlies led 95-71 with just over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and everything looked like it was wrapped up.

But then this happened.

Just like that, the Clippers erased a 24-point lead and staged one of the more improbable comebacks in NBA history.  The fact that it was spurred by Reggie Evans and Nick Young, of all people, makes it even more amazing.  And it happened at a point when most had probably given up on the game (I know I had). 

It's not like we all instantly forgot the heartbreak of what happened in the first two games just because of what happened afterwards.  Fans of the Grizzlies, Mavericks, and the rest on the losing side probably don't feel much better as a result.  But for the rest of the fans who were crushed by what happened earlier, Durant, Parker, Smith, and the Clippers restored some of that Playoff feel to the proceedings.  If the start was a funeral or sorts, it truly evolved into a celebration of awesome basketball.  Hopefully that continues, and we don't have to attend any more funerals as fans.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see your favorite team in the NBA Playoffs.

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