Five amazing narratives from the opening round of the NBA playoffs

Ryan O'Connell Columnist

By Ryan O'Connell, Ryan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    The current NBA playoffs are the greatest ever. Although such hyperbole should probably be restrained until we at least finish the opening round, one cannot deny that the start of these playoffs have been entertaining, unpredictable and shocking.

    Here are the five most engaging subplots from Round 1 of the 2014 NBA playoffs:

    1. The LaMarcus Aldridge coming out party
    Those that follow me on Twitter would know of my man-crush on Aldridge.

    The Portland Trailblazers power-forward is one of my favourite players, and it’s been an absolute thrill to watch his skill and talent blossom at the business end of the season.

    Aldridge doesn’t play in a big market for an iconic club; he’s somewhat hidden in Portland. Yet after his first round explosion, the world now knows who LaMarcus Aldridge is, and my man-love has been validated.

    Aldridge exploded for 46 and 43 points in the first two games of the Blazers’ series versus the Houston Rockets, before following up those performances with 23 and 29 in games three and four.

    He’s a great, great player, and my favourite ‘LMA’ characteristic is his disdain for advanced metrics, which advocate that long range 2s are a low percentage shot; a shot Aldridge instead nails with devastating consistency.

    2. The Wizards riding the Bulls
    Coming into the playoffs, the Chicago Bulls were highly fancied as a team that could push title favourites, the Miami Heat.

    Instead, they won’t even get out of the first round, after being ambushed by the Washington Wizards.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Chicago’s struggles on offence were always going to be the barrier to them being a true championship contender. Yet now it’s going to prevent them doing any damage whatsoever in the playoffs.

    The Bulls met their nightmare match-up in the first round, with the Wizards athleticism, youth, and ability to score over 100 points all proving too much for Chicago to overcome.

    With the Wizards facing either the lowly Atlanta Hawks, or the struggling Indiana Pacers in the next round, their run shows no sign of stopping just yet.

    3. Donald Sterling’s comments
    The Los Angeles Clippers owner’s alleged racist comments have no place in society, let alone sport.

    The basketball has been so great in the opening round that it’s a shame this topic got any airtime at all, taking some of the attention and gloss off of a sparkling first round of hoops. But it’s been massive news, drawn responses from all over the NBA, and has affected the focus of championship contenders the Clippers.

    It therefore, sadly, needs to be listed here.

    Just this morning, new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced a life ban and a $2.5 million fine for Sterling, sending a message that racism will simply not be tolerated in his league. Bravo to Silver for his strong and swift response.

    4. Eighth seed pests
    In the majority of first round match-ups over the years, the team that has qualified in eighth spot has usually been little more than a speed-hump for the first ranked team in the respective conferences.

    Only five times in NBA history – or 8 percent – has the eighth seed beaten the number one seed.

    This season, the unthinkable could happen: we might have both number eight seeds winning their series in the East and the West.

    The Atlanta Hawks are up 3-2 over the Indiana Pacers, who have completely lost the plot. The Hawks have capitilised on the Pacers’ sluggish offensive, and suddenly horrific chemistry, to have the number one team in the Eastern Conference on the brink of elimination.

    In the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks have already played an epic series, punctuated by Vince Carter’s buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer in Game 3.

    That series is currently drawn at 2-2, and though the smart money is still on the Spurs – who had the best record in the league – to prevail and advance, they’ve already been made to earn it.

    Upsets always make the playoffs more entertaining, and upsets don’t come much bigger than winning from eighth spot.

    5. Indiana’s meltdown
    I touched on this above, but perhaps the biggest basketball story of these playoffs has been Indiana falling apart.

    The Pacers were the hottest team in the league for the first half of the season, compiling an astonishing 40-12 record as the league paused for the All Star break.

    However, since then, the team has disintegrated, and limped into the playoffs with a 16-14 record after their impressive start. In a number of games at the end of the regular season, the team failed to even score 80 points. Jimi Hendrix looked more likely of getting out of the 70s.

    The team’s offence has been putrid, with their shooting percentages plummeting. Star centre Roy Hibbert has look disengaged and a complete shadow of the dominating force he was earlier in the season. Chemistry has also been an issue, highlighted by the report of a full-on punch up between Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson on the eve of the playoffs.

    With the Pacers on the verge of being shockingly eliminated in the first round by the lowly Atlanta Hawks – a team missing their best player in Al Horford – questions are being asked how it all went so horribly wrong.

    No one knows exactly what’s happened to the team, but the conjecture is that something massive must have occurred behind the scenes to completely derail the Pacers’ once promising season.

    Perhaps all will be revealed once their season is mercifully ended.

