clippers protest april 2014

Buckle in, because the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs are just getting started. Only one series seems destined for four games while all the others have been hotly contested to this point

The parity witnessed during the regular season is even more apparent in the playoffs. Only one matchup, the Heat vs the Bobcats, have the higher seed owning a series lead.

Let’s take a look back at the last few days in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. 

(4) Houston Rockets vs (5) Portland Trail Blazers

lamarcus aldridge blazers rockets april 2014In Game 2 of the series between the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets looked to even things up on their home court. Standing in their way was Portland’s dynamic duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard.

After magnificent performances in Game 1 by Aldridge (46 points, 18 rebounds) and Lillard (31 points, nine rebounds, five assists), the Rockets hoped to do a better job containing Portland's talented stars. Unfortunately for Houston, hope alone wasn’t going to get the job done.

Aldridge exploded again for 43 points on 28 shots while Lillard contributed 18 points to go along with 11 assists and eight rebounds. For the Rockets, Howard tried to set the tone early going 8-9 from the field in the opening period. Howard dunked on, over, around and through Robin Lopez on his way to 19 points in the first quarter.

That pace could not be sustained, though, and Houston had to look for help for Howard. On this night, help did not come from the usually reliable offense of James Harden. Harden finished with 18 points on 19 shots and his inefficiency along with that of Chandler Parsons (15 points on 15 shots) kept the Rockets playing from behind.

When Mo Williams and Dorell Wright hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the final quarter, the game was sealed and Portland would be returning home with a 2-0 series lead after taking Game 2, 112-105

Game 3 in Portland was a virtual must-win for the Rockets. Kevin McHale shook up his starting lineup by inserting Omer Asik in an effort to stifle Aldridge early. The strategy paid off early as Houston was finally able to reign in Aldridge, holding him to four points in the first half. The second half, it was a different story as Aldridge exploded for 19 points.

The Rockets took a three-point lead at the 7:20 mark of the third quarter and extended it all the way to 11 points with 8:04 remaining in the fourth quarter. That is when the Blazers went to work, coming all the way back to take the lead with 1:59 remaining on a Damian Lillard layup.

After a set of four straight made free throws by Harden gave the Rockets a three-point lead, Nicolas Batum drained a three to tie the game at 110. A few missed shots later and the game was headed to overtime, the second extra period in three games of this series.

The Rockets found themselves down four early in overtime, but consecutive baskets by Jeremy Lin and Harden drew Houston even at 116. After a few missed shots by both teams, Dwight Howard collected his 14th rebound of the game setting the Rockets up for a key possession with less than 30 seconds remaining.

Harden took the ball and drove hard before slipping and losing the ball. Lin came up with the loose ball and tossed it over to Troy Daniels who hit a three with eleven seconds remaining to give the Rockets the lead for good.

Daniels had played in only five regular season games with the Rockets this season spending much of the year with the Rockets’ D-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The unlikely hero, Daniels is currently leading the Rockets in 3-point field goal percentage.

If the Rockets are to come all the way back and win this series, they’ll have to get better shooting from distance from the rest of their squad. They'll have to get lucky now, though, because losing on Sunday night has them down 3-1 in the series.

(2) Miami Heat vs (7) Charlotte Bobcats

lebron james heat bobcats april 2014The Heat played the second game of their series against the Bobcats on Wednesday night in Miami. Al Jefferson was able to get almost anything he wanted down low against the Miami frontcourt in Game 1 before aggravating his plantar fasciitis.

Jefferson showed up to the arena in a walking boot before Game 2 and was obviously limited by the injury during the game. Jefferson even retired to the locker room late in the first quarter for treatment, before limping back in the second quarter.

Charlotte held the lead at 9-8 early in the first quarter. Unfortunately, that would be the last time they had the lead in this one. The Bobcats got back into the game in the fourth quarter thanks to a 10-0 run sparked by Chris Douglas-Roberts. A Kemba Walker 3 even cut the Miami lead to one with 11 seconds remaining.

LeBron’s two free throws extended the Miami lead to three. On the following possession, Gary Neal passed the ball to Douglas-Roberts in the corner, but Dwyane Wade was able to strip CDR and secure the win for the Heat.

