Somehow, we shouldn’t have been surprised considering how unpredictable the regular season was.[firstpara] But even that couldn’t have prepared us for what has been a rollicking play-offs that has so far been highlighted by a no. 8 seed upsetting a no. 1 seed; another 1-8 matchup that could’ve gone the other way in five games; a supposed-to-be-washed-up-point guard playing yo-yo basketball with the defending champs; and a much-ballyhooed Knicks team that was two defensive stops away from putting the Boston Celtics in an 0-2 hole. Instead, they got swept.
"Hawks, Grizzlies, up next! Welcome to the 2011 NBA Finals!"
And the best part of all of this is that we’re only talking about the first round.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far in the 2011 NBA Play-offs:
The Grizzlies are a dangerous team
We all know that in the play-offs, styles make for match-ups. This year, it hasn’t been any more evident than the eight-seeded Memphis Grizzlies’ stunning upset over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. Knowing what we know, it hardly seems like an upset anymore considering that the Spurs were actually a Garry Neal missed 3-pointer away from being eliminated by the Grizz in 5 games.
The upstart Grizzlies are two-deep in every position; they have a couple of low post threats in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol; they have shooters and athletes in O.J. Mayo, Sam Young, and Darrell Arthur; they have two defensive stoppers in Tony Allen and Shane Battier; and best of all, they have a go-to-guy in Z-Bo. Everybody knows their identities in the team, something that every championship team should have. Now, will they get past the Oklahoma City Thunder? Don’t be surprised if they do.
The Lakers and Celtics are in a hole
Our finalists from the previous year find themselves in unchartered territory being down 2-0 against the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. (UPDATE: Dallas beats LA again for a 3-0 lead). Actually, the defending champs are in worse shape than the C’s because they dropped their first two games at home – about as rare an occurrence as a polite Charlie Sheen these days – and to add insult to injury, they won’t have Ron Artest for the all-important Game 3 in Dallas. A lot of people have given Pau Gasol flak for his inconsistencies this year, but if there’s anybody that needs to step up if LA wants to make as series out of this is Lamar Odom.
The Celtics, on the other hand, can say that all the right things they want, including the fact that the Heat “just held serve in their home court”, but if you’ve been following the NBA for as long as we have, you know nobody wants to go back home down 2-0 with the prospect of falling 3-0 in the series. The Celtics need Rajon Rondo to be ‘Hondo-like’ in the next two games if they have any plans of coming back in the series. For all the work put in by Boston’s Big Three, it’s their point guard that’s the head of this snake. Where he goes, his team will follow.
The Bulls look confused
Everybody’s postseason darlings have given us the results we’ve wanted, but not in the way that we all thought they could. Derrick Rose is proving that his regular season MVP award wasn’t a fluke, but if you’ve seen the Bulls struggle against the Indiana Pacers in five games and get throttled by the Hawks in Game 1 of the East semis, then there’s something that’s suspiciously wrong. (UPDATE: Rose torches the Hawks with 44 points, for a 2-1 series lead for the Bulls)
A logical scapegoat could be forward Carlos Boozer, the Bulls’ big free agent acquisition who’s playing like a man that’s too scared of aggravating his turf toe injury.
But looking at this team, another factor has come out like a sore spot that can potentially torpedo their season: the team can’t shoot. When D-Rose is attempting eight three pointers a game and missing seven of ‘em, that’s a problem. When Kyle Korver and Keith Bogans can have one good shooting game followed by three bad shooting games, that’s a problem.
When Carlos Boozer isn’t commanding double teams on the block, that’s a problem. The Bulls are winning these games by defense and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the game is still about having more points than the other team. If the Bulls can’t shoot and rely every game on D-Rose scoring 35-plus, then they’re going to have a harder time advancing than people initially thought.
NEXT: Dirk ain't scared of no Black Mamba