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.