The series shifted to Charlotte for Game 3 where the Bobcats fans were happy to welcome their team back home. Al Jefferson definitely fed off the crowd, scoring 15 points in the first quarter alone as the Bobcats took the lead early on against the defending champs, 27-23.

Then the sleeping giant woke up. LeBron James scored the last nine points of the second quarter for the Heat as they took a 58-46 lead to halftime. In the second half the Heat took over, outscoring the Bobcats 28-20 to open up a 20-point lead heading into the final period.

The Heat reserves gave a little back to the Bobcats starters, but Miami was able to close it out for the 98-85 win.

It seems as though Miami has woken up and taken complete charge of their first round series. If Charlotte is to extend the series, they will need more from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who followed up his 22-point, 10-rebound performance in Game 2 with just three points and five rebounds in Game 3.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Dallas Mavericks

vince carter game winner april 2014Game 2 of the Spurs-Mavs series from San Antonio featured some surprising performances from both teams.

For Dallas, it was Monta Ellis and Shawn Marion who led the way with 21 and 20 points respectively. Future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki was completely held in check, scoring 16 points on 19 field goal attempts with only one free throw attempt.

For the Spurs, it was Manu Ginobili who led the way with 27 points. Ginobili got very little help from the other members of the Spurs Big Three. Duncan expended his energy on defense was not involved too much on offense, going 4-5 from the field on his way to collecting only 11 points. Tony Parker contributed 12 points on 10 shots from the field and had his hands full with Monta Ellis on the defensive end.

In the end, the Mavericks snapped their 10-game losing streak to the Spurs which dated back to March of 2010. The Spurs committed 22 turnovers, tying their season high and only added to their woes by connecting on a paltry 62 percent of their free throws.

On Saturday night, these two hooked up for Game 3 in Dallas. This one was an instant classic between two divisional rivals.

Tony Parker came out of the gate hot for the Spurs scoring 17 points in the first half to lead San Antonio. The Spurs controlled much of the first half until the Monta Ellis connected on a 3-point attempt to cap a 21-9 run by the Mavs and give them the lead at 53-49.

The teams battled into the fourth quarter, where Monta Ellis took over the proceedings for the Mavs. Ellis scored 12 of his career playoff-high 29 points in the final period. A Boris Diaw jumper with 2:12 remaining gave the Spurs a five-point lead, but the Mavs tied things up again at 106 on a Monta Ellis floater in the lane with 26 seconds left.

Ginobili then came to the rescue for the Spurs connecting on a driving shot with 1.7 seconds left to give the Spurs the two-point advantage. There was but one chance left for Dallas.

Inbounding in the front court, Calderon found Vince Carter in the corner. Carter had enough time to pump fake Ginobili out of the way before draining a 3 at the buzzer to give the Mavs the win and a 2-1 series lead over the defending Western Conference champions.

(1) Indiana Pacers vs (8) Atlanta Hawks

david west pacers hawks april 2014The Hawks returned home confident after splitting their first two games with the Pacers in Indianapolis. Fans in Atlanta came ready to cheer on their team but were underwhelmed by the performance they saw in the first half.

In an ugly brickfight, the Hawks ended up with the 39-38 halftime lead. The Hawks were just 2-16 from beyond the arc while Pacers star Paul George was held scoreless in the opening half while playing limited minutes due to foul trouble.

Atlanta played stifling defense all night, forcing the Pacers into 37.6 percent shooting for the game. Though the Hawks only shot 38 percent from the field themselves, they put together a much better shooting display in the second half. The Hawks were 10-18 from long range in the second half sharing the load from beyond the arc with six players hitting threes in the final half.

A Kyle Korver 3 put an exclamation mark on the Hawks’ 98-85 win. Atlanta took a 2-1 lead in the series over the heavily favored Pacers. Indiana came back more focused in Game 4, applying their trademark defense against the Hawks. The Pacers only allowed the Hawks to shoot 35.7 percent from the field while blocking 11 of Atlanta's shots.

On offense, the Pacers were committed to running off of rebounds and held a 19-6 advantage in fast break points. Easy opportunities in transition helped Indiana shoot 48 percent for the game. Indiana big man Roy Hibbert had the fewest minutes played of any Pacer starter as coach Frank Vogel opted to go with his quicker bigs in order to get out in transition.