    Ryan O
    Ryan O'Connell

    Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.

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    The Crowd Says (19)

    • Roar Rookie

      April 30th 2014 @ 8:09am
      josh said | April 30th 2014 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      The East has become a little easier for the Heat now. Their hardest match up would be either the Nets or Raptors in the next series.

      And the West, it’s the wild west; who knows what’s going to happen.

      • May 1st 2014 @ 12:37pm
        Ryan O'Connell said | May 1st 2014 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

        Have you ever seen a two-time champion going for a three-peat ever fly under the radar more? Sheesh!

        • Roar Rookie

          May 2nd 2014 @ 9:59am
          josh said | May 2nd 2014 @ 9:59am | ! Report

          No.

          Last couple of playoffs the rest has sometimes hampered the Heat. But for a potential threepeat, the Heat have not much press. But that is due to all the other crazy action going on; Stirling etc. but in generally the level of play in every other series.

          I’d expect that as the second round becomes clearer, focus will return, with a wait a minute, the Heat have only played 4 games!

          In the long run the fresh legs have to count playing against teams with extended playoff series’

    • April 30th 2014 @ 10:20am
      mushi said | April 30th 2014 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      1. You knew I was going to respond to that…

      Long two isn’t disliked because it’s low percentage – it’s because of its low return. There are exceptions which is why as with any analysis you combine quantitative and qualitative to form views.

      Though LMA isn’t relaly one of those exceptions. His percentage on long twos is 44%. Now maybe in the Jarvis Crittenton prison league games 44% on 2pt shots is “devastating consistency”. But in the NBA 44% on 2 pointers unlikely to draw files is bad.

      If every Portland trail blazer possession was a LMA mid range jumper then (after bumping down turnover, foul and rebound rates to account for easier to manufacture shot and a big not being in rebounding position) Portland would have had an offensive efficiency of ~90-92 (rather than the 108 they posted).

      That combined with their defensive efficiency would have made them worse than teams that were purposely tanking!

      It’s also a bit of a misrepresentation with regards to the attitude of advanced metrics towards the shot – most don’t mind long twos from a big as it provides spacing and allows you to play a non shooting big with out too much clogging of the lane. The key point being that as long as it isn’t your entire teams offensive philosophy – which is how Portland use it (jacking up 25 treys a game) thankfully.

      Does him taking long two’s help portland – too an extent (he could take fewer and would be better stretching half of them beyond the three point line at low 30%)

      I do love that for you his most admirable trait is wilful ignorance. For me I like all around inside outside offensive arsenal

      • Columnist

        April 30th 2014 @ 11:09am
        Ryan O'Connell said | April 30th 2014 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        Haha! If you knew how long I deliberated over that sentence, fully knowing that you were going to respond in some capacity over it, you’d have a large smile on your face. In he end, I left it as is.

        The truth is, Aldridge doesn’t have a disdain for advanced metrics at all. That’s a deliberately provocative comment. He does like to shoot long 2s though, and I was under the impression advanced metrics did dislike that shot – I’ve more than once heard it called the ‘worst shot in basketball’? Primarily due to it’s lower percentage of being hit, and highest percentage of being defensively rebounded.

        And LMA does hit it with devastating consistency. In a vacuum, 44% may not back that comment up, but when you consider that he hits it consistently enough that it forces people to guard him out there, which opens up space for other Blazers, along with opening up the rest of his offensive arsenal, that’s ‘devastating’, in my opinion.

        • April 30th 2014 @ 12:22pm
          mushi said | April 30th 2014 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

          They dislike the shot in isolation. But from an overall perspective you can’t get 100% of the shots you want so if someone is going to shoot those long 2s that the defence is pushing you to take you want that player to be a big man as that brings a spacing benefit where as if it is a wing player who is taking it then it will collapse the space.

          It is like how we discussed post ups previously – not great as the staple and given the choice there are better options, but doing it sometimes bends the defence. So it isn’t bad to be able to do it, just bad to rely on doing it too often.

          44% still isn’t a great clip though as a 44% low foul high rebound shot is pretty much the type of shot a defence wants you to take. So really he’s converting a “bad shot” at slightly above the expected return of a bad shot (but miles below the expected return of an average shot).

          I think you more want more a ~50TS% on jumpers to turn it into something “devastating” weapon.

          LMA isn’t an efficient scorer his numbers and shot chart actually look like an old school high volume wing slasher who ahs a mid range pull up.

          But the fact the shoulders some of the bad shot load and spaces makes that up.

    • April 30th 2014 @ 10:47am
      ohtani's jacket said | April 30th 2014 @ 10:47am | ! Report

      The Pacers’ struggles remind me a bit of the 2000-01 Traiblazers, who were 42-18 and fell to 50-32. They were swept in the first round by the Lakers that year and took a while to recover.

