NBA Playoffs Go to the Dogs
Underdogs, that is. No fewer than 5 teams seeded lower than their opponent won away games this past weekend, demonstrating that a rough kind of parity may finally have come to the NBA.
The two big surprises; Top seed in the East, Indiana, got beaten up by 8 seed Atlanta and the West's 3 seed, the LA Clippers, couldn't get by the 6 seed Golden State Warriors.
In a less spectacular surprise, 4 seed Chicago was taken down by 5 seed Washington, 3 seed Toronto lost to 6 seed Nets, and 5 seed Portland squeaked by 4 seed Houston.
The Indiana Pacers are the head case of this playoffs. After shooting out of the gate looking like they would win it all, the Pacers got a little banged up injury wise after the all star break and seemed to lose focus.
This funk has carried over to the playoffs:
The nightmare continues into the postseason. Remember, there used to be a time when Indy's defense could mask its offensive woes, but the freefall began when the Pacers couldn't get stops. That was the story for Game 1, as Indy shot 15-of-41 in the second half but without a defense to respond. Atlanta spread the Pacers and made them pay with 11 three-pointers. The bigger picture reveals a still freefalling Pacers team that Frank Vogel has obviously lost. Game 1 is a clear sign the Hawks can definitely win the series -- which somehow isn't a surprise considering it's a top seed vs. a losing record.
Star review: Roy Hibbert is the punchline in this joke of collapse of the Pacers. He finished with eight points, eight rebounds and zero blocks in Game 1, which aren't too different from his regular-season numbers but are much different from his 17-point and 9.9-rebound averages last postseason. Paul George handled his business for the most part, but Hibbert needs to find himself if the Pacers hope to escape the first round.
Looking ahead: Game 2 at Indiana, Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET
How's this for a reward for six months of hard work? The Pacers fight for a No. 1 seed and then drop the first game against the No. 8 seed. All that effort, and just like that a below-.500 team has stolen away homecourt. As bad as the Pacers have been, though, it's hard to imagine the league's best home team will drop both games 1 and 2. Expect the Pacers to bounce back.
The same could be said for most of the favorites who lost home court advantage. In most cases, it appeared to me that the home team failed to match the intensity of the visitors. This was especially true in the Bulls and Clippers games where it took both teams most of the first half to find their games. Neither the Warriors or Wizards are bad teams, but Chicago and LA have more talent than their opponents and know how to win. Expect both teams to take care of business in game 2.
In the case of Brooklyn and Portland, those series' were expected to be very competitive anyway so look for both to extend out to 6-7 games.
A note on the officiating; it was uniformly awful. Ticky tack fouls being called while muggings under the basket were ignored. The number of whistles interfered in the flow of the game, and a bad call might have cost the Clippers a win:
With 18.9 seconds left in the game and the Clippers down 107-105, Clippers point guard Chris Paul was dribbling the ball above the arc when he was double-teamed by Steve Blake and Draymond Green. Paul then lost the ball after Green reached in and looked as if he had committed a foul.
The play was reviewed but since no foul was called on the floor, the only reviewable action was who touched the ball last, which was Paul. The Warriors would get the ball, hit two more free throws and go on to win the game.
The league took the extraordinary step of admitting the ref made a mistake. They issued a statement:
"Under the existing rule, referees may only use instant replay to determine which player caused the ball to go out and a limited set of other reviewable matters," NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn said in a statement. "Just prior to the ball going out of bounds, Paul was fouled by Green and Paul should have been granted two free throws. Contact preceding out of bounds calls is not a reviewable matter."
Dear refs: Please put the whistle in your pocket and let the players play.