The absence of Hibbert may have encouraged Paul Milsap to be more aggressive in the paint as the Hawks forward scored a playoff career-high 29 points. Jeff Teague was not as effective as he had been in the previous three games, scoring a meager 14 points on 15 shots.

Despite Atlanta’s troubles on offense, the game remained close late. The Hawks led, 85-81, after Mike Scott hit a pair of free throws with under four minutes remaining. The Pacers answered with a jumper from Luis Scola and back-to-back 3s from David West and Paul George to go up four with less than a minute and a half remaining.

The Pacers used their suffocating D to snuff out any shot of a Hawks comeback as they were able to secure the 91-88 victory and tie the series at two games apiece.

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (8) Memphis Grizzlies

kevin durant tony allen april 2014After a Game 2 loss to the Grizzlies at home in overtime, the Thunder headed to Memphis with revenge on their mind and the mission of restoring their home court advantage.

In Game 3, the Grizzlies came in dead set on protecting the basket and once again denying Kevin Durant touches in the half court. For the most part, the Grizzlies were successful in their game plan. Though Durant finished with 30 points, it was on an inefficient 27 shots. The pesky Memphis defense also did its thing against Russell Westbrook, limiting him to 9-26 shooting.

Offensively, Zach Randolph struggled for Memphis shooting just 5-20 for the game. The Grizzlies found offense from an unlikely source in Tony Allen. When Allen wasn’t harassing Durant, he was busy putting in 16 points while collecting nine rebounds. Allen has been a bright spot on offense for the Grizz this series, shooting better than 50 percent in the three games.

Memphis amassed a seemingly insurmountable 17-point lead with less than eight minutes to play. From that point ,the Thunder broke out of their scoring malaise and went on a 21-4 run to end the fourth quarter. Westbrook had seven of his 30 points in the final minute of regulation and the Thunder had a chance to win it at the buzzer but Durant’s attempt from distance was off the mark.

It was the second consecutive overtime game between these two teams and the second time in as many games that the Grizzlies blew a big fourth quarter lead. The Thunder took the quick lead in OT on Durant’s three-point play to start things off.

After that, Memphis went on an 8-0 run keyed by Mike Conley’s five points. OKC pulled within three, but Courtney Lee’s free throws kept Memphis in front as they held on for the 98-95 win.

In Game 4, all the pressure was on the Thunder as the visitors needed this one in order to avoid putting themselves on the brink of elimination. It was a less than opportune time to have their two best players have their worst playoff games.

Both Durant and Westbrook struggled mightily in Game 4, each scoring 15 points while combining to go 11-45 from the field. OKC was desperate for offense and relied on their bench to provide it. Reggie Jackson blew up for 32 points as the Oklahoma City bench finally outscored the Memphis bench, 43-30.

Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 24 points and 11 rebounds in what was probably his best game in the playoffs so far. Zach Randolph was limited on offense once again, scoring just 11 points on 14 shot attempts.

The Grizzlies led by five with 1:20 left in the game after a Marc Gasol jumper. Reggie Jackson then went into action, scoring on a long 3 and followed it up off a Kevin Durant steal with a leaner in the lane to tie things up. Serge Ibaka blocked Tony Allen’s layup attempt to send things to overtime for a third straight game.

In OT Reggie Jackson continued his dominance, scoring eight points in leading the Thunder to the 92-89 victory.

(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs (6) Golden State Warriors

darren collison stephen curry april 2014With the teams splitting the first two games of the series in LA, the Clippers had to get a win at Golden State in order to reclaim homecourt advantage.

DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin played loose and fast and their collective athleticism in the lane set the tone for the entire game. Rim runs, pick and rolls, help defense, it was all there for the Clippers big men in this one. The two combined for 48 points (32 from Griffin), 30 rebounds (22 from Jordan) and six blocks (five from Jordan). Chris Paul, battling illness and a reaggravated strained hamstring, was able to contribute 15 points and 10 assists.

The Clippers built an 18-point lead in the third quarter thanks to 10 straight points from Blake Griffin. The Warriors were able to cut the lead to eight with 2:24 left in the third on a 10-0 run of their own, but the Clipper lead ballooned back to 11 by the end of the quarter.

In the fourth quarter the Warriors went on a 17-8 run to pull within one point with 4:24 remaining before Blake Griffin hit a jumper that set the Clippers on a 9-2 run of their own.

Steph Curry’s 3 with 11 seconds left drew the Warriors within one and gave the Warriors all the momentum. After Curry fouled Paul on the ensuing possession, Paul hit the second of two free throws with eight seconds left to extend the lead to two.

That left the Warriors with the ball and the last possession. Of course, the ball found its way to Steph Curry. Curry set up Paul with a series of fakes, but the veteran Clipper guard stayed home on defense. Curry launched a well contested three that clanged out and was rebounded by Jordan.

Curry argued that he had been fouled on the attempt, but to no avail.

In Game 4, Los Angeles struggled mightily, losing in a huge defeat to make the series tied at two games apiece amid the Donald Sterling controversy. 

(3) Toronto Raptors vs (6) Brooklyn Nets

deron williams raptors nets april 2014The series shifted to Brooklyn for Game 3 with the matchup tied at a game apiece. The Raptors felt like they let one slip away in Game 1 when Paul Pierce revived his closer routine to seal it for the Nets. In Brooklyn, they had a chance to win their first road playoff game in more than a decade.

The Raptors played tight in the first quarter but were able to finish the opening quarter with a four point lead. In the second period, the Nets used efficient shooting to go on a 10-0 run and close out the half with a four-point lead.

In the third, a Mason Plumlee shot in the lane gave the Nets an 11-point lead. The Raptors were scrapping to hang in and Greivis Vasquez and DeMar DeRozan were leading the way.

But the Nets close quarters, that is what they have done all series. They finished this one on a 6-0 run and Mirza Teletovic’s 3 to start the fourth brought the Nets lead to 14. A parade at the free throw line ensued and Joe Johnson and Andre Blatche connected to extend the Net lead to 15 with 5:43 remaining in the game.

The Raptors proceeded to go on a 18-4 run including six points from DeRozan and a plethora of free throws to pull within one at 97-96 with 34 seconds remaining. After Shawn Livingston connected on one free throw, Blatche committed a loose ball foul on Patrick Patterson, sending him to the line for two shots.

Patterson had connected on both of his previous free throw attempts in the game, but the touch evaded him as he missed both shots failing to tie the game. The Nets escaped a near epic collapse to take the 2-1 series lead to that point.

In Game 4 on Sunday, the Raptors were able to get a 87-79 win, tying up the series.

(4) Chicago Bulls vs (5) Washington Wizards

nene joakim noah april 2014The Wizards took the first two contests in Chicago, making the Bulls desperate for a win in Washington. Nobody could have known who was going to step up for Chicago in this one.

Bradley Beal and John Wall continued to lead the way for the Wizards, scoring 25 and 23 points respectively. Wall added four steals and seven assists to one turnover.

The Bulls, known for their defense and bruising interior offensive game, showed some versatility in this one become more perimeter-oriented on offense thanks to an outburst from Mike Dunleavy.

The veteran forward came out of nowhere to net 35 points to lead all scorers in just the 12th playoff game of his 11-year NBA career. Dunleavy connected on 8-of-10 attempts from beyond the arc and 12-19 from the field. Dunleavy had 13 points in the third quarter to give the Bulls the lead at 72-69 headed into the final period.

Down six, Nene made two consecutive jumpers for the Wizards before having an altercation with Jimmy Butler with eight minutes remaining in the game. The two went nose to nose and Nene head butted Butler and grabbed him by the back of the neck before the two were separated. After a long review Nene was ejected with a flagrant 2 call, forcing him to miss the next contests as well.

The Wizards proceeded to go on a 13-4 run capped by a Bradley Beal 3-pointer with 2:48 remaining to lead 91-89. After two made Chicago free throws, the game was once again tied. Butler again put his stamp on the game, hitting a 3 with 24 seconds remaining to put the Bulls up, 94-91.

With the Bulls up by four, John Wall was fouled on a 3 attempt and hit each free throw with three seconds remaining to pull within one, but it was not to be. The Bulls closed it out with a Taj Gibson free throw as a bad pass by Trevor Ariza sealed the deal for Chicago.

The Bulls got their first win of the series, but now trail 3-1 after losing on Sunday in Game 4.


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