    • April 30th 2014 @ 12:27pm
      mushi said | April 30th 2014 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

      On the 8th seed thing – I think its happened 3 times in the last 7(?) series though.

      it sin’t really the anomaly everyone thinks when you’ve got more reliance on three point shooting these days.

      • Columnist

        April 30th 2014 @ 12:53pm
        Ryan O'Connell said | April 30th 2014 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

        Two of those more recent ones were Philly over Chicago, when Rose got hurt, and Memphis beating the Spurs, which wasn’t really a three-point thing. So I still think it’s a bit of an anomaly, personally.

        In the West, it was so deep this season, every series was going to be a battle, right down to 8.

        • April 30th 2014 @ 1:23pm
          mushi said | April 30th 2014 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

          So the spurs – a regular season 0.397 three point shooting team hitting 0.294 from deep on 18 attempts per game wasn’t a pretty critical aspect of how the grizzles won?

          • Columnist

            April 30th 2014 @ 1:52pm
            Ryan O'Connell said | April 30th 2014 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

            I’m sure it was. As was the Spurs inability to defend Z-Bo down the stretch, Tony Parker’s relatively quiet series, and no doubt a number of other factors.

            • April 30th 2014 @ 2:35pm
              mushi said | April 30th 2014 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

              Yep huge Z-bo’s points per shot for the series using his regular season numbers would have been a whopping 6.9 points less for the entire series as opposed to the 33 point differential in three point shooting.

              Z-bo was marginally, and I mean marginally, better than he was in the regular season. It was just no-one watched them and the spurs off shooting in (I think) 4 of the six games meant he got to do it during an upset so it looked like he did more.

              Fact is more three pointers leads to more variability, fact is that more three pointers are shot today ergo it is entirely reasonable to expect more upsets today than during the start of the 7 game series era.

              • Columnist

                April 30th 2014 @ 2:43pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | April 30th 2014 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

                Did you pick Atlanta to beat Indy, and Dallas to beat SA?

                I would say it will be a massive shock if both number 8 seeds got up this year. That’s the point I was making. You’re arguing it would be less of a shock than 10 years ago, right? But surely you’d have to admit it would still be a massive shock?

      • April 30th 2014 @ 12:53pm
        mushi said | April 30th 2014 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

        sorry 7 years not series…

    • Roar Rookie

      April 30th 2014 @ 12:29pm
      josh said | April 30th 2014 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

      Looks like the Wizards are through.

    • Roar Guru

      April 30th 2014 @ 1:52pm
      Mark Pybus said | April 30th 2014 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

      Is anyone cheering loudly for the Hawks? I have this irrational dislike of the Pacers and am really hoping the Hawks can take it at home in Game 6.

      Miami are getting some serious heat (excuse the pun) deflected off them with all the great games, controversies and Pacers debacle. With a sweep they have plenty of time to rest and prepare, something that should not be overlooked.

      Also OT City??? Two series with a combined 7/9 games that went to OT.

      • Columnist

        April 30th 2014 @ 2:51pm
        Ryan O'Connell said | April 30th 2014 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

        I’m not cheering loudly for the Hawks, but I am cheering. I never liked Indy!

        More overtime action today, and a buzzer-beater waved off. These playoffs are crazy.

        • May 1st 2014 @ 10:00am
          Swampy said | May 1st 2014 @ 10:00am | ! Report

          I love Indy! Just went to a game there recently (vs the Heat) and the team is a team of the people. The fans really connect with the players there as representatives of their Mid-West heartland struggles against the bigger fancier cities.

          You couldn’t put a value on what it would mean for Indiana to at least make it to the NBA Championship Finals. People in Indiana really bleed basketball (fundamental basketball) to the core. Their colleges, once the envy of all, didn’t even field a single team in the NCAA Tournament this year. For the heartland of basketball they are having some pretty depressing times.

          The Pacers are the East version of the Trailblazers.

          Unfortunately for the fans though the Pacers are just awful right now. Hibbert has just lost his mojo completely. He was a force and now he’s a ball and chain on the Pacers when they need him most. Even if they manage to get out of the first round (still a possibility) – I can’t see them getting past the Wizards (who all of a sudden look like one of the best balanced teams in the playoffs). WTF went wrong in Indy? Did Paul George sleep with all the others player’s girlfriends and wives or something?

          • Columnist

            May 1st 2014 @ 10:53am
            Ryan O'Connell said | May 1st 2014 @ 10:53am | ! Report

            It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it’s something that big, and they scandalous!

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