The Pulse of the NBA

12:28 PM, Apr 30, 2012   |    comments
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New York, NY (Sports Network) - Wow! That's my reaction to all that went down in the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs.

Let's take a look at the most interesting storylines:

SIXERS-BULLS

"Why knee, why now? There's no good reason why Derrick Rose was in the game at the end."

That was the headline to Rick Morrisey's column in the Chicago Sun-Times following the devastating torn ACL injury that ended Derrick Rose's season on Saturday, and, most likely, any hopes of an NBA championship for the Chicago Bulls. But this wasn't the first time Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has been criticized for leaving his starters in too long in blowout games.

"I don't work backwards like you guys do," snapped Thiboudeau in the post-game press conference in regard to his thought process in Rose still being out on the floor. "The score was going the other way. He's got to play. We sat him till the (7:53) mark of the fourth quarter. He's got to work on closing. That's what I was thinking."

The reigning MVP needs to work on closing? You've got to be kidding me. What valuable lesson was Rose going to learn by coming back into the game with 7:53 left and the Bulls up 17 or with Chicago leading by 18 with just under four minutes to go in the game?

You can't tell me the reward of that situation outweighed the risk to the one player they have to have to win a championship and has been nagged by injuries all season long.

Even Philadelphia Sixers forward Thaddeus Young wondered out loud why Rose was still in the game.

"You definitely don't want to see him go down in a game where he kind of should have been out," Young said.

KNICKS-HEAT

There was no silver lining in what was a very cloudy day for the New York Knicks in the opening game of the series. Center Tyson Chandler played despite being sick with the flu. Carmelo Anthony played like he was sick, shooting just 3 of 15 from the floor and finishing with only 11 points, and rookie Iman Shumpert, like Rose, had his season end with a torn ACL.

Even a healthy Knicks team would not have had a shot in this series, but with the loss of Shumpert in addition to already being without Jeremy Lin, this no longer has a chance to even be a competitive series.

With Shumpert sidelined, that means a lot more minutes for the over-the-hill Mike Bibby, who was 0-for-4 from the field and failed to score in 21 minutes of action in Game 1.

As for the Knicks' so-called superstar, Carmelo Anthony, it was a typical game except his shots didn't fall.

The game was essentially decided in the first half, and Anthony, who was the Eastern Conference player of the month for April, was simply awful.

He was 1 of 9 from the floor and scored just seven points as the Miami Heat took a 54-31 lead into the locker room at halftime. With the exception of a missed tip shot, all of Anthony's attempts were jump shots, and six of them were mid- to longe-range jumpers.

And, as usual, most of the shots came off isolation plays, where his teammates end up as bystanders when he puts the ball on the floor.

Meanwhile, Anthony's counterpart, LeBron James, constantly attacked the rim in the first half and got to the foul line 14 times, converting 11 free throws, en route to a 23-point first half.

Even though James has yet to win that elusive NBA championship, at least he's been to two Finals, a destination the one-dimensional Anthony is unlikely to reach.

MAGIC-PACERS

Indiana flat-out choked in Game 1, as the Dwight-Howard-less Orlando Magic scored the final 11 points of the game to pull out an 81-77 win on the road.

"Y'all look real stunned," Magic center Glen Davis, Howard's replacement, yelled at the crowd as he left the court. "Y'all look real stunned."

Even without their All-Star center and one of the game's dominant defensive forces, Orlando pulled out the win with defense, as it overcame a seven-point deficit by holding the Pacers scoreless over the final 4:05.

"We're all we got," said Davis, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds. "We're not trying to impress the doubters or make them believe. Only if we believe. When we believe, there's unlimited things that we can do. We've been through a lot mentally, physically. We've overcame and did a great job out there today."

Even with Howard, Orlando usually wins or dies by the 3-point shot, and Game 1 wasn't any different. The Magic made nine 3-pointers, including two huge 3s by Jason Richardson down the stretch, with his shot from downtown with 1:04 left that gave the Magic the lead for good.

"With Dwight being out, the 3-point line is what we had to take care of, and we didn't," Pacers guard Paul George said.

Down the stretch, the Pacers couldn't capitalize on some good looks at the basket, but also didn't execute very well, as they had to settle for 3-point attempts, which all missed, on three consecutive possessions between the 2:03 and 1:16 marks of the fourth quarter.

If I had to pick out one goat for Indiana, it's Danny Granger, the team's leading scorer.

The seven-year veteran, who shot a career-high 87.3 percent from the free-throw line this season, missed two foul shots with 1:14 left and the Pacers up by two.

"Real tough," Granger said. "I can't remember the last time I missed two free throws. I've closed out a lot of games in my career. It happens."

But the missed free throws were just part of the nightmare ending to the game for Granger. He missed a very makeable driving layup with just 45 seconds remaining that would have put the Pacers up one, and with Indiana down three, he was called for traveling with seven seconds left, thus sealing the win for the Magic.

CELTICS-HAWKS

The big question following Boston's Game 1 loss is whether Rajon Rondo will get suspended for the second game of the series after bumping an official in the final minute while complaining a call.

"I didn't intentionally chest-bump him, but that's what it appears to be," said Rondo, who had 20 points and 11 assists in the 84-73 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

With Ray Allen still sidelined with a sore ankle and questionable for Game 2, the Celtics can't afford to be without their All-Star point guard, too. As for the Hawks, their best player, Josh Smith, stepped up in the opening game with 22 points and 18 rebounds.

"He was an animal," Atlanta coach Larry Drew said of Smith. "When he's playing with that energy, he just makes us so much better."

Smith doesn't get much national attention, and was snubbed as an All-Star in favor of teammate Joe Johnson, but he's the No. 1 reason why the Hawks have played as well as they have despite losing center Al Horford early in the season.

CLIPPERS-GRIZZLIES

The Clippers ended the weekend playoff action with one of the most amazing comebacks in playoff history as they trailed by 27 points late in the third quarter and by 21 going into the fourth.

Give a lot of the credit to Chris Paul, who implored head coach Vinny Del Negro to put him back in the game early in the fourth quarter, and the five-time All- Star point guard spearheaded the incredible rally with seven assists and the game-winning pair of free throws with 23 seconds left.

"I don't remember what happened right now," said Paul, who had 14 points and 11 assists. "It's all a blur. It's too intense. Man, what a win for us. A big win for us.

The Clippers tied the NBA playoff record for largest deficit overcome at the end of three quarters, when they trailed by 21.

The win did come with a costly price, however, as Caron Butler will miss the rest of the series after suffering a fractured left hand. Nick Young, who will likely replace Butler in the starting lineup, played a huge role in the comeback, as he scored 19 points and had three 3-pointers in a one-minute span in the midst of a 26-1 run by the Clippers.

If the Grizzlies can find a way to come off the mat in Game 2 - especially with the loss of Butler - I still think you have to give them the edge in this series.

MAVERICKS-THUNDER

Oklahoma City was very fortunate to come away with a win in Game 1.

The Thunder trailed by seven points with 2 1/2 minutes left, but with the help of two Dirk Nowitzki turnovers, some unintelligent play by the Dallas Mavericks, and a very friendly bounce of the rim on Kevin Durant's game-winning shot with two seconds left, OKC came out on top, 99-98.

Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle second-guessed his decision not to double-team Durant, whose game-winner hit the front of the rim and then the backboard before finally going through the net, but he was bothered even more by the costly mistakes in the closing minutes which included two 3-point plays by Serge Ibaka in a 53-second span.

"We made mistakes you can't make down the stretch. The last shot always gets magnified, but we made some uncharacteristic mistakes that we're not going to make any more in this series," Carlisle said. "We can't."

As for the Thunder, they played their typical game, with Durant and Russell Westbrook going off the dribble primarily and ending up shooting pull-up jumpers.

There's no arguing the Thunder are serious title contenders playing this style, but no team has ever won a championship with their formula. They are predominantly a jump-shooting team with no consistent low-post threat, and no player who creates easy shots for teammates and makes them significantly better.

NUGGETS-LAKERS

Andrew Bynum's triple-double (10 points, 13 rebounds, 10 blocks) was the prominent storyline in the opening-game win by the Los Angeles Lakers, but Jordan Hill's production off the bench stood out almost as much for me.

The third-year power forward, who was acquired from the Houston Rockets as part of the Derek Fisher trade, didn't get any significant playing time with the Lakers until Metta World Peace was ejected for elbowing James Harden in the next-to-last game of the regular season.

That one play may be a blessing in disguise for the Lakers, as Hill responded that game with an eye-opening 14 points and 15 rebounds, and paved the way for him to play some significant minutes in the playoffs.

Hill got his chance in Game 1 and made his mark with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes.

"I think he surprised everybody a little bit," said Kobe Bryant of Hill's smooth transition to his new team. "But he just fits. He hasn't had to adjust to anything or change anything. He's just a piece that fits seamlessly into what we try to do."

Hill's play is a huge boost to a Lakers bench that has been deservedly maligned much of the season, and hasn't gotten any consistent or solid production outside the play of Matt Barnes.

Another player who got to see more of the floor as a result of the Metta World Peace incident is Devin Ebanks.

Head coach Mike Brown inserted the second-year forward into the starting lineup following World Peace's suspension, and he had a solid opening playoff game, scoring 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the floor in just 19 minutes.

"The biggest thing with (Ebanks) was his inexperience, so there was a concern there," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "We felt good enough about him that in the beginning of the season we started him. The tough part about it was as time went on early on Matt stepped up and played well, and Metta is going to play. Even though he didn't play well, Metta was either going to start or come off the bench. So, I just didn't have enough minutes for Ebanks, so he kind of got lost in the shuffle. I thought his stint in the D-League was very important for his development mentally as well as physically and for us to be able to watch him."

If Ebanks and Hill can continue to contribute, it will make Kobe Bryant's quest for a sixth championship ring a lot easier.

JAZZ-SPURS

It was pretty much a ho-hum Game 1 and the series should be the same.

Tony Parker (28 points, eight assists) showed again why he deserves strong MVP consideration as the standout player for the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, who have now won 11 straight games, including the regular season.

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