It was a good first round with few real upsets. I know that Memphis over San Antonio was a history-making series, but a few things made it more anti-climatic than it could have been: 1) Memphis wanted to play San Antonio, and ensured that they would get the eighth seed to play the Spurs in the first round. 2) Memphis played San Antonio well this year, and the playoffs are dominated by matchups. 3) Memphis was on fire down the stretch. Ever since Rudy Gay went down and OJ Mayo was regulated to the bench, the Grizzlies have been on fire. Gay was playing inspired this year (another guy whose career has been changed forever by Coach K and the summer team), but somehow, the team just scraps more without him. 4) San Antonio faded down the stretch and looked ultra vulnerable. The Spurs had amazing injury luck early in the season, but lost all of that in the last month of the regular season. Tim Duncan's decline has been huge: he is just a jump shooting shell of his former self, and even saving him throughout the season didn't give him any extra juice come playoff time. Not that I can blame him: KG is old-looking and hasn't played all the playoff games (ie: extra mileage), and Kevin looks bad sometimes. It's just Father Time catching the Spurs at the worst possible moment.
So that wasn't really a surprise. Atlanta over Orlando was 0.1 on the Richter scale of playoff excitement. Both teams have no heart, and prove that throwing players on the court that don't have heart and don't play together doesn't work. I fully expect Atlanta to flop hard against Chicago, giving the Bulls some much-needed rest before the Conference Finals. So that's my first prediction. Atlanta chalked up the perfect defense against Orlando, but won't be able to do the same to Derrick Rose, especially without Hinrich, whose absence hurts more than Boozer's. Jameer Nelson was awful in the Hawks series, but good point guards have usually shredded the Hawks this year, and I don't see Rose any differently. Plus, the Bulls have a mental toughness that the Magic have lacked for years. So I'm writing them through. I know the Indiana series was iffy, no Eastern team left has a long, quick defenders to throw at Rose like the Pacers had in Dahntay Jones (who is also awful offensively).
Heat and Celtics is really interesting. The C's totally lucked out with the extent of New York's injuries, making a close (on paper) series into an easy Celtics win. Miami dropped one game against Philly, but Philly played tough defense the first year, and totally took away Bosh in that one win (Elton Brand should be able to do that nightly). Lots of people have criticized the Heat starting five, and I agree: they need to go with athleticism and energy, and try to run the Celtics over. I think the key in this series is the Heat 3-point shooting. Until Mario Chalmers' broadside in Game 5, the Heat were awful across the board (James Jones, Mike Miller, Chalmers, Mike Bibby), and they can't afford to be that bad against the Celtics. If they can hit, the Celtics' defense won't be able to rotate fast enough. A second key is whether LeBron can continue to play at as high a level as he did against a great defender in Andre Iguodala (another guy changed by Coach K). The C's will be better on the help side (where the three point shooting comes into play), but LeBron must take care of the ball and make good decisions. For the Celtics, the question is who can guard Rondo (Chalmers or Wade??), and will he continue to play out of his mind after being in a funk since the Perkins trade? If he's going to rise to another level, there is nothing Miami can do. Who do I think will win? I'm going to go Miami. I felt they played Philly well, and will continue on their roll.
Well, on to the Western Conference after the break.