The first round of the NBA Playoffs came to a conclusion on Friday night as the “Cinderella” Memphis Grizzlies upset the top seed in the Western Conference the San Antonio Spurs winning their series 4-2. After a one day break the Conference Semi-Finals will begin Sunday as the Grizzlies head to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder and the Boston Celtics will be in Miami taking on the Heat. Before the second round begins let’s take a look back at what happened in the first series of games as well as break down the battles that loom ahead.
Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat: The Celtics were the only team in the Association to sweep the series in the first round as they ended the New York Knicks season. However the Knicks played Boston tough the first two games of the series and were without Chauncey Billups after the first contest and with an ailing Amar’e Stoudemire who played through back pain from the second game on. The Celtics defensive intensity was present for all four games but Boston started firing on all cylinders offensively in the last two contests.
Miami took five games to end the campaign of the Philadelphia 76ers and each and every game they won came down to the wire. The Heat would rely almost exclusively on D-Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James to provide their offense and got a strong game out of Mario Chalmers in game five to help them advance to the second round.
Key Match-up– LeBron James/Paul Pierce: Although James is without a doubt one of the elite players in the Association historically he has come up short in big games. Pierce has been able to contain the All-Star forward in previous match-ups and if he can do it in the upcoming series it dramatically will lessen the odds of the Heat advancing to the Conference Finals.
Series Prediction: Celtics in six games
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Memphis got their first win of a Post Season game as well as winning their first Playoff series in franchise history as they knocked off the top-seeded Spurs in the opening round of the Playoffs. Zach Randolph who had been a perennial “Problem Child” previous to signing with the Grizzlies before the 2009-2010 campaign has evolved into a leader and a go-to player with this squad. The forward and the young talent that surrounds him were able to upset the Spurs who looked like they were on pace to return to the NBA Finals for most of the regular season.
Oklahoma City went up against a very scrappy Denver Nuggets team that battled in every contest. Kevin Durant carried the Thunder to the win in game five but Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka all played big roles in earlier games to help propel the club to the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
Key Match-up– Kendrick Perkins vs Marc Gasol: Gasol was a key factor in helping Memphis top the Spurs while Perkins with the exception of Thursday night did not have a good series against Denver. The Thunder traded for Perkins to fill the void at center to help the team leap to the next level. This series will be a good test to see if he can fill that role for OKC.
Series Prediction: Thunder in five games
Atlanta Hawks vs. Chicago Bulls: The Hawks were the other team in the first round to score an upset as they sent their long-time rivals the Orlando Magic to an early exit from Post Season play. Unfortunately they may have suffered a critical blow as they will most likely be without starting point guard Kirk Hinrich for at least the first game of the second round. The former Bulls guard suffered a strained right hamstring and right now his status is day-to-day.
Chicago defeated the Indiana Pacers in five games in their first series but the Pacers were in every contest down to the wire. Derrick Rose continued to play on the level that will most likely win him his first NBA MVP Award and Luol Deng also came up big for the Bulls. Carlos Boozer who has been plagued with injuries throughout the campaign is now reportedly suffering from turf toe which most likely explains his sub-par performance in the final contest of the first round.
Key Match-up– Al Horford vs. Joakim Noah: Noah was accused by Pacers forward Danny Granger of playing dirty in their series while the Bulls center’s teammates say that he plays hard but within the Association’s guidelines. Horford has been a key contributor for Atlanta and he has to have a strong series if his team has any hopes of getting past the Bulls.
Series Prediction: Bulls in five games
Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Los Angeles limped into the Post Season with a 5-5 record in their last 10 games and struggled against the Hornets in the opening round of the Playoffs. Kobe Bryant is playing with a sore ankle but he is always dinged up at this time of the year and historically he has risen above the pain. Andrew Bynum came up huge for the Lakers against the Hornets while Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol also played well in the series.
The opening round of the Post Season was not exactly a walk in the park for Dallas as the Portland Trail Blazers took the Mavericks to six games before losing the series. Dallas ended the regular season with the same record as Los Angeles however the Lakers have the home court advantage due to winning the season series.
Key Match-Up– Dirk Nowitzki vs. Pau Gasol: Just as the Lakers revolve around Bryant Nowitzki is the heart and soul of the team from the “Big D” and their chances of getting past Los Angeles fall primarily on his shoulders. Gasol as well as Lamar Odom will have their work cut out for them stopping the Mavericks star from taking over a game or the series.
Series Prediction: Lakers